Messages From Fr. Jim

February 12, 2021

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

I begin this Flocknote with some announcement/housekeeping notes:

  1. Some  of you have received an email that indicates that it is from me and says 

“Hi, How Are You? I Need Your Help? Please Let Me Know You Get This.
 Peace.”

Then my signature as Msgr. James Hannon.

This is a scam! Please delete it. 

I was told by our tech guy that this was only text and that it poses no threat to anyone’s computer. It is a lesson for us to consider. If you get an email that is “off” in some way, trust your senses. For example, this particular email capitalizes all the words. This is one indication that something is not right. Another clue is the signature. By far, I most often sign “Fr. Jim.” I occasionally sign using the title “Msgr,” but that is rare. 

If you hear from me it will be via Flocknote, or one of my two emails that end with “@archbalt.org” or “@ourladygrace.org.” In this case, it was the “ourladygrace” account that was used to create a false account – “pastor.ourladygrace@gmail.com.” 

  1. I spoke with both Fr. Joe Wenderoth and Msgr. George Moeller this week. They are both doing well! Like all of us, they are ready for this COVID thing to end. Msgr. Moeller celebrated the Thursday morning Mass before COVID hit. He will start celebrating that Mass again beginning on Thursday, March 11th. 

Now, continuing our series of reflections on the Sacraments, this week we look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation

The above words that began this Flocknote are from the Prayer of Absolution of the Rite of Reconciliation, (what many people refer to as “confession.”) Confession is not as popular as it once was – but it is still one of the Seven Sacraments, and as such, it is something we should take seriously as a gift from God and a source of comfort and healing. All of us are sinners. No one of us escapes this reality in our lives. Christ provides us a way to be released of our sins in this Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are reconciled to God in Christ through the ministry of the Church. Let’s look at a couple of points about the Sacrament of Reconciliation that might help us to recover a love for this wonderful gift.

The priest and the penitent, (the person confessing), meet in person for this Sacrament. The priest hearing the confession is acting on behalf of Christ, and so, in a real sense, the penitent is meeting with and encountering Christ himself. It is Christ who forgives our sins. It is Christ who showers us with the grace of God’s redeeming love. 

It is important to remember that the priest is not better than the penitent in any way. The priest is a fellow sinner who himself always stands in need of the merciful grace of Christ. The priest is, however, ordained to celebrate the Sacraments with the people of God. While we hope that the priest does all he can to avoid sin, the Sacrament does not depend on how holy he is. As long as the priests celebrates the Sacrament correctly, the penitent celebrates the Sacrament of Reconciliation and its graces.

Why do I need a priest to confess my sins? Why can’t I just speak to Christ from my heart, tell him my sins and ask for his forgiveness? This question gets asked often. If we are truly sorry for our sins, we can pray to Christ and be assured of his merciful forgiveness. BUT – this IS NOT a sacrament. The Sacrament of Reconciliation requires that we confess our sins to another member of the Church community who is a priest or bishop. Then, in the name of Christ AND the Church, we are absolved of our sins. 

This absolution of our sins is done in the context of being a member of the Church. Even though the sacrament is celebrated in a private setting between a priest and a penitent, still, it is set within the context of the Church community. The absolution restores us to that community. 

This coming week we begin the season of Lent. It is a perfect time to consider celebrating this Sacrament of Reconciliation. A priest is available, (usually me – Fr. Jim), every week before the Saturday 5 pm Mass from 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm for Confessions. During this Lent, I will also be available on Monday evenings from 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm for Confessions, in the first room to the left as you enter the church from the doors closest to the handicapped parking. (All of this is, of course, weather permitting!)

AND – going forward, I will be available on the first Wednesday of the month from 9:00 am – 10:30 am. During this time, the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed for prayer and adoration.

AND, of course, any parishioner can call me to set up an appointment to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

I will end my Flocknote with the Prayer of Absolution. 

God, the Father of mercies,

through the death and resurrection of his Son

has reconciled the world to himself 

and set the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins;

through the ministry of the Church

may God give you pardon and peace,

and I absolve you from your sins

in the name of the Father + 

and of the Son +

and of the Holy Spirit. + Amen.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

February 6, 2021

Source and Summit . . .

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

Let me begin by mentioning that this Flocknote is interspersed with information from Bishop Robert Barron’s series on The Sacraments.

Over the past two weeks we have considered the first two Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism and Confirmation. This week we consider the third of these Sacraments of Initiation, the Eucharist!

As I noted last week, most of us received the Eucharist, (which is the third Sacrament of Initiation), second in line of the Sacraments of Initiation after Baptism. Then, sometime later we received Confirmation, (which is the second of the Sacraments of Initiation.) The reason mentioned was so the bishop could keep some connection to the faithful. I know, it can get confusing! But it is important to know this so that we keep in touch with the practice of the Church from its earliest times.

The Second Vatican Council produced a number of documents. Of all these documents, four of them were “Constitutions.” They addressed matters that were particularly important to the life of the Church. One of these Constitutions was The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  Part of Section #10 of this Constitution contains what are probably the most well-known words of Vatican II. 

  1. Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Churchy is directed; at the same time it is the fountain (source) from which all her power flows. 

The Eucharist is BOTH source and summit for the Church. It is the encounter with Christ that nourishes us and from which we go; it is the ever-deepening encounter with Christ the heights for which we reach! 

Vatican II confirmed the belief of the Church through the ages. Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ by the words of the Eucharistic Prayer. Even as bread and wine appear to remain the same, the deepest reality of what appears to be bread and wine changes. The word used for this wondrous reality is TRANSUBSTANTIATION. And we, by eating this sacred food, become something different ourselves. We become the Body of Christ in our world, in our time. The Church, gathered around the altar of the Lord, has engaged this ritual and this reality unbroken from its very beginning. 

This time of COVID-19 has been a challenge to all of us. We are offering live streaming of the Masses and will continue to do so, especially for those who cannot make it to church for Mass. Many people are still not ready to return to church for Mass and are taking advantage of the live streaming of our Masses. I want to challenge all of us on this practice, however. Participation in Mass via live streaming cannot be seen as a replacement for the way we have celebrated Mass in the past. It CANNOT replace the in-person participation at Mass and the reception of Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ. The time will come when we will be able to gather in person for Mass again. When that time comes, let us keep before us the importance of attending Mass in person. Nothing can replace that. For those who are homebound, the live streaming can be source of connection and encouragement. For someone who is homebound, we have Eucharistic Ministers who will again bring the Eucharist to their home. We pray for this time to come.

I end this reflection with a suggestion. The next time you have a slice of bread, prayerfully consider that Christ offers his body and blood to us, truly and really, in something so common as bread. Just as bread feeds and nourishes us, so Christ uses bread to feed us and nourish us with his body and blood that he may nourish us for the task of bringing his presence to our world! 

Fr. Jim

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

January 29, 2021

Be Sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit . . .

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

Let me begin by mentioning that this Flocknote is interspersed with information from Bishop Robert Barron’s series on The Sacraments.

As I noted last week, my Flocknotes to you for the next weeks would be a series on the Sacraments. This week we will look at the second of the three Sacraments of Initiation, CONFIRMATION. Most of us received this particular Sacrament of Initiation as the third of three, (with Baptism and Eucharist preceding it,) but in fact, from ancient times, the Sacrament of Confirmation was meant to be second in the line of three. I will explore this change in order later in this essay.

So – what is this Sacrament of Confirmation all about? Like all sacraments – the Sacrament of Confirmation is about an encounter with Christ. The  Lord CONFIRMS us with gifts of his Holy Spirit – enabling us to do Christ’s work.

Confirmation is deeply tied to Baptism. It is meant to strengthen and confirm the baptized, so they are prepared to spread and defend the faith in word and action. Another word for this is MISSION. The strength of the Holy Spirit is given for the spreading of the faith.

In his series of The Sacraments, Bishop Barron makes an interesting comparison that is helpful. It is this – “Confirmation stands to Baptism as Pentecost stands to Easter.” Through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Confirmation unleashes the power of Baptism, just as Pentecost unfolds the true nature of the Church, the community  of believers in their experience of the Risen Christ. 

Jesus breathed on the disciples and said to them RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT. The Latin word for “breath” is “spiritum.” Jesus breathed on his disciples; this breath was the Holy Spirit. The Sacrament of Confirmation is the way that Jesus breathes on us. The gifts of the Spirit are given so that the confirmed can be about the mission of Christ and his Church. What are these gifts?

Wisdom
Knowledge 
Understanding
Counsel
Piety
Fortitude
Fear of the Lord 

Wisdom: Bishop Barron notes that wisdom is the view of life from the standpoint of the highest cause. What does God want? Asking this reveals the attitude of wisdom.

Knowledge & Understanding: These are about the great truths of the faith. We must know the faith in order to spread it! 

Fortitude: Defending the faith and spreading it requires fortitude. There are so many  who attack our faith. There is so much negative out there. Fortitude gives us strength to face the attacks and speak the truth of Christ. 

Counsel: Is about moral “know how.” It is about prudence and practical wisdom that leads us to depend on God and to ask, “What do I do now, Lord?”

Piety: This is about our attitude towards God. It is about giving to God what is due to God. God, who gave us everything deserves our total commitment and honor. We owe God our worship and life.

Fear of the Lord: This is NOT about being terrified of God. Rather, it is about awe in the presence of God. God deserves the deepest reverence of which our heart is capable . . . a reverence that is beyond family or country or organization. The  one who deserves our deepest reverence is God alone.

The ritual for the Sacrament of Confirmation is beautifully simple. The person to be confirmed stands before the minister of the sacrament. The minister of the sacrament, (usually a bishop, but not always), takes the Oil of Chrism and makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person being confirmed saying, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit!”  The minister of the sacrament then wishes the confirmed peace. The meaning of being “sealed” is about the “branding” of a person. The sign of the branding is the Sign of the Cross! Confirmation is one of three “character” sacraments. The other two “character” sacraments are Baptism and Holy Orders. Chrism is an oil of consecration. With it, the minister of the sacrament BRANDS the person with a new and deeper identity!

The minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation is usually a bishop. (A priest, however, can be delegated to celebrate Confirmation.) In the early days of the Church, bishops celebrated all the Sacraments of Initiation. When membership in the Church began to increase from the fourth century on, it became impossible for the bishop to be the only minister of the Sacraments of Initiation.  It became the practice that those entering the Church would be baptized and given Eucharist by their local priest. Confirmation was reserved to the bishop as a way for those entering the Church to have a connection with their bishop. This emphasized that the one who was being confirmed had a connection with the larger Church and with the bishop, who was charged with care for the larger flock. This practice remains with us today. It is why Confirmation, the second Sacrament of Initiation, is most often celebrated third, after Baptism and Eucharist. 

It is a particularly windy day today, as I write this Flocknote to you. I am reminded of that first Pentecost when the Spirit came in a mighty wind! “Ands suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit . . .” (Acts 2) 

I end this reflection with a suggestion. Go outside for a moment and experience the wind. It may be a “strong driving wind,” or a gentle breeze. Let it remind you of the breath of God coming to you and speaking of God’s love. Thank God for the Gift of his  HOLY SPIRIT in your life and in the lives of those whom you love. AMEN.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

January 23, 2021

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

For some time, a group of Our Lady of Grace parishioners has met to share company and to learn about their faith on most Wednesday mornings after the 8:30 am Mass. In spite of COVID – this group has continued to meet, but now via ZOOM. I am a part of that group, and I look forward each week to our conversations and exploration of our faith.  

(As a side  note . . . if any of you would like to start such a ZOOM group, let me know. I’d be happy to arrange a group or groups to get together via ZOOM and discuss any number of topics that are centered on our faith! Just email me a Jhannon@archbalt.org. I’ll be in touch with you to organize a group.)

This past Wednesday, we started a series on The Sacraments. (The series is presented by Bishop Robert Barron.) This got me to thinking, (via a suggestion by a friend), that it would be a good thing to follow that series here in my Flocknote to you every week. They are, after all, SO important in our lives as Catholics. And so for the next weeks, I will be writing and reflecting on the meaning of the sacraments for us. SO . . . here we go!

The first sacrament and the gateway to all the other sacraments is, or course, BAPTISM. Many of us were baptized as babies, some of us as adults. Baptism is our entry into the Christian/Catholic community. (I write it that way,  i.e. “Christian/Catholic” because we share this sacrament with other Christian communities who celebrate the sacrament as we do. Acknowledgement of this fact could well be the beginning of the conversation that leads us to Christian Unity) 

Most importantly, BAPTISM is our entry into our life in Christ. 

The ritual of baptism is the beginning of a lifelong process that leads us to God’s grace as the source meaning of our lives. Baptism, as our entry into the community of the Church is an entrance into the Mystical Body of Christ, as a sacrament, an outward sign to the world of Christ’s presence. Baptism, with the other sacraments, is the means by which Christ continues to communicate his life to his people. In his series, Bishop Barron calls baptism and all the sacraments the “prolongation of the incarnation across space and time.” We can never escape the wonderful reality that we celebrate at Christmas, the INCARNATION, for God is now with us, intimately tied to us in a relationship that begins with BAPTISM. Bishop Barron notes that BAPTISM, and all the sacraments, is a visible sign of the invisible gift from God – GRACE, or THE DIVINE FRINEDSHIP.

The Seven Sacraments are delineated by what it is they “do,” or how they operate in our lives. BAPTISM is one of three “Sacraments of Initiation.” With CONFIRMATION and EUCHARIST, BAPTISM initiates us into the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. 

Baptism is also one three sacraments that are called “Character Sacraments.” They give a permanent “character” or “mark” or “configuration.” These sacraments are BAPTISM, CONFIRMATION and HOLY ORDERS. These sacraments mark the individual in such a deep way as to order their lives.

Many of you parents remember taking your child to the church to be baptized. It would be good to remember the promises that you made in the context of the ritual of baptism. You officially named your child, then you asked for the gift of BAPTISM for your child.  The minister of the sacrament then said to you, “You have asked for your child to be baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring them up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us.” 

At one point in the ritual of baptism, we were anointed with CHRISM, a special oil of consecration. (Chrism is used for the three “Sacraments of Character.”) The minister said, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” 

There is, of course, so much more that could be said about the importance and beauty of the Sacrament of Baptism. We will see in future weeks how important it is in relationship with the other sacraments. 

I’ll end this reflection with a suggestion. The next time you run the water at your sink, touch it and make the sign of the cross. Flowing water is a sign of our life in Christ. Thank God for the gift of his GRACE in your life and in the lives of those whom you love. 

Fr. Jim

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

January 14, 2021

A Prayer for our Nation and Government 

What is coming this week? On Monday our nation celebrates the annual observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. On Wednesday, the swearing in of a new President and new Vice-President will take place. This year, both the remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the beginning of a presidential administration are set against the backdrop of a nation that is sadly divided. It is difficult to hope when we are plummeted with sad news of insurrection and disruption, and reports of plans for more disruption in the days ahead. But hope we must! For our deepest and truest allegiance is to Jesus Christ and his kingdom in our midst. No matter what our political stripe, it is in allegiance to Jesus and the kingdom that he announced that we find our common ground and the source of deepest identity. It is to this identity that we commit each time we receive the Eucharist!

Having said that, let us then turn to prayer. The rest of this Flocknote will be given over to a Prayer for Government written by the first bishop in the United States, the first Archbishop of Baltimore, Archbishop John Carroll. Archbishop Carroll wrote this prayer in 1791. May it give voice to our hopes as we mark the transition in presidential administrations. 

PRAYER FOR GOVERNMENT BY ARCHBISHOP JOHN CARROLL

We pray you, O God of might, wisdom, and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with your Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to your people, over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of your divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty. We recommend likewise, to your unbounded mercy, all our fellow citizens throughout the United States, that we may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of your most holy law; that we may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Fr. Jim

~~~~~~

January 3, 2021

Welcome All Wonders . . . an Epiphany!

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. The gospel for this feast is Matthew’s telling of the story of the three magi who followed the star that took them to Jesus. There, they offered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These three gifts point to deeper realities. The gold indicates that Jesus is king. Frankincense indicates that Jesus is God. Myrrh is a spice that will be used to prepare the body of Jesus for his burial. And so, even as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we do not forget why he came to us – to undergo the redeeming act of his love for us on the cross. 

For both my Christmas homily and my Epiphany homily, I quote a poem written by Richard Crashaw in 1648:

Welcome all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span,
summer in winter,
day in night,
heaven in earth
and God in man.

Great little one whose all embracing birth
lifts earth to heaven,
stoops heaven to earth.

And so on this great Solemnity of the Epiphany, we WELCOME the WONDER of God made flesh and come to save us! We WELCOME the vision that the magi beheld as they completed their journey to the place where Jesus lay.

May this new year be one of many wonders for us all! May God’s blessing be like a star that guides us to his love.

Fr. Jim

* * * * *

December 23, 2020

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

Greetings to all and MERRY CHRISTMAS.

In this past week, we have celebrated a number of “confluences,” “convergences,” or even “conjunctions!” In the gospel of last weekend, the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce to her that she will bear a son who will be “Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Interestingly, the feast that celebrates this scene, (the Annunciation), is celebrated on March 25th every year, exactly nine months before Christmas. It is also considered to be that moment when Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary.

In our weekday readings, we encountered Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. It is the scene that we know as the Visitation. It was the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth AND the meeting of Jesus and John!

Our Collect Prayer from last week notes that the Incarnation of Christ is made known by this angel. Mary’s “YES” to the angel’s announcement brings about the great reality of God made flesh! (Incarnation!) It is Mary who is a house/tabernacle for the God who comes into our midst by the birth of Jesus.

Whenever we receive the Eucharist, WE become the house/tabernacle of God! What an amazing thing! We, the created, become the place where the divine dwells. We who are finite are privileged to hold the infinite within us! This honor is given to us by a God who loves us. God comes to us to establish an intimate relationship with us. God becomes our very food and drink as he offers his body and blood to us. On Christmas, we will look to another house, Bethlehem . . . a name that means, “house of bread.” There, the one who offers us his body and blood is born anew in our lives!

O Come! Let us adore him who is our salvation, the one for whom we long, God with us then and now and into the future! May the darkness of 2020 be shattered and broken by the power of Christ, who is light from light, and may 2021 be a year of healing and peace.

I join our entire staff in wishing all a blessed and Merry Christmas!

Fr. Jim

* * * * * * *

December 13, 2020

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. 

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

Christmas Masses ~

As you know, last week I highlighted the Christmas Mass schedule and the sign-up process for reserving a seat at our Masses, (given the limited seating that has been mandated due to Covid-19). That process has gone well. If you wish to reserve a seat, please go to our parish website. Some of the Masses are already full, but you can still find room at other Masses. 

Distribution of Communion ~

This weekend, the Third Weekend of Advent, we will be returning to having communion at the normal time at Masses. The process will be a bit different in that we are trying to distribute communion in a way that respects social distancing. That process will be explained at Masses. 

A reminder about how to receive communion:

  • Please keep a 6-foot distance between you and the person in front of you, both going to receive communion and when returning to your seat.
  • Wear your mask until you have communion in your hand – step to the side, THEN adjust your mask in order to place the host in your mouth.
  • Please offer your hand flat rather than cupped – in order to help in avoiding physical contact  with the person distributing communion.

Advent Reflection

 This weekend we hear from the gospel of John, who highlights John the Baptist, “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” John the Baptist is announcing the one whose presence and activity are about inaugurating the reign of God! And what does this “reign” look like? Our first reading from Isaiah the prophet gives us a hint. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me . . . he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord . . .!”

This Third Week of Advent has traditionally been called GAUDETE Sunday. GAUDETE means REJOICE! Saint Paul tells us to, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, . . .” I began this Flocknote quoting the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near.” (Philippians 4: 4-5) Even in the midst of a difficult year when it would be easy to feel disoriented and disconnected, we are reminded to rejoice! There is much to rejoice about! Keeping our eyes fixed on this positive message can give us the ability to get through this time, so we can at last arrive at the dawn of our salvation! Remember . . . REJOICE!

Fr. Jim


* * * * * *

December 5, 2020

Christmas Masses, Happenings and Advent Reflections . . .

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

This weekend I call your attention our Christmas Mass schedule. 

Christmas Eve Masses will be celebrated:

2:00 pm         Church

4:00 pm         Church

4:15 pm          Hall

6:00 pm         Church

8:00 pm         Church

10:00 pm       Church

Christmas Day Mass will be celebrated at:

10:00 am        Church

We will be careful to observe all COVID-19 protocols for the safety of all who attend our Masses. Since our seating is limited at this time, we are asking that you register for the Mass you wish to attend. Go to our parish website at www.ourladygrace.org and follow the instructions to register yourself and your family. If the Mass is full, you will be asked to register for another Mass. Thank you for your patience as we maneuver this most unusual year in our lives!

Advent Reflections . . .

This second week of Advent, we hear from the 40th Chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is, I believe, one of the most beautiful scriptures written. Isaiah has God speaking tenderly to Jerusalem and announcing the deep and abiding comfort that he brings to her. Then we hear about that voice that cries out  . . . PREPARE THE WAY FOR THE LORD! The beginning of Mark’s gospel for this weekend quotes this chapter of the Prophet Isaiah and identifies that voice as belonging to John the Baptist, who is announcing the coming Christ who baptizes with the Spirit. The imagery used in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is that of valleys being filled in, mountains and hills made low, rugged land being made a plain, rough country a broad valley. The road for God into our hearts must be smooth; nothing should hinder our welcome of the divine in our lives!

Every year during this season we are given the opportunity to go back in time to the yearning for the first coming of Christ so that we can look at life now and into the future to a second coming of Christ. We are not just remembering traditions from the past that make us “feel good,” we are remembering so that our present is informed and infused with the meaning of the events we celebrate.

Fr. Jim

* * * * * *


First Weekend of Advent . . .

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

I begin  by sharing with you an experience that is relatively new to me, one that has given me an opportunity to see our gathering for Mass in a different way. As you know, I am seated ten or fifteen minutes before Mass begins. (This was born out of the COVID-19 instructions to not have a procession for a time. That is why it is relatively new.) During this time, I have thought about how beautiful it is to see people coming into the church for Mass. One by one, people find their place in the church. Many, including me, wave to others, mostly keeping a reverent silence as others pray before Mass. It strikes me that this simple act of people entering the church is, in itself, a part of our Mass and a significant matter. People are GATHERING, they are quite literally MAKING an ASSEMBLY. Once we have gathered, we celebrate the most sacred prayer we pray, the Mass. Being already seated before Mass begins has given me the blessing of reflecting on the meaning of our gathering or assembling more deeply than I ever have before. It has also allowed me time to reflect on my own role in this gathering as one who presides at Mass. 

A Brief Advent Reflection . . .

This experience that I have just described was born out of “Pandemic Time.” Is it fair to say that something good has come out of this time? I think so. It is also fair to say that a lot of people have had enough “down time,” and are ready to get back to normal. But will there ever be a normal as it was before? I think not. The normal will be new. As we now engage the Season of Advent, we might want to think about that. We may find that this season, with its emphasis on waiting for God to come to us, might just be in tune with what we are experiencing. For, while we wait for God to come to us, we are also waiting for our deeper selves to be revealed in that wait. That process can be uncomfortable or even painful, (like the time we are in.) But, being born anew usually is. 

Fr. Jim

* * * * * * *

November 13, 2020

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

This weekend the Church marks the 33rd Weekend of Ordinary Time. This is the last of the weekends of this liturgical year that has a number attached to it. Next weekend, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. Then we engage a new liturgical year with the First Weekend of Advent. (Christmas is not far away!) 

This past week and this coming week are particularly rich one in terms of the celebration of feasts of saints. I want to use my Flocknote this week, (as I do upon occasion), to highlight some of our saints whom we honor with feast days. The information given in this Flocknote comes from our ORDO – a book that contains the “Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and Celebration of the Eucharist,” and the “Saint of the Day” from Franciscan Media. 

November 9th – The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

This day marks the anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral church of Rome on land that was once owned by the Laterani family and willed to the Church. This dedication happened on November 9th, 324. This church is honored as the episcopal seat of the pope as bishop of Rome. On the façade of this church are the Latin words for, “mother and head of all the churches of Rome and the world.”  This feast is one of three feasts in the year that celebrate the dedication of church buildings. The other two feasts of the Dedication of Saint Mary Major, (August 5th), and the Dedication of Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul, (November 18th).

November 10th – Saint Leo the Great (died in 461)

Leo was elected pope in 440. He was considered an eminent pastor and preacher. He worked against two heresies of the day – Pelagianism (overemphasizing human freedom), and Manichaeism (seeing everything material as evil). He is known as one of the best administrative popes of the ancient Church. His “Tome” on Christ’s two natures was adopted by the Council of Chalcedon. (451) Many of his prayers are found in the Roman Missal. He saved Rome from marauding Huns and Vandals. 

November 11th – Saint Martin of Tours (died in 397)

Martin was born of pagan parents in what is now Hungary. He was forced to serve in the army at age 15. He was baptized at age 18. He became a disciple of Saint Hilary of Poitiers, (feast day January 13th). He worked with great zeal against the heresy of Arianism. He founded the first monastery in the Western (Latin) Church. He became bishop of Tours at the insistence of the people of Tours. He was the first non-martyr with an annual feast in the Western Church. He is the patron of soldiers, wine producers, and of France.

November 12th – St. Josaphat / Bishop and Martyr (died 1623)

Josaphat Kuncevych was born in Poland, and was raised Ukrainian Orthodox. His fidelity to Rome and his desire for union between the Ukrainian Church and Rome led to his murder at Vitebsk. He is the first formally canonized saint of the Eastern Rite. 

November 13th – St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (died 1917)

Frances Xavier Cabrini is the youngest of thirteen children. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. She ministered for twenty-eight years in the United States and South America. She is responsible for the establishment of sixty-seven institutions that include schools hospitals and orphanages. She died at one of the hospitals she established in Chicago in 1917. She is the first US citizen to be canonized, (1946). She is the patroness of immigrants and migrants.

November 16th – St. Margaret of Scotland (died 1093)

Margaret spent much of her youth in the court of her great-uncle, the English King Edward the Confessor. Her family fled England to escape William the Conquerer. She ended up in Scotland when the ship she and her family were in shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland. Eventually, Margaret married King Malcolm III of Scotland. Her love of the poor was legendary. 

November 17th – St. Elizabeth of Hungary (died 1231)

At the age of fourteen, Elizabeth married Louis IV of Thuringia, (a German principality), whom she deeply loved. She led a life of prayer, sacrifice and service to the poor. She wore simply clothing and would daily take bread to the poorest who would come to her gate. Elizabeth’s husband Louis IV died in the Crusades. After his death Elizabeth joined the secular Franciscan Order. She founded a hospital in honor of St. Francis. She died before her 24th birthday and was canonized only four years after her death. She is the patroness of Catholic charities.

November 18th – The Dedication of the Basilicas of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Vatican hill was once a simple cemetery where Saint Peter was buried. After his death, believers would gather at Peter’s tomb to pray. In 319, Emperor Constantine built a basilica on the site of Peter’s tomb that lasted for more than a thousand years! In 1506, Pope Julius II ordered that the old basilica be torn down. (The old basilica was in terrible shape by that time and close to collapse). He ordered that a new basilica be built in the place of the old basilica. Two centuries later, on November 18, 1626, the Basilica of Saint Peter’s that we know today was consecrated by Pope Urban VIII. 

St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls was also built over a church that was commissioned by Emperor Constantine over the grave of Paul. In 386, Emperor Valentinian II ordered the building of a church on this site to replace the one that Emperor Constantine had built. This church was destroyed by fire in 1823. A new one was built on the same site and was consecrated by Pope Pius IX. Pius IX joined the dedication of these two great basilicas to be celebrated with one feast. 

The celebration of the Apostles Peter & Paul are often joined. They have one feast on the liturgical calendar on June 29th. They are considered the “Twin Founders of the New Rome.” You will often see them depicted in art together. 

So – we began, and we end our look at the saints with the dedication of three of the four major basilicas in Rome. These buildings remind us that as the Body of Christ, we ourselves are an edifice built by the Holy Spirit. Each member is a part of the larger structure built up to be one great “building,” one great Body of Christ. The saints whose lives we have explored and celebrated here are but a few of the lives who are part of the larger edifice of the Body of Christ. 

Fr. Jim

* * * * * * *

November 6, 2020

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

This weekend of November 7th and 8th, we welcome Fr. Steven Roth to our parish. Fr. Steven is the Vocations Director of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He is here to speak with us about vocations. Ten years ago, the Archdiocese of Baltimore had around twenty-four men preparing for priesthood for service to the Archdiocese. Today, we have fifty-three men preparing for priesthood for the Archdiocese. (Take a look at the large vocations flyer in the foyer of the church.) Fr. Roth deserves much credit for the increase of men preparing at this time. He is energetic and joy filled about his ministry!

All of us, as baptized members of the Body of Christ, are called by God . . . we all have a “vocation.” The married life is a “vocation.” Perhaps your work is a real “vocation” for you, you feel called to do the work you are doing. This weekend, however, Fr. Steven will focus on vocations to ordained ministry and religious life. 

A clarification . . . on “religious life.” This term applies to those who are members of a religious community. It can be women or men. Women’s religious communities are comprised of sisters or nuns. (There is a difference!) Men can be brothers or priests in their religious community. A man can hear God’s call to the priesthood as well as priesthood in a religious community. Communal living is a charism that not all men have. The term “religious” or “religious life” does not apply to all priests. Many of us priests are “diocesan priests” – who belong to a body of priests in a particular diocese called “a presbyterate.” For example, Fr. Roth and I both belong to the presbyterate of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. So, while I hope we both of us are “religious men,” (meaning that we live religious lives and our religion is important to us), we are not “religious” in the sense we use the word here. 

A bit of my own story . . .

When I was young, both of my brothers were in the seminary. I was introduced to the idea of “vocation to the priesthood” early on in my life. I, of course, wanted to be like my brothers, so I decided that I wanted to go to the seminary. In the early 1960’s, I went to St. Paul Latin High School in Baltimore. St. Paul’s was a day seminary – meaning that we attended the seminary during the day but went home in the evening and on weekends like every other high school student. St. Paul’s closed after my second year of high school when the seminary program was moved to Cardinal Gibbons High School. I went with the program and attended and graduated from Cardinal Gibbons. (One of our parishioners, Alan Stokes, was in my class at Gibbons!) After graduation from Gibbons, I attended college seminary at St. Mary’s College Seminary, which was located on the site of the old St. Charles Seminary in Catonsville, MD. From St. Mary’s College Seminary, I decided to leave seminary for a period of time. I attended and graduated from Loyola College. During all this time, my own vocation matured and grew. I found that I wanted to be a priest because I felt called by God to this vocation, not because I wanted to be like my brothers. (By the way – they both left the seminary and got married!) I taught high school religion at Seton High School and the Institute of Notre Dame. Eventually I found my way back to the seminary to work toward becoming a priest for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. I attended a seminary named Theological College – nicknamed “TC.” TC was attached to The Catholic University of America. My time at TC was a wonderful time in my life. My education at The Catholic University was a gift for which I am thankful. (I lived on the fifth floor of the seminary. During the winter, when the trees had no leaves, I could see the capital dome from my window!) I was ordained a deacon in 1987 and a priest in 1988 by Archbishop William Borders. As they say . . . the rest is history!

I can honestly say that I love being a priest! I feel that my temperament and gifts match the ministry that I do as a priest and pastor. As you know, before coming to Our Lady of Grace, I served as Director of Clergy Personnel for eight years. I had the privilege of working with our own diocesan priests, (including Fr. Roth in his role as Vocations Director), and religious priests during that time. I feel that this ministry gave me deeper insight into the call to be a priest. Many people think that we priests have to sacrifice so much in our lives in order to follow God’s call. In fact, I don’t feel that I have had to sacrifice much at all! I would argue that instead of sacrifice, I have found joy in priestly ministry! The return to parish ministry has affirmed for me that I love serving as a pastor. Serving here at Our Lady of Grace has been a true blessing in my life! 

Many times young people are introduced to the idea of a vocation to being a deacon, priest or religious when they are invited by someone to consider the vocation. Do you know anyone who fits this description? If so – consider telling them that you think they might want to consider a vocation. Your affirmation of their gifts might be the one thing they need to open their eyes to the possibility that God is calling them to serve the Church in this way. You yourself might be the voice that God uses to call someone to consider a vocation! 

Fr. Jim

* * * * * * *

November 1, 2020

Some Catching Up. . . a Word of Welcome . . . All Saints and All Souls!

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

Some catching up . . . 

I spoke with both Fr. Joe Wenderoth and Msgr. George Moeller this past week and wanted to bring you up to date on both of them! Both report that they are doing well. They commented on the fact that this time of Covid-19 has had its challenges. Mercy Ridge, where they both live, has been very careful with Covid-19 protocols. Both Fr. Joe and Fr. George are grateful for the careful approach being taken and are themselves being careful to observe all appropriate protocols. As you know, Fr. George had some surgery some time back. He reports that he is fully recovered and feeling well. I reminded Fr. Joe that when we are able that we still want to have a celebration of the many years of service that he gave to our parish! (That celebration was interrupted by Covid-19.) While that time is not here yet, we won’t forget!

A word of welcome . . .

When Fr. Joe told me that his doctor recommended to him that he cut back on his outside activities and that he felt it was time to stop celebrating Mass at Our Lady of Grace, I was hoping that we might find someone else to celebrate Mass in our parish in an ongoing way, as Fr. Joe did. God provided! Msgr. Michael Schleupner was available and interested in serving Our Lady of Grace in exactly this way! Msgr. Schleupner is a retired priest of the Archdiocese. Before retiring, he served as pastor of St. Margaret in Bel Air, MD. We WELCOME Msgr. Schleupner and thank him for joining our parish community to preside at Eucharist! 

All Saints Day . . . All Souls Day

This weekend we celebrate All Saints Day! This would usually be the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, however, when a Solemnity like All Saints Day occurs on the same day as a Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Solemnity takes precedence! In the course of the liturgical year, we celebrate a number of saints whose lives are held up as examples of how to live the faith. Their stories are often heroic and inspiring. On this feast, however, we celebrate ALL the saints, known and unknown, who have lived as true disciples of Christ. Among them could well be our deceased friends and family, whose example of living out the faith was formative to our own lives as disciples. We believe that time and space do not keep us from their presence, and that they are with us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. They gather around the altar with us to sing the praises of Christ who has redeemed us all. This weekend let us be grateful for their witness and living out of the faith from centuries past to the present day. May God be praised in His angels and in His saints!

All Saints Day if followed, of course, by All Souls Day – to be celebrated this Monday. All Souls Day is also known as the “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed” and “Day of the Dead.” While All Saints Day is triumphant, All Souls Day has a more somber feel to it. For us as Christians, our belief that Christ is triumphant over death and that we are redeemed by his saving grace places our death and the death of those we love in a joyful context. Death has no sway over us for Christ has redeemed us from death! Even so, on this side of heaven, we have to acknowledge that death is a sad experience for us. When we lose someone we love, we miss them, we grieve the loss of those whom we love. Even when we are confident that we will be with them again, the loss we feel is real and needs to be acknowledged. 

We have a choice of three liturgical colors for All Souls Day: white, purple or black. You don’t see black vestments much these days! Some years ago, I had a set of black vestments made to wear on All Souls Day in memory of my deceased parents. The black vestments acknowledge the sadness that is part of the experience of death. But Christ redeems even that sadness as we celebrate his life, death AND resurrection whenever we gather at the Lord’s table to be fed by Word and Sacrament!

Fr. Jim 

* * * * * * *

October 19, 2020

Our Path Forward . . . A stewardship Initiative . . . Reflections from Last Week

Dear Friends of Our Lady of Grace,

This weekend we launch our stewardship initiative, Our Path Forward. My thanks to Scott Shannon, a member of our Finance Committee, for his willingness to address the people at all our Masses. Scott will be inviting us to prayerfully reflect on our giving to Our Lady of Grace. This initiative is an opportunity to continue to support our parish ministries and mission. While we are asking you to consider increasing your giving to Our Lady of Grace, this initiative is about so much more than finances. It is about our ability as a parish to continue to be about the mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ! Clearly this time of pandemic has had an impact on all our lives. It has also had an impact on our parish. If Our Lady of Grace is to continue being an inviting parish that reaches out to those in our community to offer them the good news, then all of us who are members of the parish will need to support the efforts that are required for this evangelizing mission. God invites us to be laborers in the vineyard. Please let your gift to Our Lady of Grace be your part in supporting that labor. 

Universal Prayer – Joining Our Prayers With Mary and All the Saints

Many weekends in the Prayer of the Faithful, (aka Universal Prayer), we often have a prayer that prays, “for those needs entrusted to us by others, and for those needs we hold in our hearts.” This weekend and going forward, I am going to do something different with this prayer, and I wanted you to know about it! Going forward, when this prayer is part of the Universal Prayer, I am going to add the names of the saints whose feasts we celebrated the week before the weekend that Mass is celebrated. So – for this weekend, our prayer will go this way . . .

For needs that have been entrusted to us by others, and for those needs we hold in the silence of our hearts, that they be united in the Holy Spirit with Mary, the Mother of God, St. Callistus, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Hedwig, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, and St. Ignatius of Antioch, we pray: Lord, hear our prayer.

Mary is, of course, always mentioned first, as she is our patroness and the first and truest disciple. When we gather at Mass, we believe that the saints are with us at the altar. Now, in the course of the year, we will mention by names those saints whose feast is on the liturgical calendar. 

Fr. Jim 

* * * * * * *

June 17, 2020

For it is in giving that we receive . . .

This line is taken from the Prayer of St. Francis. Giving, (specifically to Our Lady of Grace), will be a theme that I will take up in the next several weeks, as it is on my mind and the minds of all who care for our parish.

Now that we have had a couple of months to figure out how the Pandemic has affected our parish financially, I write to you with an update on how Our Lady of Grace is doing in that area. It is a matter of some concern. What is that concern about?

  • Envelope offertory giving is down over 50%.
  • Our offertory income is not covering our payroll and insurance expenses. We are short an average of $9,000 a month.
  • Our total income does not cover all our operating expenses.

We are short $30,000 on average per month.

And so a few points . . .

  1. To those who can give but who have not given because you have not yet returned to church . . . I appeal to you to please reinstitute your own pattern of giving to Our Lady of Grace. If you can increase your gift, that would be much appreciated. As you can see from the above stats, our need is great at this time.
  2. To those who have continued to give throughout these past few months, our thanks for your ongoing generosity to the parish. If you can increase you giving, that would be much appreciated. If every parishioner increased their giving by a relatively small amount, that would make a difference. . . a difference that we need at this time.
  3. Whenever I have written or spoken about giving to the parish, I have tried to be sensitive to the fact that some of our parishioners are themselves experiencing financial stress. For this reason, some may find it difficult to give as they try to find their way through this time. To those who find themselves in this situation, please know that we continue to pray for you and your families. If you cannot give at this time, then please give to the parish via your own prayers that Our Lady of Grace will find its new normal and be financially viable.
  4. To all who are able to give, I ask that you seriously consider setting up a weekly or monthly ongoing offering to Our Lady of Grace via GIVE CENTRAL. You will find the link to this online service on parish website . . . https://www.ourladygrace.org/

GIVE CENTRAL is an ideal way to give as your support will be sent to the parish even if you are unable to attend Mass. It is also ideal as it gives you complete control over how much you give and what collections you support.

I will be addressing this need again in future Flocknotes and from the pulpit. Thank you all for considering the need of the parish at this time. It is so important for us to find a way to continue our ministries as a parish and keep the goal of a  healthy financial status in front of us always. But it is good to remember that in the end, it is not about finances . . . it is about finances that support the mission given us by Jesus himself – to GO MAKE DISCIPES. It is important for us always to remember that our giving reflects our own priorities in life. Giving from the heart offers us a chance to be part of something bigger than ourselves. “For it is in giving that we receive. . .”

Thank you.

Fr. Jim

* * * * * * *