Pastor’s Piece – May 2

Happy Easter!

We all know that Governor Northam’s Executive Order 55 would have us remain at home except for some expressed purposes until June 10. We may have forgotten Executive Order 53 where most businesses will be allowed to function, while maintaining social distancing measures, starting May 8. Bishop Burbidge hasn’t forgotten. Although it may appear that our governor will maintain restrictions for the above businesses till June 10, our bishop together with the Bishop Knestout of Richmond intend to press the issue if public worship doesn’t resume May 8. Our bishop wants to show the governor our church’s good faith and commitment to the common good. So waiting till May 8 he believes will establish the sincerity of that commitment, but he assured his priests that “The Diocese is prepared to advocate further for a lift on restrictions if the May 8th date does not ease restrictions in some way.” (April 22, 2020 Presbyteral Council Notes)

I am hopeful that next Sunday will be a big change for the better for us. Of course it won’t be business as usual, but it will be reason to dispense with some cautions.

Bishop Burbidge has cancelled all Confirmations in May and so, I have cancelled all First Holy Communions this month. We plan to have the children make their First Holy Communions September 26 & 27. As far as Confirmation is concerned the bishop is taking extraordinary measures and granting me permission until December 31 to confirm the children and adults of the parish who are prepared.

You learned in catechism class that the bishop is the ordinary minister of Confirmation. At least that’s what I’ve been teaching eighth graders. But if we had an AP Religious Education class we would learn that he isn’t the only one who ordinarily confirms. Priests ordinarily do it when they baptize an adult, bring somebody (who’s not an infant) into the Church or when they encounter somebody in danger of death who lacks the sacrament. If fact the only sacrament that I am powerless to minister is Holy Orders. (Technically I don’t minister Holy Matrimony, rather I officiate the vows. So if you hear word that I’ve ministered matrimony it is reason to pray for my soul.)

I’ll do my best to imitate the successors to the Apostles and confirm our graduating eighth graders September 12. As far as the adults that I’ve been preparing in RCIA our date has yet to be determined. I’d love to celebrate the event on one of the great feast that our church has during June, such as Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, SS. Peter & Paul or the Birthday of St. John the Baptist. But we know how hard it is to predict the status of things a month from now.

In the mean time I invite everyone to check our cyber presence. We have done some work on these that you might find more helpful:

https://www.saint-stephen.org

https://www.katharinedrexelcc.org

https://www.facebook.com/katharinedrexelcc/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

https://www.facebook.com/St.StephentheMartyrMiddleburg/

By-the-way the Wednesday night Holy Hour (6:30-7:30pm) will continue. It was well attended.

Just in case you don’t have the same source of jokes that I have during our shutdown. What do you call a nun who sleepwalks?

A roamin’ Catholic. 

Christ’s Peace,

Fr. Murphy

P.S. Confessions this week can be found Wednesday 6:30-7:30pm (during the Holy Hour), Friday morning after Mass, and Saturday 3:45-4:45pm.

Homily – III Sunday of Easter – A – 2020

You may ask how I pass my time in this time of confinement? One of the activities filling up my time as of late is putting the eighth graders of our parish on the hot seat. It’s no wonder why the Church calls the preparation of adults intending to be baptized and join the Catholic Church, “the scrutinies.” As I scrutinize the confirmandi for pertinent knowledge of the faith they are to be confirmed in, one of my go-to questions of recent is, ‘When did the power the Resurrection enter into the disciples’ life?’

I’m not talking about Jesus rising from the dead being good drama and warming our hearts with a good story, but rather, ‘When did that event become something practical, personal, applicable and not just inspirational?’

Baptism connects us to the power of Easter Sunday. Notice here in the first part of today’s Gospel passage that the disciples are on the way to Emmaus. We got to figure that they are already baptized. It was the first thing that Jesus did to begin His ministry (the Baptism of the Lord). Then again on the last night of His ministry with His followers (the Last Supper) He says that He must wash their feet. Peter protests. “‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.’  Simon Peter said to him, ‘Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.’” (Jn 13:8-10) Jesus responds that those who are washed only need their feet clean. He is speaking of the washing of the disciples through baptism. Since we can’t be baptized again. Maybe the feet part is a reference to the Sacrament of Confession?

Throughout the Sundays of the Easter Season, the gospel passages reveal encounters of the disciples with the wonderfully mysterious presence of the resurrected Jesus. Last week we heard the dramatic account of Thomas placing his hands in the nail marks in the Body that just mysteriously passed through a locked door. He appears in flesh and blood, to see and to touch. He even eats and prepares meals for them. But at the same time, He can be unrecognizable like He is with the disciples on the way to Emmaus or Mary Magdalene who mistook Him for a gardener. Nevertheless, this mysteriously wonderful Body of Jesus always leaves the disciples with great joy.

Many today are content to say that ‘Jesus was a great man, a great teacher, he was a prophet, but his disciples got carried away and made him a god.’ No wonder there is a lot less wonder in the world. They’ve rejected the saving power of Jesus. He is the one source through Whom we arrive at salvation. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mk 16:16) He is the standard of all our actions. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40)

To accept Jesus as merely a prophet compromises heaven. One might begin to believe that death is the only end. This may lead us to think that there is no consequence to our lives because we ultimately end up as worm food. Take the disciples of the gospel today for an example. When they speak of Jesus as a prophet they are rather down-hearted, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel…” Their hearts are heavy. But, as we continue the passage, there is a great change in the disciples. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

The good news is that the joy that they encounter is not limited to them alone. What St. Luke has provided for us is an outline for all disciples to encounter the Risen Lord. Firstly, there is a scripture lesson. Sacred Scripture is the warm up. It is how we come to know God’s plan. Jesus interpreted the Old Testament and applied it to their present circumstance. We follow a similar pattern today. It is how we begin Mass. We gather to hear the Liturgy of the Word. When I read the Gospel to you, I declare, “The Gospel according to …” And you respond, “Glory to you O Lord.” Then, silently we make three signs of the cross. The idea is that we wish to have Christ’s words in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts. We want Him in our hearts like these disciples.

After Jesus shares and explains Sacred Scripture to His followers, He shares a meal with them. It’s at the breaking of bread that they realized Who He is. Let’s take note, their disposition, regarding Jesus as a prophet, is dejection and anxiety. Their disposition upon seeing Him at the breaking of bread is joy, excitement and a desire to share the news. So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem…”

What a great opportunity that we have at Mass! Hopefully this absence from Mass for many will help more appreciate the Eucharistic manner that Jesus intends to use to be a part of our lives. Even for those who are unable to receive Holy Communion for a variety of reason that are present even if we are not sheltering in place, consider that the disciples in today’s Gospel are merely watching the Breaking the Bread and they were filled with excitement. It was a Mass on TV moment. I read in an article regarding how the Church as been in the situation where Mass was suspended for fear of contagious disease before. The great reformer of the Church and founder of seminaries, the Archbishop of Milan, St. Charles Borromeo, shut down the churches in that city during a plague. During this time he encouraged his priest to say Mass at the intersections of the city so that people could witness it from their homes. Our mere participation outside of receiving Holy Communion is efficacious.

Another important aspect of these disciples on the Road to Emmaus is that they expressed hope that Jesus was the one. “We were hoping he would be the one to redeem Israel.” This is further evidence of their Baptism. We receive the gifts, the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity at Baptism. These disciples seemed to have built a life around this hope. They had left homes, businesses and family to follow Jesus.

If our hopes are on the Lord, then we too should feel our hearts warm up to His word. Once we place our hope on pay-raises, promotions, new technologies, political leaders, stock market, entertainment or vacations to bring us security, joy or peace then we become less enamored or ardently desirous of the Lord. We might believe in His Resurrection, but do we believe that this means He is here for us now?

He has risen and is now here in a mysterious way to strengthen, encourage, enlighten, give us hope and fill us with joy, but as we learned sometime ago in catechism class we have to prepare ourselves. First we’re baptized, then we confess our sins, and we learn of the need communicate with God regularly through prayer and to even have time for making sacrifices, such as, fasting. Take another sacrament such as, Holy Matrimony. There we know that bride and groom become one flesh. Their conjugal relations bring them together not only physically. Such relations are enhanced through regular conversations. What we would their union be like if they didn’t talk all week long, show up with no preparation, and expect to have an ecstatic physical moment?

It would hardly be what that act is designed to be. It might give life, but would it convey love? Would it communicate or give assurance that this is the person with whom I want to build a life? Then again it might be a sin, a moment to end the relationship. I.e. To force the issue without consent is a violation on the deepest levels.

There is a similarity with receiving Holy Communion unworthily. This is why St. Paul teaches the Corinthians, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1Cor 11:29) They are abusing a gift and in turn destroying the relationship that is designed to be sustained by the reception of Holy Communion. He concludes that this is the reason for mortalities, “That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.” (1Cor 11:30) This is why the Church teaches that it is a mortal sin to receive unworthily.

Communion is meant to be our personal moment with God. St. Paul also says that if you accept Jesus personally, you’re saved, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rm 10:9) Our Protestant friends think that this is it. The only thing that is necessary. If our Protestant friend should ask us, ‘Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?’ Our response should be a resounding, ‘Yes! I have welcomed Him into my life, into my body and dinned with Him.’ How much more personal can one get?

In the Breaking of the Bread we meet the wonderfully mysterious Body of the Resurrected Lord.

Pastor’s Piece – April 25

Happy Easter!

Divine Mercy Sunday went well. Arriving a little early didn’t seem to deter the determined. I will be prepared with sufficient hosts tomorrow.

While many have found attending my Private Mass at safe social distancing recommendations or in the security of their cars to be edifying, this is not the only way in which to benefit from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that I offer at St. Stephen’s on a daily basis.

Read More: Pastor’s Piece – April 25

Homily – Easter Octave A – Divine Mercy Sunday

In the 1950s Sci-Fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, we are treated to some state of the art special effects that appear rather primitive to us today. These aren’t the only aspects of the film that appear dated. There are the formal mannerisms of the people. The protagonist, the alien man from outer space, Klaatu, adopts the name Carpenter as an alias, and I don’t think that anyone asks for a first name.

These aren’t the only marks of the passage of a by-gone era. The arms race and the nuclear showdown in the world loom large. Additionally the film was almost a victim of its age before it was ever released. The censors (Motion Picture Review Board) had some concerns that Klaatu was too close of a Christ figure. It wasn’t that they thought that portraying Jesus Christ was bad, but rather because the population was so Christian they feared the audience might be offended by not portraying Him well enough. They didn’t want to be accused of blasphemy. If only we could bring some of those sensibilities back.

Indeed the same similarities to the Christ story seem intentional: a man not of this world, comes to earth to deliver a message of peace, but then is rejected by the authorities, disguises himself as an average Joe, takes the name “Carpenter,” is accepted by the innocent and women, is killed (shot to death), is brought back to life with his alien (i.e. other worldly) technology, reveals who he truly is, makes a post-revival address and then is carried off into space. But these are where the similarities end.

What caught my attention were the 1950’s prejudices. Secular society was esteemed. The natural sciences, military and government were the only considerations as to what might provide world peace. It seems that we have been on this path of thought in our society for a long time. Where has that gotten us? Are we any closer to world peace?

Human life seems more precarious than ever. We promote violence among mother and child with our steady abortion rate and state protections that follow. Some other measures of societal health don’t speak well either: the rates of divorce, suicide and drug addiction, I’m sure dwarf any 1950s measures. Then we’ve opened up whole new means of dissatisfaction, confusion and mental illness with what we think marriage, sex and genders are.

It is good to remember that the root of the word “secular” is the Latin, “saeculum”, meaning, ‘century’ or ‘of the age’. In a real way those who embrace secularism limit themselves to a knowledge that is as old as the generation before them and as farsighted as the next. How does this differ from what we profess?

We believe in the Logos, the Word through Whom all has come into existence. Or if you will, timeless principles upon which the universe was created and is sustained. We have a Church with two thousand years experience, not to mention the future that has been revealed. In a real way those without the light of faith, or at least knowledge of Christian history, have no means of judging things other than by the prejudices of the generation before them and their personal experience. They have no certainty about a future other than death.

In the movie, Klaatu promises to deliver the gift of world peace. Understandably the greatest threat to world peace at the time was seen as more world wars. So the thinking goes, if we can eliminate that, violá, we’ve accomplished peace. So the movie crescendos to where Klaatu delivers the solution to the threat of nuclear war. In his final addresses after his resuscitation and before his departure into the heavens (Not so unlike Our Lord today in the Gospel), the special extraterrestrial knowledge that we hopeless earthlings needed revealed to us is … more fascism.

His solution to the problem of peace is more heavy-handed government enforcement. Of course, he wasn’t advocating that we repeat the mistakes of a decade prior by putting the power in the hands of a national government. No. This broadminded progressive solution reached all the way back to the previous generation for an idea that introduces the international (or rather, interplanetary) governing body. Finally might will make right because, after all, the Interplanetary Police would be free of petty human concerns. They are robots. The idea was for Earth to enter a permanent pact with the other planets in this futuristic League of Nations in order to hold each other accountable. If any member should become aggressive with another world, so the agreement has it, then the consequence would be their destruction by the robots. How in the world does this have anything to do with what we celebrate today?

Jesus Christ died to deliver to the human race the solution. The post-resurrection divinely revealed answer to our problems is none other than what we celebrate today, Divine Mercy. If 1950’s Sci-Fi is an accurate window into that era, we can see why Jesus would be eager to redeliver this message again. And so for our era the Church has established that the mid-twentieth century Polish nun, Sister Faustina Kowalska, did receive inner locutions from the Lord that are worthy of belief. Through this humble instrument, like so many saints, He delivered the message of God’s mercy as a solution to our problems.

I am no student of St. Faustina. Yet in light of what I have read and of what multiple Church approved apparitions have said in the past one hundred and fifty years, we are on borrowed time. Practically all the approved messages and those being investigated currently speak of a chastisement before a time of peace and harmony that will be enjoyed by the world before the end of time. That is, there is to be a time of tribulation because of so much infidelity and disbelief that needs to be rectified. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen said in an address in 1947, “God will not allow unrighteousness to become eternal.  … we cannot turn from God without hurting ourselves.” (https://www.ncregister.com/blog/joseph-pronechen/did-fulton-sheen-prophecy-about-these-times)

Now is the time of mercy. We’ve all just experienced how quickly ordinary life for the whole world can change overnight. If this isn’t a merciful wake-up call, I don’t know what one could be. What do we do with the time we have?

There are some very practical steps such as praying the Holy Rosary and or the Divine Mercy Chaplet. In doing so we gain more mercy for the world. By doing so also we help mitigate the future troubled times and win more souls for the Kingdom. Yet the heart of the whole message is what we find in today’s Gospel passage.

The institution of the Sacrament of Penance. This how we get right with the Lord. By acknowledging our sins, confessing them sincerely, making a firm purpose of amendment and exercising the act of self-denial, i.e. penance, we activate our membership in the Kingdom. We are part of the solution. We are helpful members of the Kingdom of God working to expand its reign in the hearts and minds of more souls.

The urgency of The Day the Earth Stood Still is prompted by the threat World War III. In Klaatu’s farewell speech he gave an ultimatum, “But if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.” (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Day_the_Earth_Stood_Still_(1951_film)

Instead of the threat of dispassionate robot calculated worldwide destruction, Christ announces His Divine Mercy. He is clear that challenging times are coming. He is offering us the means not to avoid them but to prepare for them and maintain a sense of peace in the midst of great chaos. As Archbishop Sheen preached, we “must realize that a moment of crisis is not a time of despair, but of opportunity. … Once we recognize we are under Divine Wrath, we become eligible for Divine Mercy. It was because of famine the prodigal said: ‘I will arise, and will go to my father.’ The very disciplines of God create hope. The thief on the right came to God by a crucifixion. The Christian finds a basis for optimism in the most thorough-going pessimism, for his Easter is within three days of Good Friday.” (https://www.ncregister.com/blog/joseph-pronechen/did-fulton-sheen-prophecy-about-these-times)

Pastor’s Piece – April 18

Happy Easter!

Easter Sunday went well. Nevertheless we need to change a few things, and for pastoral reasons, the earlier the better. So now I will offer my morning prayers an hour earlier. I can sympathize with the difficulty. The piety of my youngest brother speaks for many. When he was informed that the family was gathering to join me at church on Easter Sunday at 9:00am, he responded, “The one time in my life that the bishop says that I don’t have to go to Mass on Sunday and you want me to get up early!”

The second thing that we do well to do is for those of you listening to my Private Mass on you car radio, I will meet you where the sidewalk that extends from the church steps arrives at the parking lot for Holy Communion. Remember that if you’ve parked near the Parish Hall, I will meet you at the bottom of the office steps by the traffic cone for Holy Communion.

The latest information from Bishop Burbidge regarding this unique circumstance is that he has canceled all Confirmations in the Diocese of Arlington till May 8. That means we still need to prepare for our First Holy Communions scheduled for May 8 & 9 and Confirmations May 16. Of course whether we have those events will depend heavily on what the governor says before then. Nevertheless there are some things that we can be certain about regarding next month. If we are permitted to have public Mass in May, I don’t imagine that the bishop will make them obligatory. Secondly, we know that Governor Northam has shut the schools and their facilities down till June 10. So there is no hope that SKD will be meeting at Bull Run Middle School before then. You all are always welcome at your parish church SSM. That is the best that my crystal ball can come up with at the moment. We pray that this ends soon.

Till then, a joke, where did the Terminator find toilet paper?

Aisle B. Back.

Christ’s Peace,

Fr. Murphy

 

P.S. Confessions this week can be found Wednesday 6:30-7:30pm, Friday morning after Mass, and Saturday 3:45-4:45pm.

 

Easter Sunday Homily

I’m borrowing the Gospel (Mt 28:1-10) from the Easter Vigil, since I didn’t have the opportunity to share it with you last night.

The women of the Gospel are given a great hope. Jesus isn’t in the tomb. Could it possibly be that He is still alive? This hope against all hope is entrusted with a mission. The angel said, that is, the ultimate authority, heavens’ mandate, assigned a task. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ What a marvelous and fearful thing that they have experienced and now have a responsibility to share. Are they not good models for us?

We too are entrusted with proclaiming the message of the empty tomb. It is not a metaphor. We are believers in life after death, in a man who returned from the dead. This changes everything. The message and the belief in the Resurrection comes with a formula for how it is to be actualized in our lives: Baptism, Ten Commandments, Sacraments of Initiation, weekly church, Holy Days of Obligation, fasting during Lent, avoiding the Seven Deadly Sins, practicing a virtuous life, including the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and daily prayer.

If we are believers, where is the evidence? As Sir Isaac Newton so succinctly explained about reality in his Third Law of Motion, “that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.” (https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/airplane/newton3.html) The force of reality that we celebrate is life over death, grace over sin. As Newton explained, if object A exerts a force on object B, then object B also exerts an equal and opposite force on object A. So it stands to reason there should be effects of the Resurrection in close proximity to us.

We may not be feeling so confident of this divine power manifest in the world. We’ve had our wings clipped so to speak. We may even be fearful that we’ve lost divine favor since we are under a worldwide cloud. If we believe that this virus is a chastisement, and we have good reason to believe so, e.g. the Old Testament or the Book of Revelation, “Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.” (Rv 3:19) Then are we saying that it God’s plan to punish? No. Is it your plan to discipline and a remove freedoms and privileges from your disobedient children? No. You would rather that domestic harmony is maintained through their obedience to you. Nevertheless punishment does become your obligation when you see that they are in danger.

We may gain a glimpse of this heavenly perspective from one of visionaries of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima. In regards to some of the calamities of the twentieth century of which the world was warned, such as: World War II, signs in the sky, the dominance of Russia and the destruction of nations, Sister Lucia said, “…let us not say that it is God who is punishing us in this way; on the contrary it is people themselves who are preparing their own punishment. In his kindness God warns us and calls us to the right path, while respecting the freedom he has given us; hence people are responsible.” (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000626_message-fatima_en.html)

We can say that it was the best solution for obstinate disobedience. It was the lesser of two evils. So, no, I’m not saying that God is the cause of this, but I am saying that because of our sin, He is permitting this. In that sense, because it is of God, then we can dispense with our anxiety.

Look at the women of the Gospel. They were entrusted with a message. They must have anxiously thought, ‘I have to go all the way to Galilee? A whole 78 miles on foot and then, tell a bunch of men this unbelievable story. Who’s going to believe this from us?’

Here we are, the believers in the Resurrection. We are the faithful of a message that says God is involved in our lives. In fact, we believe that we have no life accept for God’s. As St. Paul asks the Roman Christian community, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rm 6:3-11) So, in fact, we are more than messengers of some unbelievable news. We are at the same time evidence of it. The power of the resurrected Christ is in our lives. “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (ibid.)

So we live in accord with the perspective that death is not the last word. And accordingly the loss of mobility, confinement, routine, threat of pestilence are opportunities to see God’s power manifest in our life anew. Our life as recipients of the power of the Resurrection gives us power to rise above the greatest anxiety of the human race, death, and consequently, its lesser evils, such as, disease, lack of freedom, and sin.

I hope that we might resolve to put the light of our Resurrected existence to work. We conquer death through vanquishing all that which makes us anxious: such as pride that puts our will first; or greed that believes that we are better providers than God; or envy that isn’t happy about what neighbor is or what he has; or anger that for most of us is often due to our own lack of patience with the weakness of another; or lust which is enamored merely with the surface of a person and is hardly an expression of care and concern; or gluttony that misses the beauty that less is more (and even healthy); and sloth that is one of greatest expressions of our ingratitude for the time on earth that we’ve been given.

If we feel a little anxious about the task to conquer sin, that is, to announce the Resurrection in our very lives, then, I invite you to examine what happens next to the friends of Jesus who just received their angelic mandate. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They aren’t alone with the heavenly command. He is with them. Once more He reaffirmed their mission, their obligatory task. But nevertheless they were also consoled and reassured.

Pastor’s Piece – April 11

Please, note that your pastor is now equipped with the coveted N95 mask. A highly trained and experienced medical professional has outfitted me like a pro. According to instructions outlined by Bishop Burbidge there is a way for me to minister the sacraments without fear of multiplying contagion. I feel up to the task, yet Prince William Hospital doesn’t share my enthusiasm. I don’t know of the other healthcare facilities. With this in mind, please, feel free to call upon my services to minister the Anointing of the Sick, Confession, Holy Communion and an Apostolic Pardon. Yet, keep in mind, it will only be possible for me to minister to you before you go to Prince William Hospital and possibly other facilities.

After all my middle name is Damian, as in St. Damien of Molokai. I can’t turn away from this challenge less I’d deny who I am. St. Damien never wanted to get leprosy, yet he knew it was a distinct possibility. Before I left for my stint in our diocesan missions, of which you have often heard me speak, my father handed my holy card of St. Christopher that he had recently found in a letter that my great grandmother had sent her son, his father, as he went off to World War I. The message was not lost on me. The man who named me Christopher Damian was handing me a relic from the woman who initiated the tradition in our family of the males being given the middle name Damian. For you see, Fr. Damien was engaged in his heroic work in her lifetime. I was experiencing the power of the Communion of Saints. In her life, Great-grandmother Murphy was renowned for her piety. She was seemingly teaming up with her favorite holy heroes to send me on my way.

In my time away, I never felt alone. I was reassured by the fact that I would be back home some day. The Diocese of Arlington is my home and I am ordained to serve here, so the bishop was obliged to bring me back. Nevertheless, if should be called heavenward then I would be truly home with those who had been rooting for me. This perspective, of always knowing that I was going home, kept me going. Each and every one of us who are baptized can call upon the power of our heavenly home.

In light of the Easter Resurrection and the eternal life that it shares with us, consider the perspective of our heavenly family. Those of us who are the beneficiaries of today’s miracle, today’s feast, will look back on our time on earth and say, what was I thinking? How could I have been so shortsighted? What was a mere ninety years? Why did I let the discomforts of that time bother me so? Why couldn’t I see them for what they were: my trials, my cross, the great test to make me a saint?

How could I have wasted time on earth being so anxious about the style of my shelter, the fashion of my apparel, the different flavors to give my mouth? How could I have spent so much time following the lives of the famous, of getting upset at politicians and given so little attention to those in my family, neighborhood and surroundings that could have been relieved by my attention, by my resources, by these talents that God gave me? Why was I so concerned about what God gave my neighbor? When after all, He had a specific plan and duty for me?

Please, be assured of my continued prayers with the power of Christ’s Resurrection. As I’ve said before, God was the first one to adopt the motto, ‘Never let a crisis go to waste.’

 

Christ’s Peace,

Fr. Murphy

 

P.S. This Sunday will be like last Sunday. Confessions this week can be found Wednesday 6:30-7:30pm, Friday morning after Mass, and Saturday 3:45-4:45pm.

Good Friday 2020

[The Passion Narrative of St. John, Chapters 18 – 19:42 is traditionally read today around 3pm.]

A wonderful confluence of events happened at the beginning of what is traditionally known as Passiontide this year. This is the time period that includes Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday and the Sunday before it. You may have noticed that the statues in St. Stephen’s are covered. This is traditional although it hasn’t been customary at SSM for a while. Frankly I’ve never done it in my 23 years of priesthood. So with the kind promptings of a parishioner who purchased the veils, I attempted to follow the instructions in the Ordo (the annual instructional manual for liturgical dates in the US). Being a neophyte at this, I didn’t give our kind donor instructions to purchase coverings for our angels or the altar cross. The angel problem was easily solved. I took them down. How many angels can fit into a closet? Yet I didn’t feel motivated to remove our new bronze altar cross. I think now that I understand why.

Ordinarily this altar furnishing doesn’t face you, the congregation. But ever since these days of Private Masses, it has been. See, I’m facing ad orientem (liturgical east). I’m looking towards the Lord since I’m without you. Things started coming together in my mind on the Tuesday that followed the Sunday that began Passiontide. On that Sunday we read about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and on the following Tuesday we read about the strange passage of Moses being instructed by God to make a bronze image of the serpents who have been biting the people and making them mortally ill. A little background is necessary here.

Moses was leading the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land and not unusually they are complaining, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!”* So the LORD sent among the people seraph* serpents, which bite the people so that many of the Israelites died. (Numbers 21:4-9)

Moses pleads with God for the people and is given a solution to the problem. This solution we regard as a Good Friday prophecy. “Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and everyone who has been bitten will look at it and recover.” (ibid.)

So Moses goes about this curious remedy by making a bronze image of the same serpents that are killing the people and lifts it up on a pole so that they may gaze upon it and be healed. We may recall Our Lord prophesying His death on the Cross. “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” (Jn 12:32)

What in the world does gazing upon a horrific death have to do about our salvation? It is a mystery. I don’t understand. But, hey, I wouldn’t be much of a pastor if I didn’t give it a try. So, here goes.

It is no longer popular to bronze one’s baby shoes. This trend seemed to be on the decrease when I out grew out my first shoes. But nevertheless I was aware of the unique custom. What is the thinking behind it?

I would have to say that it was a mother’s way of capturing some precious memories in the life of her family. I’m sure that the custom goes back to a time before photographs were so readily available. If you will, Moses was bronzing the serpent to capture an image in the few ways that were available in his age. Why the image of an object of death? Or even, why an image? The Israelites have their newly minted Ten Commandments that strictly prohibited graven images. Why this departure from the new law?

Obviously, it was to convey something really important. For the Christian believer there is nothing more important than the Cross, the means of our salvation.

So there I was preparing for Mass on the first Tuesday of Passiontide and I gazed into the sanctuary of St. Stephen’s from the pews. The only image unveiled was a bronze image of Jesus crucified standing , or lifted up, on the altar. By gazing upon the bronze serpent lifted up the Israelites in the desert were healed. The Roman soldier at the foot of the Cross, has a moment of saving faith, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Mt 27:54)

As we read today exclusively in St. John’s Gospel who breaks character and interrupts his dispassionate narration of historical events to say, the “soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth (because that witness is John)…” Then, as a good pastor, he gives a brief sermon, “so that you also may come to believe.” (Jn 19:34-36)

The Latin word for healing, salus, is often used to convey our Christian notion of salvation. The Israelites are healed and we are saved. (Interestingly the image for Blue Shield uses the snake on a pole as a universal sign of medicine) The saving event of the Cross is not trapped in the past, like an object dipped in metal, but rather it is placed on the altar.

The blood and water to which John testifies is how this awful event finds it was into our lives. We are reborn and nourished through the elements flowing from Christ’s side. We are washed clean by water and Spirit at our Baptism in the Blood of the Lamb and sustained throughout our life on earth from the nourishment of the altar. We behold the source and summit of our faith, the Eucharist, made present by the holy Sacrifice of Calvary, re-presented on each and every altar.

In solidarity with the Israelites who were healed by gazing upon the bronzed deadly punishment of their sins, likewise we come to the altar. Every Catholic Church is equipped with a crucifix for this very reason. It is why on Good Friday we commemorate Our Lord’s Passion by lining up to reverence the Cross.

During this dramatic liturgy the priest is instructed to gradually unveil the covered cross and proclaim three times, “Ecce lignum Crucis, in quo salus mundi pepéndit. Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.” And the congregation responds, “Come, let us adore.”

The bronze crucifix on the altar is a snapshot image of the furthest extent that God went to win us back. As horrible at it is to behold we know through faith that it shows God’s love.

Homily for Palm Sunday

The drama of today’s Passion Narrative strikes at our hearts. What great lengths God has gone for our salvation is beyond human appreciation. Additionally it delivers a message for our particular time. Like the Apostles we too have had the Lord forcefully removed from us by the civil authorities with the cooperation of apostolic authority. I’m not saying that the bishops have betrayed the Lord for shutting us down, but they have set the scene for some for a passionate Passiontide. If this is the story of how Christ brought new life to the world, is it unusual that the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, might have to suffer in order for it to be renewed?

The Passion of the Lord is overwhelming. Let’s pare it down and just focus on the aspects that St. Matthew’s Gospel brings out that the others don’t:

30 pieces of silver

  • It is a prophecy of the Christ from Zechariah. “And they counted out my wages, thirty pieces of silver. Then the LORD said to me, Throw it in the treasury—the handsome price at which they valued me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the treasury in the house of the LORD.” (Zech 11:12-13)
  • We may not appreciate the sarcasm of Zechariah. He is referencing the fact that in Exodus, Moses prescribes that one pays thirty pieces of silver in reparation to the owner of a slave accidentally killed. (Exodus 21:32) So Zechariah fetches the handsome price of a slave and in turn gives a prophecy about the coming Messiah. After all this is how Our Lord regarded Himself for our benefit. “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8)
  • It might be reassuring to us who find Sacred Scripture overwhelming to know that St. Matthew gets his prophets confused too. He mentions that it is Jeremiah who is given the thirty pieces, when, in fact, it is Zechariah. We’ll explore why he gets confused a little later.

“Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”

  • St. Jerome (first translator of the Bible into Latin, 4th c.) holds that the rest of the disciples call Jesus “Lord” at this point. Perhaps Judas addressing Jesus as “Rabbi (Teacher)” shows how his crime extends from his lack of faith. How easy it becomes to rationalize various sins when we no longer believe in a God Who Himself lived according to His own precepts.

Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.

  • St. John Chrysostom (bishop of Constantinople, 4th c.) – Jesus makes clear that as it was stated that the blood of the lambs shed in Egypt were for the salvation of the first born of the Israelites, so it is Christ Who sheds His Blood for the remission of sins.
  • As the Hebrews sacrificed lambs for Passover and established God’s new covenant with Moses, we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Passover marked God’s change of covenant from Abraham to Moses. The ritualized sacrificial meal that signifies the New Covenant/Testament is the Mass.

“Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

  • We must accept Christ’s invitation as a group to prayer, but according to St. John Chrysostom, Jesus is teaching us the importance of study and retirement for our prayers. Need to separate at times too.

Only Matthew has this three-time prayer of Jesus.

  • Rabanus Maurus (Archbishop of Mayence, 9th c.) – The Lord prayed thrice to teach us to pray for pardon of sins past, defense against present evil, and provision against future perils.

Jesus to Judas, “Friend, do what you have come for.”-

  • I think that this reveals Christ’s compassion for Judas right up to the end. As we know Our Lord teaches in John’s Gospel, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” It was Jesus’ last appeal to Judas. An expression of love for him and an admonishment to love. “This I command you: love one another.” (Jn 15:13-17)

“Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?”

  • In St. Luke’s Gospel we read “… and one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one. … Then (the Apostles) said, “Lord, look, there are two swords here.” (Lk 22:36,38)§ Jesus gave an example of pacifism for Himself, but He didn’t mandate in for His followers.§ St. Augustine (bishop of Hippo, 5th c.) – “disciples had the sword by Our Lord’s permission, yet by “taking” it they have recourse to it outside of His will.” There are just times to take up a weapon and unjust times to do so. Christians do so morally when they protect innocent life, when they obey legitimate authority and subsequent moral orders.
  • Chrysostom – by doing so He is convincing His apostles of His willingness to do this.

Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself.

  • It seemed like a good idea at the time. But isn’t that how sin works? Despite the warnings from our conscience, we rationalize it. And then, once we’ve committed the sin and realize it as wrong. Then our shame is amplified and we wonder how we could, or anybody, have done such a thing? This is the familiar strategy of the Enemy. Diminish the gravity of sin or convince us that it is good and then shame us to the point that our sinful pride keeps us from being contrite enough to ask for forgiveness.

The chief priests gathered up the money, but said, “It is not lawful to deposit this in the temple treasury, for it is the price of blood.” After consultation, they used it to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why that field even today is called the Field of Blood. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of a man with a price on his head, a price set by some of the Israelites, and they paid it out for the potter’s field just as the Lord had commanded me.

  • We can see more clearly now why St. Matthew got confused with Zechariah and Jeremiah. Zechariah is given thirty pieces of silver to throw into the Temple Treasury, but this typo, the confusion with Jeremiah, helps us to see yet another fulfilled prophecy, the purchase a field with a bunch of silver coins.
  • Augustine – Potter’s Field is another message of mercy. This burial place for foreigners, that is, gentiles, not only speaks of Christ’s mission of
    universal salvation, but also the poor, the disposed, and the outcast. The earthen vessels of the Potter, the sons of Adam, have a home in which to rest in the Field (of Christ’s) Blood.
  • Origen (Alexandrian scholar, 3rd c.) – sees evidence against those who would hold that an intrinsically evil nature exists. “Whence Judas came to the acknowledgement of his sin… except through the good mind originally implanted in him.” Judas was good and could have had recourse to repent and get back to that goodness, but he despaired.
  • St. Leo the Great (Pope 5th c.) – he persists in his sin because when he sees in the last struggles of death he believed not Jesus to be the Son of God, but merely a man of our rank, for had he not denied His omnipotence, he would have obtained His mercy.

There is more but let’s skip it and get to the end. (We Catholics aren’t accustomed to lengthy Bible studies)

  • The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared
    greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening …o This isn’t a zombie apocalypse, but it is a foreshadowing of the true Apocalypse (the Resurrection of the Dead). The fact is, the Passion Event is the most important event in human history and sin and death is no match for it.o Chrysostom – he didn’t come down from the Cross. What He would not do for himself He did for others. He provides a greater miracle than Lazarus rising from the dead.

The Lord has grown weary of seeing so many of us like zombies, the walking dead. We who have been promised eternal life yet persist and get comfortable in our state of mortal sin. We are cut off from what offers true happiness now and we jeopardize that which brings eternal happiness to come. Is it any wonder that the
only sacrament that I am permitted to share with you regularly is the Sacrament of Confession? We mustn’t let our shame and fear keep us from seeking His forgiveness.

To restore the Mystical Body of Christ, we may have to endure a time of separation from the Head, but lets not suffer this without the fullness of sanctifying grace available in the Sacrament of Penance. It is clear that the world needs penance, that is, reform. May our use of this grace filled penance help leverage this change.

*All of the references to Church Fathers are from Aquinas, St. Thomas, Catena Aurea, Commentary on the Four Gospels, Vol. 1, St. Matthew