As the Season of Lent is on our doorstep, we might want to take a few moments to consider how this special time in the life of the church will touch us and, hopefully, change us...
Lent is a time when we make certain sacrifices, not just for the sake of doing something difficult, but that through these actions we might grow in the realization of how much we are loved in the act of Christ’s suffering and death, and through this realization that we might have a larger, more loving heart. All of us, through our own many experiences, know that any change is not easy and yet we also know there are key instances in life when even a small change can make a big difference. Taking the stairs instead riding the elevator, or getting even an extra half hour of sleep every night are just two examples of how a small change in our routine can have very positive health benefits.
We’ve made a small adjustment in our schedule here at St. Rose which we hope will bring positive spiritual benefits. Starting with the beginning of Lent (see the special schedule for Ash Wednesday), Thursday 2 March, the church of St. Rose of Lima now will be offering a 7:30am weekday Mass aimed especially for those in the area who in the past would’ve liked to have started their day with Mass and Holy Communion, but were unable to do so because the 8am Mass would not have allowed them sufficient time to drive to work.
Father Greg, Father Collins and I know that you’re out there in Massapequa, Seaford and North Massapequa, and we know that many of you would benefit by this change. We know that especially during Lent many people would love to attend Mass as a part of their Lenten journey and now we’ve taken a step to help you begin your day with our Lord.
As an added benefit to this time change for our first Mass of the day, we will also offer a “Holy Hour” every Thursday immediately following the 7:30am Mass until the beginning of the 9am Mass. Whether individuals are able to remain in quiet adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for five minutes, ten minutes or the entire time, we intend to expand this opportunity to additional days in the future.
In a recent visit to Our Lady of the Hamptons Regional Catholic School, our new bishop, Bishop John Barres reminded the students that “Catholic Schools are critical to our future”. I would like to build on that thought by saying that Catholic Family Life is critical to our future. Parents can provide a profound influence on their children when they are seen making that extra effort even one morning a week to spend time with Our Lord. And what an equally profound witness to the whole congregation it would be for the moms or dads who drop their children off at our school to come early for Mass, with their children. A recent news article claimed that age 13 is the typical age when a young adult starts to drift away from the practice of their Catholic Faith. So it is more necessary than ever to provide a platform and a reason for persons of every age to consciously and personally live their Catholic Faith.
Young catholic families, wherever they send their children to school, are indeed critical to our future. Without realizing it, young catholic families bring zest and vitality to parish life which is needed and necessary to renew the spark in older parishioners whose children are grown, married and have moved away. May this Lent be that conscious time for all our Young Catholic Families to know that in seeking renewal for themselves they also renew and strengthen the parish.
Well, 2016 is gone, finished, caput and we’re a few days into the brand new year of 2017. What will you do with this New Year? Will the turning of a calendar page really make any difference in your life? Will 2017 be any type of turning point or will the glamour of the possibilities of delving into this new year be like having a new toy that loses its shine and we tire of all too soon?
The new year is a time for resolutions in which one or two distinct possibilities occur all too quickly. First, those noble promises we make to ourselves fall by the wayside OR second, they become a new part of our lives because they were important enough to us to make a new part of our routine.
That is the key point; whatever we intent it truly must have importance to us. It cannot just be a nice thing, or something that will make us healthier or lighter or look younger. Our resolutions whether they be physical or spiritual need to be LIFE CHANGING, LIFE IMPACTING to make us stick with them. Change of any kind relies on consistency and a strong inner will or determination and so we may think that the changes, the improvements we’d like to make are far too difficult. And that may be our first mistake, trying to do a personal makeover all alone. St. Paul, however reminds us that, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me”.
We are reminded in many different scripture passages, but especially in many of the psalms NOT to rely on our own power or our own strength, nor to depend on other people, even kings and princes to come too our aid. To do so can bring us extreme disappointment. Instead, in attempting to make changes in our lives we are to cooperate with God’s strength. “God is for us our refuge and our strength, a stronghold in time of need” (Ps. 46).
We often think of God as being a defender and shield against outside enemies who wish to harm us in some way. And yet, we know that we ourselves can be our own worst enemies with some of the decisions we make or perhaps not kicking it into gear when we know we need to take some kind of action. We forget that there are times and situations, especially when trying to initiate some sort of change in ourselves, when praying for ourselves is the very best action we can take.
In whatever words we choose to use, we should believe that God desires that we turn to him in prayer. The oft quoted phrase, ‘God helps those who help themselves’, is not found in scripture. Rather we are reminded that God helps those who CANNOT help themselves. We rely on God’s grace, God’s great compassion to aid us (not to do it for us) in our weakness. We know that God does not wish our death but rather our true conversion of heart. For if God did not spare His Only Son, but gave Him up (to death) to benefit us all (Romans 8:31), will God ignore the prayer of one who truly wishes to improve themselves? GOD DESIRES that we turn to Him, in prayer, not just for dangers that threaten us, but whenever inner temptation threatens to overcome our better desires.
What will you do with this new year? How about turning more often to God?
Winter 2016: As we enter this busy time of year, we can sometimes take on the characteristics of that character we know (and even love) as “The Grinch”. I don’t know of anybody who isn’t familiar with the story, especially as there have been a couple of TV and movie versions of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the original is my favorite!)For all of us, this writer included, the joy of the Advent season can get shrunken by the list of things that we feel that we must do. We may even get that feeling of self-pity that we’re the only one in the family who is saddled with all in the preparations for Christmas morning. We have our lists, we have a certain number of days, and things don’t always turn our as we’ve scheduled and planned (in fact our original plans and time lines are generally unrealistic). From personal experience, one that I believe we’ve all shared, we can become cranky, grumpy and most Grinch-like when the days dwindle and the to-do list hasn’t gotten any shorter, and in fact has grown longer.
And that’s when we can turn into the Grinch who steals Christmas. We steal the joy of the Christmas Season from others by sulking, because we may have been inconvenienced and by allowing these setbacks to get under our skin. We steal the joy of the Christmas Season from those whom we love by refusing to enter into their joy. And in succumbing to these very real frustrations, in reality we are stealing the joy of the Christmas celebration from OURSELVES. We are keeping ourselves from entering into the most wonderful time of the year; the celebration of God become man. Oh yes, we will snap out of it eventually, yet think of all the time and emotion we’ve wasted by forgetting that all that we do, we do for Jesus himself and for all our families and friends whom we love. We all can remember at least one story told about the Christmas feast which teaches the lesson that it isn’t all the lights and goodies and tinsel that surrounds Christmas which makes us happy, but the people we gather with in the name of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
The experience of these next four weeks of literally having too much on our plate is a good lesson for the New Year of 2017. There will always be moments of frustration, annoyance and anger. There will always be situations that threaten to become obstacles and overwhelm us. There will always be those individuals who rub us the wrong way. We need only remember WHY we run ourselves ragged over these next four weeks. In pausing for that extra moment in thought, we need to see the irony that when we are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace that so many of us are lacking a peaceful spirit. There are no magical answers or formulas; but reminding ourselves to take a breath and pray certainly helps. When can say that ‘Jesus is the reason for the Season’ (Thank you Knights of Columbus for that pithy summary), we can also realize that Jesus is the reason for every season, every week, every day. When we make Jesus the priority in our lives then (to steal another Christmas song line) there will be nothing that brings dismay. May the Spirit of joy that the celebration of the birth of Jesus brings, guide you throughout the year of 2017.
Fall 2016: The summer is winding down. And as wonderful as the warmer weather, trips to the beach and vacation time can be, we come to appreciate those days of fun and relaxation all the more because they are so ephemeral. We need some down time, as for most people the greatest majority of our attention and our time is focused on our jobs, our classes.
Each September in a sense, therefore, is the beginning of a new year. Certainly our school children and their teachers recognize this. After being refreshed by the summer vacation, they begin again with new challenges. This may not really be the case at our jobs, but in a sense, after having some time off in the summer, I think it important that we attempt to make our return to the ordinary routine of work ‘something new’ for ourselves.
We can return with a new attitude of generosity or patience. We can resolve not to allow ourselves to be so consumed by the needs of the workplace, that the relationships within our families suffer. We can make the resolution to be more understanding with our superiors at work, or to be more open to the needs of those who work for us. We can promise ourselves that we will ‘take Jesus to work with us’ and quietly turn to Him in moments of tension or when some of those old or constant annoyances pop up.
Even though the autumn is a time when leaves start falling, signaling the approach of winter, it is also a beautiful season when those same leaves do first change their color and provide a magnificent display of natural beauty. If we look at autumn more as a ‘new year’ for us and our children and grandchildren rather than just a new season, it can signal for us a time to change any of the ‘bad habits’ that we may have developed over the summer.
Summer, understandably, provides a relaxation in our routine. Now that families are getting back to their ‘school year routine’, this may be a perfect time to put a few ‘new wrinkles’ in that routine at the very start. One question can be, “What are the greatest priorities in my life?” Another can be, “What priority do I set in my relationship with Jesus Christ?” We need to admit to ourselves how far up or how far down on the list He is. In a world full of tension, full of violence, full of hatred, full of an uncertainty of where we are going, we may lose heart. Yet the gospels and Pope Francis continually urge us to Jesus. And Jesus himself is always reminding his followers, “Do not be afraid”. “Have faith in God and have faith in me.”
We can become quite busy this September with all sorts of new activities and demands. It is OK to be busy, to engage in those things that bring us joy or a challenge or pleasure. Let us also include God in our busyness.
It is a time of horror, a time of sorrow – all of our own making. We are living in the midst of an American tragedy, as divisive and heartbreaking as the American Civil War which pitted brother against brother.As Americans, we are all brothers and sisters in One Nation, under God, yet in recent days both that sense of fraternity and the presence of God seem so very far away.
Even in you’ve been away on vacation over the last two weeks, I’m fairly confident that you’re aware of the police shootings of black citizens in New Orleans and in Minnesota. In past months, we have suffered the same sad news in our own New York City. Incidents of police brutality have been reported all over the country, most prominently in Baltimore and St. Louis.
In the city of Dallas, Texas five police officers were shot down and killed and another seven wounded by a sniper who, according to reports was upset about these most recent police shootings of innocent black citizens who were victims of gross police over reactions. It is understandable that at some point something snaps in any human psyche, but it is still unacceptable that these men also became victims of hatred, murdered in place of those who are guilty of violent racism. And we as a country ask, “Why is this happening? What’s going on? How do we make this insanity stop?”
We should be outraged and frightened by these recent events. We should be outraged and frightened by the reaction of certain people toward them. We should also know that what we read about and watch did not spring out of thin air, but they are the inevitable result of a larger, more frightening chain of our history. The dismissal of the life of faith by so many who claim the name “Christian”, “Jew”, “Muslim” is partly to blame. Fear (of many things) is certainly the other part of the equation, for fear does breed violent reaction; thinking (wrongly) to protect ourselves from what scares us; and we live in scary times.
Is it any surprise that with the breakdown of family life, traditional moral and ethical values, the down turn of involvement in spiritual and religious life within our churches and places of worship that we are facing this crisis on our streets? Is it any surprise as seen by every recent poll, that as people diminish their relation with God that hatred, racism and violence increase? Is it any surprise that when we take prayer out of our schools and places of public assembly that there is such a great loss in our moral compass?
There are many contributing factors as to why we are experiencing our present dilemma. Some claim that formal religion does little good and comes with its own prejudices. There may be a grain of truth to that statement, yet I recoil from the thought of what our lives would be like without the gift of knowledge of God’s presence in our hearts which restrains so many of our more savage impulses.
Therefore, though we may not be able to turn back the clock, we need to bring a sense of sinfulness and the need for conversion to our country. We need to once again make clear and teach our children – and remind one another - that there are certain consequences (no matter who you are) for certain actions. Call me naïve, but it is clear that the more we push God away from our life, the more we will experience sorrow and strife. Fear of the Lord is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. We fear God’s punishment for our sins, but more importantly we fear separating ourselves from God’s love, as GOD IS LOVE. The Great Commandment is Love God, Love your Neighbor. If we can only start there, there would be no need to fear either here or above.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of the murderous attack in Orlando. We grieve for them and with their families. We are both sorrowful and appalled at the hatred behind this act of terrorism and we condemn this and all actions committed to cause pain and suffering. May the prayer of St. Francis be our guide. In response to hatred, may we sow love. In return for injury, may we bring healing. In place of fear, may we bring comfort and solace. Today as always, we try to follow in Jesus' footsteps in comforting the victims while in some way calling upon divine intervention, to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. With each passing day we see more strongly the need for both a personal and communal practice of Mercy. In this Extraordinary Year of Mercy, declared by Pope Francis, daily events remind each of us of the mercies experienced in our own lives and the need to extend mercy. What is mercy? Many people can give numerous definitions of what mercy is, but perhaps the best and simplest way to speak of this great virtue is in three words – any undeserved gift.
The gift of Mercy can be a dramatic gift such as sparing the life of someone whose actions deserve death. The gift of Mercy can be the forgiving of a loan or debt that would be difficult or even impossible to repay. Being merciful may be the keeping of a person’s secret that would harm them, and them alone, if revealed. In the gospels, the mercy of God is in the forgiveness of sins. In the gospels, Jesus shows another side of divine mercy by healing or curing various illnesses and maladies that could not be improved by the medical ability of his time.
In our day to day routines, we may feel that it is difficult to see mercy in our world. We may feel that it is even more difficult to extend mercy knowing how people take undue advantage of goodness. This is where the practical definition of Mercy takes shape as one of the fruits of Charity. It is a practice of loving mercy for the person who has two coats to give a person who is suffering from the cold.
Yet the practice of Mercy does not have to be the lived in the intensity of St. Martin of Tours, who cut the cloak he was wearing in half to give to a beggar who was shivering by the city gates. We can practice the virtue of Mercy through any charitable action when we come to the aid of a person in spiritual or bodily need. Indeed, simply by consciously and actively living the words of the Our Father …forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us… is a beautiful way to enter into this Jubilee Year of Mercy by both the action of the bestowal of mercy and the need of receiving God’s mercy each day.