From Fr. JC’s Desk: “Cultural Catholics”

“Jesus Christ did not come to suffer and die so that he could make ‘cultural Catholics’” (Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles).

When I first read Archbishop Gomez’s comment, I found it very provocative.  What did he mean by “cultural Catholics” and of course, what did Jesus Christ suffer and die for?  

In the past, I think we called “cultural Catholics” C&E Catholics — “Christmas and Easter Catholics.”  Maybe if you were a bit more optimistic they were CAPE Catholics — “Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter Catholics.”  The point was the same; they were the Catholics who only darkened the parish’s door a few times a year.  They received the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and First Eucharist), but pretty much stopped coming to Church after Confirmation.  They come for the “big” Holy Days, and maybe for a friend or family member’s funeral or wedding, but that was about it.  Of course they wanted the parish to be available to them (when and how they wanted it) when they decided to get married so that they could have the “Big Church” wedding where the gown, tux, flowers, and reception was given more thought and importance than the prayers and Scriptural readings for the Nuptial Mass.  Then you would not see them again until they had a child which they wanted baptized.  Baptism really had become just a “naming ceremony” and a reason for a party, than an entering into a new life as a son or daughter of God.  Another long absence from Church followed, until it was time for the child to receive Holy Communion; another absence and then a return for Confirmation.

These types of “cultural Catholics” are still among us.  We would like to think that they are the minority of Catholics, but sadly that is not true.  Regrettably, “cultural Catholics” are the majority of us today.  The other week, during his video presentation, Bishop O’Connell mentioned that only 18% of Catholics in the United States go to Mass each week.  Let’s make that concrete for us here at Resurrection Parish.  We have about 1700 registered families, if we say that an average family is about 3.5 people, that means we have about 6000 people in our parish.  We average about 168 people at each of our four weekend Masses for about 672 people coming to Mass each weekend.  That’s 11% of the registered Catholics in our parish attend Mass each weekend.  11%!!!  The vast majority of our parishioners are “cultural Catholics.”  

This is a crisis.  This trend has been going on since before I arrived two years ago, and if it continues, not only will we not survive as a parish, but the Church of Jesus Christ will suffer.  What can we do?  What MUST we do?

Jesus, of course, gives us the answer;  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a).  WE MUST MAKE DISCIPLES!  This is the mission that Jesus has given us, and it is the mission that we are going to be focusing all our efforts at here at Resurrection Parish.  Let each of us commit ourselves to being disciples of Jesus Christ, to deepening our discipleship, and to doing everything we can to invite others to discipleship.  

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I Am Moving this Blog

I have been keeping this blog pretty much since I was ordained a priest.  Since I was a parochial vicar when I started this blog, and thus subject to moves, I have paid to have have the hosted on BlueHost and using WordPress.  It actually costs me a couple hundred dollars each year for the domain, the space, etc.

Since I am now a pastor, and not as likely to be moving as often, I have decided to put my blog as part of the parish website.  I mostly just post my Sunday homilies and my bulletin columns anyway, so it is totally parish related.

From now on, you can follow me at:  http://www.resurrection2.org

Thanks

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From Fr. JC’s Desk: “From the Mouths of Children”

Forgive me if I brag a little about my family.  My sister, Ann, called me this week to tell me about her youngest, Seamus.  Seamus is 7 years-old, and recently participated in their parish’s Vacation Bible School (VBS).  After the first day, Seamus told his parents that he was pretty much a saint.  Apparently on the first day of VBS one of the catechists gave the children a list of things that saints do, and Seamus told his parents, “I pretty much do all those things, so I must be a saint.”  His parents had a rebuttal.

Vacation Bible School had a lot of the typical activities for children that age:  games, crafts, songs.  One day the kids had a water pistol fight (I am not sure where they found that in the Bible, or in the theme for the week, “Totus Tuus” or “Totally Yours”), and on the last day one of the catechists got into a kiddies pool and the kids turned him into a giant sundae by spraying him with whipped cream, and throwing sprinkles on him.

At the end of the week, Ann asked Seamus what was his favorite thing.  He said, “When they took us into the church.”  Ann asked him what did they do in the church, and Seamus said, “They put the Body into a gold star so that we could see Him, and we got to just sit with Jesus.”

Wow!  Not the water pistol fight, not the crafts or games.  Not even making a man into a giant sundae.  No, his favorite part was just sitting with Jesus.  A couple of days later, when his parish had a Corpus Christi procession, Seamus excitedly pointed out to his family, “That’s the gold star which has Jesus’ Body in it!”  Ann told me that their parish has Exposition on Thursdays, so she plans, when she has the day off, to take Seamus so that he can continue to be excited about “sitting with Jesus” and grow in his relationship with Him.  Maybe he is going to be a saint.

What about us?  Are we striving to be saints?  Are we teaching our children to desire to be a saint more than anything else?  We are blessed in our parish to have perpetual Adoration, so what is stopping us from introducing our children to “just sitting with Jesus?”  Sure, we worry that they might not be quiet, but we can teach them that discipline.  Naturally, they probably will not be able to do a full hour, but even if they start with just 15 minutes, we can do nothing better than to help our children to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

For the past several years, Resurrection Parish has participated with other Christian churches in hosting a Vacation Bible School.  It is held at the Moravian church in Riverside.  Please consider signing your children up for it, and even better, volunteering a day or so.

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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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