Pastor’s Weekly Message

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

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

A New Year for a Struggling World

Every New Year seems to bring its own reasons to be thankful and to be concerned. This year is no different. It is a time to remember with great joy all that throughout the years have experienced the power and presence and life of God through our worship and spirituality, our community life and our outreach ministries. We are particularly grateful for the gift that our children and youth have been to our parish and for the formation in faith that has helped them to know, love and serve God with joy in their hearts. Because our parish family is made up of all of our families, we have seen births and baptisms, Penance and Holy Communions, marriages and anniversaries.

The coronavirus has changed our world in ways that will never allow us to return to “life as normal”. However, in the midst of this pandemic God’s loving arms are holding us and keeping us protected even as many of us suffer and die. We all need to pray for safety and world health.

Once again in this New Year we confront the fact that life is a “mixed bag.” We begin the year by celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. We remember her “yes” of faith and how that openness to God’s will transformed her own life and all of history. Today, we certainly need that type of faith ourselves in order to allow the Lord to use our gifts for the better-ment of life. We should ask Our Lord for His Mother’s faith and also for her humility because we can accomplish little of lasting impact without the power and grace of God.

Each year as we begin a New Year, we also celebrate a World Day of Prayer for Peace (January 1st, 2021). This, too, invites us to set aside the ways of anger and revenge in order to create the Kingdom of God within ourselves and in our world. We need to make room for the Prince of Peace to truly dwell within us and to help us transform our relationships with others. Creating space for God is only possible if we throw out what we don’t need in terms of attachments and bad habits and are truly open to the “new from God” in the New Year. Nothing can prepare us better for a different future than worship, prayer, meditation upon God’s Word and active works of mercy. Conversion and peace in our hearts will contribute to conversion and peace among the world family of nations.

A “Happy New Year” in the Christian sense is what we will bring about with God’s grace and our hard work and imagination. Let’s welcome the New Year by creating the holy space and time and opportunities that we long for and that will give us true happiness.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

The Birth of Our Lord in Us–Christmas 2020

Each year we remember with great joy and gratefulness the Birth of Our Messiah and Lord. His entrance into the world and into human history changed everything forever. The immense love that God has for us is now made real and approachable as was the infant in the manger for those first Shepherds and Kings. This incredible approachability of God in all Loving Mystery and Incomprehensibility is at the heart of the Feast of the Nativity. God is not “up there” or “out there” but “down here” with us and “right here” in us. The emotional impact of visiting and praying at the manger comes from the powerful truth that Emmanuel, God With Us, is really here!

God’s presence is one that really matters because without it the tragedies and the heartbreaks in our world would crush us in body and spirit like the coronavirus does. However, buoyed up by the grace of God, we are able to stand, look skyward and know that in the vast heavens God rules and ensures the life of our incredible world and all of its people. A tiny helpless child will one day redirect world history as our loving Savior giving himself to His Father for love of His brothers and sisters.

Many of the great spiritual teachers in our Church’s history have invited us to understand that the mystery of the Nativity of the Lord is both an historical fact and an ongoing and everyday miracle. The Lord Jesus seeks to be born each day in the depths of our souls in order to fill us with His Presence. Like Mary we are challenged to say “Yes” and to surrender and make room for the Divine Presence. The Nativity of the Lord is thus both past and present and future.

His Second Coming that we await even as we treasure the First Coming reminds us that salvation history is ever dynamic and liberating of each of us, our Church and our world. Each Christmas is a powerful reminder that our gracious presence makes His Presence “Good News” for the entire world to hear.

May we all enjoy a Blessed Christmas and Peace in our hearts, families and everywhere.

Amen, Alleluia

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Advent Longing

One of the most prominent religious sentiments that we feel during Advent is that of a longing for the birth of the Christ Child and all that it accomplished. We wait expectantly for the message of the Christ Child to be embraced and lived.This message of peace and justice seems needed now more than ever.Amidst tensions between nations we also struggle with our own simpler family and friendship challenges. Peace is not some magical occurrence that God will affect but it is the result of our becoming peacemakers. Whatever personal changes might be required we know that God will help us with them.

It is a good Advent discipline to change one bad habit that is annoying or even hurtful. We should look into the mirror and
honestly admit to what we see and ask for wisdom and courage. We only have two weeks left to make a difference but it can be a big one of much benefit.The O Antiphons listed below are of great benefit when our own words are difficult in coming.

The Roman Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.

December 17
O Wisdom of our God Most High,

guiding creation with power and love:

come to teach us the path of knowledge!

December 18
O Leader of the House of Israel,

giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:

come to rescue us with your mighty power!

December 19
O Root of Jesse’s stem,

sign of God’s love for all his people:

come to save us without delay!

December 20
O Key of David,

opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:

come and free the prisoners of darkness!

December 21
O Radiant Dawn,

splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:

come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

December 22
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:

come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

December 23
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:

come to save us, Lord our God!

May Advent longing soon be changed into Christmas joy and salvation!

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Our Messiah and our Mission:Mary as our Model

During Advent we move through two phases in our spiritual preparation.For the first part of Advent, our focus is upon the future and the Second Coming of the Christ, Our Messiah and Lord.Later in Advent our focus shifts to the past and to remembering the Birth of the Christ, Our Messiah, in time and in history, our Christmas celebration. During both of these periods of spiritual reflection and preparation we are invited into the mystery of the Second and First Coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God which He announces and into which He brings us through faith and grace.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, especially in the Prophet Isaiah, we learn about the Messiah who is to come and His characteristics. He is filled with Wisdom and the Spirit of the Lord, with Counsel and Strength, with Knowledge and Fear of the Lord.He judges with Insight and not by appearances and has special love for the poor and the downtrodden. He will be our Justice.

The Kingdom that the Messiah introduces will be a Kingdom in which all of the contradictions of creation will be overcome. “The wolf will be the guest of the lamb, the leopard will sit down with the kid, the calf and the young lion will browse together with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear will be neighbors, the lion shall eat hay like the ox and the baby shall play by the cobra’s den. There shall be no harm or ruin on God’s Holy Mountain and the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea.”

This incredible vision of a world transformed by the power of God through His Messiah, His Anointed One, is a vision to which we look forward at the end of time.We also remember that it has begun in an irreversible way with the Birth of the Messiah. We are living in this Kingdom of God right now!We are “in between times” as we live now one with Christ and in His Church and as a member of His Body. We also long for the fullness and completion of God’s loving plan when Christ will return in His glory. As the People of the “in between times”, we have as our purpose and mission the furtherance and the progress of God’s Kingdom and Rule.The vision of Isaiah the Prophet inspires and challenges us.It is a call to action and conversion. That is why Advent is both a penitential season of struggle and triumph over sin and also a time of joy and celebration of our lives and our world being transformed by God’s providential love.

As a marvelous evidence of the grace of God and the coming of God’s Kingdom, we are blessed during Advent with two Feasts in honor of Mary:the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.Mary is a great model of faith and trust in God and was predestined by God to be free from the effects of sin so that she might be the perfect exemplar of holiness and openness to the will of God. Her example challenges the depth and tenacity of our faith.Her intercession grants us strength and courage.The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a powerful reminder to us of our responsibility for the poor and lowly who God elevates and dignifies.Saint Juan Diego symbolizes all of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and their worth and stature in God’s eyes regardless of human discrimination and prejudice.In faith and trust in God and in reverence and compassion for others, Mary is a perfect model for Advent prayer.

Please know that you are in the prayers of your pastoral team. As we move more deeply into this Advent Season, may it be a time of reflection, inner truth and peace. It is a time for us to be ——- with ourselves and those we love.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw