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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Breaking Through Broken

Has the coronavirus broken you—your habit of prayer, your attendance at Mass (either in person or via livestream), and your desire for the Holy Sacraments. Has it made “living-room church” normal because it’s easier, convenient, less of a hassle?

As a result, has COVID also broken your patience, your optimism and hope? Has it caused you to be more judgy, and driven you away from those who don’t fit your ideas? Has it isolated you and driven you more and more into yourself, and thereby? Has it created in you an “us against them” and a “me against the world” mentality?

Perhaps some of these notions were always there, as tiny seeds of vice, embedded deeply within your soul. But before this pandemic, we were able to bury or even cut off the roots of these ungodly feelings and desires. For we interacted with each other, and with many other people, and so realized that everything is actually much more complicated than we think it is right now. And the way we learned that is from our conversations, our relationships, with others.

But now, even if we are able to see others in person or via Zoom, we are forced to live more with ourselves. We feel cut off and alone, because we’ve been taught to think that others can hurt us—even our closest family and friends, even those whom we love in our parish. And we fear that they may threaten not just our health but also our deeply-held ideals.

We feel cut off and alone because this pandemic has taught to think that others can hurt us—even our closest family and friends, even those whom we love in our parish.

Ideals, values, our way of seeing ‘truth,’ our view of what is best and good—all of this needs to be challenged in order to sharpen, shape, and modify us. And as we are shaped by our interaction with each other, our compassion rises above our prejudice; our love tamps down our fear; our empathy reduces our fear.

That might be, then, how we’ve been broken. The pestilence that has shifted us to see friends as enemies. The restrictions—good and necessary as they have been—have unwittingly constricted our soul.

Honestly consider, then, the several questions that I raised in the first two paragraphs of this essay. For these may reveal the ways that the devil is taking advantage of this virus.

And then ask yourself one more question: how am I taking advantage of this time, this challenge, this shift from what I thought was normal?

Wherever you are in this spectrum, know that St Michael’s Church is always open for you, always ready to embrace you, always available to help you. Not just on Sundays. But during the week—with daily Mass, with private prayer in the church, with individual conversation, with online gatherings.

I promise to do all I can to make sure you are listened to, and your voice heard. But more importantly, you will find here what you’ve always sought since the day you first arrived in this place: the kindness and mercy of Our Lord Jesus which heals what is broken, and gives hope where there is fear and restlessness.

May the Love of God be within each of us.

Rev Msgr John W Fenton

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Prayer is Not Nothing: Pentecost Homily

For nine days the Holy Apostles and 120 others are in the upper room praying. From the outside, it looks like the ascension of Christ has left them bewildered, lost, and timid. It looks like they’ve withdrawn, that they are isolating themselves from the world and the world’s events. From the outside it looks like the Holy Apostles and the 120 others are doing nothing.

But prayer is not nothing. In fact, gathering to pray is what Christians do when they are waiting on God. Waiting not on God’s special word or guidance, or for Him to reveal His will. That sounds too much like God being our server, our waiter. But when we pray to our Father, we are children waiting for Him to know and see and do what is best.

“I waited patiently for the Lord.” That is Our Lord’s prayer, penned by King David. “I waited patiently.” In prayer. And here’s what we say: “O Lord, let it be thy pleasure to deliver me: make haste to help me, O Lord.” We’re not making demands, but entering into a conversation in love, asking our Lord, when He sees that it is good, to act for the benefit of all others. In our impatience, we beg our Father to make haste, to act quickly. But we are also content with the timing and the means He chooses.

Ask the faithful who gathered in Otranto or Lepanto in the 15th and 16th centuries. These cities were under attack. The soldiers and men of the city acted boldly to defend the city. And the rest did not cower in fear. They went into their churches to pray. For prayer is not nothing. And prayer does not have to be an act of fear. It can be an act of courage. In Otranto, the courage of prayer led to the martyrdom of all those praying in the church. The Lord acted by embracing the sacrifice and prayer of the faithful. In Lepanto, more than the tactics and bravery of the soldiers, more than human power and might, the courage of prayer led to the defeat of the Ottoman army.

Prayer does not give us the excuse to do nothing. Because prayer is not nothing. And, more than we believe, prayer accomplishes greater things than our voices or our actions.

True prayer. Prayer that is not an act of desperation or an act of last resort. But prayer that is an act of faith and love. The trust that God does care and will act. And the love which sacrifices our ideas of how things oughta go as we wait patiently for the Lord to act.

Not a one-off prayer. Not a quick ‘help me Jesus’ prayer. But a true, earnest, from the heart prayer. A prayer that begins with, and borrows the words of Jesus in the Psalms, and then builds on them both to ask God to help us see and understand what He is doing; and then also waits patiently for the Lord to act. Confident that He knows both the means and the time better than we, in our short-sighted view.

That’s what the Holy Apostles and 120 others are doing for nine days in the upper room. They’re not wringing their hands, unsure what to do next. They’re not indifferent. They are praying. They are patiently waiting for the Lord to act.

And Our Lord hears our prayers. And He acts. On His timetable, not ours. When He has arranged persons and events to the greatest advantage. Our Lord will not be pushed by our pushiness, or persuaded by our demands. Which is why prayer is an act of faith. And love. The faith that is sure God will come through when He determines; and the obedient love which follows where He leads.

The Apostles and faithful saw this prayer of faith and love, this patient waiting, when they looked back on the Passion of the Christ. In that moment, as Christ was being brutalized and executed, the Apostles could see nothing but their fear. And their impatience drove them away from their Lord. And led to despair and apathy. “They forsook Him and fled.” Not just physically. They also fled emotionally, mentally, and spiritually; into themselves, into their own fears. For these Apostles could not believe, they would not believe, that Jesus’ prayer in the garden had led Him (and them) to that moment. But now more than 40 days later, with the hindsight of faith, immersed in conversation with their Lord for nine days—now they saw where the prayer of faith and love leads; that the dark struggle of faith emerges into the light when immersed in prayer.

These days of prayer; these days of patiently waiting for the Lord to act; these days which seemed over-long—these days give the Holy Apostles and the 120 others the courage and boldness they needed. Not just to speak, but to keep speaking in the face of threats. Not just to stand up for a truth or principle, but to stand within Truth Himself, within the One whose outstretched arms on the cross embraced even these men and women who had fled when He most needed them; who had doubted and wouldn’t see His deliverance; and whose unbelief and hardness of heart He rebuked just before He ascended.

The answer to these serious prayers of the 12 plus 120 led trembling men to acts of great boldness. The answer was the Holy Spirit who gave girls as well as boys, the married and the unmarried, the slave as well as the free,  the courage to demonstrate, even in the face of hostility, their faith in the risen Christ which was active in their love for all humans, whether old or young , male or female, Jewish or gentile, slave or free, rich or poor. For the gospel does not speak only to certain people. It points out sinful actions, but it does not condemn. It judges right from wrong, but it does not seek vengeance. The gospel seeks to welcome all—all—into the embrace of the holy church.

The unity this Spirit delivers invites and urges us to bear with one another in love. Which means to bear with the bearable; to stand, sit, and kneel beside those whose views we can’t embrace. Because the Holy Spirit unites us, not in an agreed set of propositions or ideals or viewpoints. Rather, the Holy Spirit is given to unite us together in Christ Himself. And, since we have received that Spirit—since the Lord’s Spirit testifies to our spirit—this then should also be our goal: “bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

The prayers of many have led us to today. Perhaps your prayers, like mine, have faltered during this long Lent. Perhaps we have been so caught up in ourselves and our own emotions that we’ve wasted this 80-day gift that the Lord has given us to draw nearer to Him.

Whether diligent or lax, whether faithful or apathetic, today let us lean without hesitation on the prayers of the Holy Apostles and the other 120. They prayed for the Spirit to gather Christ’s Church. And now, even with limitations, we are gathered.

Let all of us enter, therefore, into the joy of the Lord. Whether first or last, whether wavering or confidence—receive your reward. Those that have fasted and those that have disregarded the fast, today all is forgiven. Those that have been judgy and those that have been compassionate: today Our Lord welcomes you. The table is rich-laden. Feast royally on the Lord who gives His Body and Blood to unite, to sanctify, and to increase your faith in Him and your love for all humankind.

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Truth’s Spirit: A Homily

What we are tempted to see as defeat, is really victory. What we tend to believe is the end, is really the beginning. What we are sure will undo us, really hides our salvation. The grave that announces the end is really the gate to unending and more abundant life. And the overwhelming darkness that we fear, truly can usher in the splendor and warmth of the true Light. This true Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overwhelm it; for this true Light gives light to everyone coming into the world.

This is the Spirit’s testimony. It is not his truth, or a truth. Truth Himself is conveyed and delivered to us by Truth’s Spirit. The Spirit of Truth reveals, unmasks, and presents the One who is Truth. That is what Jesus means when He speaks both of Himself and of His Spirit by saying, “The Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”

Yet Truth’s Spirit’s testimony is not mere words. Just as it is not mere propositions. For the Spirit is also called the Comforter: the One who comforts.

The Spirit comforts us by declaring forthrightly that the victory in this combat stupendous remained with Life; the reign of death has ended.

But more than just declaring and proclaiming and preaching, this Spirit comforts us also by giving—by giving into us the Life that death tried to kill; and by giving into us the Love that hatred wanted to murder.

In their historical context, the disciples need to hear these words. Jesus is about to be betrayed, tried, tortured, and executed. “These things will also happen to you,” says the Mentor to his followers. “The world will do to you what they are doing to me. Because the world hated Me before it hated you. And so it’s hatred of you is continued hatred of Me.”

Jesus needed to make sure His disciples understood this so that they would not be taken by surprise; so that they could see the context of their own suffering; so that they could maintain, endure, remain, and persevere.

