As we continue through the Easter Season, following the news of our current crisis, it made me think a little more about that first Easter. I know that in our world we’re used to Easter being a great celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and so it should.
Yet, as I think about it, the first Easter didn’t look anything like that at all. All the Apostles, and so many others had been following Jesus for years by the time Good Friday hit. They had put all of their hope in him. By all appearances, the one they had put their hope in had been killed. They had lost. It was time to go back to their regular daily lives and give up on all these fantasies of a new world. I could see the crowds who had gathered to follow him slowly dispersing, returning to their homes with long faces, watching as all the excitement that had been Jesus Christ was slowly fading. They were glad to have known him, he had given them such hope, and all those hopes were dashed. That would’ve been the reality for most people after witnessing Good Friday, in the first days of Easter.
That’s how I picture those first days of the Church. So many of the followers of Jesus were downcast, not sure what to do next, returning to life as normal. Slowly though, word began to spread about the resurrection, just rumors at first, like this weekend’s Gospel, “Some women had astounded us, they were at the tomb and they didn’t find his body, but were saying he was alive.” Nobody was sure what to make of it. Was it a trick? Did someone steal the body? Or was this real? Then, in this Easter season, one after another, we have these appearances of the Risen Lord. First to the women at the tomb, then to the Apostles in the upper room, and today, to these two travelers on their way to Emmaus. I can imagine the stories pouring in, as slowly excitement was building. Something incredible was happening, and one by one, people started to pour in with Good News to share. As they heard the News that Jesus had appeared, resurrected, not as a ghost, but glorified and risen from the dead, it changed the whole world.
Imagine having walked and talked to Jesus, really believing he was God among us and seeing him die. We’d have though the whole world was hopeless, what was the point of anything. Yet, when they saw him risen again, when they realized that all of this was according to God’s plan, I imagine seeing the excitement flowing back into the people in a way that nothing could stop them. When they realized that he was being made present in the breaking of the bread, the very thing that he taught his disciples to do in remembrance of him, they began to understand how even now, just as then, every time we celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus Christ is right here with us, and if Christ is with us, who can be against us?
I think of that building excitement in the world we’re in right now, and how we need that excitement. The word they chose for the message of Jesus Christ was the word “Evangelium” or in English “Gospel” meaning good news.
Over the last couple weeks, there has been so many scary things in the news, so much fear of this virus, or, on the other hand, so much fear of the effects of the shutdown being used to contain the virus. In light of that, we, as believers in Jesus Christ have the Good News, we need to work together to share that Good News. It was the Good News that first attracted believers to Jesus, and that’s our job today.
Sure, there are sad moments, and I’d like you to keep all the engaged couples who are currently deciding if they should continue to have their wedding in Church with just their immediate family, or if they should postpone their wedding until the fall. They need our prayers, but so far, all of them have said to me, “Don’t worry, we’re getting married in Church, we’ve just got to work together to figure out how to make it happen.” That’s faith.
I’ve been hearing many good things around the area this week. So many are stepping up to the challenge. Our Family Life Office just announced they’re holding a virtual date night series for married couples starting this Sunday. Find more information here. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity. I had three different pastors contact me this week looking for input on how to get their Sunday Mass online while we walk through this situation. I just spoke to Fr Thad over at Hastings, and while St Vincent de Paul’s Food Pantry had to change their operations a little bit in this crisis, they’re still open and providing to those in need, preparing to ramp up operations as things get tough. If you’re finding yourself getting in trouble through this crisis, please contact either the SvDP Food Pantry in Hastings, or our own local St Vincent de Paul, you can evenmessage our local St Vincent de Paul on Facebook.
One thing that we are short on here at Prince of Peace though are Mass Intentions. Now that we’re finally getting caught up, we’re going to TEMPORARILY for the rest of 2020 allow up to three masses per family. If your family would like mass said for a loved one, please send us a mass intention. Forms are available on the website. If you would like a specific date, just call Sue at the office.
Overall, I’d like us all to keep in mind how important it is that as a Christian people, we must continue to be a people of the good news. It’s so easy to complain about the terrible things in the world. We as Christians, are called to cling to Jesus Christ, to let our hearts burn within us, and to go out as did the apostles to share the good news with joy!
God Bless You,
Happy Easter! This Sunday, we celebrate The Octave, or 8th day of Easter. Every Year, this Sunday we hear the story of St. Thomas, who wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. He doubted, and yet when he was presented with the reality of Jesus, in that moment, he believed.
This Sunday, every year, we also celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, and the reality of the absolutely infinite mercy of God. Divine Mercy, a devotion special to St. John Paul II, comes from the revelations given to St. Faustina, a Polish nun in the 1930’s. She recorded those revelations in her diary, and those revelations would change the world. My favorite explanation of her message comes from the Marian Fathers who are charged with promoting the message of Divine Mercy. It’s as simple as A, B, C.
A - Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world.
B - Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us.
C - Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive.
The great beauty I find in her message, is that anyone can do it. No matter our state in life, we all know we fall short, we all need God’s mercy, and there’s no shame in that. If even St. Thomas, one of the apostles, struggled to believe and asked for God’s help, if St. Peter denied Jesus, yet asked his forgiveness, there’s no reason we can’t ask for his Mercy in our own lives. When we look at how we interact with those around us, especially when we’re stuck at home together and tensions can run a little high at times, we can all work on being merciful toward others. I think too, we all want to put our Trust in Jesus, but that can be hard too, and we can struggle with it. So this year, with all the anxieties that I know are high right now. Let’s work to trust in the power and grace of Jesus Christ, that he will be with us through all of this!
One thing that touched me about St. Faustina’s visions, was how she described her vision of the souls in purgatory. She asked what their greatest suffering was, and said “They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was a longing for God”. Right now, I’ve had so many people tell me how much they miss receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, it struck me how much St .Faustina’s words speak to us today.
On a more practical level, I’d also like to update all of you on where we’re at as a Church right now through this pandemic, and what things are going to look like for the next few weeks as we realize, we’ve been in this stay-at-home now for nearly a month, and we’re slowly navigating our way forward over the next few weeks.
Videos: It’s my plan to do a video message each week sharing with you a short devotion and an update on some of the practical stuff in our Church. Please check our website and Facebook feed for these updates weekly.
Please also make sure check out our new Diocesan news site Proclaim!. Our parish has been featured in articles quite a few times in the last couple weeks. It’s nice to see good news about our Church!
Collections: A few weeks ago, in the paper, they asked me if I was worried about our collections. While, of course I wanted to be cautious, I expressed my faith in you and told them, I’m certain from all the stories I’ve heard of the pain that went with the merger 20 years ago, there’s no way our people are going to let anything happen to this parish! So now, I want to thank you for so far proving me right! You’ve all been absolutely amazing with signing up for online giving and mailing your envelopes in to the Church. Each week, we’ve been right on track where we should be, and between everything, our Easter Sunday collection was just over $10,000.00, right in line with Christmas and Easter last year! So thank you for continuing to support your Church! You’re all amazing!
Online Masses: The response to our streaming masses has also been amazing. Between the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday, we had 519 viewers join us for the mass, and many of those represent whole families. Every weekday, we’re averaging 100 people virtually attending our daily mass. Yes, we all hunger for the day when we can come back to Church in person, but I want to thank all of you for spreading the word in this dark time.
Online Class: This week, I’ll be starting my first online class on “Prayer”. The first session will be relatively small until we get some of the bugs worked out, but I’m hoping it goes well and we’re able to expand in the future.
FORMED: I’d also invite you to sign up for a wonderful resource that we have in our parish called “FORMED”. It’s sort of a Catholic “Netflix” with all sorts of movies, ebooks, talks, and other resources. There’s some amazing Divine Mercy stuff there, as well as some excellent kid videos. If you’ve got kids or grandkids at home, please help them check out Brother Francis! Instructions for signing up are on our website and in the bulletin, but don’t worry, it’s easy!
Religious Education: After talking to Dee, our DRE, I wanted to make sure we were keeping in touch with our Religious Education families. I know it’s a busy, stressful time and we’re not going to make more work for you. But we do want to see what we can to help provide some useful resources. For example, there’s some amazing stuff on FORMED that I just mentioned that might be helpful to you right now. Unfortunately, we don’t have email addresses for all of our families, so we’re asking all of you to please visit our website. Under Religious Education, there’s a short online form to get your email and other information so that we can both share things that may be helpful, and get your thoughts on how we can help you continue to share the faith with your children.
Cemetery Mapping Project: I’m happy to say our cemetery mapping project is still moving forward. I’ve been having some virtual meetings with the CemSites folks and it’s going well.
Overall, things are happening, and we’re taking it one day at a time. Please know that you are all in my prayers each day. Please keep me in yours.
God Bless You,
- Fr Matt
I would like to wish everyone a Happy Easter, but what a strange Easter this is. This week, we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, the day he came back from the grave. This should be a day of unbridled joy, when all the struggles of Lent are over and we enter into unrestricted celebration of the reality that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! God has won the victory over sin and death, we are redeemed.
