Pastor’s Weekly Message

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

Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Moment of Prayer

Below please read the moving reflection that Pope Francis conducted at The Vatican this Friday, March 27th in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.

May the coming two weeks of Passiontide provide grace and health for you and all your loved ones.


Sagrato of St Peter’s Basilica –  Friday, March 27, 2020

“When evening had come” (Mk4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care. they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joe/2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our
judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one”(Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. /s42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet5:7).

Your Protection is Our Primary Concern

Dear Parishioners of St. Joan of Arc,

For the safety of our parishioners all parish activities and masses will be canceled beginning March 20th. Your protection is our primary concern and all medical experts suggest that there be no gatherings with more than 10 participants.

Please be sure that you are in the prayers of our pastoral staff and we will keep you updated in a timely fashion regarding any future changes.

Anointing of the sick will be available in the event of a life threatening circumstance.

As of March 20th, all parish and school activities have been canceled.

May we all be protected from any harm and be safe with our families and friends during this difficult time.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw and the Pastoral Staff at St. Joan of Arc

Taking Stock of Our Spiritual Lives

During Lent it is a good habit to periodically take stock of our spiritual lives and of how we are doing in meeting God’s expectations for holiness, charity, compassion and justice. To help with this reflective process, I would highly recommend doing some Bible reading especially of the prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah. When I read them, I am always challenged by their honesty and the power of their message. They challenge complacency and encourage the “turning around” of our thoughts and behaviors so they’re truly focused God-ward and not just toward ourselves or the values of this world. The prophets suffered greatly for the message they were compelled to preach. The witness of their courage and steadfastness is a real embodiment of the message they preached. Their integrity was so great that they truly “became the message they proclaimed”.

A main theme of these prophetic writings in the Hebrew scriptures is “faithfulness to the Covenant”. In simple terms, this was a call to be true to commitments made as God’s Chosen People. “I will be your God and you will be my people”. Among other things, faithfulness to the Covenant forbade idolatrous behavior in all of its forms and exhorted true worship, right and just living and care for neighbor. Forty years of sojourning in the desert had created their identity as “People of the Covenant” and the prophets never relented in calling them to re-commit and live according to their high destiny lest they perish.

The prophets are excellent sources of inspiration and also of challenge for us during Lent. We are “People of the New Covenant” and have our baptismal dignity to live out faithfully. Our return to God in trust, love and right living may be identified as our goal during this time. May we deeply know the love that God has for us and may we return that love with generosity and humility. This is a time of grace and blessings, a sacred time of re-discovering the heart of our faith—a heart transformed, re-created, and strong. During this sacred time, God the Divine Potter seeks to create beautiful works of art out of all of us, the “earthen vessels” in His hands.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw.

Leaving Behind and Overcoming

Lent has traditionally been a time for spending more time with the Bible and with the heroes of faith that we find there. During this sanctuary time, we are asked to study our faith as to its teachings and tradition and we are also asked to examine the level of our trust in God’s love and mercy: the second component of faith. The Biblical figures I would like to recommend for our attention are Peter, James and John, the three fisherman of Galilee.

Why reflect upon Peter, James and John? 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? Perhaps the answer will be, nothing. What we face in that case is the challenge to believe more deeply, risk more courageously or surrender more unconditionally. 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.

During our parish mission this week, I invite you to determine what it is you must give up and what obstacle you will overcome. How will each of us become the fishermen and the apostles of today?

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Our Lenten Journey 2020

Every Lent we are invited by Jesus Christ to come to him and to experience his friendship, forgiveness and truth in a deeper way. It is an invitation that meets us where we are and as who we are. In that sense, it is an invitation for authentic relationship that is freeing and transformational. We do not have to pretend that we are always focused on Him or that we are anyone else than who we really are. All that we have to do is in the words of scripture answer the invitation with “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will”.

Lent is often described as a journey and that is appropriate because we start someplace and we end someplace else, hopefully. Otherwise we are standing still or “sitting on the way”. What is required of us as accompaniments for the journey are inner quiet, trust, openness of mind and heart, generosity and courage. All of these are first gifts from God but they must be accepted and lived out in priorities, choice and habits to which we commit. Each day of Lent we have a new opportunity to say yes to the transforming grace of God that recreates us and through us recreates the world. So Lent is a time of journeying that really matters.

Every year during Lent we are asked to pray more, forgive more and live in truth more fully. These are ambitious challenges but they are not beyond our reach. Our friendship with Jesus Christ makes the others possible. It is in the depth of true friendship with Jesus Christ that we know and we experience Forgiveness and Truth in a most miraculous and transformational way. We can be ourselves in this graced friendship and hear the words “I love you and you are mine” and we can know it to be the Truth. We can experience mercy and Forgiveness in our brokenness and know what it really is to be healed. We can hear the truth about ourselves from the One who is Truth and it will be a truth that will set us free! In our new freedom, we will also be more authentically forgiveness and truth for others.

So, this journey into friendship, forgiveness and truth stretches out in front of us throughout our lives, but during Lent it is a stretch of the road requiring energetic movement, a sprint for six weeks that will get us to a different place. Ideally, the place will be Golgatha, the empty tomb and the Garden of His resurrected appearance to Mary Magdalene. We will be able to know joy there in the brilliance of His resurrected presence because we have authentically journeyed with Him on the Way.

May God speed our Lenten journeying!

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Our Ashes on Wednesday

This Wednesday we will stand on line and receive the Sign of the Cross etched on our foreheads. 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 powerful ritual brings together the burnt palms of Palm Sunday last and combines them with the Sign of the Cross. 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 commanded of us is a dramatic “change of direction” both in our interior life and our exterior actions and choices.

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. On Good Friday, we will kiss the Cross that is signed on our forehead this Wednesday, we will remember His saving death for us and then pass over with Him form death to fullness of Easter life.

Ashes on our foreheads 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

Thirty Fourth Interfaith Weekend: 

GROWING IN FAITH TOGETHER Saint Joan of Arc/Temple Beth El

This weekend February 20–23, our parish and Temple Beth El will continue our long history of faith and educational activities to strengthen our inter-community relationships, mutual understanding and respect. Friday evening, February 21, at 7:30 p.m., parishioners are cordially invited to participate in the Shabbat Service at Temple Beth El. This service will include the choirs from both congregations and the participation of our clergy. 

On Sunday afternoon, February 23, members, choir and clergy of Temple Beth El will join us at the 12:15 Mass. 

At both the Shabbat Service and Sunday Mass, representatives from the Youth Environmental Alliance will speak at our services. Youth Environmental Alliance is committed to providing opportunities for youth and their families to connect to Florida’s outdoor activities while fostering a lifelong respect for our planet’s future.

The theme chosen for this year’s Interfaith Weekend is Caring for God’s Creation. 

For both of our faiths, the call of God and our response to it is critical. We are both people of the Covenant and share a common respect for Abraham and Moses. We respect and reverence God’s great Garden of this world and all of its biodiversity. For Catholics, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus constitutes another most important phase of our Covenant relationship with God. Together as Catholics and Jews, we seek to be faithful to our Covenant relationship and to the living out of its implications. As People of the Word and of the Covenant, we find common meaning and purpose as we worship together.

Please make time during the weekend of February 21 and 23 to be a participant in our Thirty-fourth Interfaith celebration. This celebration is unlike any other in the state of Florida. Through initiatives like this we develop a deeper understanding of the faith of our Jewish brothers and sisters and have an opportunity to recommit ourselves to our own Faith Tradition. 

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Valentines Day Celebration

It is good for Christians to use this secular celebration as a time for us to re-dedicate ourselves to those we love.  We can show them how much we love them and assure them of our faithfulness and commitment. In addition to the joys of marriage we are also reminded of its responsibilities and possibilities for growth in holiness and virtue.  Marriage and family life are such life-enriching vocations and the way that God brings great happiness and fulfillment into our lives.  The inter-generational loves that are so much a part of our lives: our children, our parents and our grandparents as well as our extended families and relatives offer us the greatest of opportunities to practice and grow in love. When we celebrate Valentine’s Day, in addition to the cards, we need to pray for and express in words and gestures how much we treasure the precious gift of love.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw