Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

13 November 2016

Apocalyptic Pills

The last couple weeks of Ordinary Time and the first couple weeks of Advent feature what we call the “apocalyptic literature” of the Bible. The consummate example of this is the book once known as "The Apocalypse of St. John," more recently called “Revelation.” This style of writing employed an intense imagery and rhetoric to depict the battle going on between God and His celestial enemies. The immediate audience were Christians who were fighting their own battles with enemy nations, especially Rome, the granddaddy of oppressors. The voice of God rose clearly above the din to assure his besieged beloved that He was in charge, that victory would be theirs, and their current anguish would be alleviated.

Apocalyptic literature has been compared to painkillers like Vicodin or Percocet: in the prescribed doses they provide needed relief for seriously distressed people. For those who aren't really in that kind of pain–perhaps, in the spiritual realm, those who only imagine they’re being persecuted–the apocalyptic mindset usually ends up more harmful. It gets them loaded, and makes them lose touch with reality. It can even make them very hard to be around, a challenge to support.

Consider the events of the past week. I don't mean the death of Mrs. T's founder Ted Twardzik or of famed musician Leonard Cohen, as noteworthy as they are; I mean, as you might have guessed, the presidential election. Our nation, and a few others besides, have been holding their breath before and since. Either “holding their breath,” or “hyperventilating”– I'm not really sure. If there's ever been a moment where people of every political stripe have been popping apocalyptic pills, it's now. Popping more and more of them, to less and less good effect. Division and fear rule more than their constituencies care to admit. No wonder the campaign sign for “Giant Meteor” was so popular! I wonder it if got any write-in votes.

In most situations, we’re not advised just to take medicines without attending to what we are currently capable of doing. Pain relief is supposed to promote freedom of movement, but abusers often end up inert or ineffective. St. Paul told the Thessalonians, “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” Work, with a sense of purpose and direction. The Catholic principle of subsidiarity says that no person or force should do for another what they can do for themselves. More and more it seems that this is a tall order, and the culture of death makes hearts smaller. Forward movement today will require perseverance, by which, St. Paul says, we will secure our lives.

The Lord has not promised a placid and carefree existence, nor does He keep anyone from sowing willful division in their relationships. Jesus spoke His words today as a prediction, and we can see how they have played out. Either way, they are not pleasing to the ears. We must ask: is God God or not? Has Jesus conquered sin, suffering, and death or not? And what’s more, does He not offer us the grace to participate in that victory by, as He put it, “giving testimony”—courageously raising our voices or pens or typing fingers, or raising our hands in prayer or virtuous action, against injustice? By seeking to learn and spread the truth? By loving the unlovable in everyone, and even ourselves, enough to help them recognize the freedom to change?

04 November 2016

Priest, Prophet, and King: The Way of the Church

I promised, did I not, that my weekly parish bulletin columns would make their way onto this blog? I didn't forget; I just remembered later. The delay enables me to group together the last three weeks' reflections on the baptismal anointing into the Lord Jesus' threefold munera (L., "offices," "gifts") of Priest, Prophet, and King/shepherd, which spell out His identity and mission as "Messiah" (Heb, mashiach; Gk, Christos), and become for the Church the sacred tasks of sanctifying, teaching, and governing. 

23 October 2016 — 30th OT C

As Priest we are hard-wired for sacrifice. The priests of the First Covenant offered grain and animals to God in atonement for sin, in thanksgiving for God’s blessings. Our Church’s Catechism quotes an early Christian author who said, “Mankind is a beggar before God.” We cannot help but declare our dependence on God as “giver of breath and bread” (G. M.Hopkins, Wreck of the Deutschland).

According to the early understanding that persists into our day, God gives everything—good and evil. We will say with greater nuance that God permits evil, but we still experience many bad things as “happening to” us. Before the omnipotent Creator of all things we declare our need for repair and redress, our need to persevere in life amid our trials.

We offer the sacrifices of our private prayers of adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and supplication (“ACTS”). But above all, we participate in the sacrifice of the Church’s common prayer: the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If we [as individual Catholics, and as a parish; Ed.] are not doing that, we’re simply not firing on all cylinders. 

Our sacrifice of praise includes the confession, or acknowledgment, of our sins! That’s about the most original thing we can offer Him, for our good works come from His inspiration and direction, even though we may not perceive that inspiration and direction. But those works truly become ours. We cooperate with God in carrying them out. “Confession” means acknowledgment: acknowledgment above all of the goodness of our God, Whose love for us extends even unto the forgiveness of our sins and restoration to friendship with Him and our neighbor. If we’re not doing that [i.e. making a regular, conscientious Confession], we’re simply not firing on all cylinders.

30 October 2016 — 31st OT C

From the days of Moses and Elijah up to John the Baptist, God drafted the biblical prophets (Gk pro, "for, on behalf of" + phemi, "to speak"), to their own testimony, against their will– or at least it wasn't their idea to take up prophecy. They considered their call as something that predated the development of their own understanding and freedom: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5). The initiative is always God’s. But the Prophet always experienced the response as an option– perhaps "an offer he couldn't refuse," at least not without difficulty. Many of the prophets certainly tried to refuse, but the content and drive of prophecy had a certain inexorable urgency to them: God’s word needed to get out!

The Father sent the Son into the world as a continuation of that prophetic tradition, yet with the unique and unrepeatable newness that comes with being God. “Behold, I am doing something new” (Isa 43:19)—these words to Isaiah found in the Christ their definitive fulfillment.

One way the Old Covenant's prophetic continuity shone through with the end that Jesus met: like most of the Prophets before him, he was put to death. To retrofit a famous movie phrase, his listeners couldn't handle the truth. “Humankind cannot very much bear reality” (T.S. Eliot).

In the time of the Church, martyrs have met their Maker in much the same fashion, for much the same reason.

Does the Catholic Church have a “death wish”? On the contrary, we have a Life Wish, in communion with the Lord Jesus, who said, “I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Therefore we continue to proclaim the Gospel of Life and Love in the face of societal and interior forces that militate against life and love, against reality. Our adversaries claim we are the unrealistic ones– the very same claim they levied against Jesus. Whether we shall meet the same end, offering the witness of our lives, will depend on our fidelity to our calling. In any case, we pray that our witness will be the means to renewal in the Church and the world.

6 November 2016 – 32nd OT C

Recall God’s initial reluctance at Israel’s request for a king to rule over them (cf. 1 Sam 8). The dialogue takes place in an all-too-human manner, which I shall paraphrase:

God: “You don’t know what you’re getting into. A king would tax you in ways you might never have imagined. He’ll enlist your sons for his military and your daughters for his harem. Eventually you’ll want the bum out, but it won’t work that way.” Israel: “So what? Everyone else is doing it!” God: “OK—suture yourself!”

Despite Israel’s willful insistence on having a king, and despite those kings’ predictably lascivious, deceptive, and bellicose predilections [think the upcoming election? Ed.], the Lord’s active care never ceased. In the spirit of Moses and David (who acted as both prophets and rulers), the Father sent His Son as the foretold shepherd after God’s own heart (cf. Jer 3:15). The watchful eye of the “Good Shepherd” (Jn 10:11) extends beyond Israel’s borders, even unto the limits of time and space. And “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Isa 9:6), rooted in the security of His relationship with the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus exercised His kingly office “with authority,” but not so as to “lord it over” people with aggression (Mt 20:25). Instead, He embodied the very directive He issued His disciples: “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:26). Nowhere was this concept of authority as service clearer than His farewell overture in the Upper Room, where He washed the disciples’ feet as an example for them to follow (Jn 13:1-20). Jesus’ activity of healing the sick, forgiving sins, and proclaiming truth derived its force from the Father, and became the substance of the Church’s pastoral care.

Our participation in that ministry has numerous forms; I couldn’t begin to exhaust them in this short space. We could start along the lines of the “Works of Mercy,” both corporal (e.g. giving food to the hungry, visiting the sick or imprisoned, burying the dead) and spiritual (e.g. forgiving all wrongs, instructing the ignorant, praying for living and dead). It also includes efforts to promote justice, as for safeguarding the lives of unborn children, working to improve social conditions that tempt parents to abortion, and assisting in the healing of parents who have chosen abortion.

One does not need to be a priest or sister, or belong to organizations like the St. Vincent de Paul Society or the Knights of Columbus, in order to cooperate in Christ’s ministry of shepherding. But Catholics have found access to shepherding opportunities by entering into a lifelong dedication to the Faith and joining parish associations. It comes down to trusting God and investigating possibilities with an open heart and mind.

21 October 2016

Beginnings

On 4 October I became the Administrator of Saint Michael the Archangel Parish in Minersville (Schuylkill County, Diocese of Allentown, PA). "Administrator" is a euphemism for"Probationary Pastor." Contrary to one friend's supposition, I do not wear an ankle bracelet, even though I'm on probation! With good behavior, eventually I will be named Pastor, though I know not the day nor the hour.

One of the perks of being the head of a Parish is the opportunity to have one's own bulletin column. Readers of "The Shipwrack-Harvest" have noticed my parsimonious posting in the past couple of years.  I am happy to say that my bulletin column and other writings will make their way here, starting with the first three weekly columns below (With slight modifications--Ed.).

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9 October 2016

Dear Family, 


At our Baptism, the priest or deacon smeared the crown of our heads with Sacred Chrism, one of three oils that the diocesan bishop annually blesses for use in the appropriate sacraments. Before the anointing he says, “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member of His Body, sharing everlasting life.” Thus each baptized person participates as priest, by offering the Lord’s saving sacrifice, as prophet, proclaiming His saving Word, and as king, extending care and direction to those in need. Our fidelity to this threefold calling enables us to cooperate in the salvation of others and ourselves. 

What Our Lord accomplishes among all the baptized, happens in a unique manner through the actions and words of His ordained priests. That mystical endeavor began in my life just over thirteen years ago, when Bishop Cullen ordained me a priest of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church in the Diocese of Allentown. Thankful for the confidence of Bishop Barres, on Tuesday I officially began my sixth priestly assignment as Administrator of Saint Michael the Archangel Parish. 

Having served most of my time in Berks County parishes, today I come to you from my hometown of Saint Clair, where I have lived for two years in service to the local hospital and nursing home population (which I will continue to do part-time), with weekend ministry to Saint Clare of Assisi and other county parishes as needed. In June, I assumed additional responsibilities as Assistant Pastor at Saint Clare of Assisi, with the hopes that Msgr. Glosser might help prepare me for eventual appointment to a parish. Let’s just say it came sooner than both of us expected! 

Our founding pastor, Father Adam Sedar, has helped to bring together three parishes of venerable history in Minersville and Heckscherville. My friendship with Father Adam dates back to our time at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, with three highlights: In 1998 I was privileged to play the organ for his first Mass. In 2004 I succeeded him as Chaplain of Reading Central Catholic High School. Now, in 2016, I shall endeavor to continue the good work he has begun among you. 

The Church’s Thursday Night Prayer contains a line that impressed me from my first recitation of it: “The lot marked out for me is my delight; welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me” (Ps 16:6). I want to carry that attitude into every offering of sacrifice, proclamation of the Gospel, and exercise of pastoral care. In turn, I will gain strength from your fidelity to worship and service, as members of Christ’s Mystical Body in union with their Head. We will provide each other many opportunities to grow in holiness, virtue, and joy. May Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, and Michael, our fearless patron among the heavenly hosts, unceasingly come to our aid!

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16 October 2016

Dear Family,

Several trusted priest advisors have challenged me to devise a “vision” for the parish. What direction ought we go? Who and what are our most valued resources and how shall we harness them? What are our most crucial needs and how do they invite us to change and grow?



While I am not even fully unpacked, it seems vital for all of us together to unpack these and other very important concerns if I am to serve you as you deserve. My words from last week provide a sufficient foundation for any pastoral activity: the people of God, by virtue of our Baptism, are priests of common and personal sacrifice, prophets of faithful and enthusiastic witness, and kings (or ‘shepherds’, if you will) of just and merciful treatment. All worthy parochial endeavors will somehow fall under these categories.

I would like to meet all parishioners involved in the liturgical and temporal aspects of parish life (e.g. Advisory Council, Lectors, Catechists), to find out what is already going on, how I can “plug into” it, and what improvements may seem appropriate. Check this column for more information in the coming weeks.


One aspect of parish life—a very important one, from my vantage point and many others’ as well— merits immediate change in view of my personal health and wellness, also considering my diverse responsibilities to Lehigh Valley Medical Center-Schuylkill and various nursing facilities, assistance to the Federal Correctional Institute- Schuylkill, and the county’s Hispanic Apostolate. I wish to

change the Daily Liturgical Schedule to the following, effective the week of 30 October. Monday: Mass at 5:30pm, preceded by Confessions at 5pm Tuesday: Mass at 8:00am (except for any CCD Masses at 6pm) Wednesday: Mass at 8:00am Thursday: Mass at 8:00am, followed by Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament until Benediction, Night Prayer, and Miraculous Medal Novena at 6:00pm
Friday: Mass at 5:30pm, preceded by Confessions at 5pm.


I hope that the earlier time of the evening Masses is helpful for those who don’t care to be out too late in the evening, even as those who don’t consider that a problem could make the time for the Lord’s Supper before dinner and other family concerns. I realize that team sports are one such concern, and perhaps even these changes will not be very helpful for families to participate. I thank you in advance for your patience and understanding, and realize that further consideration and modification of this schedule might be necessary.

You will notice that I have added an extra slot for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If I could envision one concrete positive change for our parish “right out the gate,” it would be an increase in the conscientious celebration of the Sacrament of Penance. I want to make available to all of you, in print and virtual media, a helpful guide to making a good Confession. As a priest, I don’t like to let a few months go by without participating in the sacrament as a penitent, and I firmly believe (on good authority!) that every member of Christ’s Mystical Body should do likewise.


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23 October 2016

Dear Family,


In my inaugural column I specified the three “offices” of Prophet, Priest, and Shepherd-King that Our Lord fulfilled as the Anointed One (Heb, mashiach; Gk. Christos). How do we carry out those roles as they come to us through our baptismal anointing?


As Priest we are hard-wired for sacrifice. The priests of the First Covenant offered grain and animals to God in atonement for sin, in thanksgiving for God’s blessings. Our Church’s Catechism quotes an early Christian author who said, “Mankind is a beggar before God.” We cannot help but declare our dependence on God as “giver of breath and bread” (G. M.Hopkins, Wreck of the Deutschland).

According to the early understanding that persists into our day, God gives everything—good and evil. We will say with greater nuance that God permits evil, but we still experience many bad things as “happening to” us. Before the omnipotent Creator of all things we declare our need for repair and redress, our need to persevere in life amid our trials.

We offer the sacrifices of our private prayers of adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and supplication (“ACTS”). But above all, we priests participate in the sacrifice of the Church’s commonest common prayer: the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If we’re not doing that, we’re simply not firing on all cylinders.

Our sacrifice of praise includes the confession, or acknowledgment, of our sins! That’s about the most original thing we can offer Him, for our good works come from His inspiration and direction, even though we may not perceive it. But those works truly become ours. We cooperate with God in carrying them out. “Confession” means acknowledgment: acknowledgment above all of the goodness of our God, Whose love for us extends even unto the forgiveness of our sins and restoration to friendship with Him and our neighbor. If we’re not doing that, we’re simply not firing on all cylinders.

09 August 2016

Global Warning

One morning in fourth grade, I arrived at the bus stop to find that everybody in my year was carrying a social studies project that must have been due that day: balloons covered in papier-mâché and painted with the scene of a globe. Perhaps I had been in another world: either I stuffed the assignment into my subconscious because I didn't know how to make the globe, or I must have forgotten about it altogether.

We've all had the embarrassing experience of forgetting something or of showing up inadequately prepared. Such harrowing experiences moved us to pay more attention in the future, to become willing to ask for help when we needed it, or worst of all, to recoil from further action in fear of making another mistake.

The very last line from the recent weekend's Gospel was the most salient point to register in my mind from the Scripture readings: "Much will be demanded of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” It sounds like the scenario diocesan priests are facing!

Jesus' words resonate with the Church's recent celebration of World Youth Day, in which Pope Francis challenged the young people of the world not to be "couch potatoes," a term that originated with an older generation that needs to hear that exhortation just as much. He said our God is a God of risk. If there is to be any goodness in the world, God has often orchestrated it to depend on our initiative and follow-through.

As the first reading from Wisdom richly recounted, the people of the First Covenant knew well what it was like to profit from the Lord's saving initiative on their behalf. Ten plagues convinced Pharaoh finally to liberate them from Egypt; "and if that wasn't enough," He parted the waters of the Red Sea so they could pass through safely.

Even though Israel would go through cycles of remembering and forgetting what God had done for them, one after another saving intervention and ungrateful amnesia, Israel still counted those interventions as mercies from the Lord, without which they would not continue it to exist. Even so, our interventions on others' behalf can be the very expressions of divine mercy they need.

We just can't rest on our laurels to expect those expressions of mercy as if we deserved them, yet we certainly can be grateful for them when they occur.

What do we need in order to initiate those acts of mercy? Trust. Jesus issues an astounding assignment: "Sell everything." Don't cling frenetically to your time, talent, or treasure, else it will elude your grasp and be of no good to anyone.

The ultimate due date for our life's assignment is the day of our death, and we cannot place it on our calendar ahead of time. Therefore it will behoove us to pay attention, ask for help, and not be afraid to extend ourselves in love--in a word, to die along the way to death. That way, it won't be such a cause for alarm and disappointment.