Our prayers and thoughts are with the Franklin Regional High School community – the administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents and families – and most especially the victims of the tragic stabbing incident that hurt 20 people and we remember the perpetrator and his family in our prayers as well. Our hearts are broken to see how easily violence, hatred and evil can break into the world in which we live. We all feel violated. Sending our children off to school each day is something that we do without much thought. Schools are supposed to be safe, loving places where our children are given the opportunity to develop their fullest potential. But the incident at Franklin Regional reminds us just how fragile our lives are. These things can happen anywhere, anytime. How important that we take time each day to connect with our children, to do all we can to make sure we know what is happening in their lives. We need to talk and learn their struggles, their pains and sorrows and their worries. They need to know they are loved and treasured, certainly by their parents but also by their God. Faith gives a foundation and purpose to life. Every family needs to be grounded in a belief that connects them to God, to something that reminds that they are guided and blessed by the hand of God in good times and in bad. May God bring peace, healing, comfort, consolation and strength to those whose lives are now forever changed.
THE FORTY DAYS OF LENT are a time of preparation for the great feast of Easter. These forty days call to mind for us the 40 days that Christ spent in the desert, praying and fasting. This is a season of penance, prayer, fasting and works of mercy as the means for interior conversion and growing in holiness and faith. The Gospel on Ash Wednesday speaks of the three disciplines of the Lenten season that are important ways in which we can prepare ourselves well in this season of grace: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Lent calls us to deepen our commitment to PRAYER. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that we should pray “more often than we draw breath.” Lent is a good time to increase our prayer life. Come to Mass more frequently, make a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament once a week or daily, pray the rosary with your family every night at home, read the Bible and meditate on what you read, even for five minutes each day. Lent also asks that we join ourselves more closely to the Cross and the sufferings Christ endured for our salvation. FASTING allows us to be detached more from the pleasures of this world so that we can fill it with spiritual realities. This is why Lent is a time for us “to give something up,” something that we really like and are attracted to so that in its absence we can give ourselves more completely to Christ and our faith. Abstaining from meat and eating only one full meal on Fridays in Lent are ways to keep the practice of fasting. But Lent calls us as well to ALMSGIVING or in other words to works of mercy and charity. We need to use our time, talent and treasure not selfishly but so that we can help others and work to build up the Body of Christ, the Church. Lent invites us to engage if acts of kindness for others, to be more charitable, to use our financial resources to help the Church and its outreach to those in need. Each of us needs to make and to keep Lenten resolutions that involve all three disciplines that the Church sets forth for us.
Last evening I had the privilege and joy of speaking at the first Theology on Tap event for the greater Oakland area. We gathered at Hough’s Taproom and Brewpub in Greenfield, who welcomed us warmly and with open arms. The young adults on the Steering Committee from Saint Paul Cathedral Parish and Saint Regis Parish did an awesome job in organizing and hosting the event. More than 100 young adults came and the place was filled up completely. It was exciting to see so many young adults interested in their faith. The passion, energy and enthusiasm of that group brought joy to everyone in attendance. I spoke about the gift of our Catholic faith that invites each of us into a personal, living encounter with Jesus Christ and his Church. In sharing Pope Francis’ teaching in the “The Joy of the Gospel,” I challenged the young adults to be people who manifest the joy of their faith so that they can lead others to know and to love Jesus Christ. It is big deal to be Catholic; sharing the Good News is not for the faint of heart. But we are given the grace and strength from God to accomplish all that he desires when we remain close to him in the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of Penance, in our personal prayer and our communion with our Blessed Lady and the saints. I was encouraged and strengthened in my own faith last evening by the love and joy evident in the hearts of so many young people who want to live out their faith and help to bring the Church Alive.
Join us for the next Theology of Tap, on Monday, March 3 at Hough’s in Greenfield. Mike Aquilina will speak on the Church Fathers: The super-heroes of our faith.” The event begins at 7 PM.
The young adults from Saint Paul Cathedral Parish and Saint Regis Parish are working in collaboration to reach out to all young adults in the greater Oakland area. Young adults are those in their 20s and 30s who are either single or married. Theology on Tap invites young adults to gather once a month at a local bar/restaurant for some free appetizers, and any drinks and food that an individual might want to purchase for the evening. The Oakland Young Adult Ministry is excited to launch its Theology on Tap program which will be held on the first Monday of each month at Hough’s Sports Bar in Greenfield (563 Greenfield Avenue). Our first gathering is scheduled for Monday, February 3rd from 7-9 pm. As the pastor and rector of the Cathedral, I was overjoyed to be asked to be the first speaker and talk about “Being Catholic – So What?” We invited all young adults to participate. We encourage all our young adults to spread the news that we are launching our efforts to engage the young adult community so that they can be actively participating in the life of our parish communities in Oakland.
Mark your calendars for Monday, March 3rd with noted author and speaker, Mike Aquilina and Monday, April 7th with Bob Rice, professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Come and join us and invite other young adults to comeministry along. This is an opportunity to get to know other young adults in the greater Oakland area and to learn more about your Catholic faith.
Today we mark in a solemn and joyous way the Birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. In the mystery of the Incarnation, the Church confesses that Jesus is inseparably true God and true man. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear: “He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord, became a man and our brother.” (CCC 469). St. John Chrysostom spoke eloquently on this mystery: “O only-begotten Son and Word of God, immortal being, you who deigned for our salvation to become incarnate of the holy Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, you who without change became man and were crucified, O Christ our God, you who by your death have crushed death, you who are one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us.” Let us not forget in our celebration of Christmas that our gaze should rest on the Christ-child, born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, consubstantial with the Father. What joy we feel this day as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the one described so beautifully by the prophet Isaiah in our Christmas reading. “And they name him, Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace!”
I extend a very special word of welcome to all who join us for the celebration of Christmas this year. To all our faithful parishioners and to your family members who join us in these days; to our college students and to those in graduate studies; to all those who are visiting us and come from far and near. Welcome to Saint Paul Cathedral. We are delighted that you are here and worshiping with us on this Christmas Day. Together with our parochial vicars, Father Michael Roche and Father Steven Palsa, along with the parish staff, and our priests in residence: Father Vallecorsa, Father Freedy and Father Ward, we extend to each and every one of you our best wishes for a blessed and joyous Christmas celebration. In a very special way, we will be remembering you in our Masses on Christmas Day and in the octave of Christmas, and promise you our prayers in this holy season. It is a privilege and a joy to serve the faithful at Saint Paul Cathedral parish where the Church is alive in so many ways, especially in the hearts of our faithful, loving parishioners. May this Christmas be a time of joy and peace for you, your families and all your loved ones. Merry Christmas one and all!
The promise of the Messiah reaches its climax as Advent draws to a close. Isaiah speaks of the fulfillment of God’s promises to save his people from their sins. ‘The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” Saint Paul speaks of this Savior in the second reading as one “descended from David according to the flesh,” but as one “established as Son of God in power according the Spirit of holiness.”
The fourth Sunday of Advent calls us to reflect on the extraordinary action of God in the sending of his Son, one who set aside his divinity to take on fully, except the stain of sin, our human nature. Saint Augustine claimed that the Incarnation was a far greater act of God than even the work of creation. St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again. Captives we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves a liberator. Did these things not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state?”
The Word became flesh so that we might know God’s love. This is what is affirmed for us in the Gospel of John: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Through the obedience of Mary and the trust of Joseph, the child Jesus was born into this world, a child that today’s Gospel reminds us was named Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church writes that “belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” Our Advent hymn is a call to faith in the presence of the One who saves: O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel. This is truly “God with us.” We prepare now to celebrate the birth of the Eternal Word, the one who is true God and true man, in the unity of one divine person; for this reason Jesus Christ is the one and only mediator between God and man, the one who can restore us to the fullness of life and grace, and complete union with our Father in heaven. We prepare to allow the Christ-child to enter more deeply into our hearts this Christmas season and to experience the fullness of grace and life that he brings. We await, as well, the return of the One who has already come into the world and whose second coming will bring to fulfillment the promises of God to all who are faithful. We sing with the psalmist: “He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, a reward from God his Savior. Such is the race that seeks for him, that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.” Come Lord Jesus come!
The prophet Isaiah speaks to the Israelites of a vision of life in which the majesty and power of God are manifest in extraordinary and almost unbelievable ways. “The wolf will be the guest of the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. The lion shall eat hay like the ox and the baby shall paly by the cobra’s den.” These are things that simply don’t happen in nature. But these are not simply words spoken by a prophet but the promise that God makes to all who are faithful. “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.”
Enter John the Baptist who heralds the coming of the Messiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” This is the constant call of each of the prophets before him, a message that reaches its greatest urgency with the Baptist. The Baptist leads the Israelites to the waters of the Jordan, a call to repentance of sins and to renewed faithfulness to the covenant obligations with Yahweh. He promises that those who return to the Lord will find the promises that God makes fulfilled. As the psalmist reminds us, “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.”
Advent is a time of hopefulness as we reflect on the promises that God makes to his faithful ones. But it is a call to interior conversion of life, to prayer and discipline, so that the power of the Holy Spirit received in baptism will be the force that leads us to deeper faith in Jesus Christ and greater love for his Church. Jesus indeed has baptized us with the Holy Spirit and fire. God’s divine love burns within us, the fire of mercy and compassion are our constant companions, the hope that we can become the holy ones that we are intended to be beckons us forward in our journey of faith. As Saint Paul reminds the Romans in the second reading today: “it by endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures that we might have hope, “ a hope that when we live in Christ Jesus, when we walk the path of life, we will experience even now the presence of the Kingdom of God at work in us and in the Church. Lifted up by God’s grace in this present life, we will never waver in our desire for what lies ahead, the total fulfillment of our destiny, beloved sons and daughters headed for heaven!
Nelson Mandela was reportedly raised a Methodist but he studied other religions in his lifetime and never really affiliated himself with any one denomination. But his words and actions were decidedly Christian. In his 1994 autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”, Nelson Mandela said: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” These were not just words but the deepest beliefs of a man who faced incredible hardship, discrimination and injustice, willing to be imprisoned for over 27 years for the hopes that kept his heart alive. Years later Mandela remarked on a significant moment in his life as he walked out of the prison. He said, ”as I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” He may not have put his faith into so many words, but this mattered little as it was his often simple and humble gestures that so powerfully and clearly conveyed what it was he believed. The words of Francis of Assisi come to mind: “Preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words.” In 1992 he spoke to a group of Christian Church members at Easter: “The Good News borne by our risen Messiah who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind! “Each Easter marks the rebirth of our faith. It marks the victory of our risen Saviour over the torture of the cross and the grave.”
interestingly in the address to our nation by President Obama on Mr. Mandela’s death, not one word was said of Mr. Mandela’s faith convictions and strong Christian values that he gave witness to at every turn in his life and which he did speak about and which gave him the strength of character to do what he did. It was his love for Jesus Christ, his belief that each person has a sacred dignity because they were created in the image of our God who desires that we love and not hate, his ability to seek forgiveness and not revenge against his enemies, his desire to build up the unity of his fellow South Africans and the unity of all nations of the world - it was these things that do indeed speak of a man of faith, a man of Christian values, a man who loved God and was guided by that belief to seek a better world. May he rest in peace.