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What Will Your Life be Like After the Coronavirus?

What was your life like before the Coronavirus? Maybe you were very busy at work. Maybe you were very busy with your children’s (or grandchildren’s) activities. Maybe you are retired and you didn’t do much because it always seemed like there was plenty of time, and now you can’t do the stuff you hadn’t gotten to.

How different has your life been during the Coronavirus shutdown? Are you still going into work? Healthcare workers and grocery stores are busier than ever (we are very grateful for their work and care). Maybe you are working from home. Is working from home a good or a bad thing? It has its pros and cons. Maybe you have been laid off and find yourself with a lot of time.

If you are a student of any age, how is the online learning going? How much time does it take? What have you done with all the time that used to go into student’s extracurricular activities like sports and plays?

What about the time you would normally spend at church? Have you been praying at all? I heard Cardinal Dolan say that some of the priests in the Archdiocese of New York have said that in some cases they have more people watching Mass online now than were going to church before the shutdown. A crisis can lead people back to God. We pray they keep coming?

Maybe you have been cleaning the house. I know some people who say their house is cleaner than it has been in years. Maybe you have completed some longstanding projects around the house. If you are one of the families that are always on the go because of so many activities for your children such that you never sit down to eat a meal together, maybe you have shared some meals together and just talked.

Maybe you have used some of the time for some much needed rest.

If you have had a lot of extra free time, I hope you have given some of it to Jesus. One might think of some of the time as a retreat. A spiritual retreat includes some time to rest but it always includes prayer and perhaps spiritual reading to ask God to help you regroup and discern what God wants you to be doing.

So, when the Coronavirus shutdown ends, what are you going to do?

Healthcare workers and grocery store workers will need some rest but what about the rest of you? Do you just plan to go back to your old routine exactly as it was? Does that mean you will be too busy to spend time with your family or with God?

If you are retired and weren’t busy, is there something God has been calling you to do that you can start now?

Maybe you are looking forward to spending time with family and friends that you haven’t seen during the shutdown. That is a good thing.

If you are student or a teacher, are you looking forward to back to traditional school classroom? What about all those extracurricular activities? Are you going to let your life become too busy to have any time for God again?

What will your prayer life be like? Will you pray everyday? How long? Will you thank God that the Coronavirus shutdown is over? What about Mass? I know some people are eager to get back to church because they have missed the Eucharist. Have you? If you were a busy person who didn’t always go to Mass on Sunday because of being too busy, will you make it a priority to go to Mass every Sunday? (If you are able, how about daily Mass?)

There is no one detailed answer for everyone (it should include God for everyone). The question is have you given it any thought or are you just assuming life will go back to the old normal. Maybe that is what God wants. Maybe God says this is the time to make him a priority.

Even if God is a priority in your life, is there something different you might do for God? It might be prayer, reading, or how you use your time to work for the coming of God’s kingdom.

Pray and let God be your guide.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Passion (Palm) Sunday, Year A – Homily

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
Gospel for the Procession Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24 (2a)
Philippians 2:6-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66
April 5, 2020

The appointed time draws near so Jesus goes to Jerusalem.  As He nears Jerusalem, He receives a royal welcome as the “crowd spread their cloaks and cut branches from the trees.”  The crowds identify Jesus as the prophet.  They have come to realize Jesus is somebody special but do not yet fully understand who He is.

In what happens to Jesus in his Passion, many prophecies are fulfilled.  He is mocked, his hands and feet pierced, and his garments divided.  Jesus knew what was going to happen and He willingly submitted to it.  He had been “in the form of God” but “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at.”  He willingly “emptied himself” in the Incarnation “becoming obedient to the point of death” on the Cross for us. 

There are four individuals identified by name in the Passion that I would like to reflect on what motivates them.

The first is Judas Iscariot.  He was “one of the Twelve.”  That means he had been specifically called by Jesus.  That did not mean he was perfect.  In fact, he will betray Jesus.

What motivates Judas’ betrayal?  We are told “he went to the chief priests.”  This means it was something he chose.  He was not tricked into it by those who opposed Jesus.  He says to them, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you!”  Judas’ motivation appears to be greed.  Greed is one of the seven deadly sins.

Does greed motivate your actions?

The next person I would like to discuss is Pilate.  Jesus is brought to Pilate by his opponents.  Pilate asks, “Why? What evil has he done?”  He sees no crime.  Pilate proclaims himself “innocent of this man’s blood” yet he orders Jesus to be crucified.  Why?  To appease the crowd.  Pilate allows the crowds to dictate what he does.

Are you willing to set aside what you know is right to appease others?

Then there is Peter.  Peter is the one who, when Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am,” identified Jesus as the Christ.  One might think Peter’s faith is strong.  In the Passion, we see Peter’s fear.

Jesus tells the disciples that their faith will be shaken and when it is “the sheep of the flock will be dispersed.”  Peter replies that his faith will never be shaken.  We could only hope.

Jesus tells Peter, “before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”  Peter remains adamant that He will not deny Jesus. 

Jesus is then arrested.  The disciples do scatter, including Peter.  Peter watches from a distance.  When others recognize Peter as one who was with Jesus, Peter does indeed deny Jesus three times. 

Why?  Fear!  Fear for his life. 

At what times in your life has your faith been shaken?  Does the closing of churches and the Coronavirus cause you fear?  I pray that your faith is strong and this time without public Masses makes you yearn for Jesus even more. 

Perhaps you have experienced something else in your life that shakes your faith, that makes you afraid.  Do not let your fear control you.  Hand your fears over to Jesus.

So that’s Judas, Pilate, and Peter.  Of course, the fourth person named in the Passion I want to talk about Jesus.

Jesus knew exactly what was coming.  He did not run from it even though it caused him agony in the garden.  Knowing what is about to happen, He goes off to pray.  Three times He prays.  He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.

He does not want to suffer.  He does not want to die.  Yet He is “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  Jesus surrenders himself to his Father’s Will. 

Then comes his betrayal.  Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss.  Jesus knew this was going to happen.  He could have easily stopped Judas but He did not.  He knows that it must be or else, “how would the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must come to pass in this way?

He trusted in God.  Yet, that did not make it easy.  Jesus is fully divine but He is also fully human.  In his humanity He suffered greatly as He was mocked and scourged.  He was nailed to the Cross for our sins. 

As He hung on the Cross in agony, He called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  Yet, even then He submitted to the Father’s Will and “gave up his spirit.

At that moment, in Jesus’ suffering death, our salvation was won. 

It was sacred moment.  It was a powerful moment in the history of God’s people.  “The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened.” 

In that moment, Jesus was recognized for who He is.  It was not the Jews who first recognized the power and grace of the moment.  It was a centurion, a Roman, and his men who called out in that moment, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”

Judas was motivated by greed.  Peter was motivated by fear.  Pilate acted as he did to appease the crowd.

What motivated Jesus?

Love.

Jesus had nothing to gain for himself.  He did not empty himself for his own good when He became man in the Incarnation.  He did it for us.  He did it to show us the way to the Father.  He did it because He loved us.

What is your greatest motivation?  Greed?  Fear? Making others happy? 

Let us pray that all our actions be motivated by love, the love of Jesus on the Cross.

A Different Kind of Holy Week

I write this on Saturday morning just before we celebrate Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday begins Holy Week with our celebration of the Easter Triduum culminating in the Resurrection of Jesus.

This year Holy Week will be like no other Holy Week before. When it came time for Jesus to enter into Jerusalem for his Passion (the first Holy Week), He received a royal welcome (Matthew 21:1-11) as the “crowd spread their cloaks and cut branches from the trees.” The key word here being “crowd.”

There will be no crowds to welcome Jesus this year. We continue to stay at home to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. We do this to protect God’s people against the Coronavirus.

However, the fact that we cannot gather physically together in church does not prevent us from welcoming Jesus into our lives. We are fortune to have Masses on TV and online. I encourage you to watch the Masses and Good Friday Service this week as part of your continuing welcoming of Jesus into your life.

We are called to welcome Jesus into our hearts. We are called to welcome Jesus into our homes. Here, the Church speaks of our homes being a “domestic church,” the first place we experience our faith.

We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “It is in the bosom of the family that parents are “by word and example…the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children… It is here that the father of the family, the mother, children, and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way, “by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity.”  Thus the home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment” (1656-7).

What can we do to welcome into our homes, making our homes a “domestic church”?

It starts with watching Mass on TV or online. In doing so, we open ourselves to all that God offers us. We make an Act of Spiritual Communion (see my article “Our Desire for the Eucharist“). To continue to open ourselves to the Lord we can read the Bible, say grace thanking God for the meal He has given us, we can a Rosary and/or other devotions.

We can also create a physical space in our homes for God.

It doesn’t have to be complicated or big. Above you see my little shrine. There is a Crucifix and a Bible as well as some other spiritual artwork. Often people include statues when making a space for Jesus (if you don’t have religious items already in your home, you can purchase them online). Use images that lead you to Jesus. Sit before it as you pray.

For those who already have a dedicated physical space for Jesus, I encourage you to spend a little time there praying for those who don’t. Pray that our prayers and the witness of our lives help lead all to Jesus.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

More on Sacrifice

In my most recent blog article, “The Sacrifice of the Mass,” I wrote on how in our celebration of the Eucharist, God makes present for us the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Now, I want to talk about our response to Jesus’ sacrifice.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “It is right to offer sacrifice to God as a sign of adoration and gratitude, supplication and communion” (2099). I emphasize “gratitude” because we should be thankful that Jesus made this sacrifice. We can show our gratitude by offering sacrifice in return.

Of course, our sacrifice cannot equal Jesus’ sacrifice but it does show our gratitude. It isn’t about the external action of our sacrifice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to say “Outward sacrifice, to be genuine, must be the expression of spiritual sacrifice” (2100). Our sacrifices need to show that our heart is humble and contrite (see Psalm 51:18-19).

We unite our own sacrifices to that of Jesus at the Offertory in Mass. The collection is taken up and the gifts of bread and wine are brought forth. Yet, we should not think of what is being offered at that point in terms of just the bread and wine along with the collection. It is symbolic of what we offer as we give of our time, talent, and treasure as a sacrifice to God.

Paul writes 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” (Colossians 1:24). We can offer our sufferings as a sacrifice for the good of others. Yet, how can we fill up what is “lacking in the afflictions of Christ“? In fact, how can anything be “lacking in the afflictions of Christ“?

It’s not that anything is lacking on Christ’s part. All that remains is our response, our willingness to sacrifice in response to Jesus’ love for us. We need to respond with love.

Motivated in love, there are sacrifices that good Christian disciples make often. Think of a parent who makes sacrifices for their children. Think of a parent who drives an old car instead of a new car to use the money to provide for the needs of their children. Think of a parent who gives up their career to raise their children.

Marriage is also meant to involve sacrificial love. The man and woman give themselves completely to each other. As husband and wife they become more concerned for the other than for themselves. In choosing to commit themselves to one person in marriage, they give up being concerned only for their own pleasure. In this way, the marriage covenant of a husband and wife serve as an image of Jesus’ love for his bride, the Church.

People who answer the call to religious life and priesthood sacrifice having a human family of their own to be a sign of Jesus’ total commitment to the world. People who remain single through their entire life can do so in a way that is for the glory of God.

Any worldly thing we give up for the sake of our faith may represent a sacrifice. It might be for our whole lives. It might be a temporary sacrifice.

We are told to stay home right now because of the Coronavirus. If we are only doing it because the government is telling us to, our doing so is just following orders. What is your motivation for staying home?

Are you staying home out of fear, fear that you will get sick? Are you doing just for yourself? When you practice social distancing are you doing just for yourself or for others? Does it make a difference who the other is?

Let me provide a possible example. Prior to the suspension of Masses, our bishop suspended the exchange of the Sign of Peace at Mass and told us not to hold hands or shake hands. This was solely to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus through good social distancing. I like to stand outside before and after Mass to interact with the people I serve. Part of that interaction is to shake hands with those who choose to do so. As we began social distancing, I stopped shaking hands. I didn’t do this for selfish reasons (not getting sick myself). I made a deliberate effort to do this for the sake of others. I didn’t want to risk shaking hands with one person with the virus and passes the virus onto another unsuspecting person. Did this help protect me? Yes, but my concern was more for others.

Of course, there is another side in the Coronavirus. What about those who have to work and put themselves at risk to care for others? Most obvious here are the health care workers who put themselves at risk to take care of the sick. I think of Jesus’ words in John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The health care workers do this even for strangers. I also think of others who put themselves in public like grocery store employers so that we might have the items we need.

What sacrifices do you make in your life now? What sacrifices have you made in the past? Ask yourself if you give something up because you had to or because you have been loved by God and want to show that love to others? It is when we do it for love of God and our neighbor that it becomes a sacrifice that we offer to God in gratitude for all He has done for us.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Sacrifice of the Mass

In the articles I have written during the Coronavirus crisis, my discussion about the Eucharist has so far focused on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It is his Body and Blood that give us spiritual nourishment.

Now, I would like to talk about the Eucharist as a sacrifice. The notion of the Mass celebrating a sacrifice has often been misunderstood.

The Law of the Old Testament called for sacrifices to be offered (the Book of Leviticus is a central place to find these). The sacrifices entailed the sacrifice of animals officiated by a priest. The people were imperfect. The animals were an earthly sacrifice. The sacrifices were not perfect. Thus, they had to be offered over and over.

Jesus came to offer a new sacrifice once and for all. Once Jesus offers this sacrifice, there is no need of further sacrifices. The sacrifice we are talking about is Jesus sacrificing his life on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus’ sacrifice is perfect because He is perfect. He is the unblemished lamb. We thank God for the sacrifice of Jesus. It reveals how absolute God’s love for us. Jesus is willing to lay down his life for us.

The sacrifice of the Crucifixion on Good Friday. The Institution of the Eucharist happened on Holy Thursday. How do the two relate?

For the answer, we turn to Luke 22:19-20, “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.

When Jesus says, “which will be given for you…which will be shed for you,” He is speaking of his body given up for us on the Cross. He is speaking of his blood shed for us on the Cross. Thus, Jesus unites the Eucharist to his sacrifice on the Cross. When we celebrate Mass, we are celebrating the Sacrifice of the Cross. Since it is a sacrifice, a priest is the one who presides, offering the sacrifice.

Two thousand years later we continue to celebrate the Eucharist at Mass. Why? Because Jesus said “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19).

Does that mean we are celebrating a new sacrifice each time we celebrate Mass? No, as I already said, Jesus died once for all, no further sacrifice is needed.

God chose the night of the Passover for the Institution of the Eucharist. This was no coincidence. For the Jews, the Passover was celebrated as a “memorial feast“, a “perpetual institution” (See Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14, first reading for Holy Thursday). It was not a just a historical recalling of the Passover event. It made present the original Passover event.

In the same way, in our celebration of the Eucharist, we do not celebrate a new sacrifice. Rather, God makes present the Sacrifice of the Cross present on our altar. It is difficult to express in human words how this happens. As earthly human beings, we are bound by time. God is not. The Sacrifice of the Cross is not bound to a single day, a historical event and nothing more. It transcends time and place. It is made present for us on every altar in every place and every time the Eucharist is celebrated.

Jesus loves us. He gives his life for us as we celebrate the Eucharist. We place a Crucifix near the altar to remind us of the bond Jesus placed between the Eucharist and the Crucifixion.

This understanding of the Mass as a Sacrifice is why priests continue to celebrate Mass privately even though we cannot gather for public Masses. It is to offer this wonderful Sacrifice not just for the priest but for all God’s people.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Our Desire for the Eucharist

When I posted my homily last week, I included a link to an Act of Spiritual Communion and some information about it. It was the first week after Masses were suspended because of the Coronavirus in the Diocese of Rochester where I serve as a priest. We continue to deal with the Coronavirus so this is another week without public Masses. I pray often for the Coronavirus to end. God is listening. God is with us. God who sees what is in your heart will repay you (see gospel for Ash Wednesday, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18).

Here I include the words of the Act of Spiritual Communion:

Prayer for Spiritual Communion
My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things and I desire to receive You in my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if you were already there
and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

I want to offer some reflection on this prayer now as we face this time without the Eucharist. The first line speaks of what is at the heart of our faith, the Eucharist stating our belief that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is Jesus! This is why we yearn for it. (For more on how it is Jesus himself who tells us that it is his Body and Blood, see my recent presentation on the Eucharist.)

Next, in this prayer, we state that we love Jesus above all else. Our lives can be busy at times but we want to put Jesus first (this isn’t always easy). We desire to receive Jesus. I emphasize “desire” because the “desire” is key here. There are more and more people today who say they are spiritual but not religious. They think it is not necessary to come to church. Do they desire Jesus? I leave them to being between them and Jesus.

There are those who might come to church once in a while. Do they desire Jesus? There are some people who come more out of obligation than desire. Sometimes, that is because the religious education they received was lacking in helping them realize all that God offers us in the Eucharist. They know they long for (i.e. desire) what the Eucharist offers but struggle to understand.

Then, there are those of us who want to be in church every week, maybe everyday because they desire Jesus. Yet, right now people cannot receive Jesus sacramentally, through no fault of their own but because of the Coronavirus. So, in this Act of Spiritual Communion, you ask that Jesus come at least spiritually into your hearts.

Jesus will come in response to your desire. Remember, God sees what is your heart. God knows your desire. In my recent presentation on Baptism and Confirmation, I spoke about what happens to infants who die without Baptism. On slide 31, I offered the following two quotes:

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1129 “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257 “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

The first tells us that the Sacraments are necessary. Our faith still teaches that we should “Keep the Sabbath Holy” and come to church weekly where we can give praise and worship to God as well as receive the Eucharist. If we are ill or snowed in, thus being “prevented” from coming to Mass, there is no sin.

At this time we are prevented (and excused by the bishops) from coming to Mass, not because we are all sick but to prevent us as well as others from contracting the Coronavirus. So, we ask Jesus to come into your hearts spiritually. Here I point to the second quote I just offered above, God, “himself is not bound by his sacraments.” We need the Sacraments. They are the way in which we can be aware of receiving the grace that God offers us. God can, and does, give us that grace whenever we truly desire it.

Before public Masses people were saying to me that they hoped we would be able to keep celebrating Mass. They showed their desire for the Eucharist. Since public Masses have been suspended even more people have said they hope the suspension ends soon. They too have showed their desire. Jesus comes to you in your desire.

Does that mean we don’t have to come to Mass anymore? Are we off the hook for good?

Absolutely not!!!!i

Yes, God gives you the grace if you truly desire to receive the Eucharist but if you truly desire to receive the Eucharist, you will come to receive the Eucharist as so as soon as possible. When the suspension of public Masses is lifted, you will come to Mass right away. That is the evidence of your desire.

Until you are can return to public Masses, do what you can to let God into your hearts. Do what you can to “Keep the Sabbath holy.” Watch Mass on TV or online. Read the Sunday readings, even the daily readings (available online). Give God some of your time in prayer (Prayer Resources).

Show your desire to receive Jesus. Open yourself to him in prayer, make an Act of Spiritual Communion, and Jesus will come into your heart and soul.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

5th Sunday of Lent, Year A – Homily

A reminder that you can find a list of Masses online at
https://catholiccourier.com/articles/list-of-parishes-with-livestreams-available

5th Sunday of Lent, Year A
Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 (7)
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45
March 29, 2020

Last week we hear the story of Jesus opening the eyes of the man born blind.  This is the sixth of seven signs in the Gospel of John that give testimony to who Jesus really is.  They show the power of God at work in him.

The signs have been building.  Today we hear the story of the seventh and final sign, the raising of Lazarus.

Martha and Mary ‘sent word to Jesus saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.”’  Lazarus is ill.  Jesus heals people.  One would naturally assume that Jesus would go immediately to Lazarus and heal him.  In fact, Jesus has healed others without even being in their presence.

Yet Jesus does not heal Lazarus.  Today we pray for God to bring an immediate end to the Coronavirus.  God has not ended the Coronavirus but that doesn’t mean God isn’t listening.  He is responding as He knows best.  I do not believe God caused the Coronavirus but I do believe He is with us in our hour of need.

So, what did Jesus do when He heard that Lazarus was ill?  His first words were, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.”  Remember last week when Jesus’ disciples asked who sinned, the man born blind or his parents.  Jesus said the man’s blindness was not because of sin but so that the glory of God would be made visible through him. 

Jesus’ words about Lazarus continue this.  Jesus does not immediately go and heal Lazarus.  In fact, He does not go for two days.  By time He departs to go to Lazarus, Lazarus is already dead.  Jesus knows this and tells his disciples, “Lazarus has died.  And I am glad for you that was not there, that you may believe.

Believe what?  Jesus has something incredible to do.  On his way He meets Martha.  Martha’s faith is strong as she says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  Martha has hope.  Mary will echo these words.

Jesus assures Martha that Lazarus will rise.  He says, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” 

When Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ tomb, He calls to Lazarus, “come out!” and Lazarus arises.  From this “many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.” 

So too do we believe in Jesus as “the resurrection and the life.”  But what does it mean to live?  What does it mean to die?

Here, I turn to our first reading from Ezekiel.  The Lord is speaking to those in Exile with Ezekiel in Babylon.  The Lord says, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them and bring you back to the land of Israel.”

Thus, the Lord speaks of resurrection, the resurrection that all who believe in Jesus will share in after earthly death.  These words in Ezekiel and Jesus’ words about resurrection are important.  They give us hope that earthly death is not the end.

To understand what it means to live and die, there is another level to the words the Lord offered through Ezekiel.  We should not take the word “rise” as simply a reference to the resurrection of the body at the end of time.  Remember, the Lord is speaking to Israelites in Exile.  To them, to be taken from their homes to a foreign land would be like death, death being separation from God.  For us, sin brings separation from God, this separation is spiritual death.

When the Lord uses the word “rise”, He is telling them that He will free them from Exile.  Here, I think of the prayer a priest says when anointing someone, “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.  Amen.”

This prayer of anointing is not just for the dying but anyone facing a serious illness so “raise you up” is more than just speaking of the resurrection to come.  It speaks of how God will strengthen us in our time of suffering and lift us up. 

God’s words to the Israelites raise them up with hope.  The words for anointing assure one of God’s presence and raises us up in hope.  It gives new life that we may live.

What does it mean to live and die?  We are talking about something far greater than earthly death (that is followed by resurrection to eternal life.)

We are talking about life in the spirit. 

Right now, we might feel trapped by the Coronavirus but we are only trapped in our humanity.  We cannot gather together in church but God is with us, giving us true life.  We are called to abandon the flesh to live in the spirit.  However, when we speak of “flesh” in this sense, we are not speaking of physical flesh.  This sense of flesh speaks of giving into pleasures of the flesh, giving into sin.  Remember, sin is death.

But we are not simply “flesh.”  God offers us life through the spirit. 

Do you find yourself with more free time because of the Coronavirus?  Sometimes we think we are too busy to have time for God.  Here is your chance.  Use the free time to turn your heart to God, to put God first.

The Coronavirus is not the first pandemic the world has faced.  There was the 1918 flu.  Churches closed then but reopened.  There was the Black Plague.  There have been other illnesses.  God has always led his people through it.  God will lead us through this illness too.  There will be suffering.  Jesus knows what it is like to suffer. 

We trust in the Lord and live in the Spirit.

Being “Church”

We continue to be separated to do our part to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. I miss seeing the people. I miss gathering together to celebrate the Eucharist. Celebrating the Eucharist is the most important thing we can do. In our celebration at Mass, God makes present the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross so that our sins might be forgiven. The bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. In receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood, we are strengthened to fulfill the mission we have been given to proclaim the gospel (for more on the Eucharist, watch my recent presentation).

If the Eucharist is the most important thing we can do as a “church”, does that mean we stop being “church” without the Eucharist? No! We can still proclaim the gospel in the way we live our lives. Even with social distancing and staying home, we can still love God and our neighbor.

What do you think of first when you hear the word “church”? Is it the building where we gather for Mass? We do call the building a church. The building is very important as the place where we normally gather. Our church buildings need to be worthy of what we do there. The way we build and decorate our churches needs to be signs of what we believe.

However, church is more than just the building. We read in the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, “The word Church is a translation of biblical words: the Hebrew word qahal, and the Greek word ekklesia, both of which mean “gathering of people or community” for worship” (113, cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 751-752).

It is the gathering of the people as a community that is church. Coming together, we celebrate the Eucharist. It is the priest who presides at the Mass as the one called by God and gifted in ordination to fulfill this calling. However, the people are not just to be spectators at Mass. Look at the words in all of the Eucharistic prayers at Mass. They speak of “we” celebrating the mystery of the Eucharist. The priest acts in persona Christi as but it is as a community that we celebrate Mass together. Even now when priests are celebrating Mass privately, it is still for the people.

So, church is the gathering of people. Which people? If someone asks you what church you belong to, on what level do you respond? Do you think of the church building where you go for worship? It used to be that parishes normally only had one church building. Now, a parish might have several church buildings. Do you identify yourself to the name of the church building or by the parish name? How about the diocese? How about the worldwide Catholic Church? How about the Church that transcends this earthly realm?

We need church buildings. We need an institutional church with a hierarchy that leads us to be who God calls us to be.

“Who God calls us to be”? Hum. “to be” points to some kind of action doesn’t it? We are not supposed to gather for Mass for one hour a week and forget about church the rest of the time. Even now, when we cannot gather for Mass, we are still called to fulfill the mission of proclaiming the gospel.

Jesus tells us ” the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). We are called to follow Jesus’ example to serve others. Again, with the Coronavirus, the ways in which we serve others might be limited but “service” to others does not stop. We can always serve others by praying for them. We can serve others by checking in on the elderly and infirmed with a phone call. If we have the means, we can serve others by donating to charities that serve those in need.

We also serve others by sharing with them the Truth that God proclaims. We are not to force it on others. It is their choice how to live their lives. However, they only truly have a choice when they know what their options are.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “thy kingdom come.” We are called to work for the spread of God’s kingdom here on Earth. We need to be a voice for Jesus. We need to stop letting what the world says is good dictate our beliefs. Instead, we need to embrace the Truth of Jesus, and live in a way that changes the world for the better. This is part of how we are called to be “church” not just for ourselves but for all God’s people.

What I have offered here are some general thoughts about what it means to be a church. This is not meant to say the examples I give are the only way to be a church. For more on this, I invite you to watch my presentation, What It Means to be a Church?

We miss coming together for the Eucharist but we are still a community of believers. We are still a church. God will give us what we need to be who He calls us to be.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Staying Connected

We are not currently able to gather together to celebrate Mass because of the Coronavirus. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith (Lumen Gentium, 11). Thus, this time without public celebration of the Eucharist might seem a threat to our church. Is this the devil at work? What does this mean for our Church?

We have divine assurance that the devil will not prevail. That divine assurance comes from Jesus’ own words to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans reminds the people that God is on our side, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b, for entire passage see Romans 8:28-39).

Yes, it is true we face a challenge to stay connected as a church that is the community of believers. We can still come together in prayer, albeit from our own homes. Last Friday, March 20th, Pope Francis called all to pray the Rosary together at 4 pm EDT. As we celebrate the celebrate the Annunciation this Wednesday, March 25th, Pope Francis invites all to pray the Lord’s Prayer at noon. Also on Wednesday, Bishop Matano has invited all in our diocese to pray a Rosary lead by him streamed on YouTube at noon.

We can also pray on our own but sharing common intentions. This is why I have been putting a prayer/intention on St. Luke’s Facebook page each morning. Certainly, we are sharing a common prayer intention in praying for an end to the Coronavirus.

We should also remember that while public Masses are not being said, Masses are being said privately. The Sacrifice of the Mass, which makes present today the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, does not stop. As I say Mass, I offer for each and every one of you. I cannot say it enough that you are all very much on my mind as I celebrate Mass.

Yes, the Coronavirus crisis poses a threat to how we currently live as a community of believers. We are used to coming together for Mass weekly (daily for some). Mass is often the only time people see each other. Yet, that does not mean our connection to one another is broken right now. As you pray, take time to remember the people in our community. Even if you don’t know their names, you have seen them at church. Pray for them. If you don’t know their names, God does. God knows each and everyone of us by name. God will direct the prayer to the right person.

For those you know by name and are close to, make effort to stay connected. You may begin this by praying for them. You could also reach out to them. Good social distancing may prevent us from seeing them in person but it doesn’t prevent us from reaching out to them by phone or email.

In reaching out in prayer and to communicate with one another, we take the threat of the Coronavirus breaking our community apart and turn it into a new opportunity, a new way of being the community of believers.

By praying more often, we also take this time where we are told to stay home and turn it into an opportunity to spend more time with God. God embraces the opportunity to converse with you in prayer.

If you find yourself with a lot of free time, in addition to prayer, I encourage you to use this time to learn more about God as a means to deepen your relationship with him. You can do this by reading scripture and other spiritual reading. You can watch Catholic programming on TV or listen on radio (where available).

For those who are new to this blog, I take a moment here to point you to my website beyond this blog, www.renewaloffaith.org. The articles there are all written by me to help people learn and understand more about our faith. In addition to written articles, you will also find presentations recorded on video I have done. The menu bar is sorted by topic if you have something particular you would like to learn about. If you would like to know what the newest material is, check out the “What’s New” page.

Returning to the theme of staying connected, for those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you have probably noticed I am posting much more often since the Coronavirus crisis began in the United States. This is my way of staying connected with our parishioners but also everyone who reads my blog. (I encourage you to share what you read here with others.)

It is important for us to put effort into maintaining our relationships with fellow believers. I know some, myself included, are concerned that when we are able to once again gather to celebrate Mass publicly, not everyone will come back. This is why our efforts toward maintaining community are so important. In fact, it is my prayer that our efforts to sustain our community during the Coronavirus crisis will actually lead us to find new ways to reach out to those who stopped coming to church long before the Coronavirus as well as those who have never come to church.

I’ll end this blog with a request. As I pray for you, and you pray for each other, please remember your parish and the whole church in your prayer. Pray that we find ways to maintain and even strengthen our communities. Pray that we fulfill our mission to bring Jesus to the world. I also encourage you to continue financial support of your parishes in whatever way you can (many parishes offer online giving). Like you, during the Coronavirus crisis, parishes have bills that need to be paid. I don’t like to talk about money. The money is never the focus. Yet, we rely on your support. The most important support is your prayers.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Seeing the Best and/or Worst in Us

Difficult times can bring out the best and the worst in us. It is in our response to difficult times that we witness to the world what we really believe. It is in difficult times that we can find out for ourselves who we truly are.

We find ourselves in difficult times because of the Coronavirus. People with non-essential jobs find themselves without work and, for many, that means without pay (St. Cajetan is the patron saint of the unemployed). On the other side, medical and health care workers find themselves overworked (I think of St. Luke and St. Raphael among patron saints for health care workers). We are told to practice social distancing to “flatten the curve” to minimize the spread of the Coronavirus so that our medical system can handle it. Now, several states in the United States as well as other places in the world are on lock down. Thus, we may find ourselves without in-person support from our friends and family.

What is our response individually?

Is it bringing out the worst in us? Here I wonder about the empty shelves in the stores. With being told to stay home, we need to stock up on groceries. That is a smart response but how much do we need to stock up? Are some people hoarding? I don’t know. If one is buying up supplies to sell to others at a higher price, I point to the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15, Deuteronomy 5:19). We must remember, “The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2402).

However, if we see someone leaving the store with a lot of one or two items, we should not assume their intent is “stealing” in the sense I mentioned above. While buying up supplies with the intent to sell at higher prices is a sign of “greed“, some people may be motivated by “fear”. Fear can be a powerful thing. We don’t know what is going to happen with the Coronavirus. The unknown can bring fear (and loss of a sense of control). One might go to the store to get groceries, see the shelves nearly empty, and, out of fear, feel they need to buy more before it is all gone to make sure they have enough. We pray that we all hand our fears over to God.

I have heard one or two stores of people fighting in the stores over what is left on the shelves. I hope this isn’t happening much but it can be part of fear.

Lastly, in terms of bringing out the worst in us (and related to fear), our anxiety levels may be high. I admit one of the things that causes me anxiety is how directives are changing often. This happens in the church as we went from practicing extra precautions (like suspending distribution of the Precious Blood in the Cup and the Sign of Peace) to the suspension of public Masses. We see it in general society as more and more people are told not to go to work and non-essential businesses have been shut down. We must remember God will get us through this.

With God in mind, I turn to how the Coronavirus crisis can bring out the best in us. With regards to the empty shelves in the stores, I think things are beginning to calm down. I was in a store yesterday for two items and found the store calmer than a couple of days ago.

I see it bringing out the best in us in the way some people have shown concern for others. This can be as simple as checking on elderly neighbors (while practicing social distancing). I see it in medical workers and emergency workers who work hard to care for the sick despite the risk of becoming sick themselves.

I also see it bringing out the best in us in people’s response to the suspension of Masses. I think of people who have said to me they never would have guessed we won’t ever be able to go to Mass. We took it for granted that Mass and the Eucharist would always be available. People who don’t normally go to daily Mass have told me they have started watching daily Mass on TV or online (other Prayer Resources) People are indeed turning to God!

As a priest, I am able to say Mass privately. However, I say it not just for myself. While you cannot join me for Mass, I offer the Mass for all of you. You are very much on my mind (even teary eyed) as I celebrate Mass.

We don’t know how long the Coronavirus crisis will last. What we do know is that God is eternal. God will always be with us. Nothing can take God away from us. I pray that we all have the grace we need to bring out the best in us to be good Christian witnesses to the world that needs God.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff