Amazement on a trip gratifies, but amazement at home really equips a person for Thanksgiving Day. How priceless is the familiar becoming extraordinary!
Such a sensation overtook me yesterday afternoon (Sunday, November 12) when we hosted a recital for the principal Organist for the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris, Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin. Her entire presentation revealed the capacities of our Schantz organ in a way I do not get to contemplate while I say Mass. The organ evokes marvelous emotional variety, particularly as it interacts with the vaulted structure of the church. Several factors enhanced my savoring of the music. First, we had a large and attentive crowd. Second, through the Archdiocese we worked out an arrangement with Con-Ed for additional LED conversion in both of our churches. The electricians had just replaced the vault lighting at St. Vincent Ferrer. The amazing contours of the church interior were bathed in a soft, gentle, and economical light. (By the way, another crew has re-lit the parish offices at St. Catherine of Siena and is now working on the hanging chandeliers and shrine lights in the church.) Third, it came to me as a great pleasure to watch James Wetzel welcome people to this program and, in a congenial way, to invite them to peruse the opportunities offered by the life of our parish.
Upon this foundation of well-being, providence rested something spectacular. After she completed the scheduled works of her program, Mme. Cauchefer-Choplin addressed the crowd and invited us to listen to an improvisation. She began to play and immediately articulated two themes, the Dominican Salve Ragina and Immaculate Mary. Here were two most familiar lines of music and she made magic of them. She played with them across every mood and volume of the spectrum and I suspect that nary a stop went unheard. Taking this in, I was struck by how improvisation of this sort demands equal parts play and discipline. On the one hand it demands imaginative, “out of the box” thinking, on the other it requires a thorough command of the instrument’s potential and of the musical tradition. I just sat there and hoped she would not stop.
I have heard our organ for many days each week over the last seven years, but this gracious lady from Paris introduced it to me all over again. To say she is a virtuosa states the obvious, but so is James and I get to hear him all the time. What set me up for the grace of this experience was taking the time for it. Quite simply, at 3 pm on Sunday I chose to take an hour of real leisure and it paid me back in spades. I found that at the end of this time I returned to reality and sailed through vespers and the 6 pm Mass on a flying carpet of energy.
Thanksgiving will now usher in a season replete with chances for real leisure and they are chances to be amazed by the goodness and beauty in our own lives. This year, more than ever, we need to grab them.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
As I write these lines on Monday morning we are reeling from yet another senseless shooting. All of a sudden people in Manhattan perceive a connection to the living and the dead in a small town in Texas. That we can embrace in prayer those we will never know gives us a window on to the mystery of the communion of saints.
How amazing that God has linked human souls in a network of interdependence that crosses the barriers of time and space which give life the shape we know. Those who have completed their journey have been commissioned to help us, and we have been entrusted with those souls whose formation God completes in the process we call purgation. We often treat this purgatory as a kind of detention, but it is also a place of promise where God completes the work He began in baptism and prepares the soul to be with Him.
The more we can see how God has designed interdependence into human life we know, the more we can rely on that network which is so far beyond our imagining. This Saturday, November 11 we remind ourselves that the international network of democracies we rely upon for peace and stability came about through the staggering sacrifices made by our veterans in the terrible wars of the Twentieth Century. Perhaps now more than ever we perceive the preciousness and vulnerability of this legacy.
Think of the cooperation and mutual concern that make it possible to pull off something on the scale of the New York Marathon. The “buy in” of government, commerce, citizens, and athletes makes a great experience for thousands who run and more thousands who cheer them on. It’s also a marvel that one can stand back and contemplate a world-wide coming-together conducted safely on our streets. How great that civil society did not run scared after the attacks of October 30. People refused to be frightened away from the public square, and so dashed terror’s hopes.
But even as New Yorkers re-claimed their streets the citizens of Sutherland Springs, Texas were assaulted in their place of worship, the setting where we would like to believe any group of Americans could have their defenses down. One single Sunday presents us with the strength and the vulnerability of present society. Everywhere the internet shows us at the same time the dazzling benefits and the terrifying damage of the radical connectedness we have achieved.
Facing such perils we might be forgiven for wanting to disconnect and find safety behind cyber and conventional ramparts. But even if we could make such a withdrawal practically, it may not be advisable spiritually. Consider that the interdependent, interconnected world order technology has facilitated on our streets and in our computers looks more like the Order among souls God has designed around the work of Christ, where even the living and the dead have been brought into reliance on each other. However serious their dangers, the new connections humans have made may further God’s plan to fulfill all things.
We can see this first in the good that has been accomplished already by a global economy, and indeed a global society. But we can also see this in the rethinking that these advances demand. How, for instance, do we bring interpersonal and social justice to this new frontier? In a more interconnected world how do we value the distinctiveness of cultures as something to offer the world rather than to be defended from it? How do we give people the sense of safety to navigate cyber streets and city streets?
Faith always nudges us to “opt in” to our times, so that as people of faith we can be part of their real improvement.
P.S. I would like to thank the many people who made our celebrations of all Saints and All Souls so
life-giving. Long-time parishioners attended the All Saints Vigil on Tuesday night and came away nourished by what the young adults provided. Many came to the end of life session sponsored by the Dominican
Foundation and reported that it was practically and spiritually helpful to them. Here I saw in daily life the interdependence that God fosters.
You are reading this letter on the weekend of the New York Marathon, when those who run endure to their limits, and the rest of us stand back in amazement at endurance embodied. The runner gains more than the finish line, for the ability to run stems from a long regimen of training. So we honor the runner’s completion of the course and the discipline that allowed him or her to begin it.
Yesterday (Last Sunday for you) I undertook my own, relatively pale endurance and preached all of our Masses. I got to introduce and hear each of the presentations offered by our Finance Council on how we stand as of the conclusion of our first fiscal year as a united parish. As the 6 pm Mass ended on Sunday evening I found myself elated by the dedication of the Councilors and the attentiveness of each congregation. The whole day spoke to me of the maturity our parish has achieved by sticking with a long regimen of change, some of it in directions they would not choose.
I witnessed this process up-close as the Finance Councilors came together in April and, ably supported by Lee Ann Rubino, worked through the summer to study our financial situation and the history that led to it. They prepared the reports you heard, reviewed the budget for this new fiscal year, selected a money manager for our portfolio, and worked with that company to balance and structure it.
I would like to supplement last weekend’s presentation by mentioning one aspect of that structure. Since the 1980’s the Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer maintained a restricted fund to support maintenance of, and improvements to, the fabric of the church. Pastors drew upon it to replace the roof and to paint and clean the exterior walls. We used it most recently to replace the sidewalk outside the church. This fund remains intact in the newly structured portfolio. We have created a similar fund for the fabric of St. Catherine’s Church. Into it we have placed the portfolio of the Parish of
St. Catherine of Siena. Monies donated to this fund will be used for maintenance of, and improvements to, the fabric of St. Catherine’s Church. We hope that this honors all the effort undertaken by the Friars and people of St. Catherine’s to raise these funds in the first place.
What became palpable to me as the Councilors spoke was that a crucial aspect of our communal life was in place. With this comes relief, gratitude, and the freedom to set other things in place
Alongside the Finance Council stands a number of strong parish organizations and each of these has worked through our years of change with patience and suppleness. We need now to access the experience and insights of these core parishioners. I think we can do this by the way we structure the Pastoral Council. This consultative body serves the Pastor as his “eyes and ears,” as a sounding board, and as a disseminator of information. Through the years of our merger we were served admirably by an interim Pastoral Council which completed it work in June. I have been meeting with parishioners and assembling a new Council. I anticipate that it will be complete and begin its work in January. In addition to providing the helps I mention above, it will serve to structure our range of committees and guilds, so that the social and charitable life of the parish rests on its own firm foundation.
When the Pastoral Council begins to meet the structure of our parish governance will be in place and we can turn our gaze outward with confidence.
I have long felt that the order that emerges has more beauty and endurance than the order which is imposed, and so I have tried to accept the discipline of slow-growing each aspect of our life so that it emerges from a real basis in the life of the parish, and meet a real need in that same life. So I thank you for your patience with the lack of certainty this may entail from time to time.
A popular metaphor compares life to a journey. Phrases that capture the comparison blazon images of daring climbers scaling steep mountain peaks, or ships afloat on the vast expanse of the ocean. The saying that ‘life is a journey’ is the kind of phrase that you might see written at the bottom of posters depicting an exhilarating scene, maybe one of jet plane launching into the open sky. It’s the kind of saying found on pictures that hang in office hallways or doctor’s waiting rooms, taking up filler space on the walls.
The popularity of the metaphor – life and journey – is reinforced by its near universal resonance. Cultures around the globe have embraced the image. “Life is just a journey” was a famous quote of England’s beloved Princess Diana. The title of a popular Chinese TV sitcom translates to English as “A Journey Called Life.” The metaphor is expressed in nearly every language and spread throughout the world.
Obviously, not all journeys take the same path. Few people climb the Himalayas, and sailing is an expensive hobby. Yet, while each life is a unique journey, regardless of the path taken all roads lead to the same spot.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “despite appearances that promise permanency, in this world nothing can be certain except death and taxes.” There are loopholes that allow for some avoidance of the latter, but no one escapes the former. Regardless of who you are, your journey comes to an end at the same place.
The early part of November is a time when the Church devotes particular attention to those whose journey has taken them into the next life. The month begins with the Solemnity of All Saints on Wednesday, a holy day of obligation in which we celebrate the lives of the saints, especially those unknown to us and those without a particular feast day on the Church’s calendar. This year, as something of a liturgical prelude to the solemnity, St. Vincent Ferrer will host an All Saints’ Vigil beginning at 7 pm on Tuesday, October 31st. The vigil is not a Mass (and so participation does not satisfy the obligation), but will be an opportunity to hear some of the songs and writings of the saints. The relics of several saints will also be available for veneration.
All Saints’ Day is followed by the Commemoration of All Souls on Thursday, November 2nd. Christian prayer for the souls of the dead has its roots in early Jewish practices recorded in the Old Testament. One of the ways in which the early Church continued the custom was by setting aside a particular day for the purpose of offering prayers for those whose life on this earth has ended, while the journey to heaven goes on.
Our pastor, Fr. Walter, invited me to write the bulletin letter this week in order to highlight a special program that I will be offering immediately after the conclusion of the Commemoration of All Souls’ Day liturgy that begins at 6:30 pm at St. Catherine of Siena on Tuesday, November 2nd. This program, titled “Into the Light,” is designed to be a kind of informational workshop that sheds light on end-of-life planning from a theological, but practical, point of view. The presentation will discuss topics such as funeral planning, advance care directives, senior care and asset management, etc. The discussion will aim to highlight the Church’s guidance in end-of-life care and offer some practical steps toward preparing for the passage from this life to the next. Joining me for parts of the presentation will be an elder and estates law specialist Michael N. Connors from Connors and Sullivan PLLC and Tommy Kritl from John Kritl Funeral Home. The program will begin at 7:30 pm in St. Dominic Hall at St. Catherine of Siena Priory.
The metaphor of life and journey makes little sense without heaven because without heaven, life would lack a destination worthy of our striving in this life. With the prospect of heaven though, death need not be the end; in fact it becomes what we have been aiming for all along. Join us this month as we turn special attention toward preparing ourselves and our loved ones for reaching that heavenly destination.
May we one day, together with our loved ones, be merry together in heaven.
Wishing you all the blessings that I can give,
Fr. Thomas More Garrett, o.p.
I write you these words about ten days before you read them, but from your vantage point surely will remember September’s horrendous parade of natural disasters. As you read this, millions of people across the Caribbean (3.5 million in Puerto Rico) and the Southern United States are starting all over again. Years ago they built homes and businesses from scratch now, with greater effort, they reconstruct them from out of a colossal mess.
Imagine too those impacted directly or indirectly by the shooting in Las Vegas. They too must build again, even though they can never build back what was.
Many of us sense a regression in our domestic and international political conversation. How do we recover the patterns of civility in affairs we once took for granted?
We have three hospitals in our parish and in each of these patients start over all the time: trying to recover capacities like walking, to which they once gave no thought.
Starting over is always harder, and demands an extra discipline and determination. Consider a domestic, personal example. We decide to get ourselves into shape and then illness or work breaks our new patterns of health. Then ours is the drudgery of making up lost ground. First, progress thrills us and gives rise to a hearty, “Hey, look at me.” Recovering carries the weight of disappointment, even embarrassment, at repeated effort. Stealthy temptations circle those who have lost ground and entice them away from the grunt work of regaining it. How many are the ways we can check out at such a point. Lost ground is despair’s fertile soil.
But faith teaches that this barren place of loss also harbors the seed of new life, waiting to be watered by prayer. After loss, what will give us the incentive to live again, or to pray that those we love will choose to live again? Perhaps it is the realization that rebuilding life means more than just gluing the old pieces back together. What we get back will not be the same: either it will be the battered shell of what was lost, or it will be the familiar transformed by new wisdom, new gratitude, and new humility.
Those who have come back from loss through faith tell us the story of grace. They realize in new ways the value of each day, each relationship, and each opportunity.
Tradition assigns to the Apostle, St. Jude Thaddeus patronage of those who find themselves at the bottom of life and who face the temptation not to start over. Our Dominican Shrine of St. Jude annually organizes nine days of common prayer for those seeking a renewal of hope. Such prayers ask for more than the restoration of the past, they seek the new thriving that actually derives profit from the experience of loss.
In these days when so many look to come fully alive again, the Shrine invites you to share your petitions for yourself or others who need to challenge a dead end with God’s gift of hope. Cards for these intentions will be placed at the statues of St. Jude in each church. You can return them to the church offices, or by leaving them in a basket at the shrines or the collection basket, or giving them to a Friar.
We will pray for your intentions during the days of our Novena from October 20 to October 28. The Novena prayers will be said at each of the Masses celebrated in our parish during these days. At two Masses each day there will be sermon preached for those making the Novena. The preached Masses will be at 1 pm at St. Catherine’s and at 6 pm at St. Vincent’s. On Sunday the preached Mass will be at 10 am at St. Catherine’s and 6 pm at St. Vincent’s. Several Friars will be assisting in the preaching of this novena, and each of them will address the of loss and recovery in the life of faith.
Please consider joining this work of prayer.
An Italian cookbook gave me a crucial insight into ministry. The author pointed out that a successful meal features a harmonious succession of flavors and avoids either a discordant multiplicity of tastes or the dominance of one. That insight gets up from the dining table as wisdom for making people comfortable and keeping them engaged.
I have come to see the life of the parish, and each Mass, as a meal at which we would like people to sit down, be comfortable, and engage. What makes for a good diner makes for a true worshipper, delighted in receiving, responsive in thanks and praise, undefended in conversation (with God and with neighbor). Each parish event, and the whole life of the parish community, demands to be crafted as an experience for people, and someone needs to be tasked with viewing it as a whole and keeping its balance, and hence its flavor.
I feel that charge falls to me and I take it very seriously. When I perceive that a Mass has a proper balance of elements nothing rivals my serenity, and when an element breaks the equilibrium I feel like a cook who must serve a dish, knowing there is too much salt in it. At such a moment I taste frustration, even if the guests overlook what lands maladroitly on their palates.
If every dish needs salt and pepper, every liturgy needs information. Since the Parish gathers at Mass, Mass becomes a moment to inform the parish about its life. So we use the bulletin, the announcements, posters, and signs to grab and hold the attention of congregants. But if too much salt ruins a dish, too much information drowns out the other flavors of worship. When we over-tell people about everything, they remember nothing. In my years of pastoring I have erred in both directions. Important events were undersubscribed because people were not told of them, and sometimes people did not come because they had been told too often, in too many media.
So this Sunday we offer a new strategy for conveying information about ourselves, geared to getting the word out and to minimizing verbiage at Mass.
This Sunday we are presenting our first Parish Handbook. We hope it successfully welcomes newcomers to our midst, helps regulars plan their parish year, and invites others into our community. To have an overview of a parish like ours adds a level of understanding and makes for informed participation.
The Handbook pulls a great deal of introductory information out of the Weekly Parish Bulletin. So this will now come to you in a new format that allows more presentation of current happenings. It will also include prayer intentions for the week that will keep you connected to the feasts and concerns of the moment and prepare you for the Sunday ahead.
Because of the comprehensive invitation to prayer in the bulletin, we hope to shorten the petitions we use at Mass.
We think parishioners and regular visitors have become used to taking a worship leaflet as they arrive for Mass. These will now feature on the front cover the information you need for that Mass, such as second collections, Food Sunday, guest preachers, etc. We hope this will shorten pulpit announcements.
These changes come to you courtesy of a sustained collaboration by many parishioners and parish staff. As I say in my introduction to the Handbook, I think this is the most lovely feature of the book and the strategy. I hope you will share my gratitude at the dedication and talent that supports this life we share.
I hope that the handbook and bulletin can become means of evangelization; allowing us to make a healthful and balanced presentation of ourselves. When people read these pages may they recognize that the Gospel is where we get our flavor.
It has been said that we begin to worship when we realize that we have received as gifts what we could never buy, earn, take, or make. Once begun, the life of worship intensifies this very awareness. We begin to recognize the gifts of the elements, then the nurture and beauty that flow from them. I am quick to recognize sun, air, and water as gifts, then I realize that even though I paid for my bread, that loaf has origins in what has been freely bestowed. Next, I realize that you are a gift, for you supply what lacks in me. Most slowly I perceive the gift of my life, not only in general but in particular.
Christian worship, as established by Jesus in his own humanity, has at its roots an intense gratitude for the works of God, and this comes from souls who have received themselves as one of those works. When I accept how the divine artisanship has molded my individuality, then I can be free from the spirit of comparison that stifles so much of our real thriving. Grateful for myself, I come to the Mass as a response of thanksgiving to God’s initiatives and so fulfill the commission given to me in my baptism. This, more than hearing a sermon, or singing a hymn, comprises the essential work of those who attend Mass. This posture is more than prayerful. Grateful people live differently.
If I receive myself as a gift, I give myself as a gift. If I recognize the gift of God in me then I perceive myself as a living surplus. This outlook marks the People of God. If the Eucharist is the food of the Church then self-donation is the strength it nourishes. Christian women and men have cheerfully given their lives away as martyrs, missionaries, and as every kind of religious. They have done the same as Christian spouses, and this same spirit impels many professionals to take less pay and work for the Church. Self-reception and self-donation sets in motion the phalanx of volunteers, without which the life of the Church cannot be imagined, and without which the life of our parish simply is not possible.
In coming days, the parish will present you with opportunities to make a donation of your time, your talent, and your energy. God invites each of us to fulfillment through self-donation, but His call comes to each of us in His time and in His way. The parish needs you to help, but even more it needs you to discern the ways in which you are called to help.
Any self-giving brings us full circle. Having recognized abundance we become part of abundance. I perceive that I live because of gifts more than because of earnings and makings, and that perception impels me to become part of the giftedness of others. As I survey our parish I perceive that it thrives on an array of services it could never pay for, and by that it testifies to the God who has gathered it.
Next Sunday, September 24th, please come with open ears and an open heart to consider what growth God has readied you for.