Posted by: Fr Chris | May 31, 2019

Our Big Event: Saturday, June 1st

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Posted by: Fr Chris | May 29, 2019

Ascension Thursday

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The Eastern Catholic Churches keep Ascension Thursday, rather than transfer it to Sunday as most Roman Rite dioceses in America do, so as to keep the important symbolism of both the forty days of Easter and the nine days of waiting for the Holy Spirit, in what was the origin of the custom of making a novena. Ascension is an important feast day for several reasons.

First, it confirms again that Jesus was physically present among the disciples after Easter Sunday.

Second, Christ ascends to heaven physically – His human body goes into paradise, showing that mortal flesh has a destiny beyond this life, and indeed is worthy of that life to come. In fact, in the Matins the prayer after Psalm 50 refers to the wonderment of the angels, where it says: Today the Powers on high see our nature in heaven, and they marvel at this wondrous Ascension, saying to one another, Who is this Who has just arrived in heaven? But when they recognize their own Lord, they order the gates of heaven opened. This fact becomes very important in dealing with Gnostic heresies that return even today, that treat the body as corrupt or a prison for the soul.

Third, Jesus will return in glory, at a definite point in history and time, in this manner – that is important for rejecting false messiahs who claim that they are Christ incarnate, which we have in our own time in Asia and Africa and different cults.

Fourth, the angels at the Ascension are important. In Luke’s account they represent Moses and Elijah, who testified to Jesus at the transfiguration. Now they testify to the Jewish apostles and disciples, that Christ is Who He says He is, and also that He is the fulfillment of everything in the scriptures.

Finally, Saint Augustine writes of this feast that while the Apostles  certainly saw, touched and felt the Risen Lord during the forty days that He repeatedly came to them after His Resurrection, and even though They confirmed their faith by looking at Jesus, touching Jesus, eating with Jesus and see Him physically disappear into the sky, it was still not enough to ensure that they would become witnesses of Christ and bravely endure everything for the preaching of the truth, even to the shedding of their blood, starting with St. Stephen.

So Who gave them such a capability? Augustine says:  Listen to the Lord himself “Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

It is the same for us. We are limited in what we can do on our own. If I try to tackle a spiritual issue on my own, I will not do well. If first I stop and pray ask the Holy Spirit to come and help me, then I end up saying things that the other person inevitably responds to. in fact, people will say, that’s exactly what  I needed to hear, and I know that didn’t come from me but from God.

Luke tells us that the disciples and Our Lady gather for nine days, praying in the upper room and going at the regular times to pray throughout the day in the temple in the morning, at noon, and in the afternoon, praising God.  The Jews were preparing for Shavuot, the Hebrew name for Pentecost Sunday. That is the feast of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.

For Christians, it is the fulfillment of the New Law, the Birth of the Church.  The Jews decorate their homes on Pentecost or Shavuot with greenery because it was said that the barren slopes of Sinai burst into flowering plants while God spoke to Moses, showing the new life that would come to Israel through the Torah. We will have the same here in church on Pentecost Sunday, and we can do the same at home, putting greenery up in the icon corner and fresh flowers, as a sign to ourselves of the new life the Holy Spirit brings to us.

Christ promises in the gospels to both return, and in Matthew He says that He is with us always, until the end of the age.  The question is, am I with Him always? We have received the Holy Spirit in Chrismation/ Confirmation – how responsive am I to the Holy Spirit living in me? These nine days are the opportunity to make a real novena, a real nine days of prayer, examining my heart, looking inside, and seeing where I need to  open myself up to God’s working. Do I need to pray more, or better? Do I need to read Scripture more, at least daily? The Holy Spirit knocks at the door of our hearts especially in these nine days as we prepare for His coming – remember that in sacred time the Divine Liturgy brings us to both the passion, death, resurrection, and glory of heaven, and the particular feast. We will be here on Pentecost, kneeling to receive the Spirit of God, ruah YHWH. But we must be open to Him, and wish to receive Him, as those disciples did that first Pentecost. Christ is among us.

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Posted by: Fr Chris | May 27, 2019


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Civil War – 650,000 from both sides
WW I  – 116,000 killed or died from the influenza epidemic, with 3,350 never found.
WWII – Over 407,000 American soldiers and sailors were killed, with over 671,000 wounded, plus an additional 11,000 Merchant Marines killed; 30,314 MIA.
Korea – Over 55,000 Americans were killed, and almost 8,000 soldiers are still unaccounted for (MIA).
Vietnam – Over 58,000 Americans were killed, and almost 1,600 are still unaccounted for (MIA).
Afghanistan – Over 2,300 have been killed so far, but numbers of MIA are unclear. Government records are not readily available on that statistic.
Gulf War (Iraq, Syria) – Nearly 5,000 have been killed so far, and almost 50 are still unaccounted for (MIA).
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Posted by: Fr Chris | May 17, 2019

Lowest Rate of Births in US Ever: Why?

Lowest-ever fertility rates have complicated causes, no easy solutions, experts say

.- Fertility rates in the United States have fallen to an all-time low, according to provisional figures released by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics.

According to an early statistical release from the NCHS in May, the total fertility rate, or average number of children born per woman, stands at 1.7, the lowest ever and well below the demographic replacement bar of 2.1.

In 2018, less than 3.8 million children born in the country. Since a peak in 2007, birth rates have fallen in all but one of the last 11 years. The results also show a continued trend of lower fertility among younger women over the last decade.

The data comes amid warnings from experts about the economic and social consequences of the continued decline. At the same time, the same experts say that the complicated causes of ever-lower fertility mean there are no clear or easy ways of reversing the trend.

Causes and effects

While the statistics underline a stark trend, experts emphasize that there is no single root cause behind the general decline.

In the past, women in their 20s have had the highest birth rate. But since 1968, the average age of a first-time mother has increased by more than five years, from 21.4 to 26.8.

Last year, childbirth rates among women aged 20-24 dropped 4%, and 3% among women aged 25-29. In 2018, women aged 30-34 had a higher birthrate than those aged 25-29 – marking the first time women in their early thirties were the leading age demographic for the number of children born.

Johnathan V. Last, author of the book “What to Expect When No One is Expecting,” points to a complex of social factors which, he says, contribute to the numbers of women having fewer children later in life.

“Many of the reasons people are having children later are good and reasonable. Look at the drop in fertility among 20-24 year-olds: that’s in large part down to the number of people now attending college, and people just don’t tend to get married and start families while they are in college,” Last told CNA.

Last also pointed out that while the broader trends all point in a single direction, individual section of society had outsized influence. “What we are seeing is record fertility lows coming off of what is essentially a drop among a single cohort, which is Hispanic-Americans.”

“If you look at the data, among white and African-Americans the fertility rates are broadly constant in their decline. What we are seeing is that Hispanics are arriving in the US with higher fertility rates that are dropping much faster than many expected, even within a generation or two.”

Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Assistant Professor of Social Research and Economic thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that changes in the use of contraception could also be a factor.

Since 2002, use of the contraceptive pill has declined in favor of implanted contraceptive devices. In 2002, 19% of women aged 15-44 reported using the pill, while only 1.3% used IUDs. By 2017, pill usage had dropped to less than 14%, and 8.6% of women were using IUDs.This, Pakaluk said, could be contributing to the sharp drop in unplanned pregnancies.

“These long-acting contraceptives tend to be much more immune to behavioral screw-ups. Even with the pill people are prone to contracepting badly and have a higher error rate leading to accidental but not necessarily unwelcome births, and these are disappearing.”

“It’s not a negligible percent, I don’t think it is the whole story but I do think it could be enough to be dragging us down to the historic lows we are seeing.”

Pakaluk said that while it is difficult to study, a shift in the way women approach pregnancy and contraceptives means that birth rates are increasingly subject to the expectations and experiences of generations raised in smaller families.

“One thing that should give us pause, and which I am really interested in examining more closely, is the effect of being around babies on adolescent wellbeing and mental health,” Pakaluk said.

“If you live in a society in which the typical family has three or four children, the older children will be experiencing a young child into their teenage years. But if you move to an average of 1.5-2, no teenagers on average will live with babies – think what that means for their own likely fertility choices.”

Experts have long warned about the wider societal and economic problems associated with declining birth rates, especially below the population replacement rate.

Last told CNA that the wider aspirations of society and politics to sustain and grow social welfare programmes depends on a demographic model opposite to current trends.

“The things we take for granted, let alone the things we aspire to do, in welfare, healthcare and so on, just do not work when you have an inversion of the population growth” Last told CNA.

Pakaluk agreed that there is widespread consensus on the economic and social problems associated with the long-term trend of lower fertility.

“We see immediately that it is not socially optimal from any rational social planning perspective because you know you cannot support the generous social programs that we like to think are good for society,” Pakaluk said. “Things like a decent social security system, MediCare, MedicAid, you just cannot sustain them in the long run with a total fertility rate of 1.7.”

But if the wider problems associated with dropping fertility rates are well known, both Pakaluk and Last highlight widespread dissatisfaction at the personal level.

“While the wider societal problems are well known,” Pakaluk said, “what is fascinating is that is seems that it isn’t individually optimal either.”

“What we do know, which is not often raised in media coverage, is that over the last several decades every survey in a Western country that asks women to describe their ideal family size – every single one everywhere – gives you a number about one child more than women end up having.”

Last told CNA that these numbers need to be considered as a factor in the state of our society.

“What we are seeing is the constant ‘fertility gap’ between people’s stated desire to have more than two kids and the reality that they tend to have less,” Last said. “For a whole host of reasons, people aren’t meeting their own expectations, and that has wider societal impact.”

Pakaluk said that the connection between parenthood and individual happiness is well known but rarely considered in relation to the fertility gap.

“We do know that children are a tremendous source of satisfaction for both men and women and if you take the net effect of [available data] on happiness and wellbeing – even in very controlled studies – we know that children contribute a tremendous amount of happiness.”

“I would certainly say that we need to look at [how] we have the lowest birthrates on record and the highest rates of addiction and depression on record. I’m not ready to say that is causal, but I think we need to think about it,” Pakaluk said.

No easy answers

If the causes of long-term demographic decline are difficult to untangle, so too are efforts to reverse or mitigate the effects of the trend.

Last noted that the standard response to address the economic problems associated with declining fertility is to rely on immigration to supply the demographic difference. But, he cautioned, this offers an imperfect fix.

“Immigration offers a short-term solution to the problem of funding entitlement programs for governments, but it doesn’t solve the long-term problem,” Last told CNA.

“In a healthy model you want to see a kind of pyramid shape, with the largest cohort among the youngest people tapering up to the oldest. Relying on adult immigration creates a bulge around the middle, which doesn’t address the underlying problem or future effects of low fertility and an ageing population.”

Last said that various policy solutions had been tried in different parts of the world, but without significant effects.

“Governments in all different parts of the world have experimented with policies to try to get people to have more children, but there isn’t any example which demonstrates real success – even in Singapore where the government basically offered $20,000 for people to have a kid, that only goes so far,” Last said.

“The bottom line is that having a child is a heavy lift, and no policy is going to make up someone’s mind to do it.”

Pakaluk agreed, pointing out that most models and policies made assumptions about individual behavior which simply could not account for the full human condition.

“Economists like to model fertility choices as the product of a highly rational process,” she said. “But in reality, no economist will ever tell you that even their idealized agents are acting subconsciously.”

“My read is that if you talk to women in their early 20s, you will get a response that sound very conscious and deliberate. But the choices that ‘make sense’ to people seem to be highly informed by something in the [cultural] water,” said Pakaluk.

According to Last, there is a level or irreducible complexity to changes in the fertility rate, intended or otherwise.

“The causes of lower fertility are incredibly complicated, and there is no obvious or simple mechanism for moving those numbers in the other direction,” he said. “It isn’t a matter of simply pushing button A and pulling lever X, it’s everything.”

“Of course,” Last noted, “ consistently the single greatest tracker of higher fertility is church attendance: across all faith communities, people who regularly show up for religious services have more kids.” [in our parish here the average family has 3 children]

“I think a big part of this is looking at your life as part of a linear continuum, understanding your place between what has come before and what will come after helps condition you to understanding the greater good of starting a family and having children,” said Last.

“If your worldview is primarily formed around personal fulfillment and self-actualization, where is the incentive to have a family? You might have one child for the experience, but not two or three or four.”

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 19, 2019

Good Friday 2019


Jesus is the New Adam. Golgotha, the hill on which He was crucified, was said to be the tomb of Adam’s skull, and so on crosses you often find a skull at the bottom of the cross. So the New Adam dies where the old Adam is buried. In the beginning of the Great Fast we were reading the Book of Genesis. In chapter 3, verses 17-18, Adam receives his punishment for trying to become like God: cursed is the ground because of you;     in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem says of this, For this cause Jesus assumes the thorns, that He may cancel the sentence; for this cause also was He buried in the earth, that the earth which had been cursed might receive the blessing instead of a curse.

Our Lord suffers greatly so as to redeem Adam, all of us, each of us, every one of us, ever living, living now, who will live in the future. The soldiers stripped Him naked, leaving Him vulnerable to their vicious wrath, humiliating Him as no Jew of that time ever was naked in front of anyone else. They mocked Him, tortured Him, beat Him: prophesy, tell us who hit You.
We mock Him, we hurt His Heart, we wound Him again and again as we return to our sins like dogs to their vomit. He dies so as to save us, and the western world of Europe and North America that is supposed to be rooted in Christianity rejects Christ and His Church.

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God humbled Himself so as to be conceived in the womb of a woman and become fully human. God humiliated Himself, allowing Himself to be victimized as so many innocents have been victimized, allowing Himself to be beaten and tortured as so many people have been. God entered into the depth of our pain, the dying process that each of us will undergo, so as to sanctify, bless each step of our lives, from conception in the womb as a tiny zygote to the last breath taken on earth.

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When the Paris fire department’s chaplain arrived and saw the situation of Notre Dame’s roof on fire, he went inside to retrieve two items: the Crown of Thorns said to have been worn by Jesus, and the Blessed Sacrament. In a church filled with art and sacred relics, those are the two items that the priest went after:  Jesus Christ Himself, Who lives here in our church in the tabernacle, and those thorns of Adam’s curse that pierced the head of Our Lord, causing blood to pour down His face and neck, causing every nerve in His scalp to turn into blazing fire. If you look at the photographs of the Man on the Shroud of Turin, you can see the suffering He endured, the lashes on His back, the blood pouring out, His wrists and ankles where the iron nails were driven through to hold His body in place on the cross and prevent Him from speaking much. On the Cross, Jesus pulls Himself up seven times, gathering air in His tortured lungs, trying to expand Himself so as to speak. Those seven sentences are the Seven Last Words –

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Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing — they: the Roman soldiers, the Sanhedrin who illegally condemned Christ to death, violating Jewish law, Pilate – they don’t really understand the role that they are playing in the salvation of the world, nor do they understand that they are mocking, torturing, and crucifying the Son of God. Rather like certain bishops who covered up crimes committed by messed up priests and bishops, rather than face unpleasant questions from the police and the media. In the first case, the Jewish and Roman authorities murder the Messiah; in the second case those bishops have deeply wounded the Body of Christ by ignoring victims and their families and hiding incredibly horrible sins. Poor Jesus – we have crucified His Sacred Body again.

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In the midst of incredible suffering, fear, and humiliation in front of the crowd, one thief cries out to Jesus in complete, absolute faith: Remember me, O Lord, when You come into Your kingdom – the prayer we use so much in our liturgy – and Jesus responds with the 2nd word – Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. Our Jesus loves us so much that the repentance of that thief, the trusting faith of that thief, destroys all the punishment due to him for the sins that put him on that cross and instead our Savior opens the doors of paradise. The New Adam rescues His first redeemed one from the Old Adam, and it is not a leader, an apostle, but a thief. My sins are enormous – everyone’s sins are enormous because no one here has not sinned except the small children – but Jesus extends His mercy in the sacrament of confession to us, obliterating our guilt, lifting us up out of sorrow and regret and offering us the open doors of heaven – but we have to be sorry, we have to repent, we have to turn away from the garbage of sin, and move forward with the pierced hands of Jesus showing us the way.

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3rd – Behold your son: behold your mother.   John, the pure teenager who loves Jesus with all his heart, is devastated at watching His beloved teacher die such a death. Mary, the all-pure, immaculate, holy Mother of God, has her heart torn open at the sight of her baby Boy, her only Child, murdered so slowly and in such an awful way. And here we see Jesus’ heart, the heart that weeps over all victims of suffering – sexual abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, victims of war, victims of disease, victims of famines that are so often caused by governments today, victims of violence – His holy heart weeps for these two who love Him and He cares for them – His widowed mother has no one to help her, but now she has John. John felt an orphan though he had a human family, but now he has care of Christ’s mother. To this day we call Mary our Blessed Mother – she is our mother, the mother of all Christians, the mother of priests, the guardian of nuns, the mother who perpetually prays for all her children in Christ’s Body the Church as she herself revealed in her icon that is still venerated today in Rome, the icon this church is named for. Our Blessed Mother appeals to us now – behold My Son and your Lordlook upon Him Whom you have pierced with your sins and be sorry, repent and return to Him through the doors of confession, feed on His Body and Blood in Communion, and always, embrace My Son again – and to us, the faithful she cries – teach others, those who have wandered away, those who never knew Him, those who know only a distorted vision of Jesus and the Church, bring them here, lead them to my beloved Child, the pierced Lamb of God.

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4th – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Psalm 22, the great lament. In this cry, we know that Jesus understands when we feel abandoned, when the pain is too much, the isolation from others too great, the darkness of addiction or disease or old age or loneliness is so overwhelming. Jesus most truly does understand our pain – Cardinal Dolan of New York City told of a parishioner he went to as a young priest, a Mr. Marsh, – a handsome athlete felled by a massive stroke. He could only communicate by eye blinks and eye motions. Despite this, he was a patient man, quiet and content. Fr Dolan would take Holy Communion to home and visit with husband and wife afterward. But one day, Mrs. Marsh went out into the kitchen for something, and suddenly Mr. Marsh became agitated – blinking his eyes furiously. But the priest had no idea what the paralyzed man was trying to say.    Mrs. Marsh returned, and Fr. Dolan said “Margaret, something’s terribly wrong. He’s blinking his eyes like crazy.” Mrs. Marsh looked up and said, “Oh, Father. Please move to the right, you’re blocking his view.” And the priest said, “What view? There’s a wall behind me.” And Mrs. Marsh said, “No, Father, you’re in the way. With you standing there, he can’t see the crucifix on the wall.”

In the image of Jesus, covered in blood, pierced with nails, His side torn open by the lance of the Roman centurion, in that image nailed to the wall of their home, Mr. Marsh got his strength.

Yes, Jesus was only crucified for six hours.  Yes, Jesus’ Passion was only from Thursday night through Friday afternoon, not for years – but what a Passion, what suffering, what mystical suffering on top of physical suffering as Jesus looked into the darkness of human sin, recoiling from it in the garden of Gethsemane, but then His human and divine wills united in determination to endure this both to save the Old Adam of humanity and open the doors to redemption/ But also to understand as no one can ever understand what it means to be suffering and face darkness, because He did not have to, He CHOSE to, He does this so that whenever a person says, Oh God, it’s too much, He replies, Unite your suffering to My suffering, your Cross to My cross, your pain to my pain and know that I understand you, unite your suffering to my suffering and together we will save the souls of this generation who stand in great need as Saint Paul himself writes to us in Colossians, chapter 1: Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.. Of those around the cross, only a few understood that He was quoting the opening line of Psalm 22; instead they think He is calling for Elijah the prophet. But Jesus understands every person suffering any kind of suffering who begins to think, has God heard me? Yes, He has – here is the rest of what Jesus could not say due to exhaustion and lack of oxygen, Psalm 22 predicts the crucifixion itself and Jesus’ great agony:

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My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?     Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer;     and by night, but find no rest.  I am poured out like water,     and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax,     it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,     and my tongue cleaves to my jaws;     thou dost lay me in the dust of death.  a company of evildoers encircle me;  they have pierced my hands and feet—17 I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.     Jesus most definitely understands our pain, our loss, our fear, our anxiety, our despair, everything.

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5th – I thirst  He has had no food, no water, since the Last Supper. He is worn out as the psalm says, poured out. But it is not water He wants. He thirsts for souls, for people to hear His voice, to know His voice. With victims of all kinds, He thirsts for justice for them. With the poor He thirsts for better conditions. With the rich He thirsts for the wealth of the gospel which is all that they should be focusing on instead of vaunting their latest marriage or jewels or trendy cause. In a world where the average annual salary of a man who chases a basketball around an indoor court is $6.2 million while the average salary of police officers who put their lives on the line every single day outdoors is $60,000, Jesus thirsts for sanity in a world whose values are totally crazy. He thirsts for us – look at the crucifix on the wall and picture those two words painted on the left side – I thirst. Many people in our church stop there after receiving Holy Communion and touch the base of His cross – He thirsts for our love. Can I embrace His cross? Can I embrace my cross? Can I embrace Him Who is thirsting for me?

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6th  – Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. Jesus trusts absolutely in the darkness of that afternoon, when the sun was blocked, that the Father awaited the Son, that He was returning to His full existence as Second Person of the Trinity, that this was not only over, but truly accomplished. He will soon be dead, but His mission has been completed: to become one of us while offering us redemption; to establish His Body on earth in the Church; to bring healing and hope to a broken world; to suffer and die so that the blood of the God-Man will open the gates of heaven closed for so many centuries since original sin took place. In saying this it is important to recall an old saying of Catholic spirituality:   “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands; yours are the feet; yours are the eyes; you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

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7th word – It is finished   — what is finished? His sacrifice. He remains in control of His destiny up to the very end. He lowers His head, He sags on the cross, He lets the last air out of His bruised lungs, He lets his muscles stop the struggle to breathe, He sinks down, His sacred head resting on His chest, and He dies. The earth quakes in rebellion at seeing its creator suffer so much; the veil in the temple is ripped apart from the top, meaning the hand of God has seized it and torn it; And here is the end of Psalm 22:

29  to him shall all the proud of the earth bow down;  before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,     and he who cannot keep himself alive. 30 Posterity shall serve him;  men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, 31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,  that he has wrought it.

The great cathedral of Our Lady caught fire on Holy Monday. People around the world watched as the flames consumed the enormous beams of the roof and brought down the spire crashing into the nave. By Holy Tuesday millionaires were promising millions of euros to pay for its repair and restoration, and the president of France claimed it would be rebuilt in five years. But the renovations of the cathedral have been dragging on for years; the archbishop of Paris, the priests, the staff have been begging for years for money to fix the collapsing buttresses, walls, ceiling, and that doomed spire and they got only a portion of what they needed. One big disastrous fire and suddenly the rich stepped forward because now, almost too late, they and others now know how important Note Dame and its sacred contents are to Paris, to France, to civilization. That is a metaphor for our broken world – it barely knows how important Christ is to it, and I fear too many will realize how important Good Friday and Easter are to them, until it is almost too late.

Only part of the roof came down into the nave of Notre Dame, when the great spire came crashing down. Most of it landed at the altar.
When the doors of Notre Dame were opened, two things could be seen above the wreckage that fell onto the floor. The great golden cross above the high altar was still there, bright in the darkness, and at its foot, the statue of the Pieta, the Mother of God with the dead body of Christ in her lap, her arms outstretched to us. The cross endures. The mystery of the Church of Jesus Christ, embodied in Catholicism, endures. That gold cross was still there, enormous, shining in the darkness. Let us never despair, for Christ understands us. Let us not give up sharing His message, for Jesus thirsts for souls. Let us keep getting up from our sins and moving forward, as Jesus moved forward in the streets of Jerusalem today. Let us be His hands, His eyes, His feet, to bring His compassion, His blessings, so as to bring souls into the embrace of His wounded but still alive body, the Church. The gates of heaven are open – let us be brave enough to do what is necessary so as to be able to walk through them.

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Posted by: Fr Chris | April 17, 2019

Anointing for the Journey to the Cross

Holy Wednesday

The Old Testament readings again give us people who prefigure Jesus.

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Moses takes off his shoes on holy ground at the bush that would not be consumed by fire

Moses – acting as a defender of both the Hebrews, and of those oppressed by wicked men by saving the women from the abusive shepherds. Moses will deliver his people by responding to God’s commands and lead them out  of Egypt – which in the Bible later becomes symbolic for Israel being freed from sin. Christ of course leads all people out of sin’s power, to be transformed by God’s grace into  healthy, free souls.

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St Job the Long-Suffering 

Job – innocent,  suffering, and yet remains constant in his trust and faith in God in the face of complete disaster. His own wife tells him to curse God and die, but he does not waver in his faith. Jesus enters into His agony on Thursday night, and throughout His Passion He does not complain or despair. Even His lament My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me? is not despair but the opening of Psalm 22, a lament which ends in triumph.

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30 pieces of silver from Palestine, 1st century 

The Gospel gives us the betrayal, which is in the Eastern Churches Wednesday is a day of penance and abstinence from meat for most of the year. The price that Judas agrees on is the price paid for capturing a bandit, an outlaw. Jesus the Redeemer of the world is sold to the religious authorities, because He claimed to be the Son of God, man and divine. That small reward money is enough for Judas to betray Jesus, fulfilling Jesus’ own warning in Matthew chapter 6, we cannot serve God and money – one will win out in the end, and for Judas it’s the money.

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St Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus 

Tonight though we also celebrate the great sacrament, the Holy Mystery of Anointing. Everyone is anointed tonight with holy oil. We do this in remembrance of the woman who did that to Jesus, of whom He said, she is preparing my body for burial. We enter into this Mystery which Jesus Himself received and which the Church has used from its very foundation, to seek healing and strength. Healing for anything that needs healing: spiritual, physical, emotional. Strength to resist Satan’s temptations and actions especially now when he seeks to distract people from the events of Holy Week and the Resurrection.

Our Lord entered into His Passion beginning on Palm Sunday, knowing that the praise of the crowds would turn quickly from Hosanna to Crucify Him. Are we part of the mob, or are we His faithful brothers and sisters through baptism?

Do we betray Jesus by our sins, the things we know we should not do, or say, or think? Would I have gone with the mob on Good Friday, or would I have stood with Mary and Saint John at the cross? My actions now in this life give me the answer. If my actions are such that I would have followed the mob, then ask God tonight for the healing of those and that His grace, given in this sacrament, will heal me of the tendency to fall away from Him and instead to be with Him.

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Life throws us curves all the time, all of us know some kind of hardship. Whatever the problem, even when we pray to be delivered from something and it doesn’t happen, we must remember that God is truly present to us and with us, as the Father was to the Son throughout the entire Passion up to and including His death. Jesus in His humanity feared the torture and horrors of Thursday night and Good Friday, but His human will conforms to the divine will because it is the only way that we can be saved. Suffering is redemptive, though our culture runs from it. In this sacrament of Anointing tonight, let us ask God’s grace to help us go forward through our own problems toward Him, trusting like Job, trusting like Jesus Himself, that He will indeed carry us and give us the strength we need, that as the new Moses He can free us, His people, from sin. Do not be afraid to ask for healing – I have seen miracles of  healing take place with this sacrament. Again, present our physical, emotional, spiritual problems to God and ask Him to cure those problems and put all our confidence, all our trust in God and the revelation He has given in His Only Son and in the Church founded by His Son.

Christ IS among us.

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 12, 2019

End of Lent, the Beginning of Our Journey

On the last day of the Great Fast we come to the ending of Genesis with the death of Jacob and all the mourning and drama that comes with that, and then Joseph’s death. Exodus begins right after that, with the famous phrase that a pharaoh came who did not know of Joseph, and so the persecution begins of the Hebrews and the attempt to wipe them out by killing all the boy children.

Joseph’s brothers, the leaders of what become the Twelve Tribes of Israel, do not come off very well at all. They have not learned that Joseph is compassionate and has forgiven them for their sin against him, and they come up with yet another lie, claiming their dying father implored Joseph not to hurt them. If Joseph wanted to hurt them, he would have long since done so. Moreover, he tells them that this turned out to be God’s plan to save His Chosen People from dying in the famine, by having Joseph rise to a prominent position of power in well fed Egypt.

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God used the eleven brothers’ sins to do good, though they still do not fully see that

But they are so burdened by their own guilt of selling their own brother into foreign slavery that they are compelled to make up yet another false story, trying to protect themselves from any punishment. In a sense, they know they should have done something to atone for their sin, and perhaps wish that they had been punished by either Joseph or their father for their multiple lies to their father and vengeance against the innocent Joseph. But apparently none of them have done any penance, none have done anything seriously to make up to Joseph and Jacob for what they did to them and all the pain they caused. So, they lie yet again, showing they have not learned their lesson.

This may have been a good Great Lent for us. It may have been a difficult one. It may have been a so-so Lent. Whatever it is, the forty days end tonight in the Byzantine Rite – the Roman Rite will go on to Holy Wednesday. Tomorrow there is a break, with the Raising of Lazarus and all the joy that accompanies his return from the dead. Then on Palm Sunday, we start next week and enter into Holy Week. Regardless of how my Lent was, Holy Week is the invitation to walk with Christ and steadily enter into His Passion. We call it the “life-giving Passion” – Christ’s suffering will have profound results for the world.

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God is truly compassionate. God truly loves us. Still, God Himself says in Isaiah chapter 68 that I, the Lord, love justice. If I feel that my Lent was not a good preparation for Pascha and I have not done justice by my sins, then Holy Week gives me the opportunity to do so, with penance, and prayer, and fasting. If my Lent was a rewarding Lent, a good Lent, then Holy Week is the opportunity to go deeper into the spiritual life, to walk with Christ in a more powerful way. Our penances, our prostrations, our fasting, our abstinence, our prayers demonstrate our love for God.

If I think God has not forgiven me, believe instead please in His great mercy: Christ forgave those who tortured and killed Him, surely He will forgive me! If I think I have not repented of my sins, then get to Confession: Jesus told us that the angels in heaven rejoice over the return of one sinner. If I am wrongly afraid of God, as Joseph’s brothers wrongly feared him, then believe that God is absolute love and wants us to embrace Him and accept His embrace in return.

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Jesus is the innocent Lamb slain for the sins of the world. Joseph foreshadows Jesus: he was innocent, simply sharing the gifts which God gave him, and he was horribly punished and betrayed by his own brothers as a result. Jesus will be betrayed by one of those closest to Him. We betray Him when we persist in sinning, in continuing to return to wrong behaviors, like a dog returning to its vomit as we heard earlier in Lent in chapter 26 of Proverbs.

Jesus is the savior. Joseph saved his entire people by bringing them into Egypt. Moses will save his entire people by taking them out of Egypt. Jesus gives new life, far more than Joseph or Moses could for the ancient Israelites. This weekend, as we prepare for Holy Week and the Passion, let us implore Christ our true God to lead us out of sin, to deliver us from Satan’s power, to bring us into His new life, so that on Easter Sunday we will be lifted up into Christ’s glory with Him.

Christ is among us.

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Today is given over to the remembrance of St Mary of Egypt – and the question to be asked of us is the question that she had to ask herself: Do I want to be with Christ? Do I want to live with God here and now?

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This is one of the most famous stories of repentance in the history of the entire  Church – a woman who became wealthy through a life of sin, who felt driven to commit sexual sins and entice other people into those sins, went to Jerusalem in order to commit more sins. At the doors of the church of the Holy Sepulcher, which encloses Mount Calvary and Jesus’ tomb, she was stopped by an invisible force. Only after imploring the intercession of Our Lady could she go in, and she repented of her many offenses against God. She went out into the Palestinian desert to lead a life of prayer and penance, meeting the priest Saint Zosimus for confession and Holy Communion once a year at Holy Week. Her only companion was a lion. When Mary did not show for her appointed time, Zosimus was led to her body by the lion, who dug her grave and then lay down to mourn her. Zosimus returned to Mar Sabas monastery where St. Sophronius of Jerusalem, wrote her life. That’s the Cliff Notes version.

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St Zosimus and the lion who dug St Mary’s grave 

There are five main points in the story that apply to each of us, no matter our age or sins, or whether we live in the fifth century as she did or today.

  1. When she first meets Zosimus, Mary simply tells her life and her sins – no excuses. She is not like Adam who answers God’s question about what did he do by blaming God for giving him the woman in the first place. Mary knows what she did was wrong, and admits it.

2. She repents of her sins when she is hit by God with the revelation of what she has done when He stops her from entering the shrine. God said to Cain after he murdered Abel, Where is your brother? Cain responded with Am I my brother’s keeper? rather than confess to his sin. We know that when we eat the wrong thing, or drink or smoke or watch porn or cheat on a test or gossip or make a racist joke or or make fun of another child who is not popular or spend too much time on social media that it’s wrong – but we can easily excuse it. It’s my parents’ fault, it’s my boss’ fault, it’s somebody’s fault that I’m like this. Mary does not, and she knows she must repent and asks God to heal her.

3. For Mary, she had to leave human society and get away, so she went into the desert. My repentance might be extreme, and probably has to be extreme. I drink too much – get rid of the alcohol. I smoke – toss the cigarettes. I watch porn – block it, sign up for a program to be freed from it. I curse – change my language. I let others lead me into sins – find new friends who are healthy and faithful. Whatever my sin, the opposite is the only thing that will cure me.

4. Penance requires separation from the sins and conquering the passions inside me that keep from embracing Christ on the Cross. She stayed in the wilderness, with only wild animals as her companions. She had to, she had a lot to atone for, and she was bitterly sorry for the wasted years. Now her years were given to God. When I am given a penance, when I make my resolution, I have to stick with it. A sin that is 30 years old is not going to be fixed by a couple of prayers. We have to stick it out. We have to keep trying. Lent is not six weeks just because – psychology tells us it takes six weeks to dig out a bad habit and replace it with a healthy one. God’s grace is needed to help us do so, and I won’t have grace unless I commit to wanting to be cured.

5. Do I want to be with Christ? Do I want to live with God here and now? Mary wanted to encounter Jesus, and she did so. I cannot root out that sin in six weeks – or six years! – if it is not motivated by WANTING to be with Jesus, WANTING to live in the presence of God constantly – at work, at school, at play, in the house, on the bus, in the car, on my bicycle, when serving others, when being served by others, at prayer, at worship , in the hall, leaving the parking lot, entering my home. Saint Augustine said so well, You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee. I said once in a homily that we live in an abnormal world and abnormal way, and we forget that this is a fallen world. Genesis shows us God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening, and that is what we were made to do: to be with God, to live in companionship with the Holy Trinity.

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We have to retrieve that.  We can only do so, we can only become spiritually normal, if we are able to face our faults, do penance, and pray to be delivered from them. We are made to live with God, for God, in God — all while working, studying, loving, praying, eating, sleeping, exercising, helping, being helped.

Do I want to be with Christ? Do I want to live with God here and now?

Next week is Great and Holy Week, Passion Week, the week in which we walk with Jesus from His triumphant entry into Jerusalem all the way to His bloody Crucifixion and burial in a borrowed grave. Do I want to be with Christ? Do I want to live with God here and now?

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We must  resolve now to end Lent with Christ. On Friday night there were a lot of people here, but once you removed the Explorers who came because it was First Friday, there were only about 20 parishioners from a parish of 85 households. Really? On a Friday during Lent? The Church created the Presanctified Liturgy so that people could be fortified by Jesus’ Body and Blood during the time of fast and penance and be absolved in confession. Do I want to be with Christ? Do I want to live with God here and now? How long do I think I have before I meet Christ as my Judge? We had two funerals last week – two in a small parish. Did either of those men say, Hmm, I’m going to die soon? Jesus warns us in Matthew 25: You  do not know the day or hour of My return.

How much time do I have to root out my sin? Not much!

Do I want to be with Christ? Do I want to live with God here and now? Each of us has to answer that question. And we have to answer today, so that we can be with Him in the future.

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Posted by: Fr Chris | March 27, 2019

The Priest Behind Saving Private Ryan

From  The Knights of Columbus:  —- Dr. Niland was from my hometown area north of Buffalo, New York. 



by Lawrence P. Grayson


 Sgt. Frederick “Fritz” Niland, who would become a member of

Sgt. Frederick “Fritz” Niland, who would become a member of Twin City Council 413 in Tonawanda, N.Y., stands with fellow paratrooper Jack Breier during training at Camp Mackall, N.C., in 1943. The reported loss of all three of Niland’s brothers following the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944 was the inspiration for the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan. TCD/Prod.DB / Alamy Stock Photo

Paratroopers poured from the sky before dawn on June 6, 1944, hurtling through fog and flak to the French countryside below. It was D-Day; the Allied invasion of Normandy had begun. In a few hours, 200,000 troops would land by sea, and the mission of these airborne units was to prepare the way.

Among those jumping into the dark were two members of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division: Father Francis L. Sampson, 32, the unit’s regimental chaplain and a member of the Knights of Columbus; and Sgt. Frederick “Fritz” Niland, 24, the youngest of four brothers serving in World War II.

The story of Sampson and Niland, brother paratroopers and eventually brother Knights, would later inspire Steven Spielberg’s epic film Saving Private Ryan.

On D-Day, Father Sampson parachuted into a river, cut off his gear and made his way to a French farmhouse where severely injured servicemen were being treated. As the area was about to be overrun by German troops, who were known to shoot prisoners, Father Sampson volunteered to stay with the injured.

Father Sampson was captured and put up against a wall. He was so frightened, he later said, that instead of praying the Act of Contrition, he kept repeating the Catholic blessing before meals: “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts….” Incredibly, a Catholic German soldier recognized him as a priest, and he was spared.

As the Allied invasion continued, Father Sampson was allowed to stay at the aid station, where he shielded the wounded through a grueling artillery bombardment. Nominated for the Medal of Honor for his work tending to and evacuating these troops, he received the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. Army’s second highest award for valor.

Meanwhile, Niland had been forced to jump early after his plane was hit by enemy fire. He landed miles away from his target and was behind enemy lines for nine days. He eventually rejoined his unit with help from the French Resistance in time for a key battle to secure the town of Carenten and link Allied forces at Omaha and Utah beaches.

It was near Utah beach that Niland sought out the chaplain, distraught at learning that his brother Robert, a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, had been killed June 6 and was buried about 20 miles away. Only a few weeks earlier, Fritz’s oldest brother, Edward, had been shot down in Burma — missing in action and presumed dead.

The chaplain offered to help Fritz find Robert’s grave and drove him from cemetery to cemetery, searching. When Sampson came upon the grave of Preston Niland, he showed it to Fritz, thinking that it had been recorded in error. “Father Sampson,” the young man replied, “Preston was my brother, too.” Unknown to Fritz, 2nd Lt. Preston Niland had been killed just a day after Robert, fighting on Utah beach. A check of a nearby cemetery revealed Robert’s grave.

So, believing Fritz to be his family’s only surviving son, the chaplain notified the War Department and initiated the paperwork to have him brought home.

Niland’s parents, Michael and Augusta, must have been grateful to Father Sampson, but Fritz was not. Informed by Sampson that he was being sent back to the United States, Niland refused, saying, “I’m staying here with my boys.”

Sampson replied, “You can take that up with General Eisenhower or the president, but you’re going home.”

In late summer 1944, Niland returned to New York, where he served out the rest of the war as a military policeman.

Father Sampson’s role does not appear in Saving Private Ryan, as reality was somewhat less dramatic than the movie: Fritz was not lost, and there was no search for him. Reality was also less tragic than the movie: Fritz’s brother Edward had survived and was found about a year later when a Japanese POW camp was liberated.

Shortly after returning home, Fritz joined Twin City Council 413 in Tonawanda, N.Y., on Dec. 1, 1944. He earned a degree in oral surgery from Georgetown University and established a practice near his hometown. He married and raised two daughters, Cate and Mary, and in 1983, he died at age 63.

Today, Cate Niland Remme still has vivid childhood memories of her father talking about the war.

“I will never forget the look in his eyes when he would recount the story to me and my sister, Mary,” she said. “He told us, ‘Girls, never forget that it took a presidential congressional order to get me out of France.’”

During one of Cate’s last visits to her father, Fritz told her, “Make sure to honor all the men.”

“So that’s what we did at his funeral,” Cate said. “We read off all the names of Company H.”

Fritz was later interred at Fort Richardson National Cemetery in Anchorage, Alaska, where the 1st Battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment is now stationed.

“We buried him on D-Day with full military honors,” Cate added. “I always felt good that he would rest in peace with the 501.”

