The front parlor of the rectory, our Parish House, decorated for Christmas, the day of our Open House on January 10th, 2016, the Sunday after Epiphany. At the Open House Fr. Higgins renewed the house blessing for the New Year, signing the entrance to the rectory with the blessed Epiphany chalk. O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and companionship, narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride, and strife. Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the Tempter’s power. O God, make the door of this house the gateway to Thy eternal Kingdom. We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Thy Son. Amen. (This and other PHOTOs from the Open House by PAUL ELDRIDGE.)
Newly ordained Deacon Stephen LeBlanc (our parishioner), receiving the Book of the Gospels from the hands of Sean Cardinal O’Malley, Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston, January 9th, 2016. Deacon LeBlanc and his classmates will be ordained to the priesthood in May. (PHOTO from the BOSTON PILOT.)
The yearly Octave Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is always held between the dates of January 18th-25th. It falls, significantly, between two feasts of the Princes of the Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul: January 18th, formerly the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair at Rome, and January 25th, the Conversion of St. Paul. This is a reminder to us that the unity for which we pray is a unity centered on the Person of Jesus Christ in His Church founded on the authority He gave to His Apostles. It is not a vague, sentimental thing.
One of the expressed goals of the Council Fathers at Vatican II was to further the cause for Christian unity and the healing of historic divisions. In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) the Fathers declared:
These Christians [not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church] are indeed in some real way joined to us in the Holy Spirit for, by His gifts and graces, His sanctifying power is also active in them and He has strengthened some of them even to the shedding of their blood. And so the Spirit stirs up desires and actions in all of Christ’s disciples in order that all may be peaceably united, as Christ ordained, in one flock under one shepherd. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may be achieved, and she exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the Church. (Lumen Gentium 15)
One of the ways in which Christian unity has been realized in a way that rises above the divisions is in the shared experience of the Cross among Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant in the persecutions of modern times. In his homily at the canonization of the Ugandan Martyrs Charles Lwanga and Companions, Pope Paul VI explicitly acknowledged the blood martyrdom of the Anglican Christians who had died in the same persecutions (1885-1887): “Nor should we forget those others, of the Anglican communion, who died for the sake of Christ.”
In his memoir of how he survived Soviet Communist captivity, My Thirty-third Year: a Catholic Priest in the Gulag (A.D. 1958), Gerhard Fittkau, a parish priest from German East Prussia, describes his friendship with a Protestant Pastor Theodor Goebel whom he encountered in the prison camp barracks. The two clergymen, Catholic and Evangelical, formed a close bond of Christian fellowship both to support one another and to try to minister to their fellow captives under the extreme conditions of the Siberian Gulag.
During Holy Week 1945 they agreed to have clandestine services, where one would preach to the barracks on Good Friday and the other on Easter Sunday. Fr. Fittkau recounts the message of Pastor Goebel’s Good Friday sermon:
The only sound beside the pastor’s voice was the crackling of wood in the barrel stove. He praised the mercy of Christ in forgiving the Good Thief, opening heaven to him in his last hour by the merits of His own innocent suffering. He invited his listeners to join the Good Thief and abandon the blasphemous thought that was the devil’s temptation to us now: the thought of blaming God for all this suffering. To place such blame was to make man as if he were God and to hide the great sin of mankind which is unbelief. We should rather lay that sin before Him by sincere searching of our consciences. The pastor closed his sermon with a prayer to Our Lord to be with us in our desperate condition and to say to us also when our hour would come, ‘This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.’
The Gospel Lesson for this Sunday relates the First Public Miracle that Jesus did, changing the water into wine at the Wedding
Feast of Cana. In concluding the story, St. John emphasizes that this was a sign which strengthened the belief of the first group of Jesus’ disciples in Him: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee; and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” (John 2:11)
In the Church’s understanding of discipleship, there is the primary and necessary vocation to believe in Christ, receive His Baptism, and become a member of His visible Church on earth. It is necessary to make use of the grace God has given us to save our own soul. Within the life of the Church, however, there is also recognized, in addition to the call to live out our baptismal vows, that distinctive way of life which is a continuation of the call of Christ to specific individuals to leave their former way of life in order to follow Him completely. “And Jesus said to Simon [Peter]: Do not be afraid: henceforth thou shalt be a fisher of men. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left all and followed Him.” (Luke 5:11) We see this call being lived out in our midst through the ministry of the ordained and the various institutes of consecrated life.
I want to recognize the men from our parish who are presently responding to that inner call they have felt to serve Christ and His Church by leaving the life of “the world” for the life of religion.
Among the men ordained to the transitional diaconate by Cardinal Sean on January 9th, was one of the men sponsored by our parish, Stephen LeBlanc. Deacon LeBlanc is currently serving at St. Joseph Parish in Medway. I am hopeful that he will be able to diaconate at one of our Sunday Masses in the near future and then after his ordination to the priesthood in May, he will celebrate his Mass here at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.
On the Vigil of Christmas, Paul Juhasz, brother and brother-in-law of parishioners Chris and Sharon Juhasz, entered the novitiate of the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey in California. He also took a new name in religion: Frater (Brother) Gerard Sagredo, patron of Budapest, Hungary. (Paul was a full parishioner here at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes during his senior year in high school.)
Front Cover: “Henceforth, you will be known as Brother Martin de Porres…”
Postulant Cameron MacKenzie receives the novice’s cassock and his new name in religion from Fr. Roy, the Chaplain of the Brothers of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (MICM), Still River, Massachusetts, on Epiphany Day, January 6th, 2016. Brother Martin is the son of parishioners Neal and Alison MacKenzie. Fr. Higgins and many members of the parish were able to attend the Epiphany Mass at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel. More information in this week’s Pastor’s Note: The “Call”.
One could meditate on each verse of today’s Epistle from Colossians 3 for several minutes, for it is so rich in godly counsel. As we read, we should also be challenged, and even convicted of sin. It may be a healthy spur for us to go to confession. One could take passages like this one, and turn them into an examination of conscience: “Have I been merciful, kind, humble, modest, patient, etc?” The point is not to dwell on our faults, but to be aware of and to admit these failures, offering them to Christ in the confessional. There, the Lord forgives us, and bestows sacramental grace to help us in our battle against sin.
Indeed, God’s forgiveness is the crucial reality in today’s passage: “even as the Lord hath forgiven you, so do you also” (v. 13). Fr. Joseph Briody, of St. John’s Seminary helps us to understand more clearly St. Paul’s teaching here and in similar ethical passages in his Epistles. In his book, Marriage and Family in Sacred Scripture (the text of our Advent parish book study), he says the following on p. 37: “Paul’s major concern was the saving effects of Christ’s death and resurrection….What is sometimes described as Christian ‘ethics’ is in fact the appropriate response to the mystery of Christ….For Paul, ethics or morality flow from Christology- Christ Himself is the measure of how we should live.”
This is essentially the teaching of St. John in his first Epistle: “We love because He first loved us” (cf. 1 Jn. 4:19). God’s prior forgiveness generates within us that “charity, which is the bond of perfection” (v. 14). Receiving His forgiveness gradually opens us up to be more charitable with others. Knowing in a very personal way the tenderness of Jesus with us and our faults should be a daily summons for us to live more perfectly in His tender charity for others. Being forgiven is what “let[s] the peace of Christ rejoice in [our] hearts,” and is also among the chief reasons for “be[ing] thankful” (v. 15). The RSV accurately renders the original Greek as “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”
In other words, peace with God should be the root of all subsequent charity for our neighbor. This is Fr. Briody’s point above, namely, that Christology flows into morality. St. Jerome’s Vulgate translation is not be discounted, however. The peace of being forgiven and living in communion with Jesus is also the optimum cause for rejoicing and giving thanks through devout assistance at Mass (the word Eucharist literally means thanksgiving, and the Liturgy is the highest form of thanksgiving).
The peace of Christ is likewise a driving motivation for being saturated with the scriptures, that is, for letting “the word of Christ dwell in [us] abundantly” (v. 16). This is confirmed by what we find in Psalm 130 (129), the De Profundis. Overwhelmed by God’s infinite mercy, the Psalmist prays, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I hope” (cf. Ps. 130:3-5, RSV). Peace with God engenders greater hope in and love for His great promises, which are found in His inspired Word. Such a foundation gives us the grace and the strength to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (v. 17, RSV)
Pope Francis chose to begin his Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy on the 50th Anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council (December 8th, 1965). In doing so he clearly wished to link the course of his Papacy to the legacy of that ecumenical Council. Pope Francis, it may be noted, is the first Pope who was ordained to the priesthood after Vatican II. His own personal chronology crosses the divide of the before-and-after, the pre-conciliar and the post-conciliar Church.
Broadly speaking, two “schools of thought” have emerged from within the Church over the past half-century on the meaning of that Council. One school argues for the “hermeneutic (i.e., the interpretation) of continuity” with regard to the Council. However much Catholicism seems to have changed, it continues on as before, Vatican II having been a catalyst for legitimate reforms. The turmoil in the Church is blamed on abuses of the conciliar reforms, and on the influence of secularism which undermines all religious belief.
Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, who was one of the theological advisers present at the Second Vatican Council, was a proponent of the “hermeneutic of continuity”. We may see in his 2007 Motu Propio “Summorum Pontificum” an example of this. He granted liberty to the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass in the Church—the “Extraordinary Form”—while still maintaining the liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI as the “Ordinary Form” of the Roman Rite.
The other school of thought, the so-called “Bologna School”, has the opposite view of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. They see not continuity in the Roman Catholic Church, but rupture—and they think of that as a good thing. A very good thing. The three year event of that 1960s Council freed the Church, as they see it, from the hide-bound attachment to Tradition which had been “stifling the Spirit” for so long and turning the Catholic Church into a Fortress instead of allowing it to move out into the world, the better to engage it. For the advocates of the “Bologna School”, Pope Francis is their man.
One of the chief themes of the Second Vatican Council, perhaps the chief theme, however, was the “universal call to holiness”. This was explicitly addressed in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, approved by the Council Fathers in 1964:
“The Church, whose mystery is set forth by this sacred Council, is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as His Bride, giving Himself up for her so as to sanctify her (cf. Eph. 5:25-26); He joined her to Himself as His body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. Therefore all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness, according to the Apostle’s saying: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (I Thess. 4:3; cf Ep. 1:4) (LG 39)”
“It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society. (LG 40)”
This therefore is the primary and necessary vocation for every Christian person: the “universal call to holiness”, which is another way of saying the fulfillment of our baptismal vows. All other vocations and courses in life must follow from it and draw refreshment for it as water from a deep and inexhaustible well.
The Epistle for today’s Mass, the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, contains a section of St. Peter’s speech before the Sanhedrin, wherein he gives a stirring proclamation of the Gospel. St. Peter’s sermon places the central message of the Gospel (the kerygma) in the foreground: Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is Lord and God. When deciding for or against the Catholic Christian Faith, a person is faced with one ultimate decision: either to deny that Jesus is Lord, or to adore and love Him, like St. Thomas in the Upper Room (cf. Jn. 20:28)
Reading today’s passage from Acts slowly and prayerfully, one can discern the presence and power of the risen Christ. Indeed, St. Luke likewise indicates the presence and power of the Holy Spirit behind St. Peter’s words by describing him as being “filled with the Holy Ghost,” (v. 8). This is a common motif in Acts, and it is linked to the original descent of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost. It underlines the fact that the grace of Pentecost never leaves the Apostles, but is continually active in and through them and their successors. As believers, we know that Christ is truly risen, and that He is at work in His Church through his Holy Spirit. From the Church’s beginning, Jesus’ presence can be discerned in what His apostles say and do, because He is the Church’s living Lord. Consequently, the invocation of His living and Holy Name is instrumental in bestowing grace to men.
The Holy Name of Jesus is not magic. Rather, in the theology of Israel, a person’s name reveals something of their identity. Furthermore, to call upon their name implies a certain “claim” on that person’s attention. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this well in paragraph no. 432, quoting today’s passage from Acts:
“The name ‘Jesus’ signifies that the very name of God is present in the person of His Son, made man for the universal and definitive redemption from sins. It is the divine name that alone brings salvation, and henceforth all can invoke His name, for Jesus united himself to all men through His Incarnation, so that ‘there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
In the Gospels, we see that Jesus graciously responds to many who call upon His Name. He responds to their pleas for help and salvation, provided that they are made in humility and faith. St. Matthew tells us that the Holy Name of Jesus means “God saves” (cf. Mt. 1:21). As the conqueror of death, Jesus continues to save, for this is essentially who He is as the Son of God made man.
In today’s passage, we can sense the presence of the Lord in St. Peter’s words: “by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ…by Him…this man stands.” The One “whom God hath raised” raises up the crippled man. It is as if there is a direct transfer of healing grace from the Resurrection, bestowing healing and life, and it is through the invocation of Jesus’ Name. As with all of the signs of Jesus in the Gospels (healings, exorcisms, control over nature, etc.), so too, the healing of this beggar by St. Peter is a sign that points to the greater reality of the salvation of souls, and the resurrection of the body. In our prayers, let us cling to Jesus and his grace, and most especially when we invoke His Holy Name in the prayers of the Rosary. May His presence in our lives console and strengthen us as we carry our daily cross.