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.

September 8, 2013

Mass Ad Orientem. Beginning next Sunday, the priests at St. Raymond’s will celebrate all 8:45 Masses (and only those Masses) in the manner called “ad orientem,” or “facing East.” This means that after the Prayer of the Faithful (“The Intercessions”) the priest will go to the altar and stand on the opposite side of where he usually stands, facing the same direction as the people sitting in the nave. Although at St. Raymond’s this means we actually face Northeast, the symbolic turning together in the same direction harkens back to the Early Christians who often prayed facing East, waiting for the second coming of the Son of God, like the rising of the Sun. This practice of praying “ad orientem” was incorporated into the Mass of the early Church and was the norm for Masses up until the 1960s. Moreover, it is fully consistent with the requirements of Vatican II, and the post-Vatican II official liturgical rules. Even so, I re-introduce the practice not out of a sense of nostalgia or archaism, but because I think it will help us to deepen our understanding of the Mass as a profound and multifaceted prayer to the Lord.

In offering Mass facing toward the people I have often thought how strange it is that I would be praying to God while I was facing you. Think of that: you all face in the same direction together (toward the altar, the cross and the Eucharistic), as you pray to God. So then why would I face you while I’m praying to God, and leading you in prayer and presenting your sacrifice to God? Facing with you always seems more natural, more prayerful, more uniting.

Moreover, as you face the altar, etc., you also face my face. Because of this, it is not uncommon for the priest to become the focal point, or at least a distraction, for many in the congregation. Mind you, not on purpose; this just seems to be is the natural effect of two people facing each other.

One of the effects of this is to lessen the people’s focus on the Lord and the Eucharist. Another effect is to tend to exaggerate the role of the priest, even though he is supposed to be merely a bridge, a mediator, so that the congregation should look past him to see Who he is looking toward and leading them toward, i.e., the Lord.

Another side effect of this is on the priest himself: he can develop an exaggerated sense of his own importance, as all these people seem to be looking at him. This can lead to several negative results. In particular, the priest can unwittingly tend to see himself as somehow central to the Mass, “sharing the stage” with Christ. He can also tend to be overly concerned about the effect he has on the people, which leads many priests to feel the need to entertain the people, rather than simply anonymously lead them to God. Pope Benedict XVI summarized the effect by calling it, “an unprecedented clericalization,” that is, an exaggerated exaltation of the priest. The same clericalization so often condemned by Pope Francis.

So far, a lot of parishioners have been very supportive of my decision, with only a very few voicing objections. One of the objections centers on the idea of the priest “turning his back to the people,” that this sends the wrong signal. But think of this: almost everyone in the church turns their back on the people sitting behind them. Should we all face each other—a physical impossibility? The symbolic meaning that you have accepted is not that you are turning your back on each other, but that you are all turning together to pray to God as one body of Christ.

So why is the priest so different than all of you? The only major difference is that the priest stands “in persona Christi Capitis”—in the person of Christ the Head of the Body. So I rightly stand at the “head” of the body (in front of you), but as “the head” my face should be facing with you—think of the grotesque image of a body with its head facing backward! Let “the head” face with the body and lead it in worship, prayer and adoration of the Lord .

It is truly my sincerest hope that this change will help all of us experience a more profoundly prayerful encounter with the Lord, including those who only occasionally attend the 8:45 Mass. I hope you all will approach this change with an open heart and mind, and that this will be a wonderful addition to our parish life.

Youth Director. Last week Kristin Smith informed me that she will be stepping down from her position as Youth Director at St. Raymonds, effective September 14. Being a youth director is very demanding work, and as great as Kristin is at doing it, she feels it is time to lay it down and pursue other goals that the Lord has in mind for her. I can’t tell you how sad I am to see her go, as I know so many of our parents and young people are. Over two years ago we did a long, careful and prayerful search for a director, and our efforts and prayers were clearly answered by the Lord by sending us Kristin. The Lord was very generous in allowing her to serve our parish for these two years, and we thank Him for that. And we thank Kristin for all she’s done. I can’t say how much I’ve appreciated her help and hard work, all the love she’s poured out on our “children.” May the Lord bless her in her new endeavors. She will remain in our prayers and our hearts, a true sister in Christ.

But be assured, the Youth Apostolate will go forward, albeit with a significantly reduced schedule, until we find a new director. During this interim I ask those parents who are able to volunteer to keep the Youth program going. And I ask all of you to pray that the Lord help us find someone to take over this important position.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles