Didn’t I just see you folks yesterday? Every year that Christmas falls late in the week, it feels like we’re looking at a liturgical double-header. Yet, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Having just celebrated Christmas, this weekend we celebrate “Holy Family” Sunday, and Friday we’ll celebrate the feast of Mary, as the Mother of God. All of these feast days are “family” related. So with that in mind, especially this year when COVID has often kept us separated from our families in ways that we could have never imagined, it’s good to realize just how important family really is.
I know for my own family, my Sister and her family found themselves exposed as one of my niece’s roommates tested positive the weekend before Christmas. That meant that some of our Christmas holidays had to happen over video-chat, doing the best we could to keep everyone safe. I remember that a few years ago when, because of how the schedule worked out with my Christmas masses, I wasn’t able to make it out to go see my brother’s family for Christmas, so we had to ship the presents in the mail and open presents via video-chat. It was a novel experience then. Now it’s become for so many of us, the norm this year.
In those moments, we get to choose how we’re going to react to these realities. Of course there’s sadness that we can’t hug our families in the way that we’d want to. Yet, I know I’m also thankful for the technology that allows some contact in ways that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. As we celebrate this Holy Family Sunday, can we take a moment to be thankful for our families, realizing that even for the struggles and issues we have, there’s someone out there who struggles even more than we do. Yet, so often, it’s precisely those moments that bring us closer together. Can we imagine Mary and Joseph, hearing that their child would be destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and hearing those words “...and you, yourself, a sword will pierce.” Can we imagine the flight into Egypt, unsure of what would come next? Yet, through all of that, they stood together and a family and trusted in God.
As we walk through this holiday season, can we take the time to be thankful for our families, even as we encourage each other to constantly grow in our relationships with each other and with our God?
I also want to thank everyone who helped with the Christmas decorations this year. It was a bit of a smaller group than usual, due to the contagion concerns, but I really want to thank the Burba and Wilson families for organizing and decorating this year!
To everyone, I hope you enjoy this Christmas season, and that you all have a very safe and Happy New Year!
God bless you and your families!
I think, of all the Christmases of our lives, this one is a Christmas that we’ll all remember, that we’ll tell stories about for years to come. It’s a Christmas unlike any other. In so many ways we can’t gather with our families in the ways we normally do. As someone said to me this week, it’s hard to get excited about things getting cancelled for a snow-storm when we’ve been stuck in our homes for the better part of the year. I think that kind of sums up the feelings of so many folks I’ve talked to.
I’ve spoken to folks who recently had contact with someone who tested positive and so aren’t able to attend Christmas mass for the first time in their lives. More than any other year, I think we’re all aware of our own mortality. I think we’re acutely aware this year just how easily so many things we once thought were unchangeable can change. I think we’re also aware just how helpless we can feel at times amid an invisible virus sweeping through the area. It’s easy to see the darkness of the world.
Yet, today is Christmas! As we hear in our first reading, the people in darkness have seen a great light. Never before in my lifetime have those words hit me so powerfully. Light has entered into the world. Today a Savior is born to us who is Christ and Lord. He is Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, and Prince of Peace! That is the promise! That is our faith! We look at a world in need of a savior...and he’s here!
I’m reminded of the words of CS Lewis in his book “Mere Christianity”:
Enemy-occupied territory - that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.
Christmas falls near the shortest, darkest day of the year, the winter solstice. From the moment when the world on the world seems the darkest, we, as a Christian people have real hope because in this enemy-occupied territory, the rightful king has landed in the most unexpected of places, as an infant in a manger, yet that little child, grown into a man, gave his life for us on the cross. He really is our world’s only real hope. As celebrate this season of Christmas, we pledge our lives to this new-born king, this savior, this Prince of Peace, that he really will bring light to the darkness of our world, that he will save us from our sins, that he will transform this world and lead us through it to our eternal home.
All of that begins today, with this feast that we are celebrating right now. Christmas is the day our savior has arrived on our shores. Today is born our savior.
As the old song goes, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” With our last snowfall, we’ve got a bit of a winter wonderland outside and we just might have a white Christmas. Here at Church, we’re on the final preparations for the celebration of our Lord’s birth. This weekend after the masses, our decorating crew is going to be pulling out all the Christmas decorations and transforming our Church and Chapel for Christmas.
In this week’s readings we hear all the prophesies of the coming messiah. We hear the story of David being promised that his kingdom shall endure forever and his throne will stand firm forever. This Friday, we celebrate the fulfillment of that promise as the eternal king of all the nations is born to us.
This year has been like no other year I’ve experienced in my lifetime, and I think like no other year any of us have experienced. Decades from now, I think we’ll tell stories of what happened in 2020, stories that generations from now children will probably find almost unbelievable. From March when the shutdown hit until now has been quite a wild ride, with riots, murder hornets, a crazy election, masks & shutdowns, quarantines, online schooling, and all the other things that this year has brought. If, around last Christmas, someone had told us what this year would be like, no one would have believed us.
With that in mind, I’d like us to really reflect this week on how incredible that first Christmas must have been. Imagine that these events happened in about the same span as we’ve been dealing with COVID. The Christmas before, Mary was just a young girl still living in her parents house. Imagine telling Mary all the things that were about to happen. This young girl who was yet unmarried, would not only find herself married. She’d find herself with a child not to her husband, but carrying the Son of God in her womb. There would be a census, and she would give birth during the census. She and her new husband would be visited by Magi from the East, Shepherds, and more. They would have to make a narrow escape into Egypt to avoid King Herod slaughtering all the children under 2 years old, and then they would have to figure out how they were going to raise this child, who was the creator himself. It’s a crazy story when we stop to think about it. Yet, so was this year’s story. As the old saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. Neither are the sort of story we would have ever invented, yet both are so very real.
As we reflect on that reality, if you haven’t taken the chance to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation yet, please stop by this Sunday Night at 7pm to join us.
I’d like to also invite everyone to join us for Christmas mass this year. Our Mass schedule is published on the back inside cover of the bulletin. We’ve added masses to help with the numbers in the Church. Please do your best to spread yourselves out through the available options, make sure to ask any relatives who haven’t been to mass in a while to wear their masks and work as much as we can to keep us safe. While we’ve had a few cases among our parishioners and staff, we’ve not had any outbreaks here at Prince of Peace, and I think we’d all like to keep it that way. If you are under quarantine or have health concerns and are unable to join us in person, make sure to join us virtually. All of the masses at the Church will be streamed. It’s not the same as being in Church at Christmas, and if you do have to join us that way, please know that we look forward to the day when you can rejoin us in person to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
I also want to let everyone know that the week between Christmas and New Years, we will NOT have mass in Church. I’m going to be away from Sunday Evening through Thursday Morning visiting my brother for Christmas. I will stream mass from my brother’s house for a few days for those who would like to join us online on those days, and of course, I’ll be back in plenty of time for New Year’s Eve Mass at 4pm and New Year’s Day at 12:05pm and 6:30pm.
I do have some sad news to share for anyone who may not have seen. Sister Celeste, one of the sisters of Sister Karen’s order passed away from COVID this week. Please keep her and all of the Carmelite Community of the Word in your prayers this Christmas.
Finally, as so much of the Christmas commercialism shut down, let’s make sure that we really do our best this year to celebrate the real reason for the season, the coming of the savior into the world.
God Bless You!
Blessed Gaudete Sunday!
This Sunday we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete literally means “Joy” It’s a Sunday of hope, as we walk through this Advent together. This week, as we come to December 17th, the tone of Advent will change. During all of Advent, we prepare for the coming of the one true king. During the first part of Advent, we’re focused on the reality that Jesus will come again in glory someday. We’re focused on preparing ourselves for that day, so that we’re ready when he comes again on that last day. Then, on the 17th, things change a bit, we move out of that long-term preparation, and into what we normally think about in our preparations for Christmas, preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ into the world those 2,000 years ago. Beginning the 17th, at daily mass, the entrance antiphons change, we begin the “O Antiphons” ancient names for Christ that we hear most commonly in the song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. Names like “O Wisdom of God most high”, “O Root of Jesse’s Stem”, and “O Key of David”. As we hear those, it’s a reminder to us that Christmas is quickly approaching, that the Lord is on his way.
This Saturday, we also celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. It’s an amazing story, of a native Aztec man, Juan Diego. He was one of the few converts to the Catholic faith in the early days. Yet, one day, as he was walking, a beautiful woman appeared to him. She asked him to build a Church in her honor. When he told the Bishop his request, the Bishop didn’t believe him and sent him back. The woman asked him to gather roses in his tilma and show them to the Bishop. When he did, they found that on the tilma was an image of the Blessed Mother. The symbols in that image, quickly convinced nearly the entire Aztec nation to convert to Catholicism, so that even today the vast majority of Central and South America is Catholic. That same tilma is still visible at Our Lady of Guadeloupe shrine in Mexico City. It wasn’t words that convinced the people, but the faith of one man, that God took and multiplied. Whenever we’re worried about where the world is going, the single most important thing we can do, is pray and work to become the sort of Christian that God wants us to be, to work on honestly asking God’s help and working toward becoming a saint. He’s capable of taking that and doing miracles with us too!
This week in our parish, we’ve got some exciting things starting to happen. First of all, we’ll be beginning our evening Confessions this week which will be available on the 16th, 17th, and 20th, at 7pm with an additional visiting priest each evening. Please join us as we get ready for the coming of our Lord.
We also had some exciting repairs happen this week. Our new heat pump for the church has finally been installed! Hopefully that should save us some electricity this winter, help the Church get up to temperature quicker, and help with the air conditioning in the summer. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our monthly collection. The money from our monthly collection goes toward major updates and repairs to our Church, like the new heat pump. This enables us to save up over time for those major purchases that sometimes have to be fixed at a moment’s notice.
On a smaller note, we just got a new storm door for the front door of the office. The old door had been a cheaper model and in one of the last windstorms, it hadn’t latched properly and the wind quite literally ripped it off it’s hinges! Please, if you stop by the office, on your way out, help us out by making sure that door closes tightly. I don’t want to lose another door to the wind!
I look forward to seeing all of you this week at one of our evening confession times! I’m very thankful as a priest for the opportunity to hear confessions. It’s so good to hear so many folks who while they struggle with their own temptations, really are dedicated to looking to the Lord for help to make changes in bad habits, to grow in their faith, and to work toward living the sort of life that Jesus calls us to live. Regular confession is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us. Imagine that no matter how far we may have strayed off the path, all we have to do is step into Church, confess our sins, and Jesus can pick us up, turn us around, and point us in the right direction! That one little action can mean the difference in where we will spend all of eternity. Let’s not ignore that amazing gift that Jesus has given us, let’s make use of it!
See you Wednesday, Thursday, or Sunday Night at 7pm!
Happy Advent! I’ve got to say with all this snow outside, it really is starting to look a lot like Christmas. Just this week, we ordered some of the pieces for our Christmas decorations that we realized we needed when we got everything out last year. The shopping season has begun, even though if you’re like me and avoiding stores right now, I think most of my Christmas shopping is going to get delivered to the back door via either a brown or white truck. Still, please make sure to check out our baskets this weekend. I know it’s not quite the same as having it during the dinner, but there’s some wonderful potential Christmas gifts down there.
Although we won’t be able to have all the normal Christmas festivities and parties this year, maybe that’s ok. I think for all of us, this year’s Christmas will be unlike any other. It’ll be a bit smaller than usual, but at the same time, maybe that’s OK. At a wedding I just celebrated last weekend between two of our parish families, Julie Pawlikowski and Brian Laurito, we only had about 14 people present for the wedding due to covid restrictions. Yet, as we looked around, both of their families were there, and the bride commented, “Wow, I’m not nearly as nervous as I would be if we had all those people” and in a real way they were able to focus not on all the externals that happen at weddings, but really on what’s most important. Now I’m not suggesting that we do away with big weddings, it’s good to celebrate and gather with family, but when these sort of necessary changes happen, can we really take these moments to appreciate the real essential parts?
This year, as we make our Advent preparations, the world is a lot scarier than it’s been in the past. This year, I think the idea of preparing the way for the Lord that we hear in the Gospel takes on new meaning. Just this week I saw that Johnstown Hospital declared they were full and have been re-routing patients to Pittsburgh. Things are getting very scary. Yet, in these moments it’s the perfect time to really work to set ourselves right with God, to renew our relationship with Jesus Christ, to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord at Christmas. When the world looks like it’s in trouble, it’s then that we realize how much we need a Savior.
In that light, please don’t forget about the Immaculate Holy Day coming up this Tuesday, with a Vigil on Monday. Similarly, next week, on the 16th, 17th, or 20th, please take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you’re not sure, just ask yourself, would I be able to look Jesus in the eye and say, “send me exactly what I deserve?”. If we’re not ready to do that (and I know I’m certainly not) then we need the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to ask for God’s mercy, knowing that he’ll grant it, realizing that even though we don’t deserve to be forgiven, he still wants to heal our brokenness, pick us up, and save us from our sins.
Please take advantage too of so many of the amazing Advent traditions that we can each do at home, even in these days when we can’t gather. Pick up your Oplatki, set up that Advent wreath or Jesse Tree at home, read your scriptures, or watch some Christmas themed things on FORMED.org. I’d recommend the Advent series I posted last year, “The Boy Who Became Santa”, (the story of St. Nicholas), “Christoph and the First Christmas Tree” (the story of St. Boniface), or any of the St. Nicholas or Advent materials. There’s lots of great stuff.
If you’re a reader, I’ll share my favorite Advent book, it’s available on Amazon. It’s called “Mary, as the Early Christians Knew Her: The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts” by Frederica Matthewes-Green. She’s an Orthodox woman who shares one of the non-biblical accounts of the nativity story called the “Protoevangelion of James”. It’s a book I love to read during Advent as it tells about the little details of Christmas that would have surely happened, but aren’t included in the story. Probably my favorite is a scene where Mary realizes that it’s nearly time for the child to come, so St. Joseph goes around town to find a midwife to help deliver the baby and has to explain the story of how this woman travelling with him is his wife, but it’s not his child, but it’s ok because the child is conceived by the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile the midwife simply looks at St. Joseph and says “right….just show me where she is.”
Whatever reading or devotion, or practice you do as a family, make sure that in the midst of the craziness of the world right now that you stop long enough to really work on putting our relationship with God back where it should be, so that together we can fill in the valleys, make the mountains low and prepare a highways into our hearts for the savior.
May God bless you now and always,
Father Matthew Baum is the Parish Administrator at Prince of Peace Church in Northern Cambria, PA.