Jesus needs to make sure that we hear these same words. Not because torture and execution are imminent. Not because people are out there trying to keep us from being Christian. But because we sometimes revert to a persecution, martyr complex. When we do, we lose heart and our love grows cold as frustration and adversity and hardship arise.

Most importantly, like the disciples, we need to hear about the Comforter, and the Truth He delivers into us, because we tend to believe that death is gaining the upper hand; that life is tenuous and frightening; that there is so much to be fearful about; that the ground keeps shifting beneath us; and that things will never get to better.

Our minds go there too quickly. And our spirits too often follow—or sometimes lead us—to the point of despair or indifference or rebellion.

It’s not that we need to be reminded that there will be a better day. It’s that we need hope—the hope the Spirit gives, the hope that is within the Spirit’s comfort, the hope that is tangible and authentic and digestible—we need that hope once again. If our bodies are frail, these days our spirits also seem more frail. They seem too ready to collapse, believing that God has forgotten us or that we don’t matter or that no one cares.

The Spirit’s comfort, the Spirit’s hope, is that we do not fight alone. In fact, we do not fight at all. The fight has been fought. The victory has been won by Another, and He has given that victory completely to us. So there’s really nothing to fear. Life has defeated death, so death cannot and will not end us. Christ Himself has undermined anything that can cause death. And Our Lord has paid for and redeemed everything in us our devils claim we’re guilty of.

Knowing this, for me—and perhaps for you—the frustration and tension remain. The anxiety and nervousness still rise. The feeling of unworthiness still sits heavy.

The Spirit’s comfort, the Spirit’s hope does not dismiss these feelings, these thoughts. Truth’s Spirit counters them with the Truth that Love Himself embraces us at our worst, welcomes us when we can’t welcome ourselves, and holds us when we are undone. And, while doing that, Love Himself then covers and chases away all the demons that frighten, all the passions that beset us.

Truth’s Spirit comforts us by speaking Truth Himself into us. Truth’s Spirit comforts us by speaking Hope Himself into us. And the hope is this: that God’s got us. That His Son has trampled down the path that we now get to trod. And we get to tread this path because this is how we follow in the footsteps of Christ; and this is the path we need to walk so that we attain that heavenly joy that our loved ones and forebears are now tasting.

To re-speak this comfort, this Truth, is the Spirit’s role. To help us believe Truth by continually bringing Him to our remembrance: that is also the Spirit’s role.

And our role is both to believe, and then to permit the Spirit to align ourselves with Christ, who is Truth. Not to proclaim ‘my truth,’ but to discard it knowing it’s incomplete, feeble, self-serving. To embrace Truth in place of ‘my truth’: that the Holy Spirit helps and guides us to.

Of course, we can fight back and resist. But the Spirit will continue to return, gently and lovingly, leading us back to Truth.

This loving, comforting Spirit—this is the Spirit who comes to us; the Spirit we have received. Having Him, we can support each other in suppressing the urge to strike back, to give into our worst self, and to lash out at those we love.

By our prayers for one another, we can support each other to let Christ live through us. Then will we be enabled and empowered to be good stewards; to minister to each other with kindness and graciousness; and to find the peace that subdues our frustration.

And it works the other way also: the more we help each other pursue compassion and benevolence; the more we use hospitality without griping or blaming; the more we sacrifice the way we think things ought to be—the more we will see Christ and the Truth that He is.

That we might be strengthened and comforted against the spirit of dread, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering; and let us consider one another, and encourage compassion and kindness in ourselves as well as in others; comforting one another with the Spirit of Truth; to whom, with the Father and the Son, belongs all glory, honor and worship, throughout all ages of ages.

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Aiming Your Prayer: An Rogation Homily

In the nine days following Our Lord’s Ascension, the Holy Apostles and the disciples spent their time in prayer. St Luke tells us that they self-quarantined for their spiritual well-being, not in fear but in preparation, not to keep away from others but to enter into a deeper, closer communion with God.

That’s what prayer is. Entering into a deeper, closer communion with God. Taking our relationship with our Father beyond the wanting and asking stage, beyond seeing God as the one who is supposed to sort out our life, make things better, and fulfill our requests.

Yet too often, my prayer, perhaps like yours, is a list of things that we want God to do, or a list of people we want God to bless. So when we pray, we lay out a series of asks or appeals or even sometimes some demands.

It’s okay to give God a list. But when we do, we’re having a one-way conversation. A monologue, where we say stuff and don’t expect to hear anything back. That is, if we actually say our prayers out loud. But how many times do I pray not aloud but simply in my head? How many times is my prayer to my Father a mental activity; me thinking my requests?

Jesus meets us at this very basic and simple level in today’s Gospel. And He wishes to nudge and lead us into better prayer. He begins where we’re at when He says, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

Asking. With the expectation of getting. Perhaps that’s why our prayers lag. Why we find them a chore. Why praying isn’t enough. Because we see them as transactional, me approaching God and expecting some kind of payoff. As is God is nothing more than a sugar daddy.

When we see God that way, then we think praying is about getting results. Either I should feel differently, or I should see some change (in me, in my situation, in others). And when we don’t get that, we think that prayer is not being heard and not working.

The key to prayer, however, is not the word “Ask.” The Holy Apostles and the disciples did not spend 9 days pestering the Holy Trinity with repeated, mantra-like, petitions and requests. They did not think they could pray themselves out of their difficulties, or pray away the stress, or be prayer warriors for good against evil. The Holy Apostles and the disciples spent 9 days both listening to Our Lord, and then aligning their will and desire with His.

That’s a more mature type of prayer. One that I truly need to work on, and perhaps you as well.

That’s a notion of prayer that begins not with me and my fears and desires and goals for myself or others. Rather, that’s a notion of prayer that begins with taking in and taking to heart Our Lord’s desires, His fears about us, and His vision of what we can truly be in Him.

And that prayer begins with these words: “In my Name. Ask in my Name.”

What does it means to ask in Christ’s name? Two things. First, we’re setting aside, in fact casting off, what we want and think is best in favor of whatever Our Lord Jesus gives, offers, and bestows on us. And second, we’re focused on things that go beyond today’s inconveniences, frustrations, and hardships; and instead are zeroing in on the things that make for our unending peace and joy.

In prayer, that’s what we really should be after. Not temporary fixes or momentary relief. But uninterrupted peace, and the joy that cannot fade. In Jesus’ own words, we’re praying ‘in that day,’ for His day—His day which we get a glimpse of at Mass, and which the angels and saints by their prayers support us in attaining fully after the grave.

So not just getting through life. But getting into the abundant life. That’s the goal of our prayer. So our prayer is aimed at a life where our first thought each day is no longer “what shall I eat, what shall I wear, what shall I do.” Rather, our life is focused on living completely and without reservation for another; and living without limiting our Father to a giver of stuff.

Living life fully. We can do that now, even if we are restricted and limited. Heaven knows that holy men and women did that—in gulags, in concentration camps, in isolation units. And apart from the extremes, they lived life fully in monastic cells, in simple homes, in uncluttered lives—by living in relationship, in communion, in the joy of their heavenly Father.

Living life fully, even though we are now restricted; living unencumbered by the clutter in our heads and the many things we think we must have; living the life to come, now in the present—that is where our prayer should lead.

Our prayer, then, ought not be based on what we can get from God. Instead, our prayer should be entering into a conversation with a person. In fact, with the three Persons who speak with the same united voice.

That the Three-in-One speak implies that we hear. In fact, that our prayer begins with hearing. That we listen when we pray.

So much noise gets in the way. In our heart. In our head. In the stuff swirling around us. So much noise, which distracts, frightens, worries, and creates doubts.

To quiet the noise means that we begin simply: by saying aloud the words that Our Lord Jesus prayed. Words that speak to our anxieties and hopes. Words that chase away the noise, as we listen attentively.

The listening, then, is not listening for something inside our hearts or minds. The listening is picking up and reading aloud the words of the Psalms. And thinking through how they fit. And asking the Spirit to help us see what is hard to see.

Starting with the Psalms is starting with the Prayer Book Jesus wrote and used. Those prayers are less about asking or telling God what to do, and more about talking to our Father and His Son about what angers or frustrates, what scares or worries, and what excites and encourages us.

That’s the kind of conversation that builds and maintains a relationship. And that’s what the Holy Apostles and the disciples were doing, isolated from all others, for nine days. They were laying open their hearts by borrowing words that Jesus Himself had loaned them in His Psalms.

And then we progress in our prayers from asking—to saying, “We are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should ask You” anything. On account of this, we will be with You, O Lord, regardless of how our life now is; we will take up Your words and make them our own, so that Your way and will truly becomes our will and way of life.

To this Lord Jesus, who prays the Father for us, together with His all-holy Father and live-giving Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

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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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Patience & Trust: Easter IV Homily

Pandemics, like death, can, if we let them, focus the mind. And the spirit. On what, or who, we take for granted. On where our priorities truly lie. On whether we are more anxious about sickness and death than we are about our spiritual well-being. On whether our life in God is so marginal that it simply withers when our routine is broken.

Pandemics, like death, can focus the mind. If we let them.

We lose that focus when we’re caught up in complaining. Or anxiety. Or judging. Or caring more about how the decisions and behaviors impact us.

Our focus should be on others. How they are. What they need. How we can help. Offering tranquility and peace of mind. And sharing, or even carrying, their heartaches, frustrations, and burdens.

Our focus should be outside of ourselves.

And so, ultimately, our focus should be on our Lord God: His commands to love anyone more than ourselves; and His promise that, no matter what, even in the worst, He is working for our good and will sees us through and is using whatever is now to draw us closer to Him.

Our Lord indeed draws us closer. Let’s not pull back. Let’s not lose focus or be distracted from His love. Let’s look beyond ourselves and our demands and our fears.

Our Lord’s promises and even His commands, which are always for our benefit: that is what we should love and desire, more than life itself. For His commands, even when they rub us wrong, and His promises, even when they seem far away—these are the two virtues on the path to more abundant life. The two virtues that pull us out of the rut of increasing apprehension and selfishness.

You know, you recall, that’s what you prayed for at the beginning of this Mass: that, together we might love what the Lord commands, and desire what He promises. And why? So that amid the changes of the world, our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are to be found.

If this pandemic has convinced you of anything, perhaps it has convinced you that this is not the best of all possible worlds. That true joys are not to be found where you located them last year, two months ago, or even yesterday. And that the rising tension—deeply within you and certainly among us—that mounting friction cannot lead anywhere good.

And the way out is not to fight better. Or to wish harder. The way out is by shifting away from the noise, and into the stillness that Our Lord gives. In the stillness found not in apathy or in giving up, but in knowing and trusting, with great patience, that our Lord always gets His way, always comes through, and works out everything for the best to those who love Him and keep His commandments.

Yet the Lord’s comfort and consolation does not always come quickly. He does not act according to our calendar. He lets things simmer, as He is now, not because He is unwilling or unready, but because He wishes to strengthen our trust and confidence in Him; because He desires to produce godly patience; because patience, which is also known as perseverance, is the pavement on the path to abundant life.

These recent days certainly require greater patience—patience with our own expectations, with others, with those in authority, and with our Lord God. These recent days also require greater trust—which means relying on others, but most of all relying on God. That’s hard to do because relying on others is not our ‘go-to’ nature. We want to be self-reliant because it puts us in control of our own fate. But trust, with patience, asks us to pin our hopes to someone else, depending on them to do what is best for me.

That’s hard enough with someone we love, with whom we spend each day. That trust seems harder and harder when it comes to our heavenly Father. Because we see Him as so distant, when He is really so near. Because we often see Him not as our Father, but as a rule-maker who limits us and whose rules must be avoided.

But trusting that Our Lord’s ways are truly for our good; and that they are not only the best way, but the only way out of our morass—that’s what we pin ourselves to when we are baptized, when we confess and hear the absolution, when we receive the Eucharist, when we pray. Whenever the Holy Spirit draws us closer to God, then we are being asked to truly trust, and to be truly patient as Our Lord, in His strange ways, arranges everything for your own salvation.

Patience and trust is the way of all those who hope in the Lord. Patience and trust is what draws us closer to Our Lord and urges us to love Him all the more. Patience and trust is what our life in God is all about. For when we have patience and trust, then we have true freedom—freedom from fear, freedom from anxiety, freedom from grief and heartache. And when we have patience and trust, then we have put aside our selfish desires, and our passions are aligned to Our Lord and His will.

Our Lord gives us His Holy Spirit in order to work in us patience and trust. This Spirit molds us to be of one mind and will—to have the mind of Christ, and to realize that what the Lord wills is actually what we truly want and must have.

This Spirit-given patience and trust sees us safely through suffering, all anxiety, and even through martyrdom. And this patience and trust keeps our hearts and minds fixed on the heavenly goal so that we are not distracted by the cares of this life.

And as He did throughout all ages, the Holy Spirit helps us see that, what we think we need and what we say is best, is small; and that what is truly for our advantage is so much greater.

To get there, the Holy Spirit aids us first by refreshing our hearts; and then by inspiring in us a sturdy hope together with true patience; and finally, by increasing our faith in God’s mercy, especially when we begin to see what our self-serving, anxious and earthy ways have gotten us.

If there is any lesson at all to be learned, patience and trust is the lesson that Our Lord is teaching us these days. Just as taught the same to the holy apostles, to the holy martyrs, and to all who have ever seen that living in this life requires greater help than we can ever contrive.

Let us not lose focus. Let us earnestly desire to acquire, through His church-given gifts, the perseverance and faith poured into us by Christ’s Spirit. And we do that when we truly are not hearers only, but doers of the word by being diligent in our prayers, faithful in our communion, and regular in our confession. And above all, let us fear the loss of nothing in this life, but instead fix our hearts and minds living in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ; to whom, with the Father in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor and worship throughout all ages of ages.

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Only a Little While: Easter III Homily

For a little while we are enduring sadness and suffering. This “little while” is not chiefly about the current pandemic. The sadness and suffering Our Lord references is persecution for the Faith, mistreatment and discrimination for being Christian, and increased inner turmoil caused by the devil, an unsympathetic society, and our own passions. So our sorrow comes both from forces outside our control, as well as from within ourselves: the ways we confront, deal with, and internalize the things that frighten and create anxiety.

Do we let what we hear, what we feel, what we experience control how we respond to others? And what we think and believe about God? And our ability to manage our bodies and words? Or do we live without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life? Knowing that whatever hurts our bodies can be readily and quickly overcome by the same Lord who offers us the healing of our souls, the medicine of immortality, and the hope of a glorified, transformed body?

Our Lord speaks about spiritual suffering. He refers to a sadness akin to when He Himself wept over the destruction of His city, His people, His loved ones. Yet those words are not only about that time, or another place, or other people. It is significant that we, in this time and place, also hear Our Lord’s comfort within his simple phrase: “a little while.”

Without a doubt, the effects of the pestilence we are experiencing also are hidden within the Lord’s “little while.” For a little while we will need to exercise patience, prudence, good will, balance, caution, and extra kindness. And we’ll need to keep in check our desires to blame, to judge, and most of all to fear. But the comfort is this: it’s only a ‘little while,’ even though it feels intolerably long and insufferable.

When St Peter endured this ‘little while,’ as this holy Apostle was hounded by the government and eventually executed for Christ’s sake, he nevertheless urged us to exercise our Christian faith by maintaining respect and obedience for those in authority, no matter who they were or how they treat us. “Submit to every human institution,” he teaches. Not just those institutions established by God, such as bishops or marriage. Certainly, we should seek to uplift, and not denigrate, these. But for St Peter the words, ‘every human institution’ specifically refer to an emperor and a society that does not tolerate the Christian faith. However counter-intuitive it sounds, however much we might chafe against those we are sure are in the wrong, we are still to ‘honor all men’ in the same way that we ‘love the brotherhood’ and ‘fear God.’

For this reason, the mindset of St Peter, which is the mind of Christ, is that we sacrifice all, suffer all, endure all, for the sake of everyone else. If we consider this carefully, then we will see a balance. On the one hand, getting upset at being inconvenienced is selfish. For being inconvenienced for the sake of protecting our brothers and sisters is a part of living God’s love and charity. On the other hand, our concern for another should not morph into a godless arrogance. Our action or inaction does not control whether a person lives or dies. And so while we cannot be cavalier and live as if the other person’s health or fears don’t matter, we must not also let our ours fear of infecting others become a form of pride that pushes aside the mercy and justice of God. For the sake of another and with the mind of Christ, then, we need to determine to set aside all pride, all fear, all selfishness, and all that inconveniences so that another may draw near with a true heart to the God of love.

The love of God, and having God’s heart for others: that is how we live in this ‘little while.’ This is the mindset Our Lord wishes to impart, the approach He gives with the words “a little while.” While everything swirls around us, while unease and dread builds within us, while it feels like things will get worse even as they seem to be getting better—let’s remember that this is not unprecedented; and that we have a Lord and God who has already been through the worst for us, and is able to lead safely us through even worse days than these.

Worse days than these are the days of the martyrs. We are not yet martyrs; neither should we volunteer to be martyrs. Yet we should also recall that we are not greater than our Master. Our blessed Jesus endured the worst with patience and with love for all, even those who tortured and abused Him. Yet He did not recoil. Because He prayed for His Father’s support and was not disappointed in His hope.

Since we are in Christ, it should not surprise us when we face times of heartache and disquietude. We should not be shaken when evil and tyranny and death and unsettling times arise. And we should not be rocked off the foundation Our Lord is, the foundation He has built within us by the Holy Mysteries.

The insufferable: that’s what we’re built for by the waters of Holy Baptism. The unbearable: that’s what Private Confession gets us through. The unendurable: that’s what the Holy Eucharist has been strengthening us for in previous months and years.

And so that we do not lose heart but take heart; so that we don’t give up or give in; so that we see the full and abundant Light and Life that awaits: that’s why Our Lord gives us in His Psalms both words that fit our complaints, and His words that comfort and reassure.

The insufferable: that is what Our Lord’s promises in Word, in prayer, and in Sacraments are designed to get us through. And why He is not slack in giving us what we need spiritually; and why, no matter how alone we feel, He and His saints are always with us, and will never leave us nor forsake us.

Near the surface of Our Lord’s ‘little while’ is the expectation which corresponds to that of an expectant mother who’s about to give birth. A pregnant mother endures all and sacrifices much of their life for the good of the little person growing within them. And when the time comes, there are signs and indications, but she doesn’t know precisely when she will be delivered. But she knows it will happen and when it does, her joy will exceed her travail.

The expectant mothers need to be our example. Like them, we need to soldier on knowing that the ‘little while’ of our ‘birth pangs’ will be followed by an even ‘longer while’ of heavenly gladness.

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Go Safe, Go Slow: Re-Opening the Parish

Dear Parishioners & Friends:

Christ is risen!

In the spirit of love, His Eminence has provided us with a modification to his previous Directive as a first phase to reopening our church in a measured way. This Directive gives us prudent path toward receiving the Sacraments beginning Sunday, May 17, 2020.

Since it is a first step, there are many details. These details are important to meet various regulations, but they can also seem a bit overwhelming.

I found it very helpful to join with His Eminence in a Zoom call yesterday with nearly 300 priests and deacons in the Archdiocese. He spoke about the details and answered our many questions. In the same way, I will be pleased to talk with you and answer any questions you have when we have our Zoom call this Sunday after Mass.

Before getting to the details, let me first summarize the spirit and tone of the Directive and today’s call.

His Eminence urges us to not be afraid, and at the same time to be prudent. None of us wants to do anything that will hurt others—either physically or, most importantly, spiritually. To paraphrase His Eminence, “When the life of humans is endangered, doctors use their tools and we [bishops and priests] use our tools: prayer, forgiveness of sins, material aid—all toward the goal of saving souls.”

That was the loving message from His Eminence. It is a message of hope and encouragement, and filled with pastoral wisdom.

In collaboration with our Diocesan Bishops, His Eminence has given us discretion in proceeding with caution in the upcoming weeks. By your continued prayers, they hope that this gradual increase in our sacramental life will not require any reversal of the positive trends that we have recently observed.

As you know, the situation in Los Angeles county is different than in other places. Therefore, with pastoral discretion, here is how we will implement His Eminence’s instructions at St Michael’s:

Liturgy Online

  • Saturday Vespers, Sunday Lauds, and Sunday Mass will continue to be live streamed as before. (Other services will not be live streamed except for Ascension Day.)

Receiving Holy Communion

  • Laity may receive communion in family groups after the Mass by registering in advance. To register, you must contact Fr John the day before, and he will assign your family group a time between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (A “family group” consists of those who live in the same dwelling.)
  • All who attend must wear a face covering, except at the moment when Holy Communion is received. (“The celebrant should not wear a face covering while serving.”)
  • Holy Communion will be offered in the usual manner. For your safety, Fr John will clean his fingers and hands frequently when giving communion.
  • Before receiving Holy Communion, prepare yourself by saying at least Psalm 42 [41], 84 [83], and 122 [121]. For your convenience, these Psalms, with other prayers before Communion, are attached.
  • Those experiencing cold or flu symptoms (fever, coughing, fatigue, etc.), the elderly, and any at-risk persons should remain at home, and may contact Fr John for an individual appointment to receive Confession and Holy Communion.
  • Before your scheduled time, please remain in your car and maintain appropriate physical distancing, wearing a face covering, if you interact with anyone outside your family group.
  • After receiving communion, please depart in the prescribed pattern and in a timely manner so that the next family group may enter.

Private Confession

  • Given the inability to confess during Lent and the long absence from Communion, as well as anxiety, fear, despair, and other passions we have all felt during this pandemic, you are encouraged to come to the Sacrament of Penance (Private Confession) before receiving the Eucharist.
  • Confession will be available by appointment on weekdays and Saturdays.
  • Physical distancing between Fr John and the penitent will be observed; and the absolution will be spoken from a distance without placing a hand on the penitent’s head.

Cleaning and Sanitizing

  • Before May 15, the entire facility will be professionally deep-cleaned and sanitized for your safety.
  • When you arrive, we ask that you refrain from touching the pews, door handles, or other items (except the top of the communion rail, which will be sanitized between each person).
  • Hand sanitizer will be available in the Narthex. Because supplies are short, we ask that you consider bringing your own for personal use.
  • Please observe all posted signs which encourage good hygiene practices.

Other Gatherings

  • The church and parish hall are closed for all non-liturgical functions. All Bible studies, Didache, catechetical instruction, organizational meetings, and various groups will continue to meet online (i.e., via Zoom).
  • Beginning May 18, by appointment only the church will be open during the week for private prayer and lighting candles. Fr John will be available during this time to lead a devotion or meet with you, following the safe procedures in effect in our county. If you come during these times, please limit your contact with furniture, pews, etc. and follow posted signs when you make use of this opportunity.
  • Mass will be celebrated daily (see schedule below) and family groups may register to receive communion after the Mass on any of those days. To register, you must contact Fr John the day before who will assign your family group a time.
    • Mondays: 7 p.m.
    • Tuesdays: 9 a.m.
    • Wednesdays: 9 a.m.
    • Thursdays: 9 a.m.
    • Fridays: 7 p.m.
    • Saturdays: 9 a.m.

Finally, His Eminence made it clear that our Archdiocese is partnering with other Orthodox bishops as well as Catholic bishops and Protestant leaders to petition our State Government and Governor to certify in clear terms that clergy as “essential workers” and worship as “essential.”

Your patience, understanding, care for others, and most especially prayers for our state and nation during this pandemic health crisis are appreciated and welcome. And, by the prayers of the Holy Archangel Michael, may our parish family be guarded and protected from all harm.

Your spiritual father in Christ,

Rev Msgr John W Fenton

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The Healing Cross: A Homily

The dirt had been cleared away, and the three wooden crosses lay carelessly in their grave one on top of the other. No honor, no respect, no veneration had been shown these instruments of death. And why should they have been? They were used to execute criminals: traitors, murders, serial thieves. The worst of the worst. The people who threaten our bodily life, and so scare us more than he who can destroy the soul. For we fear all threats to our quality of life, and are too glib about threats to our spirit, to our life in God.

Yet one of these crosses had been used to rescue us from threats we don’t take seriously; threats we put off for another day. One of these killing implements was actually life-giving: in a way we too often take with indifference. One of these murderous tools was the sweetest wood which had soaked in the blood of the Just One, pierced by sweetest iron. One of these was Faithful Cross above all other, the one and only noble Tree, the Tree of Life Himself whose fruit is our redemption, whose foliage and blossom cures us from the contagion of fear.

Which one? How to tell? That was the question that confronted Empress Helen. Looking down, she and the others with her had no way of knowing if they had simply found more Roman artifacts or the wood of the True Cross on which had hung our salvation.

The Bishop knew. He knew that the Cross of Jesus, the Cross of Sorrow, was where God’s blood was shed to heal and restore and transform not just humans, but all of creation. And if it healed all, then it could heal one.

So the Bishop fetched a woman wracked with infirmity, the very picture of our weakened state, one whose illness made people shrink back in fear and cringe in horror. That one woman, like the mother pleading for her daughter’s healing, like the woman who hemorrhaged for 12 years, like the little girl lying dead on her bed—that woman was brought to the blood of Jesus, embedded and inseparable from the wood. Instead of reaching to touch the hem of His garment, the healing, life-giving wood was gently applied to her disease-riddled body.

And as the relic of the True Cross touched her, all death and disease fled in fear. Now the virus that frightened ran away. Now the fatal illness was cured. Now the Grim Reaper’s grip was broken.

Not that the lady nevermore died. Lazarus, Talitha, the man from Nain, and the bodies of the saints that came out of the tombs after Our Lord’s resurrection: their bodies eventually gave out. Because their rising at that point was a sign of what was to come, and so not yet the glorification and transfiguration of their bodies. But that doesn’t mean that nothing happened to this dear woman and the others. Rather, it means that Tartarus and the grave, and we in our fear of death, all learned that death’s grip is not permanent; that mortality is terminated one day; and, in fact, that death is converted from the decay to transformation.

All of that the Holy Cross gains for us. All of that Christ’s death and resurrection opened up for us.

And so the woman was cured, by the touch of the relic of the True Cross. And since that relic has not changed; since Christ’s blood is still mingled with the wood; since Our Lord’s Cross remains the means of salvation—such a cure from disease, such a delay of the grave is also available to us, when it pleases Our Lord, in our own relic of the True Cross.

That is why this relic is prominent on our tabernacle; why I bless you with it especially during this pandemic; and why, when we are able, I encourage you to venerate our relic of the True Cross. For it is not a piece of religious art, but connects us to Our Lord’s saving work in a way that is only exceeded by the Holy Sacraments.

Yet there is another reason why I bless you with the relic of the True Cross; another reason why the Finding of the Holy Cross is such an important feast; another reason why this sign of execution is a symbol of our faith.

Our life in God is lived not individually, holed up in our homes. It is lived together, beneath of shadow of the cross. For now, for every sensible and prudent reasons, we are necessarily apart. But this separation is not, and can never be, normal for us. We must, in time, come together. Not merely because we like each other, or miss each other, or just want to be together.

We must, in time, come together because our life is no life unless it is lived together, in the community, in the Body which is Christ’s and of which He is the head.

The cross is the symbol of this: of our life together. And it is that symbol especially now, as we bear one another’s burdens in prayer, in acts of charity, in ensuring that justice prevails over greed, and in protecting each other not in fear but out of self-sacrificing love.

All of that, and most especially a love which sacrifices our convenience and even our life for another—all of that is both seen and made real in the Cross of Christ. Looking to the Cross should both bring this to mind, and inspire in each one of us a spirit to live heedless of our selves and mindful only of the lives of the weak, the vulnerable, the unborn, the helpless, the marginalized, and those who place themselves in harm’s way.

That is part of what Christ means when He tells us to take up our cross. Which is really a small portion of His Cross. To take up the cross is to realize that we must be together, because our way, our pathway to sanctity, our road to the resurrection of the body—that is always a route of charity, of selflessness, or love that thinks of no one but another. That is the love that flows from the heart of Christ, whose blood from that pierced heart adheres to the relic that sits on our altar. In that precious blood, which is stuck to the Cross, we see what love is; and most of all, what it means to be united with each other in Christ.

Not yet, but soon we shall be together. While we wait, let’s not get too comfortable with how things are now—with our separation, with the unreal way we connect. We should be grateful for this small mercy which we need in our weakness. And let us recall that, in fortunate and unfortunate circumstances, we are together in Christ. But let us also yearn, and pray earnestly, for that time when our words of concern for each other are met with a true and sincere commitment to be gathered at the foot of the Cross in our parish; and to use that love which flows from Christ’s side on the Cross to live unafraid, unanxious, not giving into passion, but looking forward to that day when the healing that has begun in us is brought to its full completion in the heavenly kingdom; where, by the prayers of the saints, Our Lord Jesus Christ is glorified with His Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end.

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