My Dear Fellow Parishioners,
Today, fifty days after Easter, we celebrate Pentecost Sunday which marks the end of the Church’s glorious Easter Season. What a strange season it has been as we isolate ourselves in our homes and celebrate Mass via livestream! Under normal circumstances, today also would have marked the end of the initiation process (RCIA) for those who would have been initiated at the Easter Vigil. Alas, they are still awaiting the day when it will be safe to gather in the church building again to celebrate baptisms, Confirmations and the reception of Eucharist. Also longing for the sacraments are our First Communion and Confirmation candidates and the parents of little ones waiting to be baptized. Let us hold them all in prayer that they do not become discouraged, rather that this time of anticipation will bring its own unique graces.
Pentecost is also considered the “birthday of the Church” as described in our first reading today from The Acts of the Apostles. This year, sequestered in my home with my husband for fear of COVID-19, I can relate more than ever before to the account of the disciples hiding for fear of meeting the same death as Jesus. Yet, with the coming of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus had promised to send as an Advocate, we hear that their fear was replaced by a fervor to spread the Good News of Jesus who is Messiah and Lord, crucified and risen.
Reflecting on all this, I feel a connection between the Church’s first birthday at Pentecost and the rebirth of the Domestic Church (the Church lived in our households) that we see re-surging under the guidance of the Holy Spirit during the current pandemic. On the parish website, Facebook and Instagram pages you can see photos of home prayer centers (little altars), children working on their Faith Formation lessons under the guidance of parents or older siblings, and (most importantly) families participating in, not just watching, Sunday Mass livestreamed from our parish church. Some households are making banners, posters or sidewalk chalk drawings to thank the delivery people serving them. In many various ways we are witnessing the Good News to one another in our homes and in our neighborhoods.
Dear Padre Serra Parishioners,
I have both deeply saddening news about the coronavirus, and challenging and hopeful news about our parish reopening.
As you may have heard, our beloved country passed the 100,000 count today for those who have died of the coronavirus. The parish bells tolled for them today at 4:05 pm after I heard that announcement. I ask you to pray with me now:
Gracious and merciful God, look with kindness on all who have died of this scourge throughout the world. Give them your forbearance, and grant them a place in your eternal kingdom, where Lazarus, who once was poor, suffers no more. Comfort the hearts of all who have lost a loved family member or friend.
May they find themselves strengthened by belief in your eternal plan for us. Help us to find a cure or vaccine, quickly, that will lift the weight of this virus from all our shoulders. We ask everything in the name of Jesus, our Lord, may he live and reign, forever, in our hearts. Amen.
Reopening of churches: With the governor’s announcement, allowing the re-opening of churches, Archbishop Gomez has given us a number of guidelines and steps to achieve before we can begin having Mass again at Padre Serra. I will be sending an update this next week. There are too many questions left unanswered to be certain when Mass will begin, but it will certainly be within the next month. The archbishop is not permitting Masses this weekend.
Live-streaming: The archbishop is continuing to lift the obligation on attending Mass, with no end date. We will continue to broadcast a live, on-line Mass for all those who need or choose to maintain their distance. In fact, it is our intention to keep on live-streaming the parish liturgy after the crisis passes as a continuous service to our home-bound parishioners.
We need volunteers: The new guidelines require volunteers for some of the new safety and health requirements. In the words of the archbishop, “High risk individuals (e.g., people who are 65 and older, who are immunocompromised or who have underlying health conditions) should be discouraged from serving in any capacity that brings them into contact with others.” With that in mind I ask any parishioner of high school age or older, who is not health compromised, to consider assisting us in one of the following ways:
If you can assist in any of these tasks, please email Jane, our receptionist, at email@example.com, and be as specific as you are able with your availability, contact information, concerns and which tasks you are open to undertaking.
Reconciliation / confessions are immediately permitted: I am happy to say that I will be available for drop by confessions this Friday and Saturday, May 29th and 30th, from 3:00 to 6:00 pm with the following guidelines:
Parishioners may also schedule confessions with my assistant, Barbara (firstname.lastname@example.org).
These times are challenging, but I am very hopeful for the future. Please, please, please – as our community opens up, maintain all the healthy protocols to maintain your health!
Also visit: Regarding COVID-19 at Padre Serra
Last words can mean so much to us. When I sit down with a family to talk about a deceased family member, they will occasionally tell me they thought their mom or dad waited for someone to arrive before passing on. Sometimes they tell me the deceased’s last words. It seems so significant when a family member or friend says, just before dying, “I love you,” or “I forgive you,” or “I’ll still be with you from the far side.” We cherish these kinds of last things. They resonate like tympani in our hearts.
In that spirit, it is so very important for us to attend carefully to Jesus’ last words: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
His communication starts with power – if the Father gave all authority to him, then we must attend to his last command. “All authority” includes power over us. We’re left free, but if we’re wise, we’ll listen carefully and obey. We are told to “go.” We’re not to be static, but on the move. Complacency is insufficient. Sleepiness can only be temporary. Naps may be cherished, but they can’t rule our lives. The camino of fidelity to our Lord is calling, and we have to follow.
And then we get to the heart of Jesus’ last directive: “Make disciples of all nations.” He doesn’t ask us either to be, or to make, demanding consumers who come to church expecting to be entertained. He doesn’t look for blind obedience. He doesn’t seek people who will say that they are Christian, or who will choose only the most shallow forms of observance. He’s looking for people who will take their faith to heart and act. Disciples work to grow in their understanding and application of their faith. Disciples are active doers, servants of the Lord, and ministers to the broken world around them. Ultimately, if we accept that Jesus has all authority, as he claims, then we can’t be content until “all nations” have been taught to observe all that he has commanded, until “all nations” are caring, active and living as disciples, imitating Jesus’ words and actions.
The parish mission statement embraces this Gospel with enthusiasm: “Encounter Jesus. Be disciples.” The first invitation, “encounter Jesus,” stands on the truth that everything begins and ends with Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega. Encountering him is much more than simply “knowing” him. I knew many people in my doctoral studies, who knew all kinds of facts about Jesus, but in spite of their academic pursuits, lost their faith. All their knowledge was for naught. “Encounter Jesus” means to dive into the experience of the sacraments. It requires us to pray, and invites contemplation. It leads to a relationship that is real, accompanying Jesus in all our activities. This will inevitably lead us into a loving bond, for to encounter Jesus is to love him. When we, in fact, love him, we make it about him, and not ourselves.
And there is where we become disciples, actively imitating Jesus in our daily lives. He fed people; so do we. He healed, taught, and answered his world’s questions; so do we. He accompanied others and comforted them in their struggles; so do we. He laid down his life for the sake of a broken world that crucified him; so must we, hard as this one is.
Pope Francis invites Catholic communities around the world to celebrate Laudato Si’ week. Visit www.laudatosi.va/en
Also visit: laudatosiweek.org
Twenty eight years ago, at just about this time, I was out in the garage looking for something when I came across some of Terrie’s things. She had died that January and I was still struggling with her loss. It triggered what was a persistent questioning and struggle for me at that time. Life was not supposed to be like this. Why did she have to suffer with and die of cancer? Why do I have to go through this? The grief group that I was a part of helped me to navigate through this pain and suffering. We were a diverse group of individuals of similar ages, different backgrounds, different faiths or none at all. Although the suffering we experienced was not equally distributed, in this community the one thing that that we all had in common, however, was the loss of a spouse. We were able to remind each other that we were not the only broken hearted people in the world and the pain of loss so present in our lives was not ours alone. As I looked into the box I found some of the crafts Terrie had made. There were hair bows and other things she had made that helped her to rediscover the beauty in the world and in her own life in the midst of incredible struggle with cancer over which she had no control. In the midst of her own suffering she found a way to find joy and beauty. She found a way to share that joy and beauty with others around her.
I find that the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shelter in place restrictions bring back some of those same feelings. Why do so many have to suffer with and die of as a result of this virus? Why do I have to go through this isolation and being closed off from so many of the things that I find life giving? The gentle reminder from so many years ago returns as well: We are not the only broken hearted people in the world and the pain of loss so present in our lives is not ours alone.
The gospel today calls out to remind us of the presence of the Spirit. “You know the Spirit, because the Spirit remains with you, and will be in you.” The fact is that hardly anything in life turns out the way we expected it to, and we are so often ready to write life off as too difficult and retreat. But we all must be willing to take a moment to recognize the presence of the Spirit that remains with and in us. Stretch to find the beauty that surrounds us in the midst of suffering and struggle. This may be in simple things like finding some rocks and painting them and adding our own design; perhaps it’s playing a musical instrument; maybe it is spending some time in prayerful silence and deep listening. It doesn’t matter that we lack any artistic talent, musical ability, or even a sense of deep spirituality. It is a willingness to be open to the spirit within.
Dear Family in Christ,
My late mother was everything a mother should be—loving, caring, watchful, protective—until I reached adolescence and started having opinions of my own. From that point on she was incapable of releasing me to make my own decisions, and our adult relationship was difficult. Our society’s ritual of selecting Mother’s Day cards put me in an annual moral dilemma. I could spend an hour searching through the card selection at Target or CVS trying to find a message that didn’t make a liar out of me. “The best mother in the world” and “You were always there for me” just didn’t cut it. One year I sent her flowers instead, and she refused delivery. Sometime during my youth, I discovered I was better off relying on God for my motherly nurturing.
My mother and I never abandoned our relationship, as difficult as it was. Near the end of her long life it became necessary for me to mother her, but along the way I found others who lovingly nurtured me. Older and more experienced friends gently coached me how to be a wise mother to my own children, and members of the church taught us all by example how to hold one another close and to let go when appropriate.
But the one who has constantly held me and truly mothered me from my birth has been God. Scripture, Christian tradition, and our own experience teach us that God’s love, comfort, and care know no bounds. In Isaiah 66:13, the Lord tells Jerusalem, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem illustrates a mother’s concern as he says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Luke 13:34 and Matt. 23:37) Early Christian mystics speak of the maternal nature of God. Julian of Norwich describes God as both Father and Mother: “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.” Anselm of Canterbury describes Christ as “the great Mother” who comforts the frightened with gentleness. And every recent pope since John Paul I has made some reference to the value of understanding God as a mother.
We are God’s children, and God knows how to protect us, where to correct us, how to guide us, and when to let us learn from mistakes. God wants us to explore and learn and love, and God is always there to kiss our booboos and put bandaids on our knees when we fall off our bikes. Give thanks to God—the source and embodiment of motherhood!
Dear Padre Serra Family,
This weekend, May 2 and 3, 2020, was to be the wonderful celebration of First Holy Communion for our Faith Formation children. They have been readily preparing for their sacraments for almost two years now but the current situation in our community and across the globe has rearranged our schedules. We in Faith Formation completely understand the concept of altered plans (almost daily!), and often have a Plan B or Plan C if needed. Yet, the past weeks have the formation staff taking a few steps back and allowing the Holy Spirit to influence our creative abilities so that we can continue to share the Catholic faith via the Gospel stories.
Today in John’s Gospel, Jesus portrays a true image of daily life to illustrate the depth of his desired relationship with us. He reminds us that He is the shepherd: “Amen, amen, I say to you ... Whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” (John 10:1-10) Amen, amen, truly, absolutely, yes! How emphatically He tells us that we belong to Him! “The shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out ... they recognize his voice.” Just as the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep is personal, so is our own relationship to Jesus through the Holy Eucharist. The fact that we cannot physically partake of the sustenance that is the bread and wine become body and blood does not exclude us from the First Sacrament, Jesus. Our good shepherds here on earth, Pope Francis, Bishop Gomez, Father Patrick and others, entreat us to enter a deeper spiritual communion with God, present in the Blessed Sacrament. The Lord wants to remain with us in the Eucharist, and therefore, we become the tabernacle, carrying Him with us.
And if we do not understand Jesus as our Shepherd, the Gospel continues and tells us He is also the gate. The ideal image of a good and caring shepherd becomes even more evident when we learn that it was customary for the shepherd to sleep on the ground across the threshold of the sheepfold in order to protect his flock. In other words, a watchful shepherd became, literally, the gate. Jesus is not any door, but THE door through which all people come to the Father. “Whoever enters through me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture ... I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” What a gift Jesus offers to us — the opportunity of eternal life with Him! He has created a picture of total freedom, coupled with total security. We need only to recognize his voice and desire his presence in our hearts to be truly united.
Persist in your warm prayers for our First Communion children and adults through their ongoing preparation. I humbly request that Padre Serra parishioners wear a white garment today, not only to continue celebrating the glorious Resurrection of Jesus, but as a reminder of our own Baptisms and First Communions. When our faith family returns to communal liturgy within our sacred walls, it will be as if everyone is receiving Jesus for the first time in the Eucharist!