October 28, 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Thank you all for your generosity and support last weekend as we began our final push for the We Stand With Christ campaign. You pledged over $300,000—a truly incredible show of sacrificial giving! Over 200 families have participated in the campaign and many more are prayerfully considering a gift. I can never adequately express my gratitude for what you are all doing for our parish community, but let me again say thank you! Some people have expressed concern about committing to a pledge over 3 to 5 years, and have shared with me that they are worried they cannot participate in the campaign as a result. Please allow me to clarify: every gift is gratefully received, whether a multi-year pledge or a one-time offering, and everyone in the parish is invited to participate in this extraordinary endeavor in the way that is best for them. We Stand With Christ is not about equal giving, but about participation. We, the parish community of St. Pius X, are all in this together. I do not want this effort to become a reason for anyone feeling excluded. Again, I thank you all for your goodness and for the generosity that you show again and again.

As we move into the month of November, we enter a time that the Church has traditionally observed as a time to remember those who have gone before us in faith. We begin the month with the great solemnity of All Saints, followed by the feast of All Souls. The Church invites us to reflect on those heroes of the faith whose virtue and holiness is known to all, the saints whose example teaches us what it means to follow Christ with our whole hearts. All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation. On October 31 (Halloween – All Hallows Eve), the vigil Mass for All Saints will be celebrated at 5:30 PM. On November 1, Masses for All Saints Day take place at 8:30 AM, 5:30 PM, and 7:30 PM. This last Mass of the day will be a Solemn High Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, that is, in Latin. We look forward to celebrating this great solemnity with you as we remember the communion of saints.

Please mark your calendars for our annual Mass of Remembrance on November 14 at 7PM. During this Mass, we pray for and remember those who have died in the last year and we pray for their peaceful rest. I am struck each year as I read the names of the deceased, many of whom I buried and whose families I know well. It is a reminder that, as we say in the funeral Mass, “life is changed, not ended” and we look forward in hope to the day of the Resurrection.

Over the next few weeks, I will use this space to reflect on what we as Catholics believe about death and the prayerful response of the Church to the reality of death. In particular, I will offer a catechesis on the Rite of Christian Burial, the Church’s liturgy in a time of grief. The funeral is an often misunderstood element of the Church’s pastoral ministry, and I hope that the reflections offered here will help to clarify any confusion and give us all a healthy spiritual perspective for facing the challenging reality of death and grief. Our hope remains always in Jesus Christ, the one who conquers sin and death and promises us the gift of eternal life in heaven!

Peace,

Fr. Sam

October 21, 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

James and John exhibit their typical boldness in the Gospel this weekend. At first glance, their request to sit at the right and left of Jesus in His kingdom may seem to be motivated by a desire for position or prestige. But if we read carefully, we see that they make this request out of love for Jesus. Remember, these same disciples were outraged that Jesus was rejected by the Samaritan town and wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume the place (cf. Luke 9:54). Seeing Jesus rejected causes them great offense and pain. James and John love Jesus and have a profound faith in His promise of eternal life. In their great zeal, they do not understand what they are asking, and so our Lord explains that their salvation and place in the Kingdom will come through suffering like His, through the conformity of their lives to His. Hearing this, the other Apostles are upset because they interpret the request as one for prestige, privilege, and power, instead of as it is genuinely intended (though with a lack of understanding). And so Jesus teaches the true meaning of power. Power, greatness, authority, are not to be wielded for their own sake, nor are they to be lorded over others. Rather, power and authority exist for service. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).

Power and authority present a great challenge and temptation if we lack a proper Christian understanding of how they are to be used. Jesus tells us that authority or power is not to be lorded over others, but rather placed at their service. His intention and desire is that in the Church, “power” be used, not in a worldly way, but for the good of the whole community. The true power of the Church is sacramental, that is, it brings God’s true power to bear on the world, the power that sanctifies, blesses, inspires, heals, and saves. Sometimes authority or power must be exercised to correct behavior or clarify teaching. This is not authority for the sake of authority, but for the sake of truth. For example, a math teacher who allows students to believe that 2+2=5 fails to exercise legitimate power and authority that should lead to truth. A parent who allows their child to throw rocks at the neighbor’s child fails to exercise legitimate power and authority that should lead to right behavior (and safety!). A priest or pastor who remains silent, refusing to speak about important issues or questions fails to exercise the legitimate power and authority that should lead to the salvation of his community. Jesus undoubtedly gives power and authority to the Apostles. But this power and authority is not for their sake, but for the salvation of the whole Church, for those who are powerless and in need.

The existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that the “will to power” was the driving force operative in all people and institutions. For him, the will to power inspired in people the desire for prestige and high position. This philosophical outlook colors the way in which we, today, interpret power and authority. We tend to view it in secular terms, which leads many to worship the false idol of political power. In an ecclesial context, this understanding can lead people to view leadership roles (such as bishop and priest) as the highest goal of the Catholic, or as the only way to have influence. This attitude did not originate with Nietzsche, of course, as we can see it present throughout history in various ways both secular and religious. Jesus teaches an understanding of power and authority that is directly opposed to the will to power. Especially within the Church, all power, all authority must be exercised only for the sanctification, guidance, and service of the whole community. The priesthood, episcopacy, and even papacy are not offices to be served, but are rather offices that exist to proclaim the love and mercy of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ who came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life for the salvation of the world.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

October 14, 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The familiar story of the rich young man which we hear in the Gospel this weekend provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our own lives. Rich or poor, how do we approach Jesus? Is there anything in our lives that stands as an obstacle to a living, vibrant relationship with our Lord?

Jesus makes it clear that it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. This is true for several reasons. A person of wealth can easily grow accustomed to having things their way, to obtaining whatever they desire – though money can never buy happiness, it can buy material comfort. It is also possible for people who have a degree of wealth to be given preferential treatment in certain (or even most) situations. In contemporary parlance, we call this privilege, and that word is rarely uttered with a positive connotation. Put another way, it is possible for those who are rich in material things to adopt an attitude of entitlement, which can lead to a lack of humility and an increase of pride.

The rich young man, though, is sincere. He truly wants to go to heaven and have a relationship with God. When Jesus tells him to keep the commandments, the man answers truthfully that he has observed the commandments religiously his entire life. His heart is in the right place. Jesus looks at him with love because He can see the young man’s genuine desire for a life of union with God. But our Lord knows that following the commandments is not the sum total of a relationship with God. Again and again, Jesus calls us not only to fulfill the commandments, but also to go with Him. The young man finds himself unable to follow Jesus, not because the commandments are too hard, but because he is too attached to his material wealth. He does not believe he is capable of living without his stuff. Perhaps more, the rich young man is used to a certain lifestyle and to the deference shown him because of his wealth. Now, he is asked to follow, to associate with the poor, to forsake privilege. This, it seems, is a bridge too far, and he goes away sad, knowing that he has been invited to something great, but is not able to accept the invitation because he is unwilling to humbly change his life.

It is no secret that Fairfield is a fairly wealthy community and that attitudes of entitlement and privilege exist, most often with negative consequences. Do we see these attitudes in ourselves? If so, do we recognize that they are obstacles to a life of discipleship? Are we willing to let go of our privileged attitudes and our tendency toward self-sufficiency in order to listen more carefully to Jesus? Let us today reflect on the obstacles to Jesus that exist in our lives, remembering that Jesus looks at us with love and never withdraws His invitation to be His disciples.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

October 7, 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Last weekend, I had the privilege of conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation for two groups of our 8th grade parishioners. Bishop Caggiano was unable to join us and so he granted me extra-ordinary delegation to celebrate the sacrament. The experience of receiving that special delegation and in turn having the honor of celebrating an important spiritual moment in the lives of young people reminded me of the awe with which I ought to celebrate every sacramental celebration. The value and meaning of the sacraments cannot be overstated.

Every sacrament has an ordinary minister, that is, one whose role it is to celebrate that sacrament. Some sacraments, like Holy Orders and Confirmation, are reserved to a bishop. In the case of Confirmation, a bishop may delegate a priest to celebrate the sacrament in certain circumstances. The ordinary minister of the Eucharist, Reconciliation/Confession, or Anointing of the Sick is a bishop or priest. The ordinary minister of Baptism is a bishop, priest, or deacon. The ministers of Matrimony are the man and woman who marry, while a bishop, priest, or deacon stands as the Church’s witness and offers the Church’s blessing. Through the ministers of these sacraments, grace is poured out in abundance for the one receiving the sacrament. Grace is poured out in abundance. This fact about the sacraments bears greater reflection. The Baltimore Catechism definition of a sacrament is “an outward sign, instituted by Christ, that confers grace.” By means of the sacraments, God moves toward us, His people. The blessings and graces we need are available to us in a sure way via the sacramental life of the Church. Not only are these graces available, the desire of God is for us to receive them, and receive them well. The sacraments are all about God’s action for us, on our behalf. We receive them without any merit, without deserving them. We receive them as gifts freely given.

In order to receive these freely given gifts openly and fruitfully, a certain amount of preparation is necessary. And so parents are asked to spend time preparing for their child’s Baptism (as the responsibility for the graces received in Baptism is entrusted to the care of parents), children prepare to receive their first Holy Communion and Confirmation, we examine our consciences before going to Confession, couples go through a process of preparation in anticipation of their wedding day. Even the Anointing of the Sick has a certain preparation by means of a penitential rite, albeit as part of the ritual celebrating the sacrament. Of course, most of the preparation indicated above pertains to those sacraments received once. The sacraments we ought to receive most frequently, Confession and the Eucharist, suggest a related spiritual preparation. Am I ready to receive Jesus in the Eucharist? I ought to examine my conscience in order to be aware of my sins. Am I aware of any grave sins or serious faults that I have committed? If so, I ought to bring them to the sacrament of Confession. Having opened my heart to the merciful love of God, I can then receive the Eucharist in such a spiritual state as to fully cooperate with the gifts Jesus wishes to bestow on me. If I am not aware of any serious sins, I can still prepare for reception of the Eucharist by my prayer, by being on time for Mass, by focusing my mind and heart on offering worthy worship to God.

This week, let us reflect on the gift of the sacraments and how, through them, God wishes to take action in our lives. Let us prepare ourselves well to receive the sacraments and recognize our need for God’s grace and blessing in all things. Aware of our need, let us courageously approach His mercy and love so that our celebration of the sacraments may be worthy and fruitful, and we may cooperate with the powerful action of our Creator in us and for our salvation

Peace,

Fr. Sam