December 22, 2013

The Lord is Near. We are now in the last days of Advent, the final time to prepare for Christmas. I know there’s an awful lot going on in the next few days: last minute shopping, wrapping and mailing presents, travelling. But don’t let all that busyness distract you from what’s most important: we are preparing to celebrate the day awaited from almost the beginning of the creation of man, when God first promised that “the woman” would bring forth a son who would crush the serpent’s head. The day when God the Son, Creator of the Universe, to whom all angels bowed in worship, having been conceived in the womb of His mother Mary, entered the world as a poor, defenseless, vulnerable baby, to save mankind from sin and to offer us a share in his eternal life and love.

So rather than allowing all the busyness to distract you in the next few days, try to make real time to prepare yourself for this celebration. Avoid all sin. Try to show charity and compassion to your neighbor, especially your family members, at every moment—be helpful, not harmful, to family peace. And love God above everything and with everything. Take time to pray, and in your prayer place yourself in the company and care of Mary and Joseph. Imagine them travelling on the rocky roads of Galilee and Judea, from Nazareth down to Bethlehem, walking all that way or, perhaps, aided by a donkey. Imagine the cold and even freezing weather over the several days’ journey. Perhaps today, just 3 days before the birth, they were almost at the end of their journey, just a few miles away from Bethlehem. Imagine how tired And every day were a little closer, and a little colder and more tired. Think of their struggle, but also their joy. For they were not traveling alone: their Savior was with them in Mary’s womb. Travel with them these next few days in prayer. Stop from time to time at work, and wonder, “where are your now, Mary and Joseph, and Baby Jesus?” Come to church for a quiet visit, and think, “perhaps you are stopping to rest now—let me rest with you.” Accompany them on their journey—and do not get too distracted by the busyness of the season.

Advent Series. Thanks to all who attended and participated in our Advent Series on “Prayer: In Conversation with God.” We had an excellent turnout every week, but if you were unable to attend we’ve posted the audio of and handouts from all three sessions on the parish website.

Giving Tree. Thanks to all of you who gave so generously to the “Giving Tree”. Because of your kindness 34 families, 156 people, will have a little merrier Christmas this year.

Christmas Schedule. Please take time today to revisit our schedule for this week—found below in this bulletin—especially the Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Sunday schedules.

Volunteer Reception. Mark your calendars: January 10 is the day for our annual reception in appreciation for all those who volunteer their time to support the activities of the parish. (Where will we find a venue big enough?) Keep your eyes on the bulletin for details, or contact your committee chairman.

Financial Milestone. I am very happy to report that the balance on the parish’s loans just went below $2 million: we owe $611,457 to the bank and $1,369,196 to the diocese. Thank you for your continuing generosity.

[Don’t Read This Until Christmas!]
My dear brothers and sisters, my beloved spiritual children in the Lord Jesus:

Blessings and peace to you all as we celebrate the Birthday of Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of Mary, the Lord and Savior of the Universe! May Christmas be a day of joy greater than you have ever known. May it renew your faith and hope, that even in this troubled and fallen world, Christ has come to save us from sin and evil, from want and oppression, from hate and fear, to fill us with His light and grace and lead us to perfect happiness and peace. And may you rediscover, in the tiny Babe’s sweet smile, God’s boundless love for you and yours.

If you are traveling, may the angels carry you on your journeys and return you safely to us. If you are staying “in town”, I look forward to greeting you at Mass on Christmas Eve or Day.

On behalf of Fr. Kenna, Fr. Nguyen, Fr. Daly, the parish staff, and myself, may I extend our warmest wishes that you and your families have a Blessed and Merry Christmas Day, Octave and Season! May the Baby Jesus bless you and fill you with His grace, may His Mother Mary keep you in her tender embrace, and may St. Joseph protect you all the days of your life!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

December 8, 2013

Scouting at St. Raymonds. In May of this year the Boy Scouts of America reversed its long standing policy on Scouting membership and same-sex attraction. The new policy, effective January 1, 2014, now prohibits packs and troops from denying membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

Before that May decision I had publicly stated that this change would cause me to end St. Raymond’s relationship with BSA. Since then, however, I have remained largely silent, responding to Bishop Loverde’s request that pastors refrain from any action until he gave us his formal guidance. Unfortunately, other important matters have understandably delayed the Bishop in issuing this guidance, and my long silence caused some confusion among St. Raymond’s scouting families. Ultimately, as more and more families made plans to join other packs and troops, I felt compelled to speak more frankly to the parents about my intentions, but always with the proviso: “depending on what the Bishop says.”

But time has run out on me: the charter for both St. Raymond’s Cub Scout Pack 683 and the Boy Scout Troop 683 will expire on December 31, and the Pack and Troop will be dissolved.

To be clear, it was my decision not to renew the charters. Few decisions in my priesthood have been so heart wrenching as this. BSA has provided boys many rich opportunities for personal growth for over a hundred years—in particular for our boys these last few years. But this new policy changes everything.

I in no way condemn or hold any ill will towards those who disagree with me—either other pastors, parents or scout leaders. While this deals with objective truths, it comes down to a prudential judgment. I respect those who disagree with my prudential judgment, and I particularly respect parents for doing what they think best for their children, but I could not respect myself if I did not do what I thought was right for my flock.

And let me thank all the scout leaders who have served the parish pack and troop so well and so long—there are too many to name here. I can’t tell you how much I deeply respect, admire and appreciate all you’ve done for our boys—all the sacrifices, dedication and love. I can’t thank you enough.

Trail Life USA. Some look at our Pack and Troop and see the Boy Scouts of America. But I see a ministry of St Raymond’s that has partnered with Scouts to serve our parish boys. Now that partnership ends, but the ministry will continue with a new partner, and I invite all the boys, parents and leaders to stay with us as we take on that new partner: Trail Life USA.

“Trail Life USA is a Christian adventure, character, and leadership program for young men. [It] centers on outdoor experiences that build a young man’s skills and allow him to grow on a personal level and as a role model and leader for his peers…Trail Life is a journey established on timeless values derived from the Bible. …Our vision is to be the premier national character development organization for young men which produces Godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens. …Our mission is …to guide generations of courageous young men to honor God, lead with integrity, serve others, and experience outdoor adventure.” (http://www.traillifeusa.com)

A group of parents has already begun the process of obtaining a TL charter for the parish, and I have pledged them my total support. There will be a meeting for interested parents (whether currently in scouting or not) on Monday 16 December, 7:15pm, in the Parish Hall.

I am very excited about this new partnership, and very hopeful that, with God’s grace, this will begin an exciting new chapter in our parish ministry to youth.

New Youth Director. Speaking of which, I am very pleased to announce that Jeanne Sause will be joining our staff as Director of the Youth Apostolate effective December 30. Jeanne is originally from upstate New York and is a graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville. After graduation she travelled around the country as a NET Missionary for one year giving retreats to 4th-12th graders. After that she taught for three years in a Catholic grade school in Minnesota. She also has very extensive volunteer experience in organizing youth programs and retreats in New York and New Jersey.

And I’m very excited to have Jeanne join the parish, and thank the Lord Jesus for bringing her to us. May He bless her and our parish as we move forward in serving our youth and bringing them closer to Him.

Lessons and Carols Tonight. Remember to join me, the choir and the lectors for Lessons and Carols tonight at 6:30 in the church. Every year, as the word spreads, we get a larger turn out for this joyful and prayerful event. Part of its charm is its uniqueness—there’s really nothing else like it all year. And also, its peacefulness in the busyness of the “holiday season”: hearing the inspiring and joyful prophecies of the Old Testament and the first lessons of the Gospel, along with the beautiful strains of the choir—and the congregation—singing treasured carols and hymns, some so comfortably familiar, others thrillingly new to our ears and hearts. Please come join us!

Advent Series: Prayer. All are invited to join me this Thursday evening at 7:30 in the Parish Hall for my Advent Series: “Prayer: In Conversation with God.” This week’s topic will be “Praying with the Church,” as we spend some time discussing the Rosary and then have an introduction to the “Liturgy of the Hours.” Many Catholics are unfamiliar with the “Liturgy of the Hours” (or the “Divine Office”) but it is the prayer, anchored by the Psalms, that priests, religious sisters and brothers, and nuns and monks pray 5 to 7 times a day. The two “hinges” of this liturgy are “Lauds” and “Vespers,” or “Morning Prayer” and “Evening Prayer.” Come and learn more—whether you’re an experienced prayer looking for guidance or a beginner looking for new instruments to deepen your prayer life.

Senior’s Lunch. I want to remind all our seniors to join us on Saturday, December 14, for our annual Seniors’ Christmas Luncheon. Please call the office for more details. I look forward to seeing you there.

Correction. Two weeks ago I wrote about 2 disgusting ads promoting Obamacare (“My health care covers the pill…,” and “Don’t tap into your beer money to cover those medical bills…”), saying that they were government sponsored. That was incorrect. They were sponsored by independent groups. But they were still disgusting.

December 1, 2013

Advent. In the last week or so most of you receive copies of our Bishop’s (Most Rev. Paul Loverde) pastoral letter on the New Evangelization: “Go Forth with Hearts on Fire.” This couldn’t come at a more opportune time as today we begin the Season of Advent, 4 weeks preparing for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. A time of preparing to celebrate the introduction of Christ to the world, the beginning of the proclamation of the Good News of our salvation. So Christmas is, in part, the celebration of the Original Evangelizing. So as we take the next 4 weeks to prepare for Christmas we must see these weeks in the context of evangelization—of sharing the Good News of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with all around us.

I often lament how the world around us has turned the days from Thanksgiving to December 25 into a time of nonstop Christmas-sales, shopping, specials on cable, songs on radio, and, of course, Christmas-parties. All this can tend to turn the Advent season of preparation into a pre-mature Christmas celebration, virtually making superfluous the actual season of Christmas that begins on December 25 and runs for 3 weeks after that.

We have to be careful of getting caught up in that secular celebration, especially to the extent it omits Christ himself from the celebration. Advent must remain for us, first and foremost, a season of preparation to celebration. And by that I meant we need to spend time thinking and praying about the reason we celebrate Christmas with such joy: that we are sinners, but that God has not left us in our sins. That in spite of all the bad and stupid things we do to offend God and our neighbor, God so loves us that He entered the world as a tiny baby so he could truly be one of us, and communicate that love so dramatically: person to person, offering each of us a personal relationship with Him. So that the preparation of Advent must be a time of remembering our sins, and opening ourselves and our whole lives to the love of Christ. It is only with this sort of preparation that we can begin to understand and experience the true joy of this most magnificent gift.

But note, this joy should build in us throughout our preparation—as we become more prepared, we become more joyful. So that there is nothing wrong if even in the midst of the penance and prayer of Advent we also increasingly partake of the joy of Advent. But we must not confuse the Advent joy of Christ with the sentimental feelings of the secular “yuletide” season. Rather, we should transform the secular fun by our Advent Christian joy. And in this context we can share the true meaning of Advent and Christmas with everyone around us: sharing the good news of the Original Evangelization with the world, the New Evangelization. So that while we go about our shopping and partying and caroling we never lose sight of either our sins or the one who so lovingly forgives them. And we never waste the opportunity to share this “Good News of Great Joy” with those around us who clearly are so desperately in need of it.

As your spiritual father, I beg you, don’t waste this Advent! Remember, before you share true Advent joy you must first [re]discover it yourself through preparation. Here are some suggestions for how to do this:
–Christians always prepare for Holy Days by doing penance. In Advent this shouldn’t take on anything near the severity of Lent, but we should do some small penance every day to remind us that nothing is more important than Christ, and that everything we do is for Him.
–Add extra prayers to your daily routine. The Rosary is an excellent addition to our prayers, especially meditating on the Joyful Mysteries, or at least praying one decade every day, meditating on one of the Joyful Mysteries.
–Reading Scripture is an excellent way to renew your faith in Christ. Perhaps challenge yourself to choose one of the Gospels and read at least one chapter a day throughout Advent.
–Of course, charitable giving is a great way to prepare for the gift of the Baby Jesus. While it is a fine practice to give presents to people we love, it is an even better practice to give to those who do not know us and cannot give anything back to us. So make sure you make generous charitable gifts—either directly to those in need or to worthy charitable projects/institutions. The parish Giving Tree is one good way to do this, as are some of the special collections.
–Receiving the grace of the sacraments is one of the most important things you can do in Advent. Consider coming to Mass and Adoration during the week, and make sure you go to Confession. Once again, we will have confessions every weekday evening during Advent.
–Most importantly, live the life that Christ came to give us: make every day about loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Remember, Jesus said, “if you love me you will keep my commandments,” so follow the 10 Commandments and live out the Beatitudes. Forgive others, and be kind, patient, generous, and encouraging.
–Also: take part in the many special events and liturgies scheduled in the parish this Advent. Please find the insert of the Schedule of “Advent & Christmas 2013 Events” in this bulletin, look it over carefully and keep in somewhere central in your house (on the fridge door?).

Two parish “special events” I’d like to call your attention to in particular are:
Lessons and Carols. Next Sunday, December 8, I invite you to join me, the lectors and the choir at 6:30pm for a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, called “Lessons and Carols.” Weaving together prophetic readings from the Old Testament and pre-nativity readings from the Gospels, the readers lay out God’s breathtaking plan for the birth of His Divine Son. The choir adds to the atmosphere of joyful expectation by leading us in popular hymns and stretching their vocal wings in a few more complicated choral pieces. Don’t miss this truly special event.
Advent Series. How can we have the personal relationship Christ wants to have with us if we don’t talk and listen to Him? So I invite you all to attend my Advent Series on the 3 Thursday evenings of Advent: “Prayer: In Conversation with God” The first session this Thursday will look at the basics of prayer: the why, how, when and where of prayer. This will be a good refresher for experienced pray-ers and a good introduction for those just beginning. Please see the bulletin insert for further info.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles