Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Day of the Domestic Church

Good news, my friends!  We are not cut off from one another by this virus; we are not separated by precautions.  No — we are bound together in the Body of Christ, whose members we are.  United by our Baptism into His Body, the Church, and nourished by the Eucharist we have received, we are strong together in prayer. 
This is the Day of the Domestic Church.  Yes; the smallest unit of the church is not the individual, but the family.  Your home is become the center of faith for all who dwell there, and Christ will not neglect to nurture and nourish all who turn to Him for light and life in these days.  
Yes, things have changed.  We all need to stay away from everybody and everything not essential to our survival.  Every day has brought evidence that we are all taking this seriously.  Here at the rectory, on Tuesday we stopped opening the door, and started talking through the window.  By Wednesday the packs of middle-school kids ceased roving the playing field and ball courts together.  This is what prudent people do.  
The number of people looking to catch us offering Mass each day in the church has dwindled to a trickle.  That is good, but sad.  Everyone should stay home and far away from everybody else. Isolation hurts, whether isolation from one another, or from God.
But you do not need to feel the weight of distance between yourself and your Creator, between you and your Redeemer.  You have received the Holy Spirit to dwell within you, and keep alive the intimacy for which Jesus gave us the Holy Sacraments, even when circumstances keep you further away from those Sacraments than you would wish.  
In cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, … it is beneficial to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion, praised by Pope John Paul II and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life, taught Pope Benedict XVI his letter on the Holy Eucharist, Sacramentum caritatis.  Here is a simple prayer you can offer alone at any time, or together as a family during your Sunday Domestic Church worship, in order to make a spiritual Communion:
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament.  I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul.  Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.  I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You.  Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.  (St. Alphonsus Liguori)
You can print it out on a card and carry it around with you.  St. Leonard of Port Maurice said: “If you practice the holy exercise of spiritual Communion several times each day, within a month you will see your heart completely changed.”
You can use your Magnificat, or the USCCB Daily Readings web page for the daily readings.  Don’t settle to read them quietly to yourself; read them out loud in the assembly of your Domestic Church.  Share your thoughts on the readings; pray the prayers.  Pray for the intentions each member voices; remember those who are sick, or alone and cut off from family; remember medical workers, and everybody you wish you could be with.  Remember your priests!
It is only fair that you pray for us (and I am grateful for all of you who have sent word that you are doing just that) because we are praying for you multiple times each day.  We are all three offering Mass every day, always, always carrying your intentions with us to that big, green marble Holy Altar we love so well.  We cannot wait until you are able to join us there; soon, soon we hope.
Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist connects us, unites us one to another despite distance and difficulty.  The love of God is poured out in the measure we need in the hour we ask for it, assuredly in our Domestic Church.  In time of sickness and separation, this is good news.
Through the intercession of Saint Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes, help of the sick, may the blessing of Almighty God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come down on you and remain with you forever. Amen.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Bigger Can Be Better

Introductions are behind us, and the denouement is still in the future.  We have now arrived at the big, long middle of Lent.  Long because we realize Easter is still a full month away, even though those daffodils are trying to convince us all it is just around the corner.  Big because of the weight of significance it carries for us, as we realize that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are essential to our health and well-being in both time and eternity.   But this year, there is another aspect that is big and long.
In the Lectionary cycle’s Year A, which features the programmatic reading of Matthew’s Gospel, the Gospels at Mass for the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent are all from the Gospel of Saint John.  They are all long, and they are all big.  In order, these important, elaborate accounts of episodes in the life of Our Lord are: this week’s Samaritan Woman at the Well (Jn 4:5-42); then the Man Born Blind (Jn 9:1-41) next week; then the Raising of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-45) as we enter Passiontide on the Fifth Sunday. 
Just look at those citations – how long they are, how many verses!   For those of you who were hoping to gain time because we have no Gloria at Sunday Mass in Lent – forget it.  Standing for these Gospel readings is more than just physical conditioning for the Passion according to Saint Matthew on Palm Sunday – the longest of the four Passion texts.  These accounts are not presented just to make us stand there, but to move us, to bring us along, to turn us to the Lord Jesus in a new and deeper way.
Chosen particularly for their instructive value to Catechumens, those who are approaching Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion at Easter, these Gospels can have just as big an effect on the lives of all of us, even if we have been Baptized and Confirmed long since.  
Resist the temptation, once you recognize the introduction, to tell yourself: Oh, I know how this one goes, and tune out.  Resist the temptation to pray against all hope that the “short form” of the Gospel will be used.  Listen to the story like you have never heard it before, and you will hear something you have never heard before.
Rather than give less attention, or less time, give these events more of your time.  Read them slowly once or twice in the days leading up to the Mass; read them again once or twice during the week after the Mass.
Ask yourself, try to figure out: What was the weather like that day?  What did she expect Him to do when she said that?  What was he afraid of about Jesus?  What was “the crowd” thinking or doing?  Where would I have been standing to be able to hear this conversation?  And the always appropriate:  Why did Jesus say that, or do that?  Just what is He proposing?
Saint John the Evangelist went to great pains to give us the opportunity to experience these moments that clearly changed his life.  Do not squander this opportunity to allow them to change your life.  Precisely for this purpose we have so much time here in the big, long middle of Lent. 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Better late

Why do you stand here idle all day?
How is your Lent going?  You made it to Mass for Ash Wednesday, or -- maybe you didn’t.  You avoided meat all day Friday – except for lunch (doh!).  And your rosary-every-day resolution has been going great – since you found your rosary yesterday.
Lent happens.  Lent gets off to a rocky start some years.  Lent can start strong, but then we get distracted, or annoyed, or just hungry, and whoosh – there goes our Lenten resolve, right down the drain.  And once we have broken our perfect (or near-perfect) record, we think – Oh well; that’s gone.  And we stop trying.
Doubtless you have heard of “low self-esteem.”  Sometimes we can have “low Lent-esteem.”  We don’t really have our resolutions or Lenten “plan” ready, miss the first week or two of Lent, or drop the ball after a while, and we think that we have blown Lent this year, it’s beyond salvage, and we will just wait and do better next year.
Well, as the angel invariably says when he appears with a message from God: Fear not!  (You can check Scripture that angels really say this.)  All is not lost; Lent and its sweet benefits are still available to you, even at this late date.  
One of my favorites among the Lord’s parables is that of the vineyard-owner and the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).  Remember, the owner goes out into the market square several times as the day goes on, and keeps finding workers whom he hires and sends to his vineyard to work with the ones he brought on at the break of day?   He even hires and sends several “at the eleventh hour” (five o’clock in the afternoon).  Then, at the end of the day, they present themselves to the paymaster and all receive the same daily wage.  And the vineyard owner says to the disgruntled workers who had been there all day, “Are you angry because I am generous?”
He doesn’t have to say anything to the workers who came on late, because they are too busy dancing for glee at their good fortune.   They are taking home way more than they truly earned, and way more than they expected to get when they finally presented themselves in the market square.  
The Lord Himself makes it clear what work we are to undertake for him: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  All three, NOT one of the above; they all work together to heal our souls and rebuild our relationship with the Lord and one another.  This is the work of Lent, and he is still looking for folks who have not yet gone to His vineyard.
One could take this a step too far, and just wait until the last minute; but of course, we never know when our last minute really will come, do we?  Better to go when the Master calls and sends us.
So yes, it is late – the second Sunday of Lent, already.  But the Master is looking for workers to tend His vineyard, even when that vineyard looks remarkably like their own souls.  Do not fall into the grim cycle of low Lent-esteem!  Do not fret the progress of the day that has already gone and cannot be retrieved. Come now, because He calls you now.  You will take home way more than you truly earn, and way more than you expected to get when you finally got around to the undertakings of Lent.
Monsignor Smith