LAWRENCE P. GRAYSON writes from Maryland where he is a member of Rock Creek Council 2797 in Bethesda, and Cardinal Patrick A. O’Boyle Assembly 386 in Silver Spring.

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Paratroopers landing in the Netherlands, 1944


A photo of Father Sampson published with a June 1954 Columbi

A photo of Father Sampson published with a June 1954 Columbia article shows the chaplain lacing up his jump boots. United Press Photo

THE PRIEST who “saved” Sgt. Fritz Niland had one of the most distinguished careers as a chaplain in U.S. military history.

A native of Iowa, Francis L. Sampson graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1937 and was ordained in 1941. After serving for a year as a parish priest in Neola, Iowa, where he joined Neola Council 1115, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a chaplain.

Sampson later admitted that he volunteered for airborne duty somewhat unwittingly.

“Frankly, I did not know when I signed up for the airborne that chaplains would be expected to jump from an airplane in flight. Had I known this beforehand,” he said, “I am positive that I should have turned a deaf ear to the plea for airborne chaplains. However, once having signed up, I was too proud to back out.”

Three months after his heroic efforts on D-Day, Father Sampson took part in an airborne assault on Holland, jumping behind enemy lines for the second time. The chaplain was later captured at the Battle of the Bulge and sent to a prison camp in Germany, where he spent six days in an overcrowded boxcar, sustained only by snow scraped from the top of the train. At his own request, Father Sampson was confined with the enlisted men, rather than the officers. James D. Alger, a fellow prisoner who later became a lieutenant general, said, “Father Sampson’s misfortune in being captured turned out to be a blessing for the men he served in Stalag II-A. … God knew he was sorely needed there.”

After the war, Father Sampson hung up his jump boots — but not for long.

In his 1958 memoir, Look Out Below!, he wrote that the life he briefly returned to in Iowa was in many ways ideal, but added, “I missed life in the Army; I missed most of all my soldier congregation.”

He returned to active duty in 1946 and later served as chaplain of the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment during the Korean War.

“Combat truly was a perfect laboratory for a priest’s study and work,” he wrote. “All the artificialities and superficialities of civilian life were cut away. There remained nothing but bedrock character….”

In 1967, Father Sampson was appointed Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Army with the rank of major general. During the Vietnam War, he annually spent Christmas with the troops, and was untiring in visiting hospitalized soldiers. He also served as president of the USO from 1971-1974.

A 55-year member of the Knights of Columbus, Msgr. Francis Sampson belonged to Big Sioux Council 5029 in Flandreau, S.D., at the time of his death in 1996 — two years before the release of Saving Private Ryan. His tombstone bears the words: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

— Lawrence Grayson

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 8, 2019

1st Friday of Lent, 2019

My first dog was a spaniel named Princess. Soon after I got her, I came home to discover that she had unrolled an entire toilet paper roll through the entire house. As soon as she saw me, she put her head down, covered it with a paw and rolled over. She had more sense of responsibility and guilt than those two in Genesis tonight.

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Adam blames God: you gave her to me. Eve blames the serpent: he tricked me. Neither says, I’m sorry, I know what I did was wrong. Neither one takes responsibility for their actions. That is the core of sin: avoiding responsibility and ignoring the effects of what I have done wrong.  Sin upends the original plan of God’s creation. The rib God used to make Eve, according to Jewish midrash, is the one closest to Adam’s heart. Adam and Eve, Man and Woman, are complementary to each other, they complete each other, they are made to be together. Original sin messed that up, and so we have damaged people as a result. We were meant to walk with God here on earth – Genesis 3 makes that very clear, as God comes to walk in the garden in the cool of the evening; after Original Sin that connection is broken.

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Lent is the opportunity to open ourselves up to God’s grace in a different way. We are walking with Christ in the last weeks of His life on earth. In the Byzantine tradition, we are reading from Genesis and Proverbs at night, and Isaiah during the day. In all of these, we hear about God’s Wisdom, God’s Love for wandering humanity, and the history of our salvation. God did not abandon humanity after the Original Sin was created. The Holy Spirit raised up prophets to speak God’s Wisdom to the nations, but even God’s Chosen People went astray over and over again. And we are not ones to brag: the current mess in the Catholic Church of bishops who willfully protected the institution rather than their people is a classic sign of going astray.

What is happening now today in the Church is a result of men who refused to take full responsiblity for protecting souls, and it is still happening around the world. It happened in a terrible way 1,000 years ago, and it is back, and both times it is due to a failure to be honest about the damage being done to souls.  There have been bad bishops before: Judas Iscariot walked away from the Last Supper with the Body of Christ in him and accomplished his betrayal of Jesus. But the apostles replaced him with Saint Mathias.

Sinners can become saints: Judas did not try. We do try. That is why we are here tonight, to walk with Jesus despite our imperfections and difficulties, to walk with Him holding on to His pierced hand. To put our fingers into the wound of His side from which flowed blood and water from His pierced heart. That blood and water represents Baptism and  Eucharist, the two foundational sacraments of the Faith. Christ remains with His wounded  Church, just as He remains with wounded sinners. Christ weeps over each sinners as do the angels in heaven. But Jesus tells us how much the angels rejoice when a sinner comes home, when the lost are found.

The Church faces an internal crisis, but it is not the end. We have had bad bishops, priests, nuns, laity, popes and patriarchs. Some patriarchs of Constantinople were  even heretics. But the Body of Christ, the Church, continued on its way. There have always been new prophets raised up by the Holy Spirit to lead everyone back on to the narrow road to heaven.  We are here to be transformed by grace, to be deified by grace, to experience theosis here and now. We are here to become saints, not to follow the latest new teaching from some self-appointed messiah or to flow with the latest goofy idea to come from the media. We are here to follow Jesus Christ, so that we can restore the original order of life: to walk with God. We must take hold of Jesus’ pierced hand, and walk with Him, and all will be well.

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