Tuesday, July 3, marks the one year anniversary since I became pastor here at Our Lady of Lourdes. I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you all for welcoming me into the parish, into this community, and into your lives. Being a pastor, and being your pastor here, brings me great joy. I’ve often said that it takes me a full year to really settle in at a new parish, because you need to experience the entire liturgical year and all of the seasons with the Church. Now that I’ve been here a year, I can say that I’m even happier to be here than I was when I first got here.
We’ve had a lot of changes over the past year as a parish. The construction on the new Hall, or Parish Community Center (PCC), was really just getting underway when I arrived, they broke ground just a few months before I got here. We got to see the foundation get poured, the frame go up, the walls go in, and everything start to take shape. Archbishop Aymond came out in January to bless the new building, and we finally got to move in in March. It took some people a few weeks to realize that the offices had moved from the Rectory (which is now only my residence) to the PCC, and Fedex still sometimes makes deliveries to the Rectory. The new building has allowed us to restart the Nifty Fifty group, move parish meetings out of the Church, have nicer receptions, and have better facilities for CCD classes and youth ministry.
We’ve also seen some small changes to the liturgical life of the parish. You may not have noticed if you haven’t been directly involved, but we reworked the parish guidelines for Funerals and Weddings last November, and we just recently reworked the parish guidelines for Infant Baptisms. These are in the handouts rack in Church and on the parish website in the Sacraments section. I’ll take this opportunity to clear up a common misunderstanding. We don’t charge a fee for funerals or baptisms for use of the Church or for the priest, although there is a musicians fee if you choose to have a cantor. Anything you want to give to the Church for those services is purely voluntary, and it all goes to the Church’s operating fund. We’re also getting ready to do training sessions for all liturgical ministers, including altar servers, lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and ushers, not least of all because we have a new deacon in the parish, Dcn. Craig.
In this coming year, I want to continue to push the importance of the sacraments in the life of the Church, especially going to Mass every weekend and regular Confession. I’m also going to start putting more emphasis on devotions, like the rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, and novenas.
Finally, we’re blessed to have a lot of young families and children in the parish. Last year we had 125 kids enrolled in religion classes from 1st to 11th grade, which is fantastic. As a parish, I think we need to focus on welcoming these young families, children, and teenagers into the community and offering programs for them.
As I said in the beginning, I’m happy to be in such a lively, devoted, and close-knit church, and I pray that we continue to grow as one family in Christ.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
Fr. Bryan Howard
The Nativity of St. John the Baptist – 24 June 2018
This is only the second time in my priesthood that this feast day has fallen on a Sunday; the last time was in 2012. The Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist celebrates the birth of the man who was called to help prepare the way for the public ministry of Jesus. What we want to look at today is how we can prepare the way for Jesus in our own lives. Do we take the time to listen to God?
St. John’s father, Zechariah, was a Jewish priest. The priests would take turns serving at the Temple and when their rotation was done they’d go back home. During his groups rotation, Zechariah was in the Holy Place putting incense into the incense bowl when an angel appeared to him, the Archangel Gabriel. St. Gabriel told him that his wife, Elizabeth, would become pregnant, even though she was past her childbearing years, and that the child would be filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
It was clear that John was special, even before he was born. When Gabriel the Archangel came to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, he also told her that Elizabeth, her cousin, was pregnant. So Mary went to visit Elizabeth. When she went in, John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, because he recognized that Jesus was there, even though He was still in Mary’s womb.
If we want to prepare ourselves and the people around us to receive the Lord, the first thing we have to do is recognize that He is with us. We know that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, in the words of the Bible, and in the Church, but do we see that Jesus is present in our own souls? At Baptism we receive the indwelling of the Trinity, which means that God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, comes to live in us, and God is even present in non-Christians, because He created them. It’s so easy to forget that God is right here, with us, all the time, but we can learn how to be more aware of God from St. John the Baptist.
John needed to prepare that people of Israel for the Messiah, but how did he do it? Did he go to the Temple, where all of the Jewish people go at least twice a year? No. Did he go around to all of the cities and towns, like Jesus Himself did? No. He went out into the desert. He wore animal skins for clothes and eat locusts and wild honey. If we could ask John one thing, it would probably be, “Why?” Sometimes you need to get away from all of the distractions of daily life in order to be able to hear what God is trying to tell you. The people went out to see John because they knew that he spoke the word of God, and out there, in the desert, it might have been just a little bit easier to listen.
Between tv, radio, the internet, cell phones and smart phones, and social media. Think about this. There’s nowhere that you’re out of reach. Before the telephone became common, once you left work, if you’re boss needed you back before your next shift, he would actually have to send a person to get you. But it’s not just that we’re never out of touch, it’s that we’re constantly being bombarded with information, with advertisements, and with entertainment. Sometimes we find it difficult to just sit and be silent, without talking or thinking or doing anything. I’ve blamed this on technology, but that’s not really true. Over 150 years ago a philosopher named Kierkegaard said, “If I were a physician, and if I were allowed to prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the Word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, how could one hear it with so much noise? Therefore, create silence.”
The world has gotten a lot noisier since the 1800s, and it’s gotten that much more difficult to hear the people around us, but we’re also very good at ignoring the things we don’t want to hear. We have to be good at it or we’d probably go craze. The problem is when we ignore the really important things. Have you ever been driving somewhere and realize that you don’t really remember the last few minutes? You were just driving by memory and not fully paying attention to the road. That’s a scary feeling. Sometimes, we do that with life. We just do things by memory, not really paying attention, but just doing what we’ve always done. We need to shake ourselves out of our routine to really appreciate what’s going on in our lives.
I want to invite all of you this week to silence. Go sit on the front porch with a glass of ice tea, or go for a walk, or visit the adoration chapel at Prompt Succor, push everything out of your head, work, school, family and friends, your to-do list, give all of that to God to take care of for 15 minutes, and just sit with God in the silence. Ask God what He wants to tell you, and just listen. God is always talking to us, but usually we’re too busy to listen. If we just stop every once in a while it might help us to hear what He’s saying the rest of the time.
A member of our parish, Craig Taffaro, was ordained as a deacon of the Catholic Church on Saturday, June 23, at St. Louis Cathedral-Basilica. This is a great blessing for our parish and I want to congratulate Craig and his family.
The diaconate is the oldest of the three ranks of the hierarchy, the others being bishops and priests. The ordination of the first deacons is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles in the bible, Acts 6:1-6. It records that the early Church grew very quickly as the apostles preached the Gospel and made many converts from Judaism. Eventually, the apostles found that there were too many people for them to continue to do everything themselves, so they choose seven men from the community of believers. The apostles prayed over these men and laid hands on them, which is the same way that deacons are ordained today; the bishop lays his hands on their heads and then prays over the men to be ordained.
The Bible records that the role of the deacons was ministry to the needy, to preach the Gospel, and to assist the apostles and later bishops of the Church. Eventually, the Church would grow big enough that all of the Christians in a town or city couldn’t fit in one Church, so parishes were formed and priests ordained to run those parishes, and the deacons would also assist the priests in the parishes, but they didn’t come until later on.
The Church has grown and developed over the last 2 millennia, but deacons are still basically the same as those first 7 deacons. They still assists the bishops in governing the Church, the still serve at Mass and minister to the needy, and they still preach the Gospel. Today is a good time to give thanks to God for the gift of the diaconate and the ministry of deacons in the Church, and that one of our own was called to the order of deacons. Please pray for Craig and the other men that were ordained deacons this weekend.
Next Week: One Year Anniversary
Fr. Bryan Howard
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 17 June 2018
Today’s readings teach us that appearances can be deceiving, and that the Lord can take something that seems to be small and insignificant and make something great come out of it. We are that small and insignificant thing, and the Lord wants to make something great happen within us, but He can only do it if we cooperate with His work. If we are full of ourselves, then we won’t have any room left over for the Lord, so we must empty ourselves and ask God to fill us back up.
In the first reading, the Prophet Ezekiel is talking about the Kingdom of Israel. At the time He’s speaking, the 10 Northern tribes had been conquered by the Assyrian Empire, the people taken into exile and scattered, and foreigners settled on their land. Now, the two tribes that are left have been attacked and defeated by the Babylonian Empire and are on the brink of defeat. Ezekiel says that right now, they are like a little branch that’s been torn off from the tree, but the Lord will plant that branch and make a large Cedar grow from it, thus restoring the Kingdom. He says, “And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom.”
In the Gospel Jesus uses something even smaller, a seed, a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all the seeds. The mustard seed grows into a great plant and all the birds of the air find shelter in its branches. The seed represents the Church, which started out small and insignificant, just 11 apostles, Mary, and maybe a few others. They had no money, no power, and no important people, as the world counts it, but God made the Church grow, underground, as it were, and today it’s the largest religion in the world and all peoples are welcomed under her roof.
In many places the Church still seems weak and insignificant, like the Middle East, China, Vietnam, and many other places where Christians are persecuted. Remember, there have been many times throughout history when the Church seemed on the brink of defeat from tyrants like Nero, Diocletian, and Emperor Henry V, and the various Muslim invasions of Europe. Those tyrants and their regimes are now nothing more than footnotes to history, but the Church is still here, not because the leaders of the Church were so wise and good, but thanks to the grace of God.
The idea of the little seed that becomes the great plant might remind you of something else that Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus is the seed. Jesus was born as the son of a poor carpenter, who couldn’t even get a room at the inn, not the son of a wealthy nobleman. He lived His life in obscurity before starting His public ministry. He didn’t seek fame, in fact He told people not to tell anyone about the miracles He performed. He didn’t try to overthrow the government, but He allowed Himself to be crucified with common criminals. He emptied Himself and was planted, or buried, in the ground, but He rose again on the third day in glory. He showed us that we must also empty ourselves by making ourselves small and humble, then one day we too will arise in glory, the glory that only God can give. If we try to take it for ourselves, then we will lose it forever, but if we follow Him, and take up our crosses, then He will bring us into the Kingdom of Heaven.
I recently read something that illustrates my point. This story was recorded by St. Justin Martyr, who was born about the year 100 A.D. and lived just 20 miles or so from Nazareth. He knew the descendants of people who knew Jesus before He started His public ministry. The story was passed down that Jesus was a carpenter and He specialized in making yokes for Oxen. For a poor farmer, an ox might be the most expensive thing they own, like a piece of heavy farm equipment today. If the yoke wasn’t fit just right then it would rub on the ox’s shoulders and create sores, which might get infected and kill the ox. Jesus had the reputation of being the best with animal collars and yokes, and people would come from all over the region of Galilee to have their animals fitted for collars by Jesus. This is how we empty ourselves. In whatever you happen to be doing, in how you treat your family, how you treat strangers, how you do your job, how you pray, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, do it to the best of your ability, do it with love and compassion, and do it so that it makes a worthy offering to the Lord.
Why do we place so much importance on parents in our society? After all, very few groups get their own holidays, but parents have two, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and we celebrate these day more than we do most other National Holidays, of which there are dozens.
First, it’s because of the impact that parents have on the lives of their children. If we think about ourselves, so much of who we are can be traced back to the influence of our parents, including big things like the values that we hold, our religion, and our political opinions, and everyday things, like the foods that we like and the way that we talk. Our parents help shape who we become through what they teach us and the example that they give by the way that they live their lives.
Parents have a very grave responsibility. They are responsible for the lives of their children. They have to keep them alive and healthy, educate them, and raise them to be successful in the world. Studies show that parenting has a huge impact on the physical, emotional, academic, and mental health of their children not only during childhood, but throughout their entire lives. Children raised with attentive and loving parents in a stable home tend to be healthier, do better in school, get better jobs, have better emotional health, have less legal trouble, and form healthier relationships of their own in adult life.
