Perseverance in Faith

In today’s first reading (Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent, Dn. 3:14-20, 91-92, 95), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are cast into the white hot furnace by order of King Nebuchadnezzar, during the Babylonian exile. Other than the time of slavery in Egypt and the Holocaust of WWII, the Babylonian exile is the most hear breaking, heart wrenching time of suffering in the history of the children of Abraham. For fifty years the Hebrew people suffered oppression and isolation. The whole book of Daniel is testimony to hope in the face of suffering.

Before they are thrown into the fire, the three men are asked to worship foreign gods or face execution; they entrust themselves entirely to YHWH, the one true God, saying:

There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up.

By God’s grace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego survived the white hot furnace; the missing verses actually show them dancing and praising God in hymns and inspired songs, including the beautiful Canticle of All Creation. Their faith, and God’s saving power at work in them bring King Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge YHWH as true God. Now here is the thing, they did not know they would be saved, yet they persevered in faith and trusted God’s will.

This is not easy. It is impossible without God’s grace. The same power that spared these three disciples is the same power which raised Jesus from the grave; the same power which is at work in you even now. Let us together trust God’s power at work in us during this our exile. Our whole life is from God, in Christ, and our life is eternal. Nothing can separate us from the love of god poured out in Christ Jesus. It is because of this true faith of ours that we can say, even now, in exile, from the white hot furnace, “Give God the glory!” Let our eyes be open to the many signs of God’s love fully present even now.

We will continue our procession with the Blessed Sacrament on Friday at 6:00 pm. Our path this Friday will be from Church, east on Delor, north on Gustine, east on Meramec, south on Grand and west on Delor back to the Grotto. God bless you all. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

COVID-19 and the Mission Statement of St. John the Baptist Church

Today we have this message from Thom Pancella, our parish Facebook administrator:

If you were around a few years ago when, “We come together to worship God, serve our neighbors, and make disciples” became our parish mission statement, you may recall that those seemingly simple phrases took quite a while to craft.

Fr. Carl suggested to the Parish Council at that time that SJB needed a mission statement that reflected who we had become, especially in light of the loss of both schools, and the repurposing of parish building space.  How did we see ourselves?  What would guide our path forward?

The Council moved prayerfully and thoughtfully through a series of important words and phrases.  We looked around the country at how other church communities expressed their sense of mission.  We tried our hand at some of the paragraph-based statements, but ultimately found those oddly limiting.

What lies at the core of who we are at SJB?  And, how are we carrying out that mission in our present situation?

We Come Together

We are a community – individuals each with his or her own personal relationship with Almighty God who understand that strength of prayer and the power of love is amplified by what we do together.  While our building serves as a gathering spot, we know that is not our only means of coming together.  Today, we come together – united in our purpose to continue as a community of faith while protecting one another by physical separation.  We are still together.

To Worship God

How easy that is when we are gathered in a common space lifting our voices in prayer and in song!  But, how can we be any less aware of our need to worship Him in these uncertain times?  The gift of technology has provided us numerous opportunities to unite in worship.  The imposition of solitude and quiet is itself a gift.  We have this opportunity to reflect on all of the wonderful things God has provided. And, we worship Him!

To Serve our Neighbors

I think many of us on the Council saw this as the line of continuity between the SJB of the past and the SJB of the future, although none of us would have predicted the current global situation!  Our St. Vincent de Paul Society links us to the very roots of our call to service.  It was there at the beginning of our parish; it continues today.  As our buildings started taking in new tenants, we became a part of a new call to service.  As our parish family ages, we continue to serve.  As our neighborhood changes, we see the face of Jesus in our new brothers and sisters.  And, today, we are part of reaching out to our neighbors in prayer and service.  Jesus gave us the example. He also told us to do as He did.

To Make Disciples

We have always been called to be the voice and hands of Jesus to the world around us, and to “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News!” Now, perhaps more than ever before, we can encourage our family, friends and neighbors to recognize who they are as children of God.  Share your faith journey, especially in times of trouble.  Walk (figuratively at this point) with them; listen to them; pray with/for them.  Invite them.  See Jesus in each and every one of them.

I am grateful to Fr. Mitch for his pastoral leadership during these times.  Among other things, he has taken the Blessed Sacrament out of the building and literally brought Jesus to the parish neighborhood.  As we have walked, carrying the Blessed Sacrament, praying the Rosary, I have seen Christ become present in the people we pass.  Some have paused; some have offered thanks; some have even wept.

It is, in my opinion, a living manifestation of our mission statement.  It is finding the rich meaning in those simple phrases.

Reminder: Our processions with the Blessed Sacrament continue this Friday at 6 PM and Sunday at 9 AM. Palm Sunday Mass will again be streamed at 11 AM, with recorded versions available both on Facebook and at sjbstl.org.

We Are All Poets

I discovered Pablo Neruda’s poetry about 15 years ago; this one is my favorite. I had not picked it up, much less recited it for a few years. Yet, on this Friday morning, it awakened in my soul. Perhaps it is the simple phrase “cooped up” which makes the obvious connection. Yet it seems that our current circumstance is already seeking to find meaning in the chaos, light in the darkness, hope in the despair. I pray that each one of us can trust the voice which rises up within us, the voice of loving God who has promised to save us. With hope in our hearts we can be the voice of the sea for all our brothers and sisters who are yet dwelling in fear. God bless you all. — Father Mitch

To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or harsh prison cell;
to him I come, and, without speaking or looking,
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a great fragment of thunder sets in motion
the rumble of the planet and the foam,
the raucous rivers of the ocean flood,
the star vibrates swiftly in its corona,
and the sea is beating, dying and continuing.

So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea’s lamenting in my awareness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the autumn’s castigation,
I may be there with an errant wave,
I may move, passing through windows,
and hearing me, eyes will glance upward
saying ‘How can I reach the sea?’
And I shall broadcast, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing,
the grey cry of the sea-birds on the coast.

So, through me, freedom and the sea
will make their answer to the shuttered heart.

Pablo Neruda

Perseverance in Prayer

As we move into our second Sunday without the Eucharist and into our second week of “stay at home,” it is very important for us to persevere in prayer. I have found myself trying to look out to the horizon, wondering, “when will this end.” That line of thinking has not been helpful to me. What has been helpful to me is remaining faithful to a rhythm of prayer that engages me morning noon and night. Then, through intentional connection with family and dear friends, mostly by text, I can fill much of my day with thoughts and feelings grounded in my relationship with God and my relationships with God’s children. That leaves less time and space for falling into the many rabbit holes which tempt me most days (cable news, chocolate, negative thoughts, etc…). So let us lift one another in prayer and persevere in sustaining the relationships which matter most.

We will continue our prayerful procession with the blessed Sacrament tomorrow, Friday, at 6:00 pm. We are careful to observe the six foot social distancing and the walk through the neighborhood lasts one hour. Our route tomorrow will be the “The Wedge.” We will begin by walking south on Adkins, then west on Schiller, then south on Morgan Ford, then west on Bates, then north on Gravois, east on Gertrude, north on Morgan Ford, west on Freida, north on Gravois, east on Eichelberger, north on Morgan Ford, west on what’s left of Walsh, then north on Gravois, east on Delor to the Grotto . You are welcome to join us for the whole Rosary (all 20 mysteries), for a decad or two, a block or two or simply to step out on your porch and pray as we pass by. This is a way for us to be a Eucharistic people even as we fast from the Eucharist. We know our life is in Christ and nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God poured out in Christ Jesus. On Sunday, at 9:00 am, we will gather at the Flag Pole in Tower Grove Park and process through the northern parts of the parish, beginning south on Gustine.

We are praying for everyone affected by the spread of the new coronavirus and Covid-19. I ask your prayers specifically for my sister, Patty Cormack, who is a critical care nurse in New York City. She is actually leading a team in Tech company designing tracking software to provide real time diagnostics and care plans for health care workers and patients who may have Covid-19. I do not understand the complexities of the technology, but I know patty is saving lives on the front lines of the pandemic. And I know that many of you are reaching beyond yourselves to care for your brothers and sisters, even if from a distance. Let us continue in love for one another. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

The Annunciation: The Dawn of a New Creation

One of my favorite poems has become part of my morning prayer; I recite it first thing after waking. It is from our friend, Hafiz, entitled “The Seed Cracked Open.”

It used to be that when I awoke in the morning I could with confidence ask,
“What am I going to do today?”

But that was before the seed cracked open. Now Hafiz is certain:

There are two of us housed in this body,
doing the shopping together in the market
and tickling each other while fixing the evening meal

Now when I awake, all the internal instruments play the same music:

“God, what love mischief can we do for the world today?”

We are living through a significant moment of history; each one of us asked to make sacrifices we could not have imagined just one month ago. Even as we distance, even isolate, from each other, we can trust that we are not alone. Our most intimate friend, Christ, dwelling within us, is more ready than ever to accompany us in this most sacred journey, a different path for the life of the world. Let us use this time of quiet to tune our internal instruments, the faculties of our mind, heart, body, spirit and soul. Getting all of our instruments to make beautiful music together will prepare us for the glorious communion which we will share when we witness a new beginning of love on the other side of this despair, on the other side of this darkness, on the other side of this virus.

I entered the Adoration Chapel this morning and found a young disciple reading the Bible and praying before the Blessed Sacrament; a few minutes after he left, another disciple entered, carrying in her arms her beautiful granddaughter. It was clear to me that God was blessing me with the gift of the Real Presence of Christ, fully present in my brother, in my sisters and in the Eucharist. It was a gift of true spiritual communion. I cannot wait to share that deep communion with all of you in the Liturgy of the Eucharist; soon and very soon.

Wednesday, March 25, is the Feast of the Annunciation, the moment the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary and Mary responded with her “yes” for the salvation of the world. This is the dawn of a new creation, the recreation of the world. We are invited to say “yes” with Mary, with our lives, surrendering our will that we might become bearers of Christ to the world. This truth of our salvation runs deeper in our bones and in our community and in our world than anything else. Indeed, nothing else matters. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

COVID-19: Christ Over Virus and Infectious Diseases

This is the message I received I received from Rodney Jones, our Head of Facilities at St. John’s, on Friday morning:

Not once in the Bible does it say, “worry about it, stressover it or figure it out.”  But over and over it clearly says, “TRUST God.”

           C.O.V.I.D.-19

“Christ over virus & infectious diseases.”

Have I not commanded you?  Be strong & courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

                                                                                                                   Joshua 1:9

 

I am so grateful for the many ways God continues to reveal himself and Christ’s love; a simple message from Rodney at 8:07 in the morning sustained me for the whole day.  A well timed smile, an offer of chocolate, a phone call from a friend, a holy hour in the adoration chapel and so many blessings flowing from the very Body of Christ even as we are fasting from the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.  Please continue to support one another. And be creative, even adventurous in doing so. Some friends of mine hosted a ZOOM Happy Hour on Saturday evening. It is not the “same” but it is intentional, it is an act of love and, in some ways, a deepening of faith.  Please know of my ongoing prayer for each one of you. Do not hesitate to call just to say “hello” or request specific prayers.  

MY CELL NUMBER IS 314.803.4523.

I am your pastor and want to stay connected to you.  I am practicing safe distance and am very healthy right now.  I am willing to visit you in your home if that is what will be helpful to you.

We will definitely continue the processions with the Blessed Sacrament on Friday evenings at 6:00 and Sunday mornings at 9:00.  I will consult with the City regarding how to make it conform with the “Stay at Home” direction from the Mayor. I am also available in Church for Confessions on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6:30-8:00 am (except Monday, March 23, when the Church is being disinfected).  And remember the Church is open 24/7 via the red door by the Adoration Chapel and the northwest glass door into church.

PRAYERS NEEDED FOR DONNA NAGEL

Donna passed away on Friday morning, after a nearly four year battle with cancer.  We commend her to the Lord and ask your prayers for her husband, Dan and their children, Joe, Jessie and Jim. 

Staying Connected

Dear Friends,

I want to stay connected with you and commend your eternal connection with each other even while our world requires us to remain at a distance.  I encourage you to seek Spiritual Communion through prayer which can be facilitated by watching the Mass via “live streaming.” I strongly recommend daily Mass from Bishop Barron’s Chapel sponsored by his Word on Fire Ministries.

I have also posted the “Mass on the World,” first prayed by Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. when he was Chaplain for the French army during World War I. 

Here is a bit of what you would have heard me preach this Sunday if we were able to gather:

Today we witness the recreation of the world.  We know, in faith, that each one of us has become a new creation in Christ.  One consolation from today’s Gospel story is that the whole world, with us, is being recreated; Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the one through whom everything has been created, is making all things new.  When Jesus reaches down into the clay of the earth (cf Gn. 2:7), mixes it with his own saliva, his divine DNA, and places it in the eyes of the “Man Born Blind,” there can be no mistaking the very act of creation…the first moment of God’s love being expressed in the universe.  From that moment flows an abundance of God’s grace and mercy in all of creation. The first time, we wandered off course; this time, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we claim our victory over sin and death. We join the Man Born Blind who can now see clearly and deeply; we say “I am.”  That phrase is not an accident. Because of God’s desire for intimacy with you; because God so loved the world; because Jesus freely offered his life on the cross, reconciling all things in Christ, our lips speak the name of God. In this moment of creation, this moment which conquers sin and death, once and for all, we participate in the Divine Life, we share intimately the very life of Christ in the world.

John’s Gospel once again gives us an insider view; we recognize that Jesus is calling the Man Born Blind to be an Apostle; he, like the Woman at the Well, is “sent” to be washed clean in the waters of baptism and then to announce the presence of the Messiah.  He is free from blindness, from sin and from death. And so are we. We can laugh at the pharisees, and even the disciples, who are revealed as the ones truly unable to see, unable to recognize the love of God being poured out in Christ Jesus.  

Our eternal life began in the heart of God; we were placed in the Garden of Eden and we will spend our eternal life in the Heavenly Jerusalem (Rv. 21).  Our life in this world is the journey from one Sacred Garden to another; this journey passes through the Garden at the foot of the cross and near the empty tomb and this journey promises to bring us home back to the very heart of God; this is what it means to fashioned in the very image and likeness of God.  While this world is fraught with suffering, with love, with grief, with joy, with struggle, with courage and with sin, all of it is gathered up in Christ’s victory over sin and death. In the face of untold and yet unknown suffering let us claim our victory in Christ. And while we fast from the Eucharist let us allow God’s love, God’s grace and God’s mercy to become a wellspring of life-giving water within us; let us announce to the world what we have seen: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

A Few Words From Father Mitch

Dear Friends,

This is the second day without Eucharist; and somehow this feels more empty than Good Friday.  I want to trust God’s plan for us, yet it is so difficult to move in the in-between places. Today, more than ever, we are like the first disciples on the journey with Jesus.  When he talked of his suffering which would be life for the world, his disciples had no way to process what they were hearing; it was altogether too new. We are like Mary realizing that what Simeon prophesied is indeed coming true: “a sword shall pierce your heart.”  All we can do is surrender ourselves to the Sacred of Heart of Christ and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, trusting their love and mercy to flow within us and through us to all the world.

Moses began the first “quarantine” when he journeyed to the top the Mountain of God to confer with the Lord.  While he was alone in prayer all the people felt lost. They began to wonder if Moses would ever return; they began to doubt God’s power to save, so soon after it had been revealed to them in their freedom from slavery in Egypt; so soon after they had received Quail in the evenings and Manna in the mornings.  It is important for us to persevere in fasting and prayer during this Lenten Journey of 40 days, even if it means fasting from the Eucharist.

We will stay connected by phone, email and lift each other up in prayer.  Please stop by the Church to pray. Using the code to enter through the door by the adoration chapel you have 24/7 access to the adoration chapel and, once inside, to the church through the northwest glass door, nearest the adoration chapel.  I will be in church to hear confessions on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6:30-8:00 am.

I will also use the former gathering times of Friday evening and Sunday morning to process with the Blessed Sacrament through the neighborhoods of the parish.  Tuesday evening I walked the perimeter of the parish praying the Rosary. This Friday at 6:00 pm I will process for one hour up and down the streets just north of our church; beginning on Ridgewood to Taft, down Alfred to Delor, up Morganford, down Varrelmann, up Adkins and down Newport.  If you want to step out on your porch to join me in the praying of a decade of the Rosary as we pass by, please do. Or if you want to join in the procession, at a safe distance of six feet for a couple blocks, you are welcome to do so. On Sunday morning at 9:00 we will continue the procession.  God willing we will pass near every block of the parish before Easter.

As I walked the perimeter of the parish on Tuesday, the first day without Eucharist, I claimed it all as holy ground for Christ.  I imagined myself smearing the blood of Christ’s sacrifice, his redeeming blood, on every door post of the parish. While we wait for the Lord to reveal his new plan for us it is important for us not to become frightened and weary as the Isrealites did.  Our perseverance in faith will be a blessing for our community and for our world. We are John the Baptist announcing the presence of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. That is still very good news. God bless you.

Fr. Mitch