Deacon Lincoln’s Log 4-24-2020 (Reflections)

“Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”

Psalm 23:4

“”The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.”138”

– Catechism of the Catholic Church #1325

Last night our Worship and Spiritual Life committee had an online meeting. We discussed many of the things going on at STM and how we are weathering the current crisis. As I listened and reflected, I started to realize more and more how painful our current experience of not being able to share in the Eucharist together is for us. The Eucharist is the core of our spiritual life as Catholics and one of the primary ways we encounter Jesus. There is no greater source of spiritual growth and no deeper participation in the mystery of Christ than our Eucharistic celebrations (see the Catechism quote above). It is also the primary way we express our faith publicly as a church. The loss of our ability to gather and celebrate is a blow to our heart. The loss comes on many levels, for example:

  • We’ve lost our connection to the church building, our physical space. It is not the same to pray from home or even to visit the church when it is empty or to view the church through a camera. The visible beauty of the space, the “feel” of being in church, the sound of the organ and new piano, the cantor and choir echoing through those walls and pews cannot be replaced. We can’t sit where we’ve always sat to pray on Sunday. Our hearts long for this familiar connection.
  • We’ve lost our connections with one another. We don’t see the same people week after week (or day after day). Even if we don’t know them by name, we know them by face and where they sit. Maybe we have watched their children grow even if we can’t name them all. Perhaps we went to breakfast after Mass together. We used to sing together every week. That’s not happening now and our hearts long for this regular connection.
  • We’ve lost our connection with our leaders. The sound of the priest’s voice is no longer a weekly experience. While we may know he is offering Mass on our behalf it is not the same. It is like the difference between looking at a picture of a loved one and holding their hand. Both are good, but they are not the same.
  • We’ve lost our sacramental connection to God through the Eucharist. God works on us and through us in the liturgy. God works on us through uniting us to Jesus death and resurrection and transforming us to become more like Jesus. He works through us as our prayers, united to Christ, become instruments for the salvation of the world. Our participation in the eucharistic liturgy is indeed the “source and summit” of our lives. All our other forms of prayer and worship are oriented toward the communal celebration of the eucharist and flow from the heart of this great mystery.

These losses (and many more like them) are deep and painful. It is important that we recognize them. They are real losses. While they may be temporary, and we can offer these losses up to God, they still hurt. This is one dimension of our “spiritual communion.” We commune spiritually because we cannot commune together publically. These losses break open our hearts to cry out to God from the depths of our being. Only when we acknowledge these losses, can we begin to recognize how God is still present with us.

Even though the loss of the public celebration of Mass is temporary, we must still respond to it. Pat Lencioni, the founder of Amazing Parish, outlines 4 ways we can respond to loss, and all of these are happening in our hearts and in our church. The “four R’s” of responding to loss are:

  1. Restore – This occurs when a loss is directly replaced with the same thing. If we have lost a job, we fight to get the same job back. If we broke our favorite mug, we find a way to repair it so it is “just like new.” In the scriptures we see something like this when the Temple is rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah after being destroyed over 50 years earlier, allowing God’s people to publically offer sacrifice again. In our current context, this restoration may begin when we are able to celebrate Sunday Mass together publically again.
  2. Replace – A loss can also be replaced with something similar. We get a job similar to the one we lost. We buy a mug like the old one. Many of us now are trying to find ways to temporarily replace our Sunday liturgy by watching Mass online or on TV or listening on the radio. While we know this replacement is a pale comparison, it is something we can do for now and God always respects our desire to come to know him more deeply.
  3. Redesign – The loss can lead us to redesign our lives due to the loss. We start our own business instead of finding a similar job. We stop drinking coffee instead of buying a new mug. God’s people, when the Temple was destroyed, redesigned their way of life. Instead of focusing on temple sacrifice as the primary way to relate to God they turned to God’s Word. It was at this time that much of the Scripture that we read today was compiled and written. Since they could no longer offer sacrifice in the Temple they turned to the Law and Prophets. Some of us are redesigning our prayer and are finding new ways to encounter Jesus in silence and Scripture as we wait to gather for liturgy again.
  4. Relinquish – The loss can lead us to let go and surrender to the new reality God is giving us. Instead of working, we can retire and enter an entirely new phase of life. We can give away our mug to someone who needs it and begin a radical form of simplicity. In scripture, Jesus called his people to give up one way of thinking (repent) and embrace a new way of life beyond their imagination (the kingdom of God). Our current context is not calling us to let go of the liturgy, but it may be calling us to approach it differently, to appreciate it as the gift that it is instead of a duty to be performed.

Each of these responses is good and natural. We are all responding with some combination of these reactions. Together as a community we are discerning the best possible response now and into the future. These are not easy times. Our losses are real. But we know that God has a plan and walks with us every step of the way. Even as we walk through the “dark valley” we fear no evil, because God is with us. He will lead us to dwell in his house forever.

 

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln

Parish Pastoral Leader

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 4-26-2020

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you — declares the Lord — plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” – Jer. 29:11

““No one hopes for a crisis, and rightly so. Certainly, this applies to teams and organizations. Most leaders would probably say one of their primary responsibilities is to prevent a crisis from occurring. However, a powerful lesson for organizations can be found smack dab in the middle of a crisis. It isn’t uncommon for a leader to say, “our team had never pulled together more than when we were facing a crisis.” Maybe it’s the prospect of going out of business or dealing with a public relations catastrophe or even a natural disaster that causes people to rally.” – Pat Lencioni

It is hard for me to express how grateful and proud I am of our parish, our leadership teams, staff, and of each of you. Our staff has been working from home since March 19 and have been reaching out to parishioners through calls, learning new skills, making sure the bills get paid and gifts are deposited, praying, creating networks, posting on facebook, creating flocknotes, shooting video, supervising new equipment, learning to live stream, proclaiming the good news, providing hope and healing… all from home (mostly) and in an incredibly challenging environment. We are even putting together an all parish mailing for you soon.

I’m also proud of the entire parish community. I have seen and heard people reaching out to those within and outside our community. We have started online meetings of our committees and commissions to stay connected and move forward together. And for many of us, our prayer lives have gotten deeper and more real. There is so much good happening in the midst of the crisis.

Being Catholic is about being a part of a community and we are weathering the storm well. But the storm has changed us. The people who began social distancing over a month ago are not the same as the people who will be reentering the church whenever that day comes. Each of us has been profoundly changed by this experience. Some of us have been traumatized. Some have lost loved ones. Some of us are overwhelmed and some of us are lonely. Some have grown closer to God while others have new questions. We have withdrawn and reached out, cried, laughed and learned. Our families have shifted. We’ve eaten together as a family or alone, in front of a computer with a loved one. We are not the same people we were. None of us is.

And the crisis is not over. It appears that we will be living in a new world and learning new ways to interact for quite a while. Now is a good time to begin to turn our attention to “reentry.” What will it look like and how will we care for one another and live the mission of Jesus in this newly emerging world? As the summer approaches and new guidelines for interacting are introduced how do we care for each other? How do we make disciples in this new environment? Who is God calling us to become? These are questions we must start to grapple with now.

The good news is that God has a plan. God is still God and he loves and cares for his people. Together we look to the future full of hope because God is with us and we are with each other. I would love to hear how you are doing. I miss you all very much but I trust in God’s plan and move into the future full of hope.

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln

Parish Pastoral Leader

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 4-19-2020

“Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” Jn. 20:26

“God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14). … Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish. – Pope Francis Easter Urbi et Orbi message on March 31, 2013

 

This Sunday is the final Sunday of the Octave of Easter and it is known as Divine Mercy Sunday. In the Gospel for today (Jn. 20:19-31), which we read every year, we hear the story of “doubting” Thomas. Thomas wasn’t present the week before, when Jesus had appeared to the rest of the disciples and blessed them with his peace. But Jesus appears again, a week later, to the disciples. This time, Thomas is with them.

As they huddle in the locked room, afraid to go outside, Jesus appears and wishes them peace. He invites Thomas to probe his wounds with his fingers and realize that the shame and pain of the crucifixion that Jesus experienced are nothing compared to the peace and glory that is present in eternal life.

One of the things I come to realize more deeply each year as I reflect on this passage is that Jesus’ wounds do not go away. The trauma he experiences in the crucifixion becomes part of who he is. In fact, his wounds become part of who God is. In the crucifixion, God did not flee from or stand aloof from the degradation of Jesus, but entered into it and transformed it. The pain and shame of Jesus are not destroyed, but are redeemed. This is the source of His peace that he offers to each of us. God’s mercy reveals itself in His wounds.

Many of us are hurting. We are fearful. We have wounds. The good news of God’s mercy is that it redeems those wounds. Through faith in Jesus and the faith of Jesus our wounds are overcome by God’s love. God can be found in our wounds. That is what Thomas discovered.

Even more gloriously, by God’s grace, our wounds can become agents of God’s mercy, just like Jesus’ wounds. As Pope Francis reminds us, our wounds can become “channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.” We do not need to be afraid of our wounds or let them control us through pain and fear. When our wounds are united to Jesus, they can become a fountain of mercy and source of peace for our world.

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln

Parish Pastoral Leader

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 4-12-2020

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!”

Psalm 118:24

“There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem, and it cannot be silenced.”

Discipleship Quad Guidebook p. 49

Alleluia! Christ is risen. It is a message that sounds different during this time of pandemic. Everything seems out of sorts and upside down. We are forced to ask ourselves, “What does Easter mean at a time such as this? How can we sing anything other than mournful songs? How can we sing Easter joy when there is so much suffering and death around us?”

These questions drive us deep into the heart of faith. They take us to the place in our hearts where despair lurks, where hope is challenged by experience, where doubt meets faith. These questions take us to the empty tomb.

The empty tomb is a silent witness to the resurrection. It points to the resurrection with confidence, but it doesn’t force belief. It invites, but does not coerce.

The unyielding presence of the empty tomb is a fact that inserts itself into our mind. It drives us to think about the possibilities. It invites us to encounter a life beyond death. The empty tomb witnesses to a new life beyond the grave. It reveals a love that exists beyond the death and suffering of this present world.

This nagging fact of the empty tomb invites our hearts to trust; to trust in love beyond death. This is faith, But the faith of the empty tomb isn’t a naive faith that denies the reality of illness and death. No, it is a faith that enters fully into the reality of death, but finds a more profound life beyond deaths limits. The empty tomb sings a song of joy, not because it hasn’t experienced death, but because it has seen death conquered!

Our Alleluia this Easter is born in the experience of suffering, just as the first Alleluia was born of the suffering of the cross. Our songs echo the song of the empty tomb, daring to sing in the midst of death. Our faith has grown and our life has changed through this encounter with the empty tomb. We are more mature. Our faith is deeper. We have begun to learn the lesson of the empty tomb.

Alleluia!

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln

Parish Pastoral Leader

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 4-5-2020

“The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.’ And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds replied, ‘This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.’” – Jn. 4:13-14

“Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons!” – Pope Francis

The strangest Holy Week in living memory!

The year 2020 will go on record as having the strangest Holy Week in living memory. Around the world, Catholic churches will be closed to the public celebration of these holiest days of the year. The faithful will not be processing and singing “hosanna.” There will be no gatherings in the church to recall the Lord’s Supper or how Jesus taught us the depth of love by washing his disicple’s feet. Massive crosses will not be venerated in churches. No Easter fire will be lit and no new Paschal candles will be blessed. The waters of baptism will not flow. Holy Communion will not be received. Alleluia will not resound from our churches.

How painful this is!

Like the time of the exile of God’s chosen people, we find ourselves unable to gather to offer sacrifice to the Lord. Our celebrations are silenced. While our priests faithfully render our thanksgiving sacrifice, we are scattered when our hearts most long to be gathered.

Our faith is being purified. The Paschal Mystery of Jesus moving through death to new life is real. We believe this. We trust in what we cannot see or even celebrate. Jesus is alive and is the Lord of all! Instead of this great mystery being proclaimed through public ritual and song, it will be lived in our hearts and in our homes. Each small prayer, each quiet act of service proclaims Jesus’ victory of sin and death

While our family prayer and household rituals may pale in comparison to our regular Holy Week celebrations, I think they may reflect a deeper, purer faith. They reveal the faith of the exile. These simple rituals and gentle acts of love are born of suffering and uncertainty. All that remains is faith in God’s power in the midst of our own powerlessness.

During times similar to ours, the prophet Habakkuk wrote of this naked faith stripped of certainty. Looking around, the prophet saw nothing but poverty, brokenness, and destruction. There was no salvation to be seen, only desolation. Yet, the prophet responds with trust and joy.

“For though the fig tree does not blossom,

And no fruit appears on the vine,

Though the yield of the olive fails

And the terraces produce no nourishment,

Though the flocks disappear from the fold

And there is no herd in the stalls,

Yet will I rejoice in the Lord

And exult in my saving God.

God, my Lord, is my strength;

He makes my feet swift as those of deer

And enables me to tread upon the heights.”

May this Holy Week bear the fruit of faith.

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln

Parish Pastoral Leader