Parents also have responsibility for their children’s eternal life as well. Parents are entrusted with teaching their children the faith and how to life out the faith in their lives. The example that parent’s give can either help their children to grow in the faith or make it that much more difficult for them. A study done in Switzerland shows how important the parent’s faith life is to the children. The study showed that, if both parents attend church regularly, 33% of their children will end up as regular church-goers and 41% irregular, with the regaining 24% not going at all. However, if neither parent attends church, only 4% of their children will attend regularly and 15 % irregularly, with over 80% not attending at all. If the mother attends regularly but the father irregularly or not at all, then she helps give her children some connection to the Church, ensuring that a larger percentage attend occasionally. The big shock of the study, however, was in the influence of the father. If the father goes to Church regularly, he increases the chances that his children will attend Church regularly, helping them to develop a strong connection to the faith, even when the mother goes irregularly or not at all. As Robbe Low put it in an article on the study, “A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up a church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door.” Men sometimes think of church as “women and children stuff,” but, just like a part of a mother’s job is to witness to the love and care that God has for each of us, part of a father’s job is to witness to Christ as the Good Shepherd, leading His flock. Don’t be afraid to take a leading role in the faith life of your family.
We are right to be grateful to our parents for everything they do for us, from feeding us and raising us, to teaching us about right and wrong, to helping us become the men and women that we are today. So I’d like everyone to stop and say a special prayer for your parents, asking God to bless them, whether they’re still with us or having already gone on to their final reward.
Next Week: On Deacons
Fr. Bryan Howard
10th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 10 June 2018
Throughout the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, battle and military metaphors are used to describe the spiritual life, for example, St. Paul speaks of putting on the armor of the faith and wielding the sword of the Spirit. Also, the living members of the Church are traditionally called the Christian militant, and several of the saints are remembered for their military exploits, such as St. Joan of Arc and St. Louis IX, King of France, and even more were soldiers before experiencing a conversion, such as St. George, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Martin of Tours. In today’s Gospel Jesus uses military images to teach us a lesson about spiritual combat.
The first lesson we have to learn is that Satan, or the devil, is real. When we think of the caricatures the devil that we see in cartoons, the little red guy with goats horns and a spiked tail sitting on someone’s shoulder, it’s hard to think of him as a real being. But the devil was originally called Lucifer, meaning the Bearer of Light, and he was created as the highest of the angels. He lead a rebellion against God because, in his pride, he thought himself to be equal to God, and was cast out of heaven. That’s what hell is; it’s not a physical location, but being away from God and completely cut off from His grace.
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus says to those around him, and to us, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Satan hates us because God loves us. He’s jealous of our closeness to God and wants to make us just as miserable as he is. So, like any good general, he scouts our defenses, finds where they are weakest, and attacks, not with swords and spears, but with temptations to anger, jealousy, greed, lust, laziness, and many more things.
So, how do we defend ourselves against this attack? We have to make sure that our defenses are strong. As Jesus says, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Are you divided against yourself? We all have divided loyalties because our love for God is not pure. Money, popularity, pleasure, and comfort compete with God for the top spot in our lives. None of these things are bad in themselves, in fact, they’re all good things. It’s when I have a disordered love for them that they become a weakness in our defenses. The devil knows where our weakness are better than we do, and he’s able to attack us in exactly the right spot.
Jesus goes on to say, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man.” If we rely just on our own strength, then we’ll fail, because Satan is smarter, and stronger, and more experienced than we are. That’s why we have to rely on someone even stronger, the Holy Spirit. When God defends us, then our defense can withstand any attack. That’s why Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgiveable sin. Grace and forgiveness come to us through the Holy Spirit, so how can we receive either if we’ve rejected Him?
You’ve probably heard that the best defense is a good offense. What weapons does a Catholic use in spiritual combat? First, there’s the examination of conscience. I keep a stack of them by the confessional and we have a some in the resources tab of the parish website. Second, the Rosary, which takes us through the entire life of Christ. Finally, the Mass. This book is a Daily Missal, which has all of the prayers and readings for the Mass in one place.
There are many other spiritual weapons that we have at our disposal, but these are some of the best and strongest. We have to take this battle seriously. Soldiers train extensively to prepare for combat, because their life and the lives of many other people may depend on it. In the Christian life, in spiritual combat, it’s not just our physical lives but our eternal lives that are on the line, so we should all train just as hard, if not harder.
The prayers at Mass and colors we wear, our devotions, and our liturgical life is covered by the liturgical calendar. So the calendar actually governs a lot of our Catholic spiritual life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. So Christians don’t use a liturgical calendar. They do pretty much the same thing at every service. The minister chooses the readings, songs, and theme for the service based on what he wants to preach on. Catholic priests don’t get to do that nearly as often, because the prayers and readings for the Mass are decided by the liturgical calendar. This means that a Catholic can go to Mass anywhere in the world and find the same colors, readings, prayers, and general themes being used. This is important to us because we are one Church throughout the world, not a lot of separate churches.
The calendar is based on the life of Christ. The year begins with Advent, when we begin to prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ at Christmas. The season of Christmas lasts about a month. Then we have a few weeks of ordinary time. Ordinary Time is the season when we don’t celebrate anything specific, and it takes up most of the year. During the season of Lent we prepare for the Crucifixion and Resurrection. It lasts 46 days. Remember, we don’t fast on Sundays, because on Sundays we celebrate the Resurrection. If we take out Sundays, we have 40 days of fasting in Lent, because Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert after His baptism in the Jordan River. The Paschal Triduum is Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday, and this is when we celebrate the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The celebration of Easter is extended for 50 days, and ends with the celebration of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles in the upper room. Then, we have more ordinary time until Advent starts again. The colors give you a clue to what the season is about. Advent and Lent are times of preparation and penance, so we wear purple. Christmas and Easter are times of celebration and joy, so we wear white or gold. During ordinary time we wear gold.
The amount of thought, time, and effort that the Church puts into the liturgy is amazing, as you can see in just this one part of it. This is because the Mass is the highest form of worship of God. In a way, offering worthy worship to God is the main job of the Church. Hopefully I haven’t bored you too much, but maybe this can help you live the liturgy of the Church a little more fully.
The website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has the liturgical calendar right on the home page, on the right hand side, and if you click on the date it will take you to the Mass readings for that day. The website is http://www.usccb.org.
Next Week: Parenthood
Going to Mass is the highest form of worship of God. The Mass is the memorial of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and in the Mass the salvation of the world is presented to us. All graces flow from the Cross, and the Cross is the only path to heaven. However, over time we begin to take all of this for granted and treat the Mass is just something that we’re told we have to do. We don’t always give God the reverence He deserves.
The first way we can show God reverence is through the way we dress. If we go to Mass dressed like we’re going to the beach, then we’ll starting treating the Mass as if it’s no more important than going to the beach. We must remember that going to Mass is entering God’s house, and so we should dress appropriately. Obviously, there will be times when you won’t be able to do that, and I’d much rather that you come to Mass dressed even in rags than that you not come to Mass. I also don’t want anyone to judge someone else by what they wear to Mass, because we don’t all have the same resources or the same idea of what’s appropriate. I’m just asking that we ask ourselves how we can show reverence to God in everything, even in how we dress.
We also show God reverence by preparing ourselves for Mass through prayer. Try to get to Church a few minutes early so you can spent that time praying. Invite the Holy Spirit into your soul, ask God to draw you closer to Him through the Mass, and offer the Mass for your intentions, such as a family member or friend in need, a lost loved one, or help with a problem you’re having. Jesus Christ really is present in the Eucharist and we should prepare our bodies and our souls to receive Him.
Finally, show God reverence by participating in the Mass. One thing I love about Our Lady of Lourdes is that a lot of people at Mass sing the hymns. That doesn’t happen at every Church and I’m always glad to hear it. When we fully participate in Mass by singing, saying the responses, and listening to the readings and prayers we express our love for God and tell Him that we want to accept all of the graces that He has to give us.
Next Week: The Liturgical Calendar
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.