Somehow this year though, at least at first, I think it rings a little hollow. We’re still all stuck at home. The virus is raging through our country, it keeps edging closer to us every day, we’re starting to hear of real people we know who are being tested positive. It’s a very scary world! Yet, today, in the midst of all of that, Easter comes anyway. I think really if we step back for a moment, perhaps our Easter this year is a little bit more like that first Easter than we’re quite ready to admit. After all, if we really pay attention to the characters in the story at Easter, what are they thinking and feeling? They just felt an Earthquake, angels appeared, twice we hear in the Gospel at the Vigil the words, “Do not be afraid.” In the Gospel on Sunday, we hear how they found the tomb empty, but still didn’t understand what that really meant. Just after they discovered the Tomb was empty, they would gather in the upper room, the story we’ll hear next Sunday, hidden out of fear. You might even say they were “Sheltering-in-Place.” Yet right there, in that upper room, Jesus would come to them and greet them, offering them his peace.
I know a lot of us are still a little afraid of where things might lead with this pandemic, there had even been a suggestion to the Holy Father that perhaps we should postpone Easter until this is over. Yet, in his wisdom, here we are. Even in the middle of a plague, Easter came anyway. If death itself could not hold our Lord in the grave, COVID-19 certainly isn’t going to either. That, really, I think is the grace we’re celebrating today. We have real, true faith, that no matter what happens, our Lord Jesus Christ is right there walking alongside us, leading the way.
That’s the real grace of Easter, the reality that we follow the one who conquered even death itself. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still take appropriate precautions (we should). It doesn’t mean that nothing bad is ever going to happen to us, (it will, just as it happened to Him). That means that no matter what we have to walk through, he will be with us and see us through it. There may still be a battle, but we know in the end He will emerge victorious, and we’ll be right there with him.
As we walk through this time together, I think one of the more uplifting stories I heard, was of St. Charles Borromeo, who founded the seminary system that we have. He was a priest in the Italian City of Milan in 1576 when the plague struck. He looked around and saw the need for people to stay apart and stay home so that they could limit the spread of the plague. For an entire year, from 1576 though 1577, St. Charles closed the all the Churches of Milan, just like we’re doing here. Instead, he arranged for mass to be celebrated at a different street intersection each day so that they people could look out their windows and see mass going on. Now in those days, as people typically only received communion once a year, they were still able to participate in some imperfect way. The faith found a way.
This weekend, as I watched the view counts on our livestreamed masses, and saw that around 320 people were watching the whole way through on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I thought to myself, “you know, that’s nearly as many people as we’d normally have in the Church. As I looked at it a little later, we had 1,300 people who saw each of our Holy Week services and stopped to watch at least 10 seconds of it, and that’s before we count those who were able to see our Triduum from 10 different State Prisons. Just like in the days of St. Charles Borromeo, the faith finds a way.
That’s the real beauty of Easter. When we stand together with one who has risen from the death, in the end we have nothing to fear. He has conquered it all. Sure we’ll still have battles to face, but the great war of Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell, for our souls in all eternity has been won. Christ the true king is victorious. So as we stay at home, venturing just to the grocery store with our masks on, know that while we’re still in the midst of the battle hear on earth, and there is lots to do in building the kingdom of God, as long as we cling to Him, in the final count for all eternity, we’re on the winning side. For today, Jesus Christ has conquered even death itself, and he invites us to follow him.
Prayers for all of you on this Palm Sunday! After much discussion, I've decided to shift formats a little bit this week. Typically at both Christmas and Easter, our bulletin company sets early holiday deadlines. So under their schedule, I would have to send in my Easter Bulletin last Wednesday. Well, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that no one will be able to actually pick up a bulletin this week, I've decided to shift formats a little bit. For the next few weeks, while we are on stay-at-home order, I'll be posting my weekly article here on the website. I'm aware that not all of our parishioners have internet, but at this point in the situation we're in, I think this is the best we can do for now. If you find yourself reading this. I'd ask that you think of those you know who don't have internet and either print and share this with them, or at least call them to say hello and check on how they're doing.
Some Thoughts on our Situation and Holy Week.
I've been talking to a lot of people over the last few weeks about this situation. I had one person say to me, "Don't get me wrong, I love the live-stream masses, but it's just not the same as coming to mass, I really miss it." Another person said to me, "You know in all my life, I think this is the first time I've ever missed Holy Week, and I'm having a really hard time with that." I know this is hard. Yet, I also think of something one of my brother priests said. "This Lent, really is the Lenti-est Lent of my life." The reality that this Lent has been hard on all of us. We've all had to dramatically change our lives, set aside good things, that we never thought we'd have to set aside, it's really brought into focus our Lenten sacrifices, and imposed some real new ones. I remember a Catholic speaker back when I was in college who talked about a girl who said, "I think this year for Lent, I'm going to give up gossip" To which the speaker said to the room. What time of year are we supposed to give up sin? Just during Lent? No, We're supposed to give up sin all the time!" Lent, is a time when we give up something good for a time, so that when Lent is over, we can realize the goodness God has graced us with and celebrate. During Lent, we omit the Gloria, the Alleluia, we give something good up to be restored at Easter. Well, this year, we've had to give up more that we could have imagined possible. We're not able to celebrate the Eucharist together, so many people are off work, the kids are off school. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. It's true, live-stream mass isn't a replacement for the sacraments....but it's not nothing either. As we walk through this Holy Week and beyond, I'd challenge us all to really reflect on that hunger. As we hear the stories of the passion on Palm Sunday, realizing that in our hearts, we really do have a deep hunger for God, a hunger for the sacraments, and when the day comes that we can finally gather again, oh what a celebration we will have. I've heard of so many people in these last few weeks who have been away from the Church for quite a while, they're listening. It's my hope that when we can return, we'll have trouble fitting all of the people into our masses at Prince of Peace....because we've had the time to really appreciate what we've been missing. So now, as we walk through this Holy Week, please know that you'll be in my prayers, and I hope that as we're not able to meet, we'll feel that deep hunger for our Lord, and know let the hunger we feel drive us even closer to him.
Some Practical Things
This week, we had a videoconference meeting between the priests and deacons in our area and the Bishop. It was quite an interesting experience, but I'm happy to say that for the short term, we've worked out most of the practical concerns. Please join us for the Holy Week Masses via livestream. The schedule is available on our website under current updates/temporary schedule. Just click on the big black button to join our live feed.
Sick Calls - While we cannot make normal sick calls at this time, If you hear of anyone who is in danger of death, please call the Church. We have arrangements in place to make sure anyone at Miner's or another facility will be anointed and receive the last rites.
Palms - Sadly, we are NOT able to distribute Palms this year for Palm Sunday. We will hold onto the palms until the situation is over, at which time, we'll bless and distribute them.
Basket Blessings - While we cannot do our normal basket blessings this year, and many people may not be making them as they won't be gathering for Easter Dinner due to the contagion, we will be putting out a resource, "A home basket blessing" I'd invite you to walk through the ritual. The original basket blessing has been adapted for use by laypeople. Please consider doing it together with your family. The Basket Blessing will be available on our "Livestream resources"
Holy Week Services - We will continue to Livestream the Holy Week Services, Holy Thursday 7pm, Good Friday 1pm, Easter Vigil 8:30PM, and Easter Sunday 9am. Please join us by clicking the livestream link on our homepage. For each service, the feed will begin around :30 minutes before the service. If you have a Chromecast, Android TV, Apple TV, Amazon Firestick, or similar, you can install the facebook app to watch the mass on your regular TV. I was also pleased to see that the diocese just sent a postcard to every Catholic Household in our diocese promoting our daily masses.
Votive Candles - A number of people have asked if votive candles can still be lit. Yes, please send us a separate envelope (put it inside your envelopes when you send off your collection) with $3 per candle and mark on it "votive candle" When the collection is counted on Tuesdays, we will light the votive candle in Church on your behalf.
Collections - Thank you to everyone who has been dropping off or mailing their envelopes in, as well as those who signed up for online giving. Going into Palm Sunday, from what I'm hearing, we might be one of the only parishes in our diocese that has NOT seen a dramatic drop in income. I want to thank every single one of you for helping us to maintain our Church. Due to deadlines with our bulletin company, we couldn't put them in the PDF we normally do under the bulletin sections. So for the time being, we're listing the collection amounts on our giving page Just click on Parish info and online giving. THANK YOU FOR YOUR GENEROSITY!!!
Finally - I want to thank all of those who assisted in our local fire departments with the recent fire. They did an amazing job and we're very blessed to have them. Our prayers go out to those who lost their homes through the fire.
Please know that you are all in my prayers this Holy Week! God Bless You!
IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT! We knew this was coming, but as of 8:00pm Wednesday, (April 1st), Governor Wolfe has extended the stay at home order to Cambria County. Here's what that means for Prince of Peace according to our diocesan directives.
1. Livestream masses will continue as they have been. Go to www.popnc.net for times and links.
2. The Church will no longer be open for visitation.
3. Confessions are temporarily suspended and will not occur at the scheduled times.
4. The parish office remains open, but Sue is working remotely. That means: feel free to email us or call us, but if you call, no one will answer. Please leave a message, we get the messages quickly, and we will return your call.
5. Since the Church is closed, please send your offertory envelopes via US mail or using our online donations at www.popnc.net
6. We are currently working with local funeral homes on what's permitted. If there is a death in your family, please call the funeral home and they will advise you on the current protocols.
7. Anointing of the Sick will only occur in danger of death. If someone is in that situation, call the parish and we'll let you know the current arrangements.
Please stay home, only go out for medicine, food, etc. and join us online as we pray together for an end to this pandemic.
Father Matthew Baum is the Parish Administrator at Prince of Peace Church in Northern Cambria, PA.