From the Pastor's Pen & Deacon's Bench

PASTOR'S PEN ~ January 23rd

The week of January 18-25 has come to be celebrated as Christian Unity week in the Church. This Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was first proposed in 1908, as an observance within the Roman Catholic Church by Fr. Paul Wattson, founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in Graymoor, New York. Today the Week of Prayer involves Churches and Christian communities across the globe. Since the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948, many other Christian denominations around the world have come to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Despite the efforts, our times may have seen more divisions, even within the Church itself. Unity of the believers was the desire of Jesus: “I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be all one, just as you and I are one” (Jn 17: 22). Let us continue to pray for unity, reconciliation and healing. We need it. Our families require it. Our Nation needs it more than ever before.  

Do you recognize these pictures in the Church? If not, visit the Marian Nook located in left side of the Church. As you face the Nook, you have statue of Blessed Mother, who looks elegant. To the right you will see the portrait of Divine Mercy, and to the left, the statue of St Peregrine, the patron of saint to intercede for people suffering from cancer. This renovation work was lovingly carried out by a few of our parishioners. The cost of renovation was also borne by a couple of donors who prefer to remain anonymous. Indeed, a labor of love bequeathed to our community with joy!  I thank them for their generosity and work of love. 

Devotion to Blessed Mother and saints are lively customs practiced by Catholics throughout the world. It is our faith that their intercession will assist us. More votive candles also have been added. You will see two sets of candles— the smaller (one day candle); the bigger, which goes for a week. The Nook is being maintained by the Art and Environment committee members.  

The central theme running through the readings of this week is God’s Word. The setting for our first reading is about 435 years before Christ. The Jews who were returning from their exile in Babylon found themselves struggling to rebuild their civilization, rampaged by the Persians. Nehemiah, the governor of Israel, appointed by the king of Persia, reminds the people that the rebuilding of their civilization starts with the rebuilding of their lives according to God’s Word. God must take first place in their lives. In fact, he reminds them that much of the suffering they went through in the past brought on themselves because they ignored God’s laws. Does that sound familiar to us and to our times? The rebuilding of any nation or civilization starts with reverence to God who has created us, and continues to love us, and cherish us. When more and more people, increasingly dissociate themselves with religion and living of faith, this scripture passage can serve as a wake-up call to all of us.

See you this weekend… 

 

PASTOR'S PEN ~ January 16th

The Liturgical season of Christmas normally ends with the celebration of the feast of Baptism of Jesus.  In some Eastern Rites of the Church, the season goes up to the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Feb 2), which marks the 40th day of Christmas. After the Christmas season, we begin the next chapter of our Church year— the Ordinary Time. During the Ordinary Time, the Scripture readings focus on the events of Jesus’ life between his birth and his death and resurrection. It is a time when we reflect on the things Jesus lived and taught so that we might make our values and attitudes more like his. The Green color vestments and decorations we use in the Church reflects this process of growth in Christ. We grow more Christ-like when we reflect, meditate and model our lives and actions on Jesus’ way. 

Ordinary Time is divided into two periods. The first period is between Christmas tide and Lent, and the second period is between the end of Easter season and the next Advent. Moving through the Liturgical year is like reading through the chapters of a book or watching the seasons of a television series. Season one is Advent, focused on eager anticipation for the Messiah. Season two is Christmas, focused on celebrating the Incarnation: God with us. Season three is Jesus’ ministry and last week’s is episode one: his baptism. Today is the first Act of episode One:  a miracle in a family at Cana— a sign of Jesus’ divinity. More than everything else, we see Mary’s deep concern for a new family’s joy— the wedding celebration. The guests were having a great time, but wine ran short! What does Mary do? Mary turns to Jesus, her divine son with the problem of this family!  Indeed, she knows her son too well. Soon, wine is in abundance for many more days’ celebration. Jesus’ intervention changes everything for that family and its guests!  

Currently, I know many families are in the woes of enormous challenges. Problems compounded by social and political situations continue to impact the daily life of each family. Many parents juggle through these changes and scuffle to make the ends meet. What makes them stand and not fall? Christian faith! Faith gives the strength to move through these troubling times. Let us not hesitate to turn to the Lord. And what more! Our Blessed Mother’s protection is also over us. Let us seek her intercession throughout this year. Please collaborate to make 2022, a year to focus on Family Prayer in our Parish. Maybe the best way to give a fresh start to Family Prayer is to have the Travelling statue of Blessed Mother in our homes for a week. You will find some helpful materials at the back of the Church. I look up to parents to take interest in this regard.

We are blessed to have a large Parish community. We thank God for the gift of our community. The families and individuals who make up this community possess unique gifts. This variety of gifts makes our community rich, blessed, and generous. In the second reading of this weekend, we hear St Paul speaking of the manifestation of the Spirit in each of us, and reminds us that it is given for some benefit: “To one is given through the Spirit the expression of Wisdom; to another, the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another, faith by the same spirit; to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another, mighty deeds; to another, prophecy; to another, discernment of spirits; to another, varieties of tongues; to another, interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes” (ICor:12:5-11). 

Let our community grow more, express more, involve more in the life and concerns of people. Thank you for all that you are to this community. See you this weekend.

 

PASTOR'S PEN ~ January 9th

The start of the Virus made the year 2020, memorable to the whole world. As it evolved into a global pandemic, we started fearing everything and everyone around us. Soon it forced upon us a new model— social distancing, lockdowns, cleaning surfaces, working from home and zoom for everything— from dating to marriages, to funerals and to personal and family meetings. Finally, when we said goodbye to the Year 2020— subconsciously we all thought that somehow the virus would end soon. Sadly, it didn’t happen. The Year 2021 truly tired us out! No one was excluded. You could be young and tired, elderly and tired, working from home and tired, working in a hospital and tired, be a first responder and tired! The fact that 2021 was worse meant that people, already tired, suddenly entered a new, almost previously unexperienced state of fatigue. Vaccination arrived on the scene. Vaccine mandates also came. We also saw people leaving their jobs or losing jobs. The virus took away many lives. No politician could stop the virus; no scientist could do it either. Then came the variants of the virus, which gave rise to a new fear, fatigue and acrimony among political, medical and scientific communities. It was the sort of tiredness that felt like it might take years to get over. There’s no doubt that the whole world needs reconciliation and healing. Let us pray for the healing of this Nation!

The year 2021 didn’t stop life. We moved on facing the challenges that came our way. We said goodbye to the year 2021 too! We have embraced the year 2022 still with hope and a spirit of confidence. I know there’s much suffering in our world. But the past years have displayed the remarkable ways individuals and communities have shown support to each other in times of need. 

Despite all that was happening, I saw here in our own community amazingly beautiful gestures— the desire to belong, a greater sense of community, spirit of giving and sharing. I saw generosity abounding in our community, despite the disruption of life created by the Pandemic. Trials and tribulations do not stop us. Human spirit has the power to triumph over the worst situations! With grace and hope, we can still move forward. I thank God for the incredible generosity I have seen and heard in our community and across the world.

We hold hope in our hearts. Because we are hope filled, generosity flows from us; service to the community and needy are never excused. Families continue to support the needs of the Parish. Both the school and religious education programs have gone well because of the great support of parents, staff and students. We have had good liturgical celebrations with the assistance of Altar servers- young and old, Ushers, Sacristans, Eucharistic ministers, Lectors who proclaim God’s word to us and the Choir with melodious music, accompanying us to worship God. The loving service of the team of men and women who clean, mop, decorate the inside and outside of the church week after week, not only render beauty but provide an ambience of the sacred to us all. I have had the joy of celebrating the special moments with you— my family here. Despite the sadness and loss that continue to invade our lives, we see God’s rich blessings among us. We shall remain grateful.  

This weekend, the Church's liturgy celebrates the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. Christmas, Holy Family, Epiphany and now Baptism! At the Baptism of Jesus, once again we hear God revealing to us. Baptism marks a significant time for Jesus personally: he experiences a call to mission, he is grasped by the spirit of God, he is recognized as the chosen servant and son. Baptism does make us children of God and we are set on a new journey with God. Think of this: our Christian life began from the baptismal font of the church, where we were baptized. Let us learn to savor our own baptism! Like Jesus, we too shall make new beginnings. We are not alone. We make them in the power of the Spirit and in the love of the Father. Have a blessed weekend!

 

DEACON'S BENCH ~ January 2nd

One, Two, Many Epiphanies!

I always found it puzzling why the Church’s schedule of Sunday Readings (the Lectionary) tells us the story of Christ’s Nativity at Christmas (always December 25); and then follows that on the next Sunday (January 2 this year) with the story of the Epiphany, describing the visit of the Three Kings to Baby Jesus and His Mother; and then, on the very next Sunday (January 9), we hear the story of Jesus’ Baptism, thirty years later, when He was an adult; this is followed the next Sunday (January 16) with Saint John’s Gospel story about the Wedding at Cana, in which the adult Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding feast. What do any of these Gospel Readings have to do with one another? They are disconnected chronologically; they don’t occur in the same place; and they don’t even have many of the same characters, except for Jesus and His Mother. Could they be connected thematically in some way? 

I found the answer in a 150-year old hymn which we often sing on the Feast of the Epiphany, called “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise.” The first verse goes like this:

     Songs of thankfulness and praise, Jesus, Lord, to Thee we raise,
     Manifested by the Star, To the sages from afar;
     Branch of royal David’s stem In Thy birth at Bethlehem;
     Anthems be to Thee addressed, God in flesh made manifest. 

That first verse is all about the Star of Bethlehem leading the “magi” (“the sages”) to the infant Christ. In this event, the Messiah is manifested or revealed for the first time to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world. Which, of course, is just what the word “epiphany” means—“an appearance or manifestation, especially of a divine being.”

But what does the Epiphany have to do with the next Sunday’s Gospel Reading, the account of Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River? The first few lines of the second verse of the hymn give us a hint:

     Manifest at Jordan’s Stream, Prophet, Priest, and King supreme  

So, how is Christ manifested or revealed at His Baptism? Saint Luke’s Gospel shows us quite clearly: “…heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased’” (3:21-22). Not only is Jesus Christ manifested or revealed at His Baptism, the entire Trinity is revealed: The Father (“a voice from heaven’); the Son (Jesus); and the Holy Spirit (“a dove”). 

The Baptism of Jesus is followed the next Sunday by the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, in which Jesus turns water into wine. Any manifestation or revealing there? Saint John tells us, “Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him” (2:11). The second verse of the hymn concludes,  

     And at Cana, wedding guest, In Thy Godhead manifest;
     Manifest in power divine, Changing water into wine; 
     Anthems be to Thee addressed, God in flesh made manifest.  

After describing these three “epiphanies” or “manifestations” or “revelations” of Jesus’ Glory and Divinity—in the homage of the Three Kings, after His Baptism in the Jordan, and at the Wedding Feast of Cana—the hymn concludes by encouraging us to see Jesus also as manifested or revealed in the Holy Scriptures themselves: 

     Grant us grace to see Thee, Lord, Mirrored in Thy holy Word
     May we imitate Thee now, And be pure, as pure art Thou; 
     That we like to Thee may be, At Thy great Epiphany;
     And may praise Thee, ever blest, God in flesh made manifest. 

And not only that we might see Jesus manifested in the Word, but that we ourselves would also manifest or reveal Christ to the world, in our words, in our characters, and in our actions. Who knew there was so much good, clear Christian teaching in a simple old hymn? Think on that the next time we all sing it together!