Thursday, March 4, 2021

Looking Back at a Year of COVID

 COVID has been with us for a year.  A whole year!  By now, everyone knows at least one person who has had COVID or who has died from it.  It has changed our ways of life dramatically.  It has especially had a profound impact on the way that we worship.  Private prayer has seen an increase, and that is both good and bad.  Remember, the reason we go to church is not because we love the building.  It is not because the music is wonderful.  It is not because we like the priest.  (Though all of these things can enhance our experience of worship.)  It is not even because we like the people who go to our particular church.  It is because we need to be a part of a community.  We get a sense of that community when we participate in online forms of worship – watching pre-recorded or livestreamed Mass or other prayer.  But nothing can take the place of gathering together, praying together, being together.

Now, a year into COVID, we have the option of three vaccines, which will soon be available to larger portions of the general population.  Soon, this will allow us to gather together safely once more.  We need to remember Jesus’ words, “Be not afraid.”  We would also do well to remember something that our former Bishop, George Niederauer often said.  “Jesus did not say, ‘Go take a hike, in remembrance of me.’ He said, ‘Do this [offer the sacrifice of the Mass] in remembrance of me.’”

Consider this your invitation from Jesus and from the Church as a whole to return.  Come back, and be fed, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  The door is always open.   

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Preparing for Easter Now


Easter is a little more than a month away.  For some, a month may seem like a long time, and it is when you consider that a year is made up of twelve months.  But, it is also a relatively short amount of time.  Every day brings us closer to the holiest time of our Church Year – Holy Week, the Paschal Triduum, and the Easter season.  We would do well to prepare now for what lies ahead.

For our catechumens, who became Elect on the First Sunday of Lent, this is a time of intense preparation for receiving their sacraments at the Easter Vigil.  Our students preparing to receive their First Communion went to their first Confessions this week.  Yes, for those who are preparing to receive sacraments for the first time, this is a very exciting time.  For those of us who are cradle Catholics, or who have been Catholic for years, however, we might find ourselves slipping into the doldrums of Lent – slogging through these weeks of prayer, fasting, and abstinence to arrive at the final “reward” of lifted restrictions that Easter brings.  We may be eager for Easter, but for entirely different reasons.

How can we prepare for Easter now?  Lent is, after all, the season that the Church gives us to prepare ourselves – minds, bodies, and souls – for Easter itself and the season that follows.  Here are a few suggestions:

  •        Go to Stations of the Cross.  If you aren’t comfortable going in-person, several parishes in the diocese are livestreaming them, or you can pray them privately at home.
  •          Go to Confession.  Confession times at St. Ambrose are 3:00 to 5:00 pm on Wednesdays, 3:00 to 4:40 pm on Saturdays, or Fridays during Stations of the Cross (approximately 6:30 to 7:00 pm).
  •          Take some extra time to pray each day.
  •          Make an extra sacrifice – fast or abstain on a day other than Friday.
  •          Give to the CRS Rice Bowl – either through a Rice Bowl throughout Lent, or make a one-time donation during Holy Week.

Whatever you do in these weeks of Lent, prepare your heart to receive the risen Jesus at Easter and to rejoice fully in the ultimate sacrifice he made for us through his death on the cross.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Bible and Lent

 The way the lectionary is structured gives us a wonderful way to prepare our hearts for Holy Week.  Through the daily Gospel readings, we see Jesus preparing his disciples for his passion, and he also prepares us to recall these events in his earthly life.  Remember, God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, exists outside of time.  Each time we celebrate Mass, we commemorate, but we also re-present (make present again) Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Recalling that God exists outside of time may make it easier for us to believe that Jesus died for all, even those of us who live thousands of years after the historical events of Jesus’ passion.

When we read the Bible with this in mind, it may be easier for us to think about the Old Testament God speaking to us too through his prophets, about Jesus teaching us too, about the wondrous historical events as affecting us too today.  If you are looking for a way to increase your prayer this Lent, take a look at the daily scripture readings, and try to read them as God speaking directly to you in your present circumstances.  How does that change the way you read and hear even very familiar scripture passages?

Thursday, January 28, 2021

What We Can Learn from Celebrating Candlemas

 This week, Cosgriff and St. Ambrose Parish Religious Education will present the students preparing for First Communion.  St. Ambrose Parish Religious Education will also recognize those students preparing for Confirmation, while Cosgriff will recognize those students next week.  It is fitting that these presentations and recognitions are occurring at this time of year, because next Tuesday, February 2nd, is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, known in the days of the early Church as Candlemas.

At his presentation, Simeon recognized Jesus as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32).  Thus, the traditional name of this feast, Candlemas, signifies the important liturgical action the Church takes on this Feast of blessing candles to be used in the upcoming year.  Our Gospel reading for today from Mark 4 points to Jesus as the Light – the lamp that is brought in to give light to the whole house.  Jesus shows us the way, and hopefully, we follow Him.

As we present and pray for our young people over the course of the next two weeks, let us pray especially that Jesus will enlighten the eyes of their hearts, and show them the way to live as true Christians and Catholics.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Benefits of Year B

The Catholic Church has three cycles of Sunday readings:  Year A when Sunday Gospels during Ordinary Time are usually from Matthew, Year B when they are mostly from Mark with some from John, and Year C when they are mostly from Luke.  Especially in these early weeks of Ordinary Time, I think there is a distinct benefit to our Year B readings.  It is the benefit of multiple perspectives.

As an English major in college, I studied literary analysis and writing as a craft.  I have always enjoyed creative writing as a hobby, but studying it gave me a greater appreciation for what it takes to be a compelling writer.  As I read and write now, years removed from my college studies, I find that I notice and appreciate differences in writing style.  Year B gives us the opportunity to experience these differences, to “see” the events portrayed in the Gospels through the eyes of different authors.  Each evangelist had their own distinct motivation for writing the way that he did and for a specific audience.  Because we hear from both Mark and John regularly during the periods of Ordinary Time in Year B, we benefit from these differing motivations.

In the early weeks of Ordinary Time, we hear first of Jesus’ Baptism and then we hear the deeper significance of it.  We see Jesus’ apostles coming to him in a variety of ways, but always staying with him of their own free will.  We are given many examples of the healing works that Jesus performed.  And because Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels, he doesn’t dither around, but gets straight to the point.  This is how it happened.  This is why it is the way it is.

In our Gospels from John, we are shown the deeper, more mystical truths of who Jesus is and the effects of his actions.  John is all about symbolism and the weight that it carries.  He writes in a much more artistic style, drawing us in to the mystery of Jesus as fully human and fully divine, in contrast to Mark’s very straightforward, almost journalistic approach.

It is good to have exposure to multiple forms and genres of writing.  It makes the act of reading much more interesting.  Hopefully, having a variety of writing styles presented to us in Year B helps us to be more attentive to the Gospels in particular and to the Mass as a whole.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

When Should We "Curb Our Enthusiasm"?

 I was quite honestly disappointed by events in the news over the last few days.  First, there was the coverage of the opening of the new US Congress, touted as the “most diverse Congress.”  The US has elected the “most diverse Congress ever” for several years in a row now.  That wasn’t what was disappointing to me though.  What was disappointing was when, at the end of the invocation, Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri closed with “Amen and Awoman.”  Quite apart from being complete nonsense, this tramples on literal millennia of the use of “Amen” as an expression of belief.  It is encouraging that as “One nation, under God,” the US Congress opens with an ecumenical prayer, but leave the politics out of it, especially if, in an apparent attempt to acknowledge diversity, you do so in a way that distracts from the purpose of prayer in the first place!

The second event that had me disappointed was the actions of the protesters at the US Capitol in disrupting the acknowledgment of the count of electoral college votes and ultimately causing the evacuation of the capitol yesterday.  Whether you agree or disagree with the outcome of this election, it is no excuse to resort to senseless violence.  The US Constitution gives us the right to protest, this is true, but it is the right to peaceful protest.  Further, in it’s document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the USCCB quotes our patron, St. Ambrose:  “Prudence enables us ‘to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1806” (quoted in paragraph 19).  It goes on to say in paragraph 20, “We have a responsibility to discern carefully which public policies are morally sound.  Catholics may choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, but we cannot differ on our moral obligation to help build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means, so that the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended” (emphasis added).

Further, paragraph 52 reminds us, “We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences.”

Obviously, emotions have been running high, discontent has been growing, and none of it has been made any easier by the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.  People are upset.  But it is important not to allow emotions to prevail over reason.

We are told repeatedly in scripture and in the writings of the Saints to trust in God.  Trust in his will.  God is so much bigger than us.  He is unknowable in his entirety to our feeble human minds.  Similarly, our human actions, while known to him, cannot influence the ultimate outcome of his plan.  As we come to the end of this Christmas Season, let us strive to say, with Mary our Mother, Thy will be done.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Putting 2020 in the Rearview Mirror

It has been two months since I have written for this blog.  I have missed it.  I hope to be able to resume regular posts in 2021.

2020 certainly has presented us with many challenges, changes, and disappointments.  The “new normal” remains elusive.  The shorter, darker days of winter have arrived.  But, as Christians, and especially as Catholics, we have hope for the future.  Jesus is born for us, as we recall each Christmas, and He remains with us always, as long as we do not lose sight of Him.

It is equally important not to lose sight of what 2020 has brought us and taught us, no matter how much we might want to forget some, if not most, of it.  Here are a few things I learned from 2020:

  • There is usually a way to adapt your routine to fit a certain set of restrictions.  Change is hard at any time, yes, but it is not impossible.
  • Just because “we’ve always done it this way,” it doesn’t mean there isn’t an equally effective way to do it differently, and more safely.
  • Time with family is precious.  Enjoy it when you can, whether it be virtual or socially distant.
  • Connecting with people in some way is good for the soul, even for those of us who are introverts!
  • Work isn’t the be-all, end-all of life.  Finding time for hobbies is crucial to staying sane.
  • God never abandons us.  Lean on Him when times get tough.

What lessons from 2020 will you carry forward into the new year?  What are you looking forward to being different in 2021?