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

21 October 2016


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.

24 July 2016

Obstruction of Justice

Today is World Youth Day. Instituted by Pope Saint John Paul II, this has been an annual celebration of the youth of the world, who are not only the Church's future, but her present as well.  While WYD is observed every year, Pope Francis thought it would be a good idea to hold the current biennial en masse celebration in Krakow, JPII's hometown, especially because it is the Year of Mercy, and Mercy was perhaps the greatest cause in his pontificate. The theme for the celebration is always taken from scripture; this year's theme is Matthew 5:7, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." 

By giving us the prayer we have come to call The Lord's Prayer, it is true that Jesus wanted to give us the paradigm of prayer "after His own Heart." That's one important thing that people seek from their spiritual mentors. But he also wanted to remind us of how everyone stands before God as beggars, totally dependent upon Him for everything we have and are.

At the same time, Jesus wants his disciples to seek the fullness of life (cf. John 10:10--which was the theme of WYD 1993, which I was privileged to attend). The abundant life that Jesus promises is far more than a list of goods or services that we might demand from God as if they were terms of surrender or for returning a hostage. We're talking about nothing less than participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity.

Is it possible not to want that? More to the point, is it possible to live as if we didn't want it–is it possible to choose against it? Jesus himself insists so. 

While even the pagan philosopher Aristotle noted that everyone desires happiness and fulfillment by nature, it's just that everyone's vision of happiness doesn't line up appropriately with each other's vision–and quite often they fail to line up with God's vision. We can in fact have a scorpion in hand when our son asks for an egg. When Jesus suggests so, we may think it preposterous (and certainly He meant the question rhetorically), but He sneaked in a grain of truth. All of Jesus's parables and comparisons reflect His keen understanding of our fallen human nature.

In this respect he is consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures that He learned. Say what you will about the content of the Old Testament, its divine and human authors knew well our tendency toward selfish corruption. As we read from Genesis, God couldn't even find ten righteous people in the city of Sodom, so He followed through on the decision to cleanse it by fire. As a literal event it may be hard to understand, but in principle not at all. 

Perhaps you've seen this election sign. Given the contemporary state of politics, one might be tempted to cast such a vote.

The Church's Catechism (1867) picks up on a centuries-old teaching tool that lists sins that cry to heaven for vengeance. Not that any sin is acceptable, but these are so heinous in God's sight that He demands immediate and total redress. 

First is the blood of Abel. Recall how God told Killer Cain, "Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!" (Gen 4:10). The balance of the universe is thrown off by willful murder. Our dignity in the Heart of God ought to be our dignity in each other's hearts; when we treat each other otherwise, we are debasing our own dignity.

Then there is the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah alluded to in today's first reading from Gen 18. It has long been understood as sexual activity that physically contravenes human nature, involving persons of the same sex, or by extension persons of the opposite sex who have made a point of separating the two appropriate purposes of marital love: union and procreation.

More recent authors have demonstrated an amplified sense of their sin, to include a lack of concern for the needy. While this fits in with the other examples of vengeance-seeking sin, the most salient example is the one herein cited. Consult this article for more details.

The cry of the Israelites oppressed in Egypt (cf. Ex 3:7-10) also seeped out of the soil. Having heard it (of course God knew of it, but the Scriptures speak poetically), God decided at length to intervene through the initially unwilling agency of Moses. He may have been carrying around the guilt of his earlier Egyptian homicide, as if to object that he was in no place to advocate the cessation of oppression. That God deems otherwise attests to His mercy.

God's outrage at the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan is variously attested in the Hebrew Scriptures. These folks in particular were already disadvantaged, lacking their customary means of security. Israel of all nations should know better than to treat anyone as second-class citizens, because she herself had been so considered in her day.

Injustice to the wage earner is also reprehensible to the Lord. When people in power withhold the funds necessary to live a decent life, that is oppression along the lines of the offenses mentioned above.

These sins have one commonality: the intentional obstruction of human flourishing. We may wonder why God does not seem to punish these crimes immediately and unmistakably. Perhaps that will remain forever scandalous. But the consequences of these actions nonetheless proceed. The world is basking (basting?) in them right now.

Our heavenly Father invests us with understanding, freedom, and passions to respond gracefully to Him and to our fellow human beings. Again, we may wonder why God does not prevent people from failing to respond gracefully. But the perhaps central component to today's parable is a dual persistence: God's in allowing us to recognize our sins, repent of them, confess them, and to live forward with renewed attentiveness; and our persistence in doing those very things as often as we sin.

16 July 2016

Our Stewardship of Suffering and Love

It sometimes occurs as a point of meditation that the saints are human just like us, but at the same time we are called to the same holiness as they. We do a great job, don’t we, of putting different folks on a pedestal, whether it be the saints, or various political or religious leaders or inspirational people in our lives. We know we’ve put them on a pedestal when they inevitably give us reason not to keep them there, and as a result we become outraged; perhaps, in a quieter moment, we might become embarrassed at the thought that we invested the person with such esteem and paid so much attention to what they said—never mind that their words may have been true and valuable, but suddenly their own imperfection or hypocrisy prompts us to call everything into question. Please God, with a little perspective we learn to sift through everything to retain what is of value.

Anyhow, Saint Paul reminds us today of the exalted dignity that all the baptized share. He calls it a “stewardship” (οîκονομία), which refers to a plan for attending to the concerns of an individual or a household. It's where we get the word "economy": the aggregate of transactions (usually financial, but not exclusively so) by which a community of persons keeps going. Paul’s “stewardship” was the mission entrusted to him by God for the communities he’d founded (we’d call them parishes or dioceses). We might find the term more relevant if we considered our family, workplace, and even our own bodies and souls as a stewardship. Paul’s mission was to proclaim the Word of God in Jesus Christ through doctrinal and moral instruction, in order to form active, growing believers. Our responsibility as disciples isn’t really that different: by example and by words we want to show people who Jesus is and what He means for the world. We do this not as “lone rangers,” but as persons baptized into the visible Body of Christ on earth, found most fully in the Catholic Church that the Lord Jesus founded and has sustained for nearly 2,000 years with believers and leaders such as us.

As a result, we want to cultivate our relationship with the Lord in and through the Church, so that people are drawn not merely to us with our personal gifts and drawbacks, but to the Lord living and acting in the Church. We may need to brush up on our appreciation of our great Catholic heritage so as to become the best possible witness.

Now most of us don't have a pulpit from which to proclaim any sort of message, nor do we have any kind of script. In the absence of laborious research and skillful oratory, there is one element in most lives that can provide a compelling witness, and that is our suffering. Strange to hear, perhaps, but God’s honest truth. St. Paul said to the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His Body, which is the Church.” We’d be foolish to suppose that, because Jesus suffered for us, we shouldn’t have to suffer, we shouldn’t have to experience pain, inconvenience, humiliation, and all the rest. Jesus experienced upon the cross the suffering experienced by every person in every place and time, so that as we come to experience that suffering in our own time, it doesn't have to be purposeless: we are able to make it something of infinite value by offering it in union with the Lord for those in need of repentance and healing. Thus we can create a space in our lives for the "inconveniences" that visit us, like those three men who visited Abraham and Sarah, and they can become a channel of unexpected blessing.

And when we don’t necessarily have any suffering on our plate, the other legacy in which we always share is the Eucharist that unites us to the saints of every time and place. The very Body of Christ that suffered upon the Cross is sacramentally made present here and now and everywhere the ministerial priesthood is found. In our worthy reception of Holy Communion we share in the sufferings and joys of the whole Church across time and space. Why, therefore, waste an opportunity to suffer well? Why waste an opportunity to love well? Why waste a chance to learn from the Master where He is most concretely found—in the Host and in our neighbor?