Discernment During the Pandemic

Am I called to go to church to receive communion next weekend?

One question that confronts all of us in the Diocese of Green Bay is, Am I called to go to church to receive Holy Communion next weekend? Depending on the course of the pandemic, this is a question we may be asking for a while.

Up until a few months ago, the answer to this question was clear. Yes! In fact, you are expected to go to Mass every weekend unless you are ill or have another serious reason. However, we are in a different situation now. No one is required to go to Mass or receive Holy Communion. In the serious situation we find ourselves in, the Church has suspended the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. In fact, public Masses are not taking place. Church authorities are allowing celebrations with very small groups but they are the exception. Slowing the pandemic is an important common good and has led our church authorities to act with wisdom and prudence. (As a side note, it is important to recognize that it is the church authorities, not political authorities, who are guiding our actions at St. Thomas More).

If you are reading this Log, I assume that you have the desire to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. That is wonderful! You know what a treasure the eucharist is and long to receive Jesus in this sacrament. But desire isn’t the only factor in discernment. We may have a strong desire for something good, but that does not mean that God is calling us to that good. We hear God’s call through our desires and through our entire situation in life.

For example, when I was in seminary I met many men who had a desire to be a priest. This was a good and holy desire. But the time in seminary helped them discern if they were in fact called to be a priest. Maybe the person didn’t have the abilities or skills a priest must have. Maybe it became clear they had other obligations and could not serve as a priest. Not everyone who attends seminary becomes a priest or is called to become a priest. There are some obvious cases where someone may desire the priesthood, but not be called. An example of an obvious case is a married man who has a desire to be a priest. His desire is for a wonderful gift, but it is not the only factor to consider. He is not called.

If it is about more than my desire to receive Jesus in the sacrament, how do I know if I am called to receive Holy Communion?

Here are some situational factors to consider regarding this calling:

  • Age – The church is encouraging anyone over the age of 65 to stay home.
  • Illness – If you are sick or exhibiting any symptoms of illness you should stay home. This is the obvious case.
  • Health – Am I in a high-risk group (e.g. Immunocompromised, diabetes, asthma, HIV, or liver, lung or heart disease)? – If you are at a higher risk, you are also being encouraged to stay home.
  • Work – Do I work in a field that puts me at risk of carrying the disease without being aware of it?
  • Past contacts – How likely is it that I have been in contact with someone who may have the disease?
  • Future contacts – Who am I likely to see in the next few weeks who would be at risk?
  • Behaviors – Have I been washing my hands, practicing social distancing, and following the other recommendations from health professionals?

Only you can discern if you are called to receive Communion. For many of us, the desire is great. We all long to encounter Jesus in the sacraments again. However, a risk factor or caring for another person may leave us short of being called to receive the eucharist this weekend. That’s okay.

Even if we are not called to receive communion this weekend, we are all called to encounter Jesus in some way (live stream Mass, praying with family, rosary, reading scripture… ). May the Holy Spirit guide each of us as we discern how we will encounter Christ during this time of pandemic. One day, we will be reunited and celebrate the liturgy with great joy.

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln

Parish Pastoral Leader

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 5-15-2020

“The Church is in history, but at the same time she transcends it. It is only ‘with the eyes of faith’ that one can see her in her visible reality and at the same time in her spiritual reality as bearer of divine life”
Catechism of the Catholic Church #770

“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”
Jn. 14:20

Reopening vs. Rebooting

Whenever I hear someone talk about the church “reopening” my skin crawls. I don’t like the expression because it implies that the church has been closed. That is simply not the case. When I look around I see that the church has been operating differently; it has NOT been closed. There has been prayer going on, in and out of the church building. Funerals and burials are still happening. The Gospel is being proclaimed in all sorts of ways, many of them new. I even had a wedding a few weeks ago and have a few more coming up. People are still discerning what God wants them to do with their lives. Spiritual counsel is being given. Pastoral visits have changed but are continuing as Christians are reaching out to one another through phone calls and other media. The poor and most vulnerable are still being served by believers who are becoming even more creative in ways to reach out to people in need. As I look around ‘with the eyes of faith,’ I see that the church is clearly open.

I prefer the term, the church is rebooting. This sounds strange at first, but to me it makes sense. When we reboot something, it appears from the outside to be turned off. During the reboot, it doesn’t function normally. But as our phone or computer reboots, a lot is happening. It is being reorganized with conflicts between programs and protocols being resolved, the recent and unneeded stuff is discarded and the memory is restructured. If your computer locks up often all that is needed is a reboot.

Similarly, the church from the outside appears to be closed. But there has been a lot going on. It is a time to rethink what we’ve been doing and how we can do it better. New things are being tried. New relationships and ways of relating are being explored. During this reboot we can resolve invisible conflicts and come to a deeper clarity of our call to continue Jesus’s mission. Rebooting is a process of being renewed and that is something God is always doing in the church. “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behond, new things have come. And all this is from God…” (2 Cor. 5:17-18) Now it is happening in a dramatic way.

Rebooting also requires patience. When I reboot my computer the hardest part is waiting for everything to come back online. As I watch my phone reboot I see one app coming on at a time. There is a gradual rebuilding of what once was right there. The reboot of the church is the same. It requires patience as we wait together as we come back “online” with more normal, visible activity.

Sometimes a reboot allows my phone or computer to update. When this happens, my phone or computer screen looks different. Some apps are gone! There are some new features (some I like, some I don’t). It looks different. Some things have been moved around. I believe this “updating” is happening to our church as well. Along with all the grief, new features are being added, changes, or moved. God is showing us what is most important in our mission as disciples of Jesus.

We don’t need to reopen the church. It was never closed. But maybe God is rebooting the church for a new 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

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 3-29-2020

“Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”

Jn. 11:21

Our lives have been turned upside down as we “hunker down” and walk through the new reality that we’ve been given. A reality filled with social distancing and fear. It is natural to ask the question, “Where is God in all this?”

There is no simple answer to this question, but we do know that God is always present and always loving. This time of distance can be a time to grow closer to him and to deepen our spiritual union with each other. Consider praying the litany of trust:

The Litany of Trust

From the belief that I have to earn Your love, …………………………………. Deliver me, Jesus

From the fear that I am unlovable, …………………………………………………. Deliver me, Jesus

From the false security that I have what it takes, ……………………………. Deliver me, Jesus

From the fear that trusting You will leave me more destitute, ……….. Deliver me, Jesus

From all suspicion of Your words and promises, …………………………….. Deliver me, Jesus

From the rebellion against childlike dependency on you, ……………….. Deliver me, Jesus

From refusals and reluctances in accepting Your will, …………………….. Deliver me, Jesus

From anxiety about the future, ………………………………………………………. Deliver me, Jesus

From resentment or excessive preoccupation with the past, ………….. Deliver me, Jesus

From restless self-seeking in the present moment, …………………………. Deliver me, Jesus

From disbelief in Your love and presence, ……………………………………….. Deliver me, Jesus

From the fear of being asked to give more than I have, …………………… Deliver me, Jesus

From the belief that my life has no meaning or worth, …………………… Deliver me, Jesus

From the fear of what love demands, ……………………………………………… Deliver me, Jesus

From discouragement, …………………………………………………………………….. Deliver me, Jesus

Please respond, ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’

That You are continually holding me, sustaining me, loving me, ……… Jesus, I trust in you

That Your love goes deeper than my sins and failings, and transforms me, Jesus, I trust in you

That not knowing what tomorrow brings is an invitation to lean on You, Jesus, I trust in you

That you are with me in my suffering, ……………………………………………… Jesus, I trust in you

That my suffering, united to Your own, will bear fruit in this life and the next, Jesus, I trust in you

That You will not leave me orphan, that Your are present in Your Church, Jesus, I trust in you

That Your plan is better than anything else, ……………………………………. Jesus, I trust in you

That You always hear me, and in Your goodness always respond to me, Jesus, I trust in you

That You give me the grace to accept forgiveness and to forgive others, Jesus, I trust in you

That You give me all the strength I need for what is asked, …………….. Jesus, I trust in you

That my life is a gift, ……………………………………………………………………….. Jesus, I trust in you

That You will teach me to trust You, ……………………………………………….. Jesus, I trust in you

That you are my Lord and my God, …………………………………………………. Jesus, I trust in you

That I am Your beloved one, …………………………………………………………… Jesus, I trust in you

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln

Parish Pastoral Leader

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 3-26-17

Image from Pixabay“When Jesus heard that they had thrown him [the man born blind] out, he found him and said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered and said, ‘Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshiped him.”
Jn. 9:35-38

Faith is a gift.

The story of the man born blind, at its roots, is a story of coming to faith. At the beginning of the story, the man cannot see. Jesus heals his physical blindness which begins the process of healing a deeper blindness. As the blind man encounters persecution, he comes to see who Jesus really is. First, he sees Jesus as a healer, then a prophet, and finally, when Jesus reveals Himself, as the promised Son of Man. The Lord has healed his “inner eye.”

The man who was blind can now see with the eyes of faith.

The Pharisees follow the opposite path. They begin physically able to see. But as the story progresses they reveal the blindness of their own “inner eye.” A miracle has happened, yet they cannot recognize it for what it is. Nor can they recognize Jesus for who He is. No proof is enough for them because they lack faith. Any explanation will do except the recognition that Jesus is the Son of Man who has been promised. They will continue to persecute those who see what they cannot. Their faith is dead even though Jesus is standing right in front of them.

During lent, we are called to deepen our faith. Jesus reveals Himself to us in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments. Indeed, our entire lives can open us to believe in Jesus. We pray that our “inner eye” will be opened and Jesus will reveal Himself to us in new ways.

Beg the Lord for the gift of faith. He will empower you to believe. Like the man born blind, it may take adversity to open our “inner eye” to see the truth of who Jesus is. If we persevere, we will see.

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln A. Wood

 

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 3-19-17

fountain-1642204_640

“… the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Rm. 5:5

“There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then God must be dug out again.”
Etty Hillesum

We thirst.

In the first reading (Ex. 17:3-7) we hear of the people’s thirst. God freed them from Egypt and as they wander in the desert they become thirsty. This thirst leads to quarreling and resentment. They become so angry that Moses is afraid for his life.

God responds to their thirst. He commands Moses to provide them with water. God cares about His people’s thirst and responds.

The theme of thirst goes deeper in the Gospel story of the woman at the well. Jesus sits at a well. He is thirsty. God is thirsty. Jesus thirst comes first.

Then along comes the woman. Like each of us, she comes to the well because she is thirsty. Perhaps her life has become routine and empty. She has sought fulfillment (five husbands). But still, she thirsts. She comes to the well, seeking something to quench her thirst.

And she finds Jesus at the well

Something happens.

This mysterious encounter with Jesus quenches the woman’s thirst. She leaves her water jar beside the well. With renewed energy, she returns to her village trying to share this powerful encounter with others. It has changed her. Jesus has changed her. He has satisfied her deepest longing.

Each day, Jesus comes to us. He thirsts for us. He pours his Spirit into our hearts so that our deepest thirst can be quenched. Like God coming to His people and like Jesus at the well, the deepest longings of our heart can be fulfilled in a mysterious encounter with Jesus.

This encounter is prayer.

In prayer, something happens. This encounter digs out the well within our hearts where Jesus thirsts for us. Each day, when we come to prayer, we come to the well. At the well of prayer, we encounter Jesus who can fulfill our deepest desires. He transforms us.

This encounter is what lent is all about.

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln A. Wood

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 3-12-17

“When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.”
Mt. 4:11

“We… look upon the transfiguration above all as the celebration of that presence of Christ which takes charge of everything in us and transfigures even that which disturbs us about ourselves. God penetrates those hardened, incredulous, even disquieting regions within us, about which we really do not know what to do. God penetrates them with the life of the Spirit and acts upon those regions and gives them God’s own face.”
Kathryn Spink

Every year, on the second Sunday of lent, we hear the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. It seems like an odd time to hear this story which so clearly foreshadows the resurrection. Some scholars speculate that we read this story near the beginning of lent to give us the courage to persevere in our lenten discipline.
I have a different theory, at least for this lent as we focus on being forgiven.
Read as a story of forgiveness, the Transfiguration takes on new meaning. Jesus reveals His glory to Peter, James, and John. He also reveals their need for forgiveness. They are confronted with Jesus’ majesty and see how pitiful they are in comparison. They fall short of their calling. Jesus glory confronts them with their sinfulness. They fall prostrate and are overcome by fear. They see their brokenness for what it is. In the light of the Transfiguration, sin is exposed for what it is.
But the story doesn’t end there. After revealing His glory (and the disciple’s sinfulness), Jesus comes to them with the healing words, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” They are forgiven. There is still a long journey of healing and transformation ahead, but Jesus assures them that he will be with them. He is not a judge, but a savior. He does not condemn but forgives.
What is true for Peter, James, and John is also true for us. Jesus brings us face to face with our sin. He does not let us off the hook. The close we come to His glory, the more we realize our need for forgiveness. But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus also assures us that He is our savior, not our judge. He releases us from fear and invites us to continue to follow Him.
We are forgiven. Let’s follow Jesus!

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln A. Wood

 

 

 

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 3-5-17

ice-cream-cone-1274894_640

“At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”
Mt. 4:11

“The Holy Spirit makes us discern between trials, which are necessary for the growth of the inner man, and temptation, which leads to sin and death. We must also discern between being tempted and consenting to temptation. Finally, discernment unmasks the lie of temptation, whose object appears to be good, a ‘delight to the eyes’ and desirable, when in reality its fruit is death.”
CCC 2847

What is the difference between undergoing trial and being tempted?

Trials are different than temptation. Trials happen to us. Trials come upon us. They are beyond our control and affect us from the outside. Trials lead us to depend on our strength. Trials reveal our weakness. Through trials, we develop our character and can become stronger, holier, better people. Trials are endured. “… affliction (trial) produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint… “ (Rm 5:4).

Temptations also happen to us. However, temptation works from the inside. Temptation asks us to consent. It asks us to give our heart over to the temptation. Temptation asks for our cooperation, not merely our endurance. Temptation invites us to sin by freely choosing evil. Temptation makes evil look appealing. Temptation has a moral component to it. It engages our will.

Because God has made us with free will, temptation can be consented to or resisted.Eve and Adam were tempted by the devil, they consented. Jesus was tempted in the desert, he resisted and overcame. We are all tempted when something we know to be wrong or evil appears good. Our minds twist and we justify what we know to be wrong.

The good news of Jesus’ overcoming temptation in the desert is that with Him we can overcome temptation as well. The closer we follow Jesus, the greater our ability to overcome temptation.

When temptation strikes, turn to the Lord. Remember that He has conquered all temptation. Trust that He will get you through. In resisting temptation, by God’s grace, you become free!

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln A. Wood

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 2-26-17

Goose, Goose Breast, Fry, Food, Christmas Food, Feast“There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink and find enjoyment, for these are from the hand of God.”
Ecclesiastes 2:24

“One will have to give account in the judgment day of every good thing which one might have enjoyed and did not.”
The Talmud

Lent is nearly upon us, but before we began our time of fasting, we have the time of feasting known as Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday). Mardi Gras is not a time of overindulgence or immorality as it is sometimes portrayed. Instead, at its heart, Mardi Gras is about enjoying the gifts God has given us to the fullest. It is a time of gratitude and thanks.

I priest in the diocese recently shared his favorite Mardi Gras prayer, which gets at the sensuousness and delight of Mardi Gras.

O Lord, refresh our sensibilities.  Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice.  Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard.  Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations.  Above all, give us grace to live as true folk – to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand.  Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve thee as thou hast blessed us – with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. (Robert Farrar Capon)

May the next few days be days of great joy and gratitude in your life as we prepare for the coming lenten fast.

“Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth. Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass us by. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither. Et none of us fail to share in our revelry; because this is our portion, and this is our lot” (Wisdom 2:6-9).

Peace,

Dcn. Lincoln A. Wood