Pastor’s Weekly Message

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

Summer Special Blessings

Summer in Florida brings the humidity, afternoon showers, fewer people on the roads and endless strong sunshine. For those of us who live here all year round, it is often,also, an excuse to get out of town on the family vacation. This precious time together as a family really needs to be cherished because in our busy lives we experience so many distractions and legitimate responsibilities that make it really difficult for us just to “hang out” together as a family.  Because we are human beings and social animals we need “face time” with each other to strengthen our bonds as spouses, siblings and extended families. Intimacy and sharing require attentiveness and commitment even when we are having fun.

Besides the joys and sometimes the conflicts of living closely together on vacation, there are many opportunities to “rediscover” each other and those things that are important and significant to each one of us. Time for conversation, games, sightseeing, exploring and trying new things all are possible in the ‘unstructured” world of vacation. Vacation time can also be learning time if we take advantage of locations that are rich with the historical (when I was little it was Civil War sites) or geographically with sites like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore. Even more adventuresome are some of our parish families who use vacation as time to re-connect with relatives and friends in their countries of origin in Europe, Latin America or other places around the world.

Wherever we go, however, it is a very good idea to take the love of God and the practice of our faith along with us. It can be quite an eye-opener to worship in other parishes and sing joyfully (or not) with other Catholic communities. I remember visiting the churches of Quebec and Montreal and thinking to myself how odd French sounded. Later on I was motivated to study it in high school. How strangely God works even with experiences that we don’t really value at the time. Vacations have that characteristic of facing us with the new, different, challenging and surprising. If we are open to them, vacations can even change our lives and expand our worlds.

My prayer for all of the families of our parish is that summer vacation may be a time of refreshment, adventure, fun, and family bonding. The fall will bring us back to reality so we really need to “live in the moment” this summer wherever we may be in God’s wide world!

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

 

Father’s by the Grace of God

This Sunday we celebrate Father’s Day and we call to mind the importance and the critical role of fathers. We all know the virtues that we associate with good fathering: patience, strength, humility, dependability and a love that is unconditional. It is clear that these virtues are needed more than ever in our day as we struggle with the challenges of parenting our children well. Both mother and father have a critical role to play and the complementarities of their roles are a marvelous gift of God’s providence.

The grace to be a good father is a special gift and tailored to the personality and gifts of each father. I find it difficult to relate to all of the Father’s Day T.V. and magazine advertisements that show fathers that look like movie stars with perfect grooming, clothes and other signs of worldly success. My own father was a little heavy, partly bald and shorter than average. He was, however, tall, strong and successful in what was important— teaching us that we were loved and teaching us how to love.

Recently at the Family, Faith, and Fun Day, I had the opportunity to interact and observe our St. Joan of Arc dads volunteer for the success of the event. I was amazed by the diversity of this fellowship of dads. Although all are between late-twenties and mid-forties, no two are really alike. Many are in business for themselves and are very entrepreneurial, go-getters and high energy guys. An equal number work in different business settings and, I am sure, are responsible for a lot of the success of the companies they work for. Some are very stressed by their jobs and sometimes even worried about their job futures. Because as men, we often define ourselves by what we do, it is most important to remember that men are far more than what we do. It is who we are in integrity, virtues, dependability and love in action that really defines who we are. What I really enjoy in interacting with the dads is also the sense of camaraderie, support and their ability to have fun in the midst of many and serious responsibilities.

They are all concerned with being the best possible husbands and fathers and are available to each other with good advice and active concern. However, there always seems to be room for recreation and social bonding in a neighborhood pub, golf outing or a fun time with the kids. Thankfully, we boys will always be boys!

As a spiritual father or “Dad”, I cannot claim any biological children. I do, however, see the men of our school along with all the fathers of this parish as my partners in parenting this parish. My prayer for all fathers today is that we know deeply the love of Our Father and that we share that love with our own children and with all the children of the world.

May we all remember on Father’s Day that regardless of size, shape, or amount of hair, all dads deserve a big hug from the family and a sincere thanks for a self-sacrificing vocation, well lived. Also, a prayer is in order that each dad knows the profound joy of being a grace-filled Father.

Msgr. Michael D. McGraw

Summer Vacation with God and Family

Now that school is out and the warmer weather has arrived in South Florida, it is time for most of us to head out on vacations. We are all looking to get out of the routines of our regular schedules and relax a little. There is nothing quite as refreshing to me as a day without the habits of scheduling and organizing everything. It seems just as healthy for human beings to break away from routines as it is to live within them. So, we pack up the car or get on the plane or ship and head out into the unknown that we anticipate with great enthusiasm!

It is comforting to know that however far away from home our vacation travels may take us, God is always traveling with us. The beauty of God’s creation surrounds us and God’s loving concern is everywhere. We may even be able to pray together as a family “on the road”.

New worship opportunities also present themselves and we can appreciate the unity but also the diversity that exists among Catholic churches throughout the country. Different homilists, different music and different church architecture can liven up summer worship and also make us more appreciative of our vibrant faith life back at Saint Joan of Arc.

Extended time together as family also gives us the chance to connect at a deeper level and to really enjoy each others company. There is nothing like being trapped in a car, van, plane or train to create new opportunities for family sharing. It is hard to refrain from talking to others in the family when the alternative is silence or fights over the radio, mobile phone or video selections.

New opportunities for compromises and shared decisions also emerge as decisions have to be made about where to eat or what movie to see. It’s probably also a good idea to spend some time together alone as parents or kids so that serious over-exposure is limited. Vacations are God given down time and to be enjoyed to the max.
God enjoys them as much as we do so let’s make sure God gets some good laughs this summer!

Msgr. Michael McGraw

 

Pentecost Wisdom and Courage

The color of Pentecost is fiery red. This is in remembrance of the tongues of fire that hovered over the apostles in the locked room and of the powerful wind that also signaled the Holy Spirit’s presence. That this was a trans-formative event for the apostles is clear. They were a band of close collaborators and friends who were praying and seeking a new purpose and direction. They were not yet convinced of their new role as witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, their Rabbi and Master. They were unclear as to how they were to witness, where and in what capacity. Tradition suggests that they were also anxious, fearful of persecution and death.

Into this world of fear and uncertainty, the Holy Spirit descended and changed everything. The Gift of Tongues was characterized by many differentlanguages spoken in praise of God but miraculously understood by all present as their own language.The confusion of languages that had occurred in the Tower of Babel story is now overturned by a different experience of languages that does not result in confusion but exultant praise in a miraculous harmony.This event is also a foreshadowing of the responsibility of preaching the “Good News” to peoples of every race and language that the Apostles would gradually assume. One of the most powerful sermons presented in the Acts of the Apostles is Peter’sPentecost Address. It is a crystallization of post-Resurrection Faith that is most inspirational and challenging.

“THEREFORE LET THE WHOLE HOUSE OF ISRAEL KNOW FOR CERTAIN THAT GOD HAS MADE HIM BOTH LORD AND MESSIAH, THIS JESUS WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED”

Peter then goes on to invite all of his listeners to follow the New Way and have their lives changed forever.

“REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED, EVERYONE OF YOU, IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS, AND YOU WILL RECEIVE THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.”

This declaration of faith and call to conversion would be echoed over and over again throughout the known world and and was spread like wildfire in a movement like the world had never seen before.Pentecost is often described as the “Birthday of the Church” because the preaching, witnessing, conversions and baptisms would build the early Church of community, sharing, mutual support and prayers.This is forever the model of earliest Christianity for all ages to imitate.

Pentecost reminds us that the Church is ever being energized and given new direction by the presence of the Holy Spirit.Each generation of Christians has its own set of challenges to deal with but we know that we are never alone.The Paraclete and Advocate that Jesus left us as a gift is constantly present with us. The Holy Spirit’s influence is one of courage, wisdom and imagination. The impetus to think out side of the box and to take necessary risks for the Gospel and its proclamation comes from the Holy Spirit. It is a prolongation of Pentecost to every age and generation.In our Church’s life and in our personal lives we need to discern, listen and follow wherever the Holy Spirit guides us. Prayer with true humility and docility opens the door for the Holy Spirit and brings us guidance and courage.

Come Holy Spirit, Come!

Msgr. Michael M. Graw

 

The Ascension of The Lord

The Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ, commemorates our belief in the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven.

The Scripture readings for the Solemnity of the Ascension feature the mission of Jesus’ disciples. At the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us that the disciples ask the risen Jesus about when the fulfillment of the kingdom of God will take place. Jesus had spoken about the in-breaking of the reign of God in his earthly ministry, and he had made that kingdom present in his words and actions. He had also promised the establishment of the fullness of this reign of God at the end of time. So the disciples understandably wonder when this will take place. But in his answer the risen Christ instructs his followers not to focus on speculations about the end of time. Rather, they are to commit themselves to the work of furthering Jesus’ mission in the present, in the here and now: “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The gift of the Holy Spirit will empower and guide them in this work of proclaiming the good news of the crucified and risen Jesus.

The feast of the Ascension does not memorialize the absence of Christ. Nor does it suggest that Christ has been taken away from us. Rather, Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension make it possible for him to be present to us in an entirely new way. He is so much a part of our lives, and we are so much a part of him, that Saint Paul can speak of believers as forming the body of Christ in the world. The closeness of Christ in our lives means that he finds ways to work through us to touch the lives of other people. It may happen through the words we speak about him, or it may take place without words in the compassion we show to others. We need to trust that we play an essential role in continuing the mission of Christ in the world today and that his Spirit is alive and active in us and through us.

What a tremendous vocation to be a witness to the resurrected and ascended Son of God!

Memorial Day – Why we remember them

Every year on Memorial Day we recall and reverence the women and men throughout our Nation’s history who suffered and sacrificed for the preservation of our freedoms. We especially hold in love and respect all those who made the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives so that we might live in liberty and security. It is a as a special day for commemorating those fallen in battle and for visiting and ornamenting their graves with flowers, wreathes and crosses.

As Catholics, we also see our observance of Memorial Day as a way of recognizing Jesus’ teachings regarding peace, forgiveness and mercy. Wars that cause human injuries and deaths are terrible tragedies even as they are the contexts of incredible heroism and generosity of spirit. Memorial Day teaches that we must continually pray and work on behalf of a world where “war is no more.” We need to teach our children non-violent and peaceful ways of resolving conflicts and how to compromise while holding fast to our Christian principles.

It is interesting to note that on May 30, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Joan of Arc. Most often she is portrayed in paintings and statues as dressed in full body armor with a sword and banner. She is credited with inspiring the dispirited French nation in the Hundred Years War and leading French troops to victory over the English. In the midst of the violence and cruelty, she maintained her prayerful union with God and her desire to do God’s will. In the end she was martyred and was burned at the stake. She never lost faith in God or lost her courage in the face of evil and treachery. She died crying out “Jesus” and “Mary”, the motto she had inscribed on the banner she carried in battle.

May Saint Joan of Arc strengthen us in our desire and commitment for peace and in our courage to be steadfast in our opposition to evil. All of the heroic women and men we remember on Memorial Day give us additional witnesses to bravery in time of testing and in courage on behalf of love.

May our remembering this Memorial Day help us to grow in love, gratefulness and mercy. May all those who we remember rest in the eternal peace of Heaven.

Msgr. Michael M. Graw

 

FIRST HOLY COMMUNION AND MOTHER’S DAY

As we all know from personal experience, our church is a very busy place. Masses daily and many on weekends, Baptisms, Marriages, Funerals, Confirmations, Penance Celebrations, Anointing of the Sick, personal devotions  and prayers. All of these sacramental encounters with God strengthen us and help us to grow in holiness. Our church truly is the House of God and where the People of God encounter the “Living God” in ways that are transformational.

This Saturday we will gather to celebrate our greatest sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, being received for the first time by the children of our parish families. This reception of the Holy Eucharist is a significant and joy filled occasion for all of our larger parish family and for the families of our children. We are “One Body In Christ”. This is because the Holy Eucharist is both the center of our spiritual lives and the source of our unity with each other and with God. For over 2,000 years Catholics have gathered to be fed by Word and Sacrament and to be united in Christ as baptized members of His Body. As the Parable of the Vine and the Branches reminds us, united with Christ our Vine, we flourish, unattached to Him, we spiritually languish and die. The immense privilege of being united with Christ in the most intense way possible is what we are sharing with our children. Each family present for the First Holy Communion Mass will be passing on a priceless heritage and a most important family value and practice.

Families pass on, form and support faith and, like Christ, each family is itself a spiritual vine supporting the faith of all family members especially our youngest. Participation in the Holy Eucharist should be understood as the most significant moment in the faith life of the family. It should be one that completes the fabric of family prayer, scripture reading, spiritual devotions, love and forgiveness and care for neighbor. The “First Communion” is just that , the first, in a lifetime of Holy Communions that will support and nourish our children spiritually throughout their lives.

Families that together participate in the Holy Eucharist faithfully will be blessed with an abundance of love, peace and joy. As important as the food that we share around our tables, the Holy Eucharist keeps us spiritually alive and capable of living out our baptismal promises. We congratulate and are prayerfully united with all of our First Communicants and their families as they take this most important step in their spiritual development.

This weekend we also celebrate Mother’s Day and have an opportunity to recognize and thank all of the mothers of the parish for the immense gift they are to us. It goes without saying that most of us received our first  religious instruction from our mothers. It was not so much teaching with words but by the example of their generous and self-sacrificing love. For all of these lessons of love, we thank our mothers and pray that God’s most abundant blessings shower upon them and bless them.

Mary, Our Blessed Mother, pray for us and keep us always in your love, especially our mothers.

Msgr. Michael M. Graw