As you read these words, I am on my annual vacation. Last week I told you that I would use this column to address the recent news that Pope Francis had "changed" Catholic teaching on the death penalty. It is best that I begin by reminding people that not even a pope is free to change the unchanging Doctrines of the Catholic Church. Doctrines are those central Truths of the Faith that have been given to us by Christ–either in person while He was on this earth or through constant, unbroken teaching of His Church.
The Truth that Jesus is Lord, that He is truly God and truly man, that in the Eucharist we truly receive His precious Body and Blood, that there are seven sacraments, that there is a Heaven, a hell, and a purgatory–these are examples of Doctrines–Truths of the Faith that cannot change.
Another such Truth is that all human persons are created in the image of God and thus have a God-given sacred dignity that all other persons are obliged to respect. That teaching is the foundation of everything we believe about the dignity of the human person. It is why the Church–from ancient times–has been against abortion. It is why Christian people have played a leading role in the development of humane health care. It is why we are called upon to show compassion and respect, not only to those of our own country, race, or religion but to all human beings.
It is also why our Church has grappled for many years with the death penalty. I say grappled because the death penalty is a more complicated case. Obviously, a murderer shows a distinct lack of respect for human life. Moreover, any civil society that strives to respect human life has to protect its citizens from those, like a murderer, who do not. Given those realities, the Church has held that the state could impose the death penalty only when there was no other way to protect innocent people from dangerous criminals.READ MORE
Last Sunday I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Eagle Scout Court of Honor for Mitchell Frasca. Mitchell is the Boy Scout who recently renovated our Confessionals and Crying Rooms. I was very happy that he agreed to take on the project – and even happier at the thorough job he did.
Not only do I want to congratulate Mitchell on becoming an Eagle Scout, but also thank him for a job well done. I also want to say what a nice time I had catching up with a number of young men who have graduated from our parish school or Boy Scout Troop over the years. It is good to see them doing so well.
Following Mitchell’s ceremony, I was happy to attend a picnic/party given by one of our basketball teams. The team – mostly boys headed into sixth grade – have played in a summer league the past two years. They had a good time and improved their skills – and I was happy to be invited to their party.
Both the Eagle Scout ceremony and the basketball team’s party are a testimony to the many good families that are such a blessing to our parish. I have recently been training some new Altar Servers – who also learned so much about our Faith from their families. As Catholics, we believe that families are the basic building blocks of the Church – the place where most of us first learn and practice our Faith in Jesus Christ. I am always inspired by the number of families in our parish who take that role to heart!READ MORE
We all know that, before ascending to Heaven, Our Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples to spread the Gospel to all people. Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, those disciples made a great start at this mission. Within a generation after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, the Gospel had been preached in most of the Roman Empire, and many people had been converted to Christ.
Today, our Church continues the mission that the apostles began in many ways. One of them is the annual Mission Co-op Plan. As part of this plan, every parish in our country – and in many others, too – is visited by a missionary who preaches about the missions at Sunday Mass. A collection is then taken to support the work of that missionary and his or her community.
Next weekend our parish will welcome a priest from the Diocese of Kohima. Located in the state of Nagaland in Northeast India, Kohima is a beehive of missionary activity. Fifty years ago, there were but a few hundred Catholics there. Today, there is over 60,000 – and the number is growing rapidly. The family of Fr. Mhoncan Ezung – who served as a deacon in our parish a few years ago – came to the Catholic Faith thru the efforts of the
missionaries in Nagaland. He is living proof of the great work that is happening there.
As always, I encourage everyone who can to support the missionary work of the Church. Not all of us can go to the missions, but all of us can support them through our prayers and, in many cases, financial offerings. In doing so, we continue that great mission that Jesus gave to us through His first disciples.READ MORE
I want to start by thanking everyone who helped make Bishop Checchio's visit to our parish such a success. It was nice to see a good crowd at the 11 AM Mass with our Bishop – especially in the middle of July! Although our choir was already on their summer break, a lot of them showed up to sing at the Bishop's Mass. Thanks for going the extra mile!
Special thanks to the Knights of Columbus – who served as an honor guard and lent their presence to the celebration. I am aware that many of the Knights also went to the 9:30 Mass at St. Mary's (which the Bishop also celebrated) as well. This is just one more example of the dedication of these fine men.READ MORE
Our parish is blessed to welcome our bishop, Most Reverend James F. Checchio, who will celebrate our 11 AM Mass this Sunday. Since arriving in our diocese a few years ago, Bishop Checchio has made several visits to our parish. I want to thank him for taking time to be with us – and especially for celebrating Holy Mass in our Church.
This weekend our parish is also welcoming a new seminarian, David Keyes. Born and raised in rural Wisconsin, David felt called by God to serve in a more populated area. He was introduced to New Jersey by a priest who taught him
On his first evening in our parish, Fr. Leo and I had dinner with David. (Fr. Tom was on his spiritual retreat.) After that we took him for a ride around the parish – stopping, of course, for ice cream. He seems to be a wonderful candidate for the priesthood. Let’s all do our best to make him feel welcome here at St. Philip and St. James!
Please pray for some members of our parish Youth Group who are making a special retreat this weekend. Deacon Rob Fisher is with them, along with some of their other advisors. The retreat is sponsored by the Franciscan University of Steubenville and has been enjoyed by various members of our Youth Group over the past several years. I am always inspired to see our young people come home from this retreat with a deeper appreciation of and enthusiasm for their Faith.READ MORE
I am happy to announce that our Bishop will celebrate the 11:00am Mass in our Church next Sunday, July 22. Bishop Checchio likes to visit the parishes of our diocese for Sunday Mass, and I am happy he will be with us next Sunday. It is a good way for him to get to know our community and its wonderful people.
From the earliest times, Christians made a great effort to attend Masses celebrated by their Bishop. St. Ignatius of Antioch, a priest and bishop from Syria who was martyred for his faith in the early 100’s, encouraged people to gather with their bishop for the Eucharistic celebration. The priests and people, gathered around their bishop, was (and still is) a visible sign of the unity of the Church.
For us today, the Bishop is one of our clearest links to the universal Church. Bishop Checchio was sent to us by Pope Francis, whom he knows personally from the days when our bishop was rector of a seminary in Rome.
Our bishop also connects us back to Jesus and the apostles through the apostolic succession. Just as the Pope is the successor to St. Peter, so each bishop is a successor to the apostles. In other words – if you go back to the Bishop who consecrated Bishop Checchio, then to the Bishop who consecrated that Bishop, and so on and so on back through Church history, you will eventually arrive at one of the Apostles!
I hope you all enjoyed a great Fourth of July. I can’t tell you about mine, since I had to write this article a week before it happened! That happens when holidays fall in such a way that affects the Bulletin Company’s schedule!
For the past few weeks I’ve used the space in this column to discuss ways in which we share our Faith in Jesus. I began two weeks ago by writing about the need for families to have their children Baptized soon after birth. Last week I spoke about Vacation Bible School and the RCIA – a parish process for welcoming converts into our Catholic Faith.
Today I want to speak about the Religious Education of our parish children. Our parish offers several options for this. First and foremost is our parish school. In their daily Religion class, students in Saints Philip and James School not only learn about their faith, but also prepare for their First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Concerning Confirmation, I have the distinct pleasure of teaching our 8th graders once a week to prepare them for that Sacrament – something I enjoy a great deal.
More than studying their religion, our school students experience many aspects of our Faith. They participate in both school-wide and class Masses throughout the year and have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament monthly. Monthly Confession, weekly Stations of the Cross during Lent, and regular Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament all help the students not only learn about, but truly practice their faith.
Our parish also offers two different CCD programs for students who attend public school. Traditional CCD is offered every Tuesday from 4-5 PM at our school from late September until early May. In addition to their weekly class, these students go to Confession in Advent and Lent. I teach fifth grade in this program – and have a great time doing so.
I sit down to write these words having just come from our annual Vacation Bible School (VBS). It was wonderful to see about 65 children and young people there. For those who may not know, VBS is a week of fun and faith-filled activities for the young members of our parish. By means of puppet shows, skits, crafts, games, and a bunch of other things, the kids learn both Bible stories and things about our Faith.
I want to thank all the adults who made this Vacation Bible School such a success – especially Jo-Ann Scott. All three of our priests, as well as Deacon Rob – were present for much of the program. The teens and middle schoolers who helped out in so many ways did a great job and deserve a lot of thanks. They all did a great job at helping our parish pass our faith on to the next generation!
Being at Vacation Bible School this week reminded me of another important way our parish passes on the Good News: RCIA. RCIA is short for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – the process by which adult converts are welcomed into the Catholic Church and adult Catholics who never made their First Communion or Confirmation are prepared for those sacraments. Last year our parish was blessed to have one adult Baptized, and several others received into Full Communion with the Church!READ MORE