Pastor’s Weekly Message

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw
St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church
Pastor

A PERMANENT DEACON:The Joy of Beign a Husband and Father and an Ordained Spiritual Leader.

Our parish has been blessed in our history to enjoy the ministry of many Permanent Deacons.At present we continue to be blessed with the full-time ministry of Deacon Bill Watzek and his wife Laura Watzek, our parish sacristan and Gift Shop manager. We also continue to be blessed by Deacon Mike Zatarga’s ministry. I say “blessed” because there are many types of blessings that come to a parish through the ministry of a Permanent Deacon.

Our Catholic church traces the institution of the deacon ministry to the appointment and ordination of the first deacons that is described in Acts of the Apostles 6:1-6.These first deacons were to assist the apostles especially with the practical tasks of charity for widows and the poor.It is clear from other places in the New Testament, that deacons in the early churchpreached, baptized, assisted at the table of the Eucharist and in other ways spiritually served the people.In addition, in the Acts of the Apostles, deacons are described as needing to be “full of wisdom and the spirit”, outstanding men of faith and courageous in their leadership. This has certainly been the story with our parish.

Today, most dioceses throughout the world have deacon ordination programs of study and faith formation for deacon candidates. Those who discern a call to the vocation ofDeacon first inform their pastors and discuss the possibility of serving as a Deacon in their parish. It is important that the discernment of a deacon vocation is both the prayerful responsibility of the candidate and of the parish and the diocese.It is, in truth, a communal discernment. After these preliminary steps, the candidate makes a formal application to the diocesan Director of the Permanent Diaconate program. PersonalInterviews, psychological assessments, academic histories, marital histories (if applicable), are all employed in discerning the fitness of the potential deacon. Most important in the assessment of candidates are spiritual maturity and commitment and pastoral zeal andgifts for pastoral ministry.

Another interesting element of the Permanent Deacon formation process is the important role of the wife of a Deacon. Every effort is made to insure that the vocation discernment process includes the wife of the deacon candidate and that she is actively supportive and enthusiastic for this choice. No married candidate continues in the acceptance process without the full support of his spouse. Spouses are invited to attend educational, faith formation and retreat opportunities.

Candidates for the Permanent Diaconate must be at least 35 years of age and willing to make a commitment to a five year formation period.Classes and other activities take place at Saint Vincent De Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach and during the school year, involve a one night a week class and once a month weekend activity. Upon acceptance, the costs of the program are provided for by the Deacon candidate’s parish. The understanding is, further, that upon ordination, the Deacon will be assigned to serve his parish.

I would like to encourage any father or unmarried man who meets the necessary criteria and who is discerning or interested in the Permanent Diaconate to contact myself or Deacon Bill to discuss the possibility. I am sure that the Holy Spirit is active and calling candidates to this most important ministry of ordained service here at Saint Joan of Arc.

As a final thought, Deacon Bill states that “My ministry here at St. Joan of Arc has been a blessing to me and has given me not only a deeper appreciation of our parish community but also the joy of getting to know many of our parishioners as friends and companions along the spiritual way.”

May our parish continue to be blessed with the ministry of Permanent Deacons as they work to support and build up our faith community and complement the many other ministries of Saint Joan of Arc.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Rich in Mercy

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we are encouraged to pay attention to the generosity of God as it is expressed in God’s mercy towards us. This virtue of boundless and generous mercy is demonstrated by God throughout the Bible. In the Hebrew scriptures, God forgives the Hebrew people over and over again even when it is unappreciated or taken for granted. The Prophets unceasingly call the Chosen People back to a faithfulness to the Covenant promises and the responsibilities they have as a sacred promise.Human nature being what it is, unfaithfulness resulted in idolatry, abuses of justice and peace and a type of reliance only on self that left no room for God. It is interesting to see how God responds to the difficult history of the Hebrew people through a combination of justice and mercy. It is clear, however, that the mercy of God far surpasses the justice and that God’s primary characteristic is mercy and forgiveness. One of my favorite passages illustrating God’s mercy is from the Prophet Isaiah “But Zion said The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me. Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you”.“Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth, break forth into song you mountains. For the Lord comforts His people and shows mercy to His afflicted”.

In the New Testament, Jesus often teaches about the mercy of God and He demonstrates it through His miracles. Over and over again, the mercy of God forgives sins, lifts up from sufferings and heals sickness and disease.God’s mercy is always present as Jesus responds to the faith of people who cry out for mercy. So many of Jesus’ parables demonstrate mercy and teach it as a way of life. One very powerful parable is of the servant whose Master forgave him a huge debt when he asked for mercy. Then a little later the same servant failed to show mercy to another servant. That servant did not learn from his experience that as he had received mercy, so he was to show mercy to others.This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of our honoring Divine Mercy.We who receive mercy are to pass it on.Our Christian community needs to shine as an example of how to forgive, welcome and bring others into the experience of Divine Mercy as we live it. This is a challenge since we are not Divine but only humans working on
holiness and virtuous living. It is comforting to always remember the truth that with God’s grace, all things are possible and that through us mercy can embrace our struggling world and cover it with peace and hope.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Easter Joy – The Gift of Mercy

Today we are filled with Easter joy. Our smiles and greetings of “Happy Easter”are symbols of our interior deep joyfulness. We have journeyed with Our Lord through His sufferings, sacrifices, death and Resurrection. We have tried to understand the depth of His faith and trust in His Father’s love. During Lent we have also tried to imitate His loving obedience to His Father’s will. The immensity of His sacrifice to the point of giving over His life for us is a challenge and invitation that we have struggled with as well. Finally His selfless love for His Father and for us has set the standard for our efforts to purify intentions and reach out in love toward God and neighbor. We have journeyed with the Lord, now we celebrate His victory. We are reminded of the compassionate motivation of Our Lord that led Him to give His all in loving sacrifice for us.His final victory and our sharing in it is such a powerful expression of God’s mercy.

It is important that as we have grown in faith, hope, and love during the Holy Season of Lent that we continue to do so during the Easter season and beyond. We know that periods of intense and careful attention to our spirituality need to be built upon. Advent and Lent are meant to give us stronger, deeper foundations for building stronger and more heroic virtue. It is up to us to share our joy, to make a difference for the good and to keep Easter Resurrection an ever present truth that we share generously. We have died with Christ and have been re-born as new creations. All that in the past has held us back from compassion, forgiveness, and inner peace has been vanquished and no longer has any hold upon us. Everything that we do as Resurrection people has the potential to brighten and dazzle our world with the faithful love of God and the inspiring vision of Jesus Christ Risen.

Happy Easter!Joyful future! Blessed Mercy!

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Palm Branches and Hosannas in the Midst of a Pandemic

In Florida, as in the Holy Land, Palm Trees are everywhere. Their branches provide us with shelter from the sun and help create oases of beauty and peacefulness. In Jesus’ times, palm branches were also cut down and used to blanket the path of a visiting dignitary. Our Palm Sunday celebration is a memorial of that triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.

We who are the spiritual descendants of the crowds who first welcomed Jesus also have an opportunity to welcome him into our hearts on Palm Sunday. We will hear proclaimed the story of his triumphant entrance and we will also hear the story of his rejection. In our own lives, it is perhaps the case that we, too, have welcomed the Lord and His message of liberation and then have not really listened to it. This all too human response is what we ask forgiveness for on Palm Sunday. This year in particular as we are struggling with a world-wide pandemic, liberation from decease, poverty, and inadequate world resources we need to depend upon God more than ever. Faith matures through trial and we will emerge stronger from these difficult days.

Many of us will take the blessed palm that we receive and create a cross out of it. This is a powerful way of remembering that no triumph over sin and evil is possible without the cross and its message of self-sacrificing love. There is still time for us during this Lent to let the Lord into our hearts with His forgiveness and mercy. There is still time for us to be His ambassadors of love and compassion in a world so longing for peace and healing. We can make our palm branches and our hosannas create the entrance for Our Lord that will allow the miraculous oasis of grace to become a reality.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Taizé Monastery Contemplative Hymns and Prayers: March 24, 7:00pm.

This coming Wednesday we will celebrate our tradition of an Evening of Prayer according to the Taize Monastic style.The monastery, located in France, has been dedicated for over fifty years to ecumenical understanding and cooperation and to the peaceful resolution of conflict in the world.Over one hundred monks from many cultures and from a variety of Christian traditions live a simple agrarian lifestyle characterized by communal life, poverty, chastity, obedience, regimen of prayer, study and hospitality. The vision of Brother Roger, the Founder, was to create a monastic community that would incarnate the vision of Jesus for a peaceful world and by its very life as an ecumenical, international community make that vision a reality.

The form of prayer that has evolved over the years at Taizé can best be characterized as a contemplative prayer often expressed through simple, repetitive hymns and scripture texts. The hymns draw us into a quiet place of contemplation of the mystery of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and healing. Contemplative prayer does not use a lot of words but rather slowly absorbs the Word of God , simple Biblical phrases and lets them slowly sink in and transform the heart. In contemplative prayer, the intention is simply to enjoy the presence of God, to”gaze with love upon the mystery of God”. We do not look to “get anything” from God but rather to express as genuinely and truthfully our identity as “poor little ones, the anawem, the children of a loving Father.

Icons play an important role in the prayer of Taizé because they capture the expansiveness of God and are windows into the boundless mystery of God. The angularity of the features, the symbolism of posture, line, spatial relationships and color create a singular spiritual art form that reached its perfection in Greek and Russian orthodox monasticism. We will have icons prominently displayed to guide our use of imagination in prayer and to assist us with maintaining a contemplative focus.

Christian art and sacred music have always been important elements of our spirituality and liturgy. They express so many spiritual sentiments and thoughts in ways that inspire and elevate us. It is important that we reverence the history of our rich diversity of prayer, sacred song, scripture, quiet, simplicity and obedience to God’s will. The monks of Taize try to live in such a way as to practice discernment, a spirit of mercy and a great openness of heart. In their witness, they make a counter cultural statement regarding Christianity and its role in the world community.Let us pray with them that all conflicts may end in peace and all hatreds be transformed by love.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Am I the Center of My Universse?

One of the central challenges of Lent is to shift our attentiveness away from our wants and preoccupations and re-focus ourselves upon God, neighbor and the larger world. This is another way of saying that we need to “die to self” in order to be re-born in Christ. One helpful exercise in this regard is to monitor our thoughts and feelings over a period of a few days and discover the extent to which “I” am the center of my attention. How many of my thoughts and actions each day are focused on “me”? Trying to gradually shift the attention to God and others takes practice and patience. For many of us, it can best be accomplished by living out the responsibilities of our vocations. In married life, in parenting, in friendships, there are thousands of opportunities to forget about self and focus on God and neighbor.

We can make such a positive impact for the good in our world by looking outward and putting Christian love into action.

Another way of thinking about this is to relate our Lenten observance to what Pope Francis calls “announcing to the world the JOY OF THE GOSPEL. During Lent we can make this “Good News” the center of our words, actions and good works. We get out of the way as the focus and help people see how God is working miracles right in front of our eyes. We can speak the gospel, act in a gospel way and thus make it more real in the lives of others. From the very beginning of Christianity, the “Good News” of God’s love taught to us by the saving life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has been best shared person to person with personal testimony. Our faith is truly built upon the faith of others shared with us. We are to forget about ourselves so that we can be heralds for Jesus and pass on this great gift.

It is not coincidental that Christian spirituality places so much attention on this sort of self-forgetfulness. When we engage in prayer, we forget about ourselves in the loving company of God. When we fast not only from too much food but also from too many things and too many distractions, we find room for God and others. When we give to others with heartfelt generosity and sacrifice, our alms become concrete expressions of our truest selves as children of God. We expand our hearts and make room for those who are in need.

Often, the great spiritual teachers tell us that self-forgetfulness is experienced as painful and as sacrificial because we have to let go of illusions and false ideas about ourselves and let God show us who we really are. This illumination, this true self-knowledge comes as a gift from God but it is not without the “gift of tears” as we confront the reality of our brokenness and sin. During Lent, God’s grace will also overwhelm us with loving forgiveness and mercy and we will discover ourselves as “sinner but saved” by the grace of the Lord Jesus. This is the solid and true identity that Saint Paul discovered in Damascus when he was given new sight after his blindness. Self-forgetfulness and re-focusing of his life created Saint Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles form Saul the Rabbi of Tarsus. What does God have in mind for you?

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Our Lenten Commitment

Lent has traditionally been a time for spending more time with the Bible and with the heroes of faith that we find there.The Biblical figures I would like to recommend for our attention are Peter, James and John, the three fisherman of Galilee, from this past weeks’ gospel.

For Peter, James and John as for us, faith in Jesus involves both our understanding and our will united in an act of trust. They did not know what they would have to give up as a follower of Jesus. They did not know where the road that Jesus set out upon would take them. Scripture only records that “They left their nets behind and followed after Him”. By friendship and time spent together they would come to know the truth of Jesus and it would set them free. For each of us Lent presents the opportunity to assess what it is that we have left behind in order to be a Christian?At the heart of Jesus’ preaching was conversion, change of heart, change of life direction.If set out upon with trust like the apostles, this new way of life sets us apart from the herd mentality and from cultural conformity. To take the gospel of Jesus seriously is to be something of an outsider with values and lifestyle that do not easily fit with the majority mindset. What we are called to leave behind differs one from the other but there is no journeying forward without leaving something behind.

For many of us, as was true for the apostles, we have to overcome some obstacles that limit our freedom and surrender to Jesus.Perhaps there are issues of fear, guilt, attachments, selfishness, pride, distorted image of God, or mindless busyness.Any of these can prove to be serious obstacles. The “good news” is that are able to be overcome with the help of Jesus.Perhaps full frontal attacks are not the way to victory.Maybe we have to find our ways around, over or under the obstacle. In any event, progress is what Jesus makes possible for us if we combine our knowledge of God with our trusting yes in action that is humble, truthful and generous. Prayer and discernment of God’s will are critical for this journey. We also need to keep reminding ourselves that :”All things are possible for God”.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Our Traditional Lenten Practices with New Touches

Each year as we begin the Holy Season of Lent, the question that presents itself to us is: “what are we going to do spiritually that is new or different?”. One suggestion is that we begin by tinkering with some of our regular Lenten practices.

We could for example, try out different prayer forms.If we use a lot of words in our prayers, we might try contemplative silence, what that means is that we focus in being quiet and a good listener. Reading Sacred Scripture allows the love and the presence of God, to sink down deeply into our spirit. In addition to practising contemplative silence, it’s a good idea to compliment that with some form out good works. The opportunity for the practice of good works may be right in front of us, in the church pews or right next to us in our neighborhood. These can be good ways of showing our practical concern for our neighbor. The combination of listening and accomplishing good works will make a Lent that will be efficacious and beneficial to ourselves and to others.

Many blessings.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

How About Our Lenten Resolutions?

Sometimes I think that Lenten resolutions share a similarity with New Year resolutions.We make them when we are feeling very energized and are psyched to make changes. Lenten resolutions in the past often took the form of “giving things up”.How many times did we swear off chocolate, smoking, using God’s name in vain or being lazy and not exercising? Life was going to be different this Lent. Gradually, I moved into what I think is a more positive approach.What good habit can I practice such as using the gift of speech to build up and support others or spending our time with a new volunteer project to support a good cause. Either “giving up” or “taking up”, however, require perseverance and self-discipline and often they don’t last beyond the first meatless Friday.

I heard a homily about Lent from Bishop Barbarito and I thought that I would share one thought with the parish. The approach to Lenten resolutions suggested was to focus on three words and try to stick with them. If attended to regularly, they have the power to change us for the better and move us along in our spiritual journey.The three words to be lived are: “PLEASE, THANK YOU AND SORRY.” Each of them seems to be self-evident in its meaning but has a myriad of applications and usages.

Please is sometimes thought of as an indication of weakness or neediness.On the contrary, especially when related to our relationship to God, it is very realistic and sensible. In the final sense of things we don’t own anything especially for selfish or manipulative purposes. All the good that comes into our lives is appreciated and acknowledged when we say “please”. We are all beggars and when we ask for what we truly need with trust and confidence, God will surely give it to us. One of the characteristics of the Spanish language that I appreciate is its use of “por favor”, please.In Spanish one doesn’t demand as is often the case in English, but requests politely and with humility.

When we say “Thank you”, we are acknowledging that we are the recipient of a gift.In our relationship to God, “Thank You” is the most intelligent and appropriate thing to say because everything of who we are and what we have is a gift from the generous hands of God. As regards our neighbor, a “Thank you” expresses our gratitude for that which is so often given freely and generously and without expecting anything.Just think what a great world it would be if kindness were to be recognized by “Thank You” even 50% of the time.

Finally, during Lent it is suggested that we remember the importance of the word “Sorry”. To rush past the injury or the hurting of another person without saying “sorry” is disrespectful and demeaning. To say “sorry” takes responsibility and strengthens our character. It is so common to hear excuses and rationalizations that it is really refreshing to hear “sorry”. One of the best lessons we can teach and model for our children is the proper use of the word “sorry” so that they can learn that words and actions have consequences.

Please consider if paying attention to Please, Thank you and Sorry during Lent might be worth a try. I believe that it is and that doing so might be a lot easier than we think.Easier than giving up chocolate.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

God Gives Love to Be Share

Among the many wonderful gifts that God blesses us with is the gift of His love.It is perhaps the greatest of gifts because God is Love itself and so we are really given a share in God’s very life. God teaches us by His love some of its characteristics:faithful, committed, long-suffering, joyful, expansive and creative.God’s love is boundless and all-powerful and for us to love in a similar way is our greatest human accomplishment.Valentine’s Day on February 14 is in popular way a celebration of love especially the love of spouses, parents and children.We all take this day as an opportunity to tell those who we love how deep and committed and joyful our love for them is.It is interesting that we also use symbolic expressions of our love as we give cards, gifts, candy, flowers and other signs of affection. Love so often requires more than words!

This past Friday was Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday and it also teaches us an important lesson about love in action. Whatever other motives might have been at work in Lincoln’s tackling the slavery tragedy in our country, he was most certainly motivated by a desire to remove a whole class of men, women and children from an outcast status to one of equality under God.Lincoln had a sincere love for our country’s enslaved people and saw their freedom as a cause that had to be defended even at the cost of a Civil War. The love that was the foundation of Lincoln’s politics was a greater love that of family or friends.It included all humanity created out of love by God and deserving of dignity and freedom.This sense of the universal demand of love of neighbor is a good one for us to imitate in our own times. No persons regardless of race, ethnicity, poverty or refugee status should ever be outside of the embrace of Christian love.The “Golden Rule” is never out of date or inapplicable to our lives.With the grace and the love of God we can be guided by this enlightened goal both as individuals and as “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all”.

Our Ashes on Wednesday

This Wednesday we will stand on line and receive ashes sprinkled on our heads.We will receive the challenging admonition to “Repent and Believe in the Gospel” or the sobering truth “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return”.This is to teach us that we follow the Crucified One and that to live His Way of sacrificial love has a cost.We need to control our narcissism and self-centeredness through self-discipline and an active care for neighbor. The conversion that is asked of us is a dramatic “change of direction” both in our interior life and our exterior actions and choices.

We know that we have to pass through many small deaths of selflessness, courage, forgiveness and altruistic love in order to rise with Christ to freedom and fullness of life. Behind the Cross is the Resurrection and that is the foundation of our hope during Lent. Christ has Died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again!Keeping in mind the Resurrection gives us hope and perseverance as we practice our Lenten spiritual disciplines and good habits. More than during any other time in our Church’s liturgical year, it is Lenten time that invites us to soul-searching honesty and to the admission of our sinfulness and incompleteness.Together with the whole “Pilgrim People”, we ask for forgiveness and strength for the desert journey of trials and tribulation and growth in virtues and holiness. Just like “Christian” in the allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, during Lent, we will journey through all sorts of temptations in order to reach the “heavenly Jerusalem” our goal. On Good Friday, we will kiss the Cross, we will remember His saving death for us and then pass over with Him from death to fullness of Easter life this Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.

Ashes on our heads on Wednesday give us a unique and once-a-year opportunity to publicly profess our faith and extend an invitation. “ I believe in Jesus Christ.I believe in the saving power of the Cross.I am proud to bear the Sign of the Cross. I am walking the Way of the Cross.Walk it with me.”

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

DIOCESAN SERVICES APPEAL –  Our Faith, Our Future.

  It is important to remember the characteristics or qualities about Catholicism that make us unique among the world’s great religions. From the beginnings of our church in the missionary and church founding activities of the apostles, we have emphasized the unity that unites us. Yes we exist in all parts of the world and Mass is celebrated in hundreds of different languages but it is also true that we share one Creed, one system of sacraments, one unified concept of morality and right living and one episcopal understanding of pastoral and spiritual leadership. In reality, even with the differences of language and culture, Catholics can feel comfortable worshiping in any part of the world.

The word “Catholic” implies universal and reaching out to and including all the different cultures and types of people in the world. What is true of Catholicism around  the world is also true for us living in Southeast Florida. The Diocese of Palm Beach of which Saint Joan of Arc is a member parish is comprised of five counties, 5,115 square miles, 235,000 Catholics and a total population of two million. Our part of Florida is very diverse with many languages and cultures and it is a challenge to create “one faith family” from so many. Each parish also has its own diversity and “personality” but working, praying and evangelizing together we create a unified footprint in our world. With our Bishop as the center of our diocesan unity, together as many parishes, we support a school system, Catholic Charities ministries, liturgical and pastoral resources and a corps of priests and religious women.

Our Catholic identity is essentially one of unity, a community of individuals who are journeying together in faith, hope and charity with common goals and aspirations.  We know that no single one of us is alone but a significant member of the Body Of Christ.  We share in Christs’ mission and espouse His values.  That is why each year, we join together to support all of the diverse and life giving ministries and activities that express our solidarity and vision. No single parish can accomplish all that needs to be done, but together we can make a real difference in the lives of thousands. Just as no man is an island, so no parish is an island unto itself. THE DIOCESAN SERVICES APPEAL is the concrete vehicle through which we can express our identity, values and most heartfelt commitments.

Please consider how you might be a part of the larger Catholic community of the Palm Beach Diocese by contributing to the Diocesan Services Appeal. Along with all of the other families of our Diocese, help us to address human and spiritual needs together and in that way builds up the Kingdom of God in our time and place. Your gift of whatever size will help us solidly build our Church and ministries upon the rock that is Jesus Christ. A final important thought for our consideration is Saint Paul’s great insight that “God will never be outdone in generosity”.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Our 35th INTERFAITH Dialogue Weekend

  Each year our Interfaith Celebration is a time of great joy for both Saint Joan of Arc and for Temple Beth El.  It is the Thirty Fifth  Anniversary of our journeying together with the goals of mutual understanding and shared spiritual and educational events. This year, because of these unprecedented times, part of our events have to be presented virtually. We are especially honored to have Rabbi Joshua Garroway, Ph.D., as speaker at the online lecture: “All Israel Will Be Saved”: Saint Paul and the Destiny of the Jewish People: Please click on this link to see the lecture:

The online Shabbat Evening Service from Temple Beth El was presented by Rabbi Dan Levin this past Friday, January 22 and Professor Garroway’s talk theme was: “What can Jews learn from Catholicism?”. Please click on this link to see the Interfaith Shabbat Service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Q2yupQKBng

 
This Sunday, January 24 at the 12:15pm Mass, Rabbi Levin and I will share some thoughts on how to keep our relationship strong and innovative as we face the future. Professor Garroway’s talk theme is: “What can Catholics learn from Jews?”.
I invite all parishioners and friends to consider attending this celebration because it promises to be a unique ecumenical Mass that is like no other one in the country and keeps helping us to forge our friendship. Mass will also be live-streamed at:
https://www.facebook.com/SaintJoanOfArcCatholicChurch
May God bless both of our communities with Shabbat Shalom                                    

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Martin Luther King National Holiday and the Week of Prayer for Religious Unity

This Monday, January 18, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King National Holiday. What I admire the most about Martin Luther King was his ability to imagine a different world and to mobilize a nation with his vision.We do not have to be locked into patterns of racism, discrimination, lack of understanding and social isolation, one race from the others. We could as a nation recommit ourselves to our founding principles of equality, freedom and the enjoyment of life, liberty and justice for all. Dr. King’s prophetic call to all Americans resonated with people of all races and religions and mobilized the civil rights movement. People from all races and religions joined hands, marched together and shared and learned from each other. The result was a transformation of national conscience and a change agenda such as had never before happened.

At the center of Dr. King’s vision was a deep spirituality, trust in God and the guidance of the Spirit.His powerful sermons and speeches were always grounded in faith and the power of God’s grace. He was a master of the moving cadences and words of Negro spirituals that captured so powerfully the experience of a people once enslaved and now set free. Our country is truly blessed that God raised up such a leader in our time of need. On a personal note, in 1972 when I had a summer construction job in Baltimore, Maryland, renovating a large paint factory, I came into contact with my first blatant example of racial prejudice. I remember it as vividly as if it happened yesterday.Inside the factory were drinking fountains labeled white and colored. Next to them were bathrooms and showers labeled coloreds and whites only. I enjoyed knocking down the walls with a mall and, at least for myself, disassociating from a most dark period of our national history.Unfortunately the realities of racism and prejudice cannot be knocked down as easily as a factory wall. They both have a lasting power and staying power even if today they are not written on signs.The deep disconnect between black and white Americans in the areas of police methods and justice processes are real and need to be healed through dialogue, mutual understanding and new and truly reformed ways of protecting the rights of all. Baltimore, my beloved home for many years, is a recent tragic example of all of the work that still needs to be done for everyone to be “free at last”. Our constant prayer needs to be “God heal us from the sins of racism and discrimination and allow us to see and love all of our brothers and sisters as You do”.

On a related note, during January, we also pray for religious unity and mutual understanding among peoples of all faiths. This task is also a daunting one.Religious prejudice and discrimination continue to live on despite the desire of so many to move beyond them.Every time I am exposed to anti-Semitic jokes or anti-Islamic slurs (this tends to happen when I am not dressed in clerical attire), I realize that some learned evil is not easily outgrown. In January, may we ask God to grant us deeper respect and acceptance of all of the great religions and spiritualities of the world as they save us, lift us up and help us to understand the unfathomable mystery of God and God’s love for all of creation. Especially this year, as we celebrate with joy and thanksgiving the Thirty Fifth Year of our Interfaith Dialogue between Saint Joan of Arc and Temple Beth El, may we truly hear the prayer of Jesus “Father that they all may be one in You and You in them”.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

THE LORD’S BAPTISM AND OUR OWN – Such Good News

Each year we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord as an important and revelatory experience in His life.It was on the occasion of His baptism that Jesus learned of His high dignity “You are my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”.This revelation undoubtedly gave Jesus a direction and mission. He was to baptize with the “Holy Spirit and with Fire”. He was to call, convert, change lives and give His followers a new hope and mission. This pivotal moment began Jesus’ public life and His emergence into the midst of all people as the Messiah and Lord, the long awaited Emmanuel. “God with us”.

We do not know how many new disciples Jesus baptized but we do know that His preaching, miracles and new way of life set the world on fire. His message of God’s love, mercy, attentiveness and liberation of all gave hope and meaning in a depressed and suffering world. His disciples began a new phase in their lives from which there would be no turning back.

Today, as we remember our own baptisms, we should be filled with joy and with a renewed sense of purpose and vocation.Through our baptism we were united with Christ in an eternal and unchangeable way.As a member of the Body of Christ we have the potential to die and rise with Him into eternal life.We also have a share in His mission to the world,We are to be Heralds of the Good News, Witnesses to the miracles and Prophets of a redeemed world. This is a calling of incredible honor and dignity–to share in the mission of the Son of God. As we begin this year with its many difficulties, may we be refreshed and energetic, may we bring Christ to our world with the enthusiasm and the courage of the newly baptized

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

The Epiphany of the Lord

Epiphany is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of the Trinitarian God becoming incarnate as Jesus Christ. The feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. The young Messiah is revealed as the light of the nations. Yet, as the antiphon for the Magnificat at Second Vespers reminds us, three mysteries are encompassed in this solemnity: the adoration of the Christ Child by the Magi, the Baptism of Christ and the wedding feast at Cana.

The traditional date for the feast is January 6. However, since 1970, the celebration is held in some countries on the Sunday after January 1st.

The word Epiphany means manifestation or showing. What the Church celebrates today is the manifestation of our Lord to the whole world; after being made known to the shepherds of Bethlehem He is revealed to the Magi who have come from the East to adore Him. In them, the whole world is represented and invited to return to our homes as privileged witnesses.

“The Lord and Ruler is coming; kingship is His, and government and power.” With these words the Church proclaims that today’s feast brings to a perfect fulfillment all the purposes of Advent. Epiphany, therefore, marks the liturgical zenith of the Advent-Christmas season. We are reminded that much of the responsibility of revealing Christ to the world depends upon us. By our example, personal holiness and our zeal for spreading our faith, we can make a difference in the lives of many people. We can offer hope and light through our faithful discipleship. May the “Showing” continue in every time and place.

Emmanuel, God is with us!!

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw