Monday, February 17, 2020

Saint Paul, President Lincoln and Perseverance

Saint Paul gives us good advice on this Presidents’ day: “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2)

The online definition of perseverance is “persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” It is one of the key elements to success — hitting the wall, falling down, failing, but persevering when everyone else would have given up

Doris Kearns Goodwin writes of the Presidents she describes her latest book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, “with perseverance and hard work, they all essentially made themselves leaders by enhancing and developing the qualities they were given.”

Like the young man whose mother died when he was nine years old, and whose sister Sara died in childbirth not long after. He could have given up, but he stubbornly pushed on.

His father was an illiterate and roughly hewn man, keeping all his son’s wages until he was 21 and discouraging him from reading. And so the young man had less than one year in grade school. And so, he wrote, he would always feel inferior to others, his back woods dialect and gawky appearance making him the but of others jokes, a frequent theme of cartoonists when he eventually started to make something of himself. They drew him as a gorilla and an uneducated and ignorant country bumpkin way out of his league. He could have given up, but he stubbornly pushed on.

So, as a teenager he fell in love with Anna and they planned a life together, but she too died at the age of 22. He could have given up, but he stubbornly pushed on.

Eventually he did marry and had four sons. Eddie, whom he and Mary named after a close friend, was their second. He died of tuberculosis, one month before his 4th birthday. Willie was their third child and he died at 13 of typhoid fever from drinking contaminated water from a river not far from their house. He could have given up, but he stubbornly pushed on.

He lost eight elections and he suffered such a severe nervous collapse that he was bedridden for six months. He could have given up, but he stubbornly pushed on.

Abraham Lincoln Pushed on to become one of the most admired presidents in our history.  So, on this Presidents Day, make a resolution: that the next time you become discouraged and are convinced that life has defeated you, remember Saint Paul’s urging you to persevere, and remember what Abraham Lincoln wrote to a friend 165 years ago: 

I am a patient man -- always willing to forgive on the Christian terms of repentance; and also to give ample time for repentance. Still I must save this government if possible. What I cannot do, of course I will not do; but it may as well be understood, once for all, that I shall not surrender this game leaving any available card unplayed. (July 26, 1862 Letter to Reveredy Johnson)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Flu and the Liturgy

Each year, with the arrival of the flu season, your pastor is concerned with limiting the transmission of pathogens, particularly at Mass. These questions and answers have been developed by the Office for Worship of the Diocese of Worcester and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Additional information on influenza outbreaks is available from
1. What is influenza (also called “the flu”)?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.
2. How flu spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
3. Period of contagiousness
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
4. Preventing seasonal flu: Get vaccinated
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season... About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the three influenza viruses that research suggests will be most common.
5. If I am sick with the flu, am I obliged to go to Mass?
No. Those who are seriously ill or contagious with the flu should stay at home, lest they pass the flu on to others. Such an illness is a legitimate reason to miss Mass and they are not under an obligation to attend. 

6. What else should individuals keep in mind?
Individuals who are feeling unwell or believe they may be will with diseases which are communicable, such as a cold or the flu, are well advised to refrain from receiving the Precious Blood as their saliva could transmit the pathogen to their fellow communicants.  In such circumstances, communicants should carefully consider receiving Holy Communion under the form of bread alone. Those who are not feeling well should refrain from receiving from the chalice, and should receive Holy Communion under the form of bread alone to avoid transmitting any illness.
7. What about the distribution of Communion under both kinds?
Holy Communion distributed under both the species of bread and wine is recommended by the Roman Missal as a more complete form as a sign” (GIRM no. 281). When considering the distribution of Holy Communion, however, it should also be borne in mind that even when Holy Communion is distributed under the form of bread alone, the communicant still receives the Lord entirely, in his Body, Blood, soul and divinity. There are, indeed, circumstances when Communion under both kinds is not the best choice.
8. What could Pastors do?
Pastors should remind all ministers of Holy Communion, ordinary and extraordinary, to practice good hygiene, washing their hands before Mass begins. The use of alcohol-based anti-bacterial solutions before and after the distribution of Holy Communion has also been recommended. During a particularly virulent outbreak of influenza, the pastor might choose to suspend the exchange of peace or suspend the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds until the outbreak has abated.                     

All are urged, in their charity, to keep the sick in their prayers and to use common sense, especially during the cold and flu season.
A major means of transmission of the flu and colds is by hand.  Either by sneezing or coughing upon our hands, or even touching a surface which has been contaminated by the saliva of others pathogens can be passed to others, especially by shaking their hands (with which they subsequently touch their eyes or mouth, etc.).

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The World Day of the Sick and Our Lady of Lourdes

Last night I was at the Lourdes center in Boston to celebrate World Day of the Sick with members of the Order of Malta.  This is the homily I preached.

As members of Malta we talk a lot about the sick, and most of us, at one time or another, get sick and find out what it is really like.

Sometimes it’s a serious illness like cancer or heart disease or stroke.  At other times it is a temporary, although miserable, indisposition from something like the flu or an allergy or a broken bone.

And sometimes, it is just being afraid of getting sick (anyone here look like they have the Carona virus) or being afraid of getting old or of dying.  I think about that more and more whenever I celebrate the funeral of people younger than me (which as I get older, is happening more and more).

And getting sick, or even being afraid of getting sick, is no fun.  Indeed, it induces a kind of panicked realisation that we have little control over the anxiety, pain or misery which we call suffering and we just have to “offer it up.”

That’s what my grnadmother used to say when she had no solution to life’s problems.  Just offer it up.  Give it over to Jesus and join it to the sufferings he suffers on the Cross.

Jesus expresses that precise same thought in a slightly different way tonight when he looks at us in our suffering and says, “Come to me…all you who are labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest.”

So, all we have to do is go to him and he will take away the suffering?  Not quite.

We go to him and then take his yoke upon us. Did you ever see a yoke…the kind they use on oxen at old Sturbridge Village?  It’s a great big heavy  contraption that links two oxen together and is then connected by ropes or chains to the heavy thing they are carrying.  It’s a means of two big dumb oxen sharing the aame burden and pulling together.

So Jesus does not tell us that he will take the burden away.  He tells us to yoke ourselves to him, join ourselves to his suffering on the Cross, and he will help us to bear our burdens.  And then we will find rest for ourselves, for with his pulling beside us the yoke is easy and the burden is light.

And this not only pertains to the times when we are deadly sick, but also to the times when we are deadly sick of life, or of the people around us.  The one solution to all life’s problems is the Lord Jesus Christ, hanging upon the cross, clinging to nothing of this world, and letting go of everything for love of us. For it is only by giving our hearts and our lives over to Christ, by inviting him to live within us, that we can find rest from our burdens.

The Little Flower understood it best when she called us to a life of gratitude rather than greed.

“I feel, [she once wrote] that when I am charitable it is Jesus acting in me; the more I am united to Him the more do I love all my Sisters….True Charity consists in bearing with all the defects of our neighbor, in not being surprised at his failings, and in being edified by his least virtues.”

So we who seek to follow Jesus are called, she continues, not only to give to whoever asks, but to let what we think belongs to us to be taken. “I know it seems hard; [she writes] but the yoke of the Lord is sweet and light: and when we accept it we feel its sweetness immediately…For only love can enlarge my heart..."

That’s why each time I am caught up in my own suffering, the Lord smiles patiently and shows me the wounds he suffered for my salvation, still bleeding from his hands, his feet and his side…and smiling he says, “Come to me and take my yoke upon your shoulders and you will find rest.”

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Welcoming the Stranger in Worcester...

It will be Lent in just a few weeks and we will all be trying to find something to give up. Which is why the 58th Chapter of Isaiah is such a great gift to us today. It’s the chapter in which God tells us what to fast from.

fast from injustice and oppression,
fast from false accusation and malicious speech, 
fast from selfishness and sin.

And what does such a fast look like? It looks like 

sharing your bread with the hungry,
giving the homeless a place to call home;
clothing the naked and satisfying the afflicted.

In other words, such fasting from sin means the stranger, the poor and the hungry are received as we would receive Christ himself and their burdens become our burdens, as well.

Which is why the Church has always taken it as her special mission to welcome the stranger. Sometimes we have been very good at it, as when the Sisters of Providence opened their twelve bed hospital on Vernon Hill in 1893, charging patients only what they could afford and walking the streets of the canal district to find and care for indigent immigrants, be they from Cork or Quebec.

We’ve sometimes been very good at welcoming the stranger, and sometimes not-so-much. 

Like back in the 1840’s, perhaps one of the most turbulent decades in Worcester’s history, marked by extreme ethnic strife, and it was all about the Irish and it all happened on the front steps of the Church.

The Church in those days was the first Church built in Western Massachusetts, Christ Church or Saint John’s as it came to be known. And the Irish, at first, were the few hundred folks who has come here to build the Blackstone Canal. 

They used to refer to themselves as the Pioneers and they came mainly from the southern Irish counties and most spoke English. When they first arrived they lived in shanty towns down around Green and Water Streets. Life was not easy at first, with laws against new immigrants walking on Main Street, and signs in most windows reading “Rooms For Rent, No Irish Need Apply.” 

They had worked hard, digging the canal with spades, shovels and wheelbarrows, organized by the professional Irish contractor Tobias Boland. When the canal was finished, they got jobs as coal miners, street builders who paved Main Street (although they still couldn’t walk on it at night), brick-makers and railroad builders, many of them owning their own tenements and some, like the canal boss Tobias Boland, having become very successful merchants. The same Toby Boland who bought up the land from Franklin Street to Vernon Square and laid out Temple and Winter streets on the site of a former swampland and built row-upon-row of tenements. Tobias, by the way, was there when the corner stone of Christ Church was laid, and when he died, he left his entire estate to Saint Paul’s Church. That’s us, so be warned: I am by no means the objective historian here.

But then came the great potato blight and nearly a third of the population of Ireland died or fled in famine ships, more than three thousand of them ending up in Worcester, almost doubling the city’s population with mostly illiterate farmers, from Mayo, Sligo, Galway, Donegal and Kerry. More of them spoke Irish than English and came from extreme poverty, as with those from Donegal, where in 1837 there were 10 beds, 43 chairs and 243 stools in a county of 9,000 people.

These new Irish were deeply suspicious of the Pioneers (whom they used to refer to as “lace curtain Irish”), for while the Pioneers called themselves Irishmen, they looked, talked and acted like Englishmen and Yankees to the new arrivals. And these lace certain Irish were the landlords and bosses of the unskilled and impoverished newcomers, first among them being Boss Boland, whom they came to refer to as “Lord Normsbury.”

And where was the Church in all this? Father James Fitton, second pastor of Saint John’s tried to reason with the new arrivals, dressing in workingman’s clothes and boots as he would visit their tenements and shops. But he was succeeded by Father Matthew Gibson, who had originally come to Worcester from Philadelphia in hopes of becoming a Jesuit at Holy Cross. Unfortunately, Father Gibson was an Englishman, anything but Irish, and described by his contemporaries as aristocratic and a bit haughty. Gone were the working man's clothes as he walked the streets (including Main Street) in a fancy purple over-coat with a white collar. Father Gibson’s appointment, one historian noted, “was a little like touching a match to a powder keg.”

Well to make a long story short, it all came to a head on Palm Sunday in 1847. A crowd of men from the surrounding towns were in Worcester for the job fair being run by the railroad and as evening came, most of them made their way to the taverns. When the Donlevie’s tavern (run by the sexton at Saint John’s) closed at sunset, his thirsty patrons were enraged and blamed it on that English pastor. They marched up Grafton Street, where they tried unsuccessfully to break into a brewery and then to burn down Toby Boland’s house. Their final stop was the Rectory, where Father Gibson came out and demanded that they leave, to which they dragged him in the street and threatened to tar and feather him, calling him the “landlord’s priest,” and the “Saxon tyrant.” Fortunately, Father Gibson managed to break away with the help of a friendly neighbor and took the night train to Boston.

Worcester was placed under interdict that Holy Week and later that year, Bishop Fenwick appointed Father John Boyce as co-pastor with Father Gibson.

Father Boyce, himself from the old sod, made himself a friend to Pioneer and working man alike, and ever so slowly the inter-nicene rivalries abated. Which is a good thing, since now the Irish had to contend with those Canadians who were coming town and taking their jobs and the Yankees, who had never quite warmed up to the presence of all these papists.

It was kind of a mess, mixed up with scoundrels and saints, sinners and opportunists. And its sometimes still a mess today, with the stranger cast as fearsome and malevolent, a creature to be kept at a distance, a problem to be solved rather than a brother to be embraced.

And yet the very same God says the very same thing to us as he did to them, we the Catholic daughters and sons of Worcester.

‘Fast from injustice and oppression, from false accusation and malicious speech, from selfishness and sin. Give the homeless a home, share your bread with them, and welcome the stranger.’

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Liturgical Notes on the Presentation 2020

This year the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord falls on Sunday, February 2nd. The Office of Worship of the Diocese of Worcester has, therefore, prepared the following notes in order to answer some of the questions surrounding the rather rare occurrence of this feast on a Sunday. I hope you find it helpful!


This year the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord falls on Sunday, February 2nd. Some have inquired, therefore, concerning the appropriateness of blessing candles during Sunday Masses. 

There are two forms for the Blessing of Candles in the Roman Missal, not unlike the Blessing of Palms on Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. 

As on Palm Sunday, the first form includes a Procession from “a smaller church or other suitable place other than inside the church to which the procession will go,” where all are gathered with unlighted candles.

When the Priest (wearing a chasuble or cope) arrives with the ministers, the candles are lit as an appropriate chant is sung. He then makes the sign of the Cross, and greets them in the usual way and addresses them with the address provided or using similar words. The address recalls the origin of the feast, in commemoration of the fortieth day since the Nativity of the Lord, when Mary and Joseph presented him in the temple in fulfillment of the Law, how “in reality [Christ] was coming to meet his believing people.” The priest then recalls the story of Simeon and Anna and invites all present to be led by the Holy Spirit into the house of the Lord to encounter the Christ “in the breaking of the bread, until he comes again, revealed in glory.”

Then the Priest blesses the candles with his hands extended, using an ancient prayer recalling how God, “the source and origin of all light” became for Simeon the “Light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The prayer goes on to ask God to bless the candles “which we are eager to carry in praise of your name,
so that, treading the path of virtue, we may reach that light which never fails.” A shorter alternate prayer of blessing of modern composition is also provided. 

He then sprinkles the candles with holy water and imposes incense for the procession. Taking a candle himself, the Priest (if there is no deacon) announces: “Let us go in peace to meet the Lord.” as an appropriate chant is sung. 

As the procession enters the Church, the Entrance Antiphon may be sung. He reverences the Altar in the customary fashion, incenses it, if it is the custom, and then goes to the chair and exchanges the cope (if worn) for the chasuble, as the Mass continues with the Gloria.

The second form (The Solemn Entrance) is simpler, and might be employed at other Masses. It begins in “a suitable place” either outside the front door or inside the Church, as either the whole assembly or a representative group hold unlighted candles. The Priest (wearing the chasuble) and ministers go to meet them. At the Cathedral we are gathering at the cross aisle. When the ministers arrive, the candles are lit, as an appropriate song is sung. There he greets the people and blesses the candles, as above, and the procession to the altar takes place with appropriate singing.


Is the blessing of candles on Sunday required? 
No. The Blessing of Candles is an optional rite. It may be appropriate to do one of the forms at one Mass or all Masses, but this depends entirely on pastoral circumstances.

Should candles be given to all the people present and blessed? 
Candles may be given to everyone or to a representative group of the faithful, who would take part in the procession.  Any kind of candles may be used, even the small assembly candles used at the Easter Vigil. Cost will be a factor.

If everyone receives candles, what do they do with them afterward?
Families might be encouraged to take the candle home and put it in the same location which the Christmas crib occupied or even on the dining room table. A simple prayer like “Christ, light of the world, bless our family” might be incorporated into their blessing before meals for as long as the candle lasts.

Our parish usually blesses throats on the Sunday closest to the feast of Saint Blaise. Can we bless both candles and throats at this Mass?
If the blessing of throats on a Sunday has been the custom, preference should be given to the blessing of candles on the feast of the Presentation and throats might be blessed on the following Sunday. 

What is the origin of the Feast of the Presentation?
Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, as described in Luke 2:22–39, was in fulfillment of the Mosaic law, whereby the mother of a male child concluded her period of purification forty days after his birth, just as the Blessed Virgin Mary commemorates her ritual purification by presenting Jesus in the Temple. The Feast of the Presentation of the the Lord dates to at least the fourth century in Jerusalem where the pilgrim Egeria describes a procession on “the fortieth day” after the feast of the Nativity of the Lord in Jerusalem. Two hundred years later, in the midst of a terrible plague, great processions with candles were ordered on this day in every town asking for the deliverance from evil and the plague abated. From that time, the feast also came to be known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin and The Meeting of the Lord.

What should the homily be about?
The themes for the homily might center around encountering Christ, recalling the story of Simeon and Anna, or the coming of Christ our light into a world darkened by sin. Among those homilies which might be reviewed are a 1997 homily by Pope Saint John Paul II and a 2011 homily by Pope Benedict XVI.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

On Seeing Christ...

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  We, who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  And that light is the face of Christ.

Do you remember the first time you saw him?  I mean really saw him.  Do you remember the first time you saw the Lord Jesus with the eyes of faith?

Maybe it was when you were a little kid, and your grandmother told you that Jesus, through whom you were made, was in that little white host and that fancy gold cup that the Priest was holding on the Altar.  And with the faith of a little child, you looked up and saw him.

Caryll Houselander once described that moment so well in her book Mass for the People, written way back in 1942.  She wrote:

“Slowly, exactly, Father O'Grady repeated the words of Consecration, his hands moved in Christ's hands, his voice spoke in Christ's voice, his words were Christ's words, his heart beat in Christ's heart.

“Fr. O'Grady lifted up the consecrated Host in his short, chapped hands, the server rang a little bell, the sailor, the handful of old women and the very old man bowed down whispering "My Lord and my God" and the breath of their adoration was warm on their cold fingers.

Father O'Grady was lifting up God.”

As with the eyes of faith, every innocent child and old faithful woman and man looked at that white host and gold Chalice and saw God, Jesus, their Lord and their God!

Maybe that was the first time you saw God. 

Or maybe the first time you were with the old sick lady or that guy who lived on the street or that person who really needed you.  And you consoled them and wiped their sweaty brown, or fed them as they gobbled it down hungrily, or dried their tears as they cried about how hard their life had become. And maybe when you looked behind their tears or between the wrinkles of their wizened visage you saw Jesus, smiling back at you. 

Maybe that’s the first time you saw his face.

Or maybe it was after that time you had really messed up, and your life was in a shambles, and you had cried through endless nights of dark despair. Until, in a dazzling moment of blinding light, someone forgave you, God absolved you and you were overwhelmed, drowning in a gratuitous mercy that you never could have deserved. And way down deep in your broken heart, now overcome with healing love, you saw his face, maybe for the first, but certainly not for the last time.

 And suddenly, you were like Isaiah, so aware of your littleness set against the infinity of God’s glory. Your grubbiness, set against the the purity of seraphims praising the holiness of God.  And, like Isaiah, you cried out:  "Woe is me, for I am doomed!…a man of unclean lips…”

We hear today of the first time Andrew and Peter saw Jesus.  He was walking by the sea of Galilee, when he caught sight of the two brothers casting a fishing net into the sea. “Come after me,” he yelled to them, “and I will make you fishers of men.” “At once they left their nets and followed him.”

That first calling of the disciples reminds us that Jesus always sees us before we catch sight of him, for is through him that we were made and through him that we were knot together in our mothers’ wombs.  

Imagine that, if you will…how before your parents or grandparents were even born, God knew you…by name.  He knew the beauty of you, the talents of you, the accomplishments you would enjoy.  He knew the sins you would commit, the darkness you would cling to and the evil to which you would surrender yourself.  He knew you better than you will ever know yourself, and still he loved you.

He knew you and still he became a weak little baby for love of you.  He knew you and still he suffered the passion of the cross for you.  He knew you and still be gave his life, his last breath and drop of blood for love of you.  Before you had learned to say his name, he knew you and he loved you still.

Which is why it is an old and pious tradition to meditate on the last time you will see him in this life, with prayers for a happy death.  What will it be like the last time you will see him in this life?  Perhaps it will be in that little white host as viaticum, the Bread of Angels received for one last time.  Or perhaps it will be in the eyes of that person whom you had never forgiven to whom you will show mercy with your dying breath.  Or perhaps it will be in the absolution which will still your dying heart, the peace you will know when you make your last confession.

What will it be like, the last time I see him in this life?

I do not know.  But I do know that no matter when it was that I first caught a glimpse of his face, no matter how it will be that I will catch a last glimpse of him, I know that when I walk through that door from this life to the next, I will be ‘welcomed  into the light of his face.’  The face of him through whom all things were made, the Alpha and the Omega who died for me, who sought me out whenever I was lost and with whom I long to live in the glory of his perfect love for all eternity.

The Order for the Baptism of Children Workshop

Here is the workshop which I recently gave to Clergy of the Diocese of Worcester on the new Order for the Baptism of Children. Feel free to share!

Saint Paul gives us good advice on this Presidents’ day: “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, ...