My Dear Ones in Christ,
First of all, Happy New Year to each and every one of you! It was good for me to take just a little bit of a break after Christmas to collect myself a little, and just get some much-needed mental and physical rest. It was refreshing to read, rest, cook up a storm for both Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and have some time to visit with my family. I hope that in every way your holidays were peaceful and filled with hope.
At 4:30 p.m. this past Monday, all the pastors of the Diocese received new directives from Bishop Weisenburger which pertain to the ongoing spike in the Covid-19 pandemic here in Arizona. Starting immediately, all parish offices in the Diocese are closed to the public until at least the first week of February. At or about that first week, Bishop will meet again with his Covid Committee to determine the next steps that are to be taken. The directives we’ve received have little effect on St. Frances Cabrini Parish because we are still able to continue with what we’ve been doing here. All public Masses are suspended indefinitely in all parishes of the Diocese. However, the drive-through reception of Holy Communion is still allowed. So, I will continue to offer a private Mass on Saturday afternoons followed by the 5:00 p.m. drive-through. Some parishes, due to their physical setup, are not able to do any outside celebrations of the Sacrament, and as a result of that we are seeing a few from other parishes coming here to St. Frances to receive the Eucharist. We most certainly welcome them all. Going back to what I shared above about all parish offices being closed; no one is permitted to come into our parish office except staff members. If you have any kind of business with us here in the office, I’m asking you to please call in advance of coming here. Oftentimes, whatever business you may have can be addressed over the phone. If you do need to come to the office, you will not be permitted to come into the office. Rather, all business will be conducted at the front door. These measures are being taken to protect the many priests, including me, who live in or above the parish office. I know some will wonder how long these directives will be in effect, and, of course, I cannot answer that. As I wrote above, Bishop Weisenburger will be meeting with his team sometime around the first of February to determine a course going forward. As soon as I get any word from him or his office, I will communicate it to you.
As a little aside to what I’ve just shared, a lady recently thanked me for doing the drive through reception of Holy Communion. She said she is thankful for the consistency with which that is being offered to our community. She is a member of another parish, and it’s one of the parishes which seems to change “procedure” with a bit of frequency. She told me that it’s a comfort to know that, until we get back to being able to celebrate the Mass in person, she can come here and we’ll be here for her. That was a great boost for me.
This Sunday marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Because we are in Year B in the lectionary cycle, we read Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism as recorded in Mark 1:7-11. Every time I read and reflect on this event in Jesus’ life, I’m always drawn to ask the “why” of it. Why did the Sinless One, who certainly had no sins to be washed away, put Himself into the hands of another and allow Himself to be put under the waters of the Jordan? Yes, partly, it was to give us an example and to also show to us the first steps on the path of salvation. And, perhaps most importantly, it was to show to all of us His total identification with us in all that leads us to sin. However, in reflecting on His baptism this time, there was a new thought that came to me. Did you ever think that His Baptism was a fulfillment of prayer from a people who were longing for his coming? Isaiah 63:19b says:
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down ….”
(Some versions of the Bible have this as Is. 64:1.)
In our Gospel reading it says, “On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.” Something as powerful as the heavens being torn open would normally have created something like horror and fear in most people. It probably would have in me! But instead, the gentle spirit of God descended upon Jesus in the bodily form of a dove, and in a quiet way the Lord said to His Son, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Yes, prayer was being answered. For so long, people had been longing for the reassuring presence of God among them, and now that reassurance was standing in their very presence. To me, there is something incredibly Eucharistic about this event. Please picture the action of that part of the Mass which we call the Liturgy of the Eucharist. At a certain point, you hear me say, “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” While saying those words, I bring my hands down over the bread and the wine in a sign called the epiclesis, which means, “a calling down.” From that point, Heaven and Earth are meeting at the altar, and Christ, in fulfillment of our prayers, is once again in our midst. Do you see the parallel? What a great comfort to again reflect not only on our Lord’s baptism, but upon its ongoing effects on our own lives and journeys. We pray, and He is present. Don’t we need that reassurance, especially in these days of such unrest and ugliness? Certainly, these are times in which we all need to be reminded that the Lord has not forgotten His people. He’s as close as a whispered prayer. It’s just up to us, then, to pray!
Again, accept my deepest prayers and wishes for a wonderful New Year. As ever, I entreat your ongoing prayers on my behalf before the Lord’s throne of grace.
Your ever-thankful brother in Christ,