Mass During Christmas

Dear Parishioners & Friends:

For most of this year we have been challenged to make a number of sacrifices out of love and concern for each other. The parish has responded well in adapting to these challenges by making necessary sacrifices so that we can continue to offer Mass daily to as many as are able to attend. Although our worship and social routines at church have been disrupted, and perhaps our personal spiritual life has diminished, I’m convinced that we have done well together in balancing the importance of worshiping Our Lord with our love for all humanity, because we have kept in mind this soul-searching question from St John: “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn 3.17)

These past few weeks have challenged us again. Our hearts are set on celebrating Christmas as we are accustomed. The weather has changed and so requires changes in our usual routine. Our hearts are also close to those parishioners who are hospital workers, caretakers, and who have endured separation, isolation, or the effects of loved ones who have been sick. And we must not ignore the concern and uneasiness brought to our attention by the physical and emotional strain on all those who work in our healthcare system.

It is quite apparent that concern and anxiety have certainly increased during these past few weeks as we have seen an alarming increase in cases which are taxing our health systems. Permit me to remind you that our fears can cause spiritual harm. Equally important, refusal to have compassion or acknowledge the fears of those in our parish family can also cause spiritual harm.

The challenge before us, then, is to maintain our care for others without falling prey to pride, anger, judgment or—worst of all—dispiritedness; and to balance love and prudence with the necessity of gathering as Church. This challenge faces us directly with the question of how we will continue the Mass in the days ahead.

As I have, in prayer, considered these challenges and weighed the various factors, I am persuaded of three foundational points:

  • That we are able to gather for Mass is a matter of faith.
  • How the Mass is conducted announces our faith.
  • Where, when, and under what conditions Mass is celebrated is a matter of love and sacrifice by each one of us.

With these thoughts in mind, last Thursday I sought the counsel of the Parish Council concerning Mass for the next few months. We discussed the possibility of moving the Mass from the courtyard to inside the church. The members of the Parish Council made several good and necessary points which adequately represent the wide spectrum of opinions among us concerning the pandemic and the attendant restrictions. I genuinely appreciate their counsel and thoughts as I weighed this decision.

Based on these considerations and taking into account the conversation with the Parish Council, after prayer and reflection I have determined that, out of love and concern for all, it is best that we continue for now to worship outdoors in the courtyard.

I realize that this decision may be disappointing and that it asks us all to sacrifice our own comfort and ideals. Among other things, being outdoors means that

  • We will not be able to have the usual Christmas decorations, which I know is a significant marker of Christ Mass
  • We will get the joy of attending the Mass in the same conditions (temperature, etc.) that the Holy Mother of God and her spouse Joseph experienced on the night when Christ was born
  • We will not be able to gather on church grounds as we have in the past to greet each other with Christmas joy. Instead, we will need to be content with receiving our Lord’s sacred and precious gift of Himself in the Mass.

Yet it will also mean that all those who are able can gather as the Body of Christ to receive the Body of Christ. Therefore, despite sacrifices and inconveniences, the good news is that we will be able to worship together, unlike at Holy Week in Easter earlier this year. And these sacrifices will permit us to focus on exercising our faith in the most foundational way—as God’s children gathered in adoration around His altar. Above all else, this is of greatest importance.

This year challenges how we live our faith; whether we will truly love one another to the same extent as Christ first loved us; and whether we will set aside our notions of rights and justice and convenience as Christ did for our sake. (1 Jn 3.16)

Most certainly, that is the heart of the Christ Mass story: that He, who had all the comforts and did not need to take on any sins or death, came down into our meanness, poverty, sickness, and death; so that we, who had no possibility of escape, might share and partake fully in everything that is rightly His, and extend the Love He is by being that love to others (cf. 2 Corinthians 8.9).

In Christ,

Fr John W Fenton

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Taking Care

The Sacraments are essential to your life. This means that they maintain not just your spiritual well-being but your entire welfare. For our life is lived toward one goal: to attain, through the grave, the kingdom of heaven. The Holy Sacraments are the means to this end since they both strengthen your life in God here and now, and prepare you to attain their fullness in the life to come.

For this reason, these Sacred Mysteries are the essential ministry of St Michael’s Church. They are the primary reason why the parish was formed, why the Metropolitan assigns you a priest, and why we desire to gather. Without the Sacraments, our care and love for each is vapid and insipid since it lacks Christ Himself and His Spirit’s energy.

While other things also take place at St Michael’s, the most vital and very necessary activity for your soul, as well as your body, is providing the Eucharist and Private Confession.

Lately we’ve been restricted, for good reason. But little by little, with safety and precaution, I’m now able to offer these vital life-sustaining aids to you. And I’m so honored and grateful that many of you have made your confession and come for Holy Communion this past week. The conditions are not what we are used to, but what we now offer is an important step in the right direction.

Some may be cautious or nervous, and for good reason. Only you will know the right balance for you between prudence and fear. But I promise and firmly intend, with the help of many others, to make sure that this work of God so necessary for your life is carried out with the diligence, care, and safety of at least the other places you frequent to receive food and other earth-bound essential services.

May God continue to be merciful to us as we wait patiently for Him. For He blesses those who set their hope in Him.

Make an appointment for Private Confession
Make an appointment for Holy Communion

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Paschal Triduum Resources

Triduum means “three days.” The Paschal Triduum refers to the holies three days, in which we commemorate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Live-streaming these unique and dramatic services is certainly not the same as being there. But in today’s situation, it can be helpful so that we don’t lose track of our ‘church time.’

To assist you, booklets for the three services (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil) are attached. Due to the unusual circumstances, the services need to be slightly modified.

On Thursday and Friday, the live-stream begins at 2 p.m. PDT. On Saturday evening, it begins at 7 p.m. PDT.

Booklets for Tenebrae (the service of darkness) are also included. Tenebrae is live-streamed at 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday evenings.

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Sorrows Enlarged

The Sorrows (or Compassion) of Our Lady are commemorated on this day, Passion Friday. And on this day, in particular, we experience and participate more deeply than usual in the Holy Mother’s grief due to our present situation.

To assist us, we received both an updated directive from Metropolitan Joseph, and a letter to all clergy and laity in the Archdiocese for this unique Holy Week. The letter is attached below. Please take time to read it. It is, in my view, very comforting and heartfelt.

As you read, I ask you to take to heart these words:

We need all of our homes to be churches during this Holy Week, and we need all your prayers to be offered up continually as sweet-smelling incense. Do not let up, my dear spiritual children!

This year we will anticipate the glorious Resurrection on the third day as the disciples did – from within our homes with the doors being shut. Just as the Resurrected Christ came to them in the Upper Room to reveal His victory over sin and death, may He also reveal Himself mystically in all our homes and instill in our hearts the joy of His presence and the firm assurance that He has overcome world.

That our homes be our church this Holy Week: this is especially this Holy Week because, in the latest directive, His Eminence has closed our parish (and all churches in the Archdiocese) until the end of April.

The exception is this: only the pastor and 4 other persons (who must be the same four each time) are permitted in our buildings. With careful consideration and deliberation, I’ve designated the four who are permitted only to assist me prepare and conduct the liturgical services. (I am permitted to work in my office during the week, provided no one else enters except those four.)

These four are making a sacrifice that is no less honorable, no less laudable, than the sacrifice you are making by not attending the services. Your sacrifice is to protect others by staying home; their sacrifice is to expose themselves in order to pray for you and all humanity, and assist you to pray with us, as we offer the Holy Sacrifice beseeching God’s mercy.

Most unfortunately, no other persons or parishioners may enter for any reason: to pray, to clean, to work, to meet with me, to purchase items, or to do anything else. I know that several have a key; but I must ask, for the safety of all else and in obedience to your bishop, that you not make use of that key to enter the church unless you are one of the four mentioned above. Of course, we may still meet, as we have been, via Zoom, telephone, or other electronic means. And I heartily encourage you to join us so that we can still, in some way, be together.

These are unusual times. But they are not unprecedented. For two years (or more) during the Bubonic Plague, churches were closed in many European cities. We are hoping that, by God’s grace, our extended Lenten discipline is shorter. Toward that end, we all need to do our part so that, through the prayers of you faithful Christians and all the Saints, we may soon gather to worship together.

Finally, I encourage you to take to heart His Eminence’s words (in the attached letter) about what the new normal should look like in our parish and in each of our lives.

May God be gracious to us all!

Rev Msgr John W Fenton

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Incarnation & Disease

Our present situation is part of why God became man.

The primary reason, of course, is so that we might have communion with God, so that we might live in a close intimate relationship with God, so that we might behold God as he is, in the same way that he knows us as we are. He knows us as we are because God became man; which means that he took into Himself all that we are in our humanity, without sin. Even the result of sin—our vulnerability, our contingency, our need to be healed, our death—every weakness that we have in our mortal condition; all of this God in Christ took into Himself. And he did this so that we might know him and behold him as he is in his heavenly kingdom.

That is the primary reason God became man. That is the primary reason we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord; the day when God was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and so became incarnate.

The secondary reason is our present situation. Not just our situation where we are deprived of the goods that we are so used to, the goods that we take advantage of, the goods we take for granted. Our present situation is more dire than that.

Our present situation is that we take God for granted—the Good that he is; the Good from which all good things find their source; the Good that we falsely believe is our right; the Good that we too often take for granted.

In order to rescue us from our present situation—not simply the Coronavirus, or the threat of death, or the loss of economic security, or the shaking of our sure footing—more importantly, to rescue us from the deprivation of our life in God—that is also why God became man. Why He was conceived in the womb of the virgin. Why He was incarnate.

God saw that we were slowly killing ourselves; and that we were scared to death, and therefore moving not toward Him as our Life, but away from Him in irrational fear. He saw that we were threatened—and worse yet, that our very existence, our Life in Him, was threatened. The very things that He had made good, we now in absurd fear turned against ourselves. The very things that He gave us to sustain life, we now handed over to death.

Seeing all this, seeing that we were mindlessly digging our own hell—God determined to have mercy on us. He pitied us as a father pities His misguided children, and so He stepped in. But when He stepped in, Our Lord did not force us to turn back to Him. He did not erase our ability to turn away from Him. But by becoming one of us, one with us, Christ Jesus made our way of escape, and gave us the strength to escape with Him and in Him. And He does this by taking as His own a body, a physicality, a materialness, that is foreign to His nature. And by granting that body the capability of communing with God and in God—that is His incarnation. And that is what we celebrate.

So, as many of the church fathers say today with certainty, today is the celebration of the beginning of our salvation. For Our Lord’s suffering and death and resurrection, His experience of our common condition with viruses and deprivation and death—that is possible, that is truly real, only because God assumes and takes into Himself all that makes us who we are.

And thus, taking from us our greatest weaknesses, receiving from us the capability to die, and putting all of this to death in Himself, Our Lord Jesus offered our human nature, cured and purged, to His Father because He was in love with all humans.

Let us not take for granted this great gift. Let us not, in our present situation, get so caught up in fear and anxiety that we lose sight of the greater good from our good God. And the greater good is this—that while we may, for a while, endure a ‘penance kindly, but severe;’ although we may, for a while, be deprived of our usual life—all of this our kindly Lord knows, and assumed, so that He might bring us back to Him; more so, so that He might give us greater and worthier gifts.

To whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship; now and forever, world without end.

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Sheltering-in-Place during Lent: A Homily

I am sure it doesn’t feel like it, but sheltering ourselves in place can really help us—not  just physically, by avoiding or spreading the virus. Best of all, sheltering can help us spiritually, with our Lenten discipline. For, really, what is Lent about? It’s about cleaning our spiritual house by increasing our prayers, by working on self-control, and by living less inside ourselves and more outward toward others. When we are safe-at-home, we can do that: by spending less time on our self-serving passions, and by spending more time in prayer and in reaching out to others.

Cleaning our spiritual house: that’s what today’s Gospel describes. For Jesus doesn’t simply heal a man. He casts out a devil. And when the devil is cast out, the man is healed. Or, to say it another way, Our Lord re-calibrates the man and cleans out the spiritual clutter the devil brings, so that this man may now live more fully focused on and devoted to the Lord.

And if we use these weeks wisely, if we use them as a Lenten exercise, Our Blessed Lord can help us achieve the same: re-calibration with a more focused, more devoted life in Him.

To do that, we need to see these days not as a nuisance but as a blessing; not as something that keeps us away from our normal routine, but as hours and days and weeks that allow us to pull closer to Christ. Not as minutes and hours and days that need to be filled, but as more time for prayer, more time for spiritual reading, more time for developing good habits, and more time to live outside ourselves.

But there are two dangers. The first is that we’ll agree with the sentiment but fritter away the time. And that will happen if we see this as a vacation. Or if we get wrapped up in our fears and anxieties. Or if we wonder why others aren’t doing what they’re supposed to. When we do that, we’re wasting our time on things that do not edify or strength us spiritually.

Let us, instead, spend our energy on reading the Scriptures, on praying with our family, and on making ourselves available, as much as our situation allows.

The second danger is that we’ll actually see these days as a great blessing, we’ll actually immerse ourselves more and more in prayer for others, we’ll actually grow closer in our relationship with the Lord—and then we’ll go back to business-as-usual once the crisis passes.

That’s the greater danger. And it’s the danger Our Lord warns us about in today’s Gospel. For He tells us, in effect, that Lenten house cleaning should be done not for its own sake, but to make more room in our daily routine for our Lord. For when we do Lent just because it’s Lent, then we’ve actually made things worse. For then it’s one step forward during Lent, and two steps back after Easter.

One response to this danger is to say to ourselves, “So, why even bother beginning? Why do Lent at all if there’s the possibility that we’ll backslide? And why make meaningful, spiritual use of our sheltering time if I already know that I won’t keep it up when life gets back to normal?”

The better response, however, is to establish a new normal: where more prayer becomes the new norm; where living for the end becomes our new way of living.

When we do that—when Lent becomes our way of life—then Christ, the Stronger Man, not only overthrows the strong devil; Christ Jesus also then moves in and makes His home in us. Which is what we should want. And what we should aim for, especially now as we have the time, the blessing of time not spent on the freeways, the blessing of time to say more prayers and live more in love with our Father.

These sheltering days—they really can be a blessing if we use them wisely, in prayer and attentiveness to Our Lord, to those who suffer, for those who are first-responders, and in supplication for our city, state, nation, and all humanity.

Through the prayers of the Holy Mother of God, and of all the saints, may our Father have mercy on us and, by His grace, lead us in these days closer to Him; who lives and reigns with His Son, our Hope and Salvation, together with His all-Holy and Life-Giving Spirit; now and for ever, world without end.

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Annunciation of BVM (Livestream)

The Feast of the Annunciation will be celebrated tomorrow with Mass at 10 a.m. We will use the same procedure as last Sunday. Click on this link: or https://www.facebook.com/stmichaelwhittier/videos/

Livestream will begin at 9:00 with Lauds at 9:15, Mass at 10 a.m. If your schedule does not allow you to join us at those times, you may worship with us later in the day.

PLEASE REMEMBER: This is an not ‘netflix,’ but an opportunity for you to worship with us during this extraordinary and strange time. Toward that end, I ask you to review these recommendations:

Asking your prayers,

Fr John

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Resources During These Days

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12.32)

​During these extraordinary times, when you are prevented from attending Mass daily and on Sundays and are relegated to the reality of God’s kingdom relayed through pixels, please be assured of my prayers.

Above all else, do not let fear have the upper hand, nor the devil steal your joy. Instead, as your spiritual father, I urge you to see this time as a deepening of your Lenten devotion:

  • a time to pray more purposefully, particularly with your parish family
  • a time to set aside worldly distractions, especially the ‘virtual’ world
  • a time to love more deliberately, by helping concretely those in need
  • a time to limit your appetites, so that you don’t feed your fears

To aid you in this godly endeavor, I offer you three resources that we have recently put together. These are:

  • Daily Prayer at Home During Lent
  • Prayer in Time of Pestilence
  • An Act of Spiritual Communion

Use the Daily Prayer to join the church, from your home, in the Scriptures and prayers appointed for daily Lenten Masses.

Use the Prayer in Time of Pestilence, both to join us in your home as we pray this on Friday evenings at the church; and as an additional prayer throughout the week.

Use the Act of Spiritual Communion to assist you as you abstain from the Holy Eucharist until we are able, with great joy, to gather again.

You may also wish to listen to the podcast “The Fathers Speak,” which consists of me reading selections from the holy fathers based on the Gospel reading from the daily Mass.

Finally, let us in prayer and in deed do what we can to take care of each other and our neighbors, particularly those who live alone and have no family nearby. Please help me by checking on each other proactively and letting me know who may be sick or in need. As much as I am able, I will bring food, medicine or hygiene products to those who can’t get out. If you’re willing to help, please let me know.

Be assured that each of you are close to my heart, and that my love for you increases even as our contact is decreased.

May God have mercy on us, and comfort us during this affliction.

Your spiritual father in Christ,

Fr John

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Coronavirus: The Latest Archdiocese Directive

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (1 Jn 4.18)

Pastoral Counsel

It was good to see so many of you at today’s Mass. I’m confident that, during these Lenten days when our faith is being tried, you find great consolation in Our Lord’s Body (both ecclesial and eucharistic). Together and individually, let us offer our prayers

  • for those afflicted in body (for those suffering the virus and its material effects)
  • for those afflicted in mind (suffering isolation and loneliness)
  • and for those afflicted in spirit (suffering fear, anxiety, and doubt)

In fact, those working from home or limited in their movements might want to devote their ‘extra’ time to prayer, as well as checking in on relatives, friends, neighbors, and parishioners.

Above all else, as I have said before, let us not give into fear. Rather, let us see these days as part of our Lenten sacrifice, a time when (as Hannah, Elijah, Job, and Anna) we can grow closer to our Father in the midst of our trial.

From the Archdiocese

After this morning’s Mass, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph sent the following encyclical, updating the measures the Antiochian parishes will take during the rapidly changing situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of this directive, at St Michael’s Church:

  • All Bible studies, Parish Council, Men’s Workshop, Antiochian Women, Society of St Benedict, and other non-liturgical meetings and gatherings are cancelled.
  • Lauds and Mass will be celebrated only on Sunday, with only myself, servers, and the choir in attendance.
  • We will make every attempt to live-stream our Sunday liturgy. You will be notified when we have the details in place.
  • On Friday, in keeping with the spirit of the Metropolitan’s directive, we will offer the Rosary at 7 p.m. followed immediately by “Prayer in the Time of Pestilence” (which includes blessing with the Relic of the True Cross). We will attempt to live-stream this devotion as well, since only myself, servers, and choir may attend.
  • With your help, we will continue our daily cleaning and sanitizing. But we need your help to be diligent about this.
  • I will be putting together and sending to you daily prayers and readings.
  • The church will be open from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. every day to give you the opportunity to offer individual prayers and light candles.
  • I will keep individual appointments with those who need the ministry of the Church.

On a Personal Note

This is an extraordinary time, but not unprecedented. The Church has lived through worse diseases than COVID-19 and has emerged stronger every time because she has served the faithful without fear, and has found strength and comfort in the Eucharist and in prayer. And, true to her Lord, the Church has always been willing to sacrifice her well-being for the welfare of those who draw near in time of need. The greatest harm we can do to others and ourselves, then, is to let the devil drive us away from others, and God’s sacred mysteries. Of course, we must be prudent, which includes acts of love that are often inconvenient. But let our love be not because we are afraid of what may happen, but because we cling to Love Himself who casts out every fear.

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Coronavirus Update

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear. The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid. (Prayed at every Sunday Matins)

Earlier this week, I wrote that “we need to take this and other influenza viruses seriously. Yet let us not be overwhelmed.” To say it another way, do not let fear paralyze us so that we are afraid to worship God together or to care for others; and let us deny our inclination to think only of our needs. These three are intertwined, so that one cannot be emphasized at the expense of the others.

Coupling this spiritual sense with common sense is increasingly important as the situation with the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) continues to develop. Toward this end, after consultation with Bishop John and in line with the Metropolitan’s encyclical (attached), St Michael’s will be implementing these measures to be loving, to ease fears, and to encourage our mutual worship of our merciful Lord:

  • The Lenten Retreat will be held tomorrow, as planned. We ask that those who attend be mindful of social distancing practices out of love for others.
    • According to the CDC, “Social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”
  • Our service schedule remains unchanged. We need to pray frequently as a parish during this time; for that is what Christians have always done in times of pestilence and anxiety.
  • During all Masses until further notice:
    • We will receive communion single file at the rail, not kneeling side by side
    • The Holy Bread will not be available
    • The offering basin will not be passed down the aisle; instead, a basin will be placed on a table near the entrance
    • The icon in the Narthex should be reverenced by making the sign of the cross and bowing toward it
    • After the Mass, you may greet me in the manner that is most comfortable to you.
  • The usual practice of myself and all servers washing their hands will be observed. We also have hand-sanitizer which will be available for their use.
  • Until further notice, coffee will be available after Mass but lunch will not be served and Didache will not be offered. You may join us for coffee according to your comfort level, and ask that you are mindful of social distancing practices out of love for others.
  • We are being diligent (even as I write this) to wipe down all services and door handles with disinfectant solutions.
  • If you are sick and/or present the symptoms of fever or shortness of breath, please stay home and seek medical attention. And please telephone, text, or email me so that I can include you in my prayers.
  • There are prayers in your St Ambrose Prayerbook (or other Orthodox prayerbooks) that I encourage you to pray. I also ask you to meditate on Psalm 27 (quoted above) and Psalm 54.

Additionally, please be mindful of these statements from the CDC and WHO:

  • “Older adults (i.e., 60’s and up) and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.” If you fall into one of these categories and would rather not venture out of your home, please let me know and I will bring you communion.
  • “A mask should be worn by infectious patients any time they leave the isolation room.” And “wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.” But “if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.”

You can be of help to us in one very simple way:

  • By donating disinfectant wipes
  • By donating hand sanitizer

Above all, please resist the temptation of the devil and the fear you might feel to avoid Mass. This is the time when, as we are able, we care for each other by praying together.

Please know that I am staying in contact with the Archdiocesan Headquarters during this pandemic, and if they send out further updates affecting our parish life, I will let you know.

As I minister to you, I covet your prayers.

May God have mercy on us all.

Your spiritual father in Christ,

Fr John

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