(re)Introducing the weekly pastor’s post!

Almost a year ago, I started a series at the parish website – a weekly pastor’s post. I quickly found that I enjoy the opportunity to research saints I wouldn’t otherwise celebrate or know, muse a bit on topics that didn’t quite fit the bulletin or in a homily, highlight current events in-parish and out, or learn about odd trivia for a given date.

With the announcement of the upcoming priest transitions in Partners in the Gospel, it occurred to me that this was a good time to move over to my personal blog for this kind of thing – that way I can continue doing these while not necessarily obligating my successor to do so when he arrives in July. I usually post them on Mondays or Tuesdays – I hope these offer a pleasant way to start the week!

P.S. I’ve added a new feature to these posts – the week’s priestly anniversaries and necrology. Please spare a moment to pray for these priests this week!

April 16 – 779 years ago today (1245), two Franciscan envoys left Lyon as missionaries to Mongolia. Giovanni da Pian del Carpine and Benedict to Pole were the first Catholics to make this trip. Upon his return, Carpine was the first European to give an account of a Mongolian court! Read about them at the Central Minnesota Catholic website.

Image courtesy Archdiocese of Seattle (used with permission)

April 17 – Please pray for all of the pastors the archdiocese today through Friday as we gather together in preparation for the next phase of Partners in the Gospel. As you might imagine, we share in the anxieties and hopes of every Catholic in the archdiocese! Know of our prayers for you, too, during this time.

A volume of the Liturgy of the Hours in Belarusian, open to one of the offices

April 19 – Though I am away, our parish school will nonetheless gather at the normal time in the church for prayer. Since the pastor is away (that’s me 😬), the school will be praying Lauds or Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. Though clergy and religious are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, all Catholics are encouraged to enter into this liturgical practice regularly. If you’re intimated by the books, consider using an app! I highly recommend iBreviary and Divine Office – both of which have browser versions and apps for iPhone and Android devices.

April 20 – This Saturday (and Sunday) kicks off the Saint Mark parish ministry fair! Organized by one of our pastoral council members (thank you, Paul!) and staffed by representatives from our parish ministries, programs, and groups, this is an opportunity for every parishioner to see, celebrate, and support the good work that is done year-round in our community. Especially as we prepare for the new pastor & vicar of our parish family, we need folks to help ensure that these efforts may continue to thrive and grow! Read about it in the parish bulletin (page four).

A color line art picture of people gathered around an altar as incense rises above them to heaven before the three Persons of the Trinity, Mary & Joseph, and all the saints & angels.

Priests celebrating their anniversaries this week

Remembering our deceased priests

  • Monsignor Gustave Achtergael (April 14, 1943)
  • Father Hervey Vanasse (April 14, 2001)
  • Father Joseph Doran (April 15, 1964)
  • Father August Banasky (April 15, 1985)
  • Father John Koehler (April 15, 2013)
  • Archbishop Thomas Connolly (April 18, 1991)
  • Father Patrick Donnelly (April 19, 1968)
  • Father Francis Jones (April 19, 1936)
  • Father Joseph Simon (April 19, 1959)
A black and white line art drawing of Christ the judge enthroned within an arch with angels seated on pillars to His right and left with stars behind him.

A wealth of Christmas feasts

Merry Christmas! I pray that these days of the nativity of the Lord are joyful, refreshing, and relaxing. After the four weeks of Advent preparation, it is wonderful to finally (!) celebrate the birthday of Christ and the beginning of His work of salvation in the world.

Like most – if not all! – of my brother priests, I spend the days immediately after Christmas recuperating from the holiday rush and visiting with family. It is a sad reflection of our current crisis of priestly vocations in the Church that this means many of our parishes simply shut down during this time. While this is understandable (priests are human too!), the vision of each parish having two, three, or even four priests is far from being realized.

Before continuing on, lets take a moment together to pray for priestly vocations and the young men who are being called to hear & answer the Lord’s invitation.

The Stoning of Saint Stephen, altarpiece of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice
Stoning of St Stephen, altarpiece of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

As a result of the shortage of priests, most parishioners will not have daily Masses this week. And this is a real shame, because the first three days after Christmas are big celebrations! December 26th is the feast of Saint Stephen the Martyr, December 27th is the feast of Saint John the Apostle, and December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents.

Each in their own way, according to their own call, were close to the heart of Jesus. Saint Stephen is the first Christian martyr, which is to say, the first to have been killed in the name of Christ after His death & resurrection – professing His name and Gospel even as he was stoned alive for doing so. The second reading from the Office of Readings for this day, a sermon by Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe – is an extraordinary reflection on the relationship between Jesus, Saint Stephen, and his persecutors – especially Saint Paul.

Jesus & Saint John, the art Bible (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Saint John the Evangelist – the ‘beloved disciple’ – holds special distinction for his closeness to the heart of Jesus. Alone among the Apostles in not suffering martyrdom, he is set apart in Scripture as being especially close to the Lord. This is most poignantly illustrated in the accounts of the Last Supper, where he reclines against Jesus chest – a closeness to which we are all invited.

The Virgin and Child Surrounded by the Holy Innocents, Peter Paul Rubens
The Virgin and Child Surrounded by the Holy Innocents, Peter Paul Rubens (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Though last in the order of celebrations, the Holy Innocents were the first to share in the suffering & sorrow of Christ – without knowing His name, they nonetheless died for Him and are the first martyrs of the Church. Their feast day calls to mind the many souls whose lives have been similarly cut short by the evil of abortion. They, too, suffer without knowing the cause – though they join the Holy Innocents in being received lovingly into the arms of our heavenly Father.

There are sorrows and consolations alike to be found in each of these celebrations. All now share in the Father’s joy, together with all the saints and angels. Each entered into the suffering of Christ, albeit in different ways according to the vocation given to them by God. While they may not have chosen the suffering they endured – indeed, so many were not given that choice! – the Lord ensured that their suffering was not in vain. And through Him, they suffer no more, instead enjoying His presence forever and interceding on our behalf.

As we continue through this Christmas season, may we ask their prayers on our behalf and on behalf of all the world. May we each embrace our vocation, with all its accompanying sorrows and joys, so that we by sharing in His life, death, and resurrection, we might win eternal life for both ourselves and others.

O Emmanuel (December 23)

Today we come to the end of the O Antiphons – perhaps the one that most people know, thanks to the Advent hymn inspired by it: “O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!”

The name ‘Emmanuel’ – meaning ‘with us is God’ – comes from the book of the prophet Isaiah. After Ahaz refuses the invitation of the Lord to ask for a sign to reassure him that God will deliver on His promise, the Isaiah makes this proclamation:

Then he said: Listen, house of David! Is it not enough that you weary human beings? Must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.

Isaiah 7:13-14

Ahaz needed reassurance that he and his people would not be torn apart by their enemies. The Lord exhorted him – and through him, his people – to stand firm, to trust in Him. But He spoke not only to Ahaz, but to all mankind. Isn’t it the case that we often need reassurance that we will not be torn apart by the Enemy, from attacks without and within? Who of us hasn’t trembled at the weight of our own sin and the pressure of temptation!

The message given through the prophet Isaiah speak more profoundly in light of this spiritual battle: “Thus says the Lord God: It shall not stand, it shall not be!” God will not permit His beloved children to stand alone.

What is required of us is neither power nor strength, but instead trust. Some two thousand years ago, our heavenly Father sent His Word to us, incarnate in the person of Christ. By the Father’s will, Jesus sent us His Holy Spirit – and assures us that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there with them. May we confidently call on the Lord, knowing that He has already come, is with us, and will bring us through our present struggles to eternal joy & peace.

And if you’re looking for good version of that eponymous hymn, here is one of my favorite popular renditions of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’:

O Rex Gentium (December 22)

Today is the penultimate day of the O Antiphons, and what a grand one it is: “O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!”

There is a quote about when a man ceases to worship God, he will end up worshipping anything. Though attributed to G.K. Chesterton, it seems this quote is actually an amalgamation of different speeches of Chesterton’s fictional Father Brown. However it might have originated, there’s something to it: we know our hearts are missing something – and we seek to fill that gap with something greater than ourselves.

The Church warns us of seven deadly sins: “They are called ‘capital’ because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia.” (CCC 1866) If they take root in our lives, these sins become dominant in us – so much so that they take over (ie, ‘he’s ruled by his pride’). And what cruel rulers they prove to be, when we subject ourselves to them!

One of my favorite quotes from The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe – the first book of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia – speaks about the kind of kingship that is uniquely the Lord’s, modeled in the character of Aslan:

“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.
“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver, “Why, don’t you know? He’s the King.”

[. . . .]

You’ll understand when you see him.”
“But shall we see him?” asked Susan.
“Why, Daughter of Eve, that’s what I brought you here for. I’m to lead you where you shall meet him,” said Mr. Beaver.
“Is–is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

Strange though it may sound, choosing deadly sins as our king often seems safer than inviting Christ to be our king. With sin, there is the illusion of control, of having power over others, the world, and ourselves. With Christ, the illusion of control is stripped away and our powerlessness laid bare. Of course this would make us nervous! But as we are reminded by the character of Mr. Beaver, our king is good. May we ask the Lord to help us trust Him, that we might recognize His kingship – and so receive the good things He is preparing for us.

O Oriens (December 21)

Throughout C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce, there is the constant anticipation of the coming dawn, the morning light that will shine on a people who have been looking for illumination all their lives. Throughout the story, we are introduced to characters whose search have brought them to the edge of heaven – theirs to enter if only they’ll turn away from the darkness of sins they so treasure, allowing themselves to be brought to the eternal light, and more importantly, the One who is the source of that light.

I can’t say enough to recommend this brief story (less than 150 pages!) – it is a lovely reflection on the divide between heaven & hell. In the end, we all must choose between being swallowed up in the darkness of their sins or set free to in the light of the new day of the Lord. Perhaps C.S. Lewis was inspired by the Canticle of Zechariah, where the husband of Elizabeth – his lips finally freed at the birth of his son John the Baptist – praises the tender mercy of God and announces the dawn from on high coming to shine on us who live in darkness and the shadow of death.

In today’s antiphon, the Church invites us to turn from the darkness of the world to the light of Christ, the fifth of the O Antiphons: “Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.” May we invite the Lord to illuminate our hearts and minds such that we recognize where we need Him most, asking Him to drive away all that keeps us from eagerly turning towards the Risen Son.

O Clavis David (December 20)

Today’s fourth of the O Antiphons speaks of the Lord as the key: “O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!”

This language comes from Isaiah 22:22, alluding to the authority of the one chosen by God, according to the house of David. Keys signify authority – only those who have a right to what a key unlocks are permitted to carry them. The one with the keys can bar others from entering, or swing wide the doors to allow them in.

In Christian tradition, too, keys hold a rich symbolism. The Lord Himself used the language of keys when, in response to Peter’s confession of faith, He entrusts ‘the keys to the kingdom of heaven’ to Peter and the Apostles: whatever they bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever they loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Thus was established the sacrament of confession, in which we receive and celebrate the mercy of God.

Though the Lord has authority to enter through any doors, He respects the authority we have over our own hearts; He will not enter uninvited. Similarly, He will not force us to pass through the entrance of heaven which He has swung open on our behalf. Instead, He gently knocks at the doors of our hearts, ready to invite & welcome us into His. May we take the opportunity to respond, allowing the Lord in – especially through the celebration of the sacrament of confession – so that with Him, we might be made worthy to enter the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom.

O Radix Jesse (December 19)

Every year, the Church throws a curveball at Her clerics – having them read the genealogy of Jesus Christ at Mass. The first is for in December 17 and the second at the vigil of the Nativity of the Lord. The Church clearly intends for Her members to sit with the heritage of our Saviour. We have not one, not two, but three invitations to reflection in this the third of the O Antiphons: “O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!”

This turn of phrase – ‘root of Jesse’ – comes from the prophet Isaiah. The entirety of chapter 11 of the book of the prophet Isaiah details the promise of a new king in the line of King David, bringing with Him a new era of prosperity and peace for God’s people – and it starts with the imagery of today’s antiphon: “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”

The commentary in the New American Bible observes that the language of ‘shoot’ and ‘stump’ is meant to highlight the failings, corruption even, of the monarchs of old. Despite King David being the greatest of the priests of Israel, he was weak and corrupt – to the point of taking another man’s wife and killing her husband to hide his transgressions. The kings that followed David and his son, Solomon, were progressively worse. Eventually, the entire kingdom of Israel fractured into countless pieces because of the brokenness of their kings.

In reflecting on the antiphon immediately prior to this one, ‘O Adonai’, we saw how God’s people demanded a replacement for the Lord – a request He granted, albeit with significant warnings. But He does not abandon His people, despite their rejection of Him. Not only that, but He promises to remedy their mistake long before the full repercussions have set in!

In reflecting on today’s antiphon, this promise is re-presented to us. May we open ourselves to Him anew, inviting God to restore us to Himself, rooting ourselves once again in Him.

O Adonai (December 18)

When it comes to discussing leadership, the request of the people of Israel to Samuel comes to mind: “Therefore all the elders of Israel assembled and went to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Now that you are old, and your sons do not follow your example, appoint a king over us, like all the nations, to rule us” (Samuel 8:5).

Samuel, as you might imagine, was decidedly not amused – not only were the elders making a crazy demand, they threw in a little personal insult to boot! But as he prays to the Lord, God points out that it is not Samuel they are rejecting, but Him. And so the Lord – even as He grants their request – delivers this warning through His prophet Samuel:

He told them: “The governance of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot.

He will appoint from among them his commanders of thousands and of hundreds. He will make them do his plowing and harvesting and produce his weapons of war and chariotry.

He will use your daughters as perfumers, cooks, and bakers.

He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his servants.

He will tithe your crops and grape harvests to give to his officials and his servants.

He will take your male and female slaves, as well as your best oxen and donkeys, and use them to do his work.

He will also tithe your flocks. As for you, you will become his slaves.

On that day you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you on that day.”

Samuel 8:11

The next time you have to pay your taxes, serve in mandatory civil work, see your family & friends sent into battles chosen (or even started) by rulers – remember this moment in the history of God’s people. I certainly do!

The thing is, I’m just as guilty as they in rejecting God as my king. Despite the audacity of their request, at least the Israelites were open about it. How often do we do the same, but in ways that are less open & honest – at least to ourselves?

And so we come to the second of our O Antiphons, offered this evening at Vespers: “O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power!” Perhaps now more than ever, we know that we need the One who can lead us with perfect goodness (dare I say, we need a hero!). May we invite the Lord to take His place as our leader & guide.

O Sapientia – the first of the O Antiphons (December 17)

Today we begin the octave before Christmas, during which we have one of O Antiphons each day. These antiphons are part of Vespers – Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. If you recognize these, it is probably because they form the basis for the Advent hymn ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ – though that particular antiphon is the last antiphon, despite being the first verse of the hymn! It seems popular practice sometimes trumps exact liturgical correctness ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But nevermind all that, because today’s antiphon is O Sapientia or O Wisdom. The full text is “O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!

When discussing evangelization, one of the hurdles folks sometimes face is the sense that they don’t know enough to convey the truths of the faith accurately. In those conversations, it is often a revelation to realize that wisdom has little to do with knowledge of doctrine & dogma and more to do with relationship with the Lord. Provided that we spend time with Him regularly, invite Him into our lives, pay attention to His promptings & presence, we will be the best of evangelists – simply by virtue of our friendship with God.

Wisdom is not the simple regurgitation of facts about Christ and His Church, but being able to discern & live with the mind of Christ! As we draw near to the conclusion of Advent, may we open ourselves to receive God’s loving guidance.

(My friend Thom Ryng, over at his blog The World is Quiet Here, has kicked off his annual reflections on the O Antiphons – I highly recommend it, and his blog in general!)