December 2014

December 28, 2014

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

I hope that your Christmas celebrations have been wonderful, joyous ones! Here at the Cathedral, we always try to do more than just “go through the motions” but actually enter in to the spirit of the season by all of our efforts, and especially our work at providing prayerful liturgy, beautiful décor, inspiring music, and friendly assembly. If you took part in any of our Advent and Christmas worship, concerts or other services, you know what I’m talking about!

Of course, Christmas is more than just a formal religious experience. In my family, we do our best to share feasting as well as presents, and to make sure that we remind each other of how much we care about each other and how special we are to each other. I hope from your own experience of family and friends, you know what I’m talking about!

And Christmas doesn’t really end on December 26, either. The Church’s “Christmas season” officially extends through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 11 this year), but our cleaning up the last of the tree’s pine needles, our putting away the last of the decorations, our paying off credit-card bills, and our writing of thank-you notes all too often goes on longer. Here again, I suspect you know what I’m talking about!

So let me begin with the last-mentioned: a general thank you note here to all whose assistance at St. Joseph Cathedral made this past holiday season so special! In the next Bulletin I’ll try to make more specific thanks to individual ministers and donors who have done so much for us all. Yet already in a particular way I wish to thank everyone who showed Bishop Muench and me special kindnesses by their gifts, cookies, cards, greetings and especially extra prayers. We love being pastors of souls, and the spiritual rewards of ministry are enough for us – but we won’t pretend that your thoughtfulness isn’t heartwarming. It is!

Beyond this, thank you for all you’ve done not just at Christmastime but throughout the year to build up our faith community here at St. Joseph. As we continue to “finish” our Cathedral Parish Hall renovation and expansion project, I want to offer a special thank you to Mrs. Jackie Kreutzer whose donations from the sale of the small crosses made from the old Hall’s parquet flooring – along with a donation from Mr. Mark McGivern and Ms. Carol Sue Heffernan – helped fund new crucifixes throughout our new space. The Ladies of the Cathedral also have helped purchase additional tablecloths and other “reception supplies” as well.

But don’t worry: we won’t run out of projects! Soon after the first of the year, we’ll be attending to some landscaping issues as well as continuing to obtain the equipment and furnishings we need. We’re also finishing a careful inspection of the Cathedral’s structure, inside and out, to prepare for eventual repairs, improvements and beautification of our historic and beloved church.

In closing again I invite you to come to our New Year’s Vigil Mass this coming Wednesday, December 31. This will be our only holy day Mass. It’s concelebrated by the bishop and me and is followed by our traditional “Champagne and Gumbo” meal for everyone in the Cathedral Parish Hall. It’s one of the most popular events on the Cathedral calendar each year, so come and ring in the New Year of 2015 a bit early with us: you’ll be home and snug in your bed long before midnight!

December 21, 2014

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

Christmas is almost upon us! The Solemnity of the Lord’s Nativity is universally acclaimed as the “favorite” feast on the Christian calendar, and it’s a well-deserved accolade. Please join us here at your Cathedral for one of our four Masses: the Christmas Eve “Vigil” Mass at 4 pm; the “Mass during the Night” at 10 pm (with a musical program preceding, beginning at 9:25 pm); the 8 am “Mass at Dawn” on Christmas morning; or the 10 am Mass of Christmas “Day” itself.

But as I sit here typing this into my word-processor Advent is still happening! We’re still awaiting delivery of our sanctuary’s trees and decorations, the choir and musicians are still putting together their program and practicing, and the bishop and I only have vague ideas about what we’ll preach about. And I have barely started my own personal Christmas shopping, too! Still, one of the graces of Christmas is that everything always manages to come together. The décor will get done, our worship will be celebrations of reverence and wonder, and even my gifts will be gotten and wrapped – but I promise you that all of this will happen in that order!

And do try to see significance in and enjoy every minute of your Christmas preparations and celebrations. Even the frustrations of shopping and the burdens of cooking and traveling should add to the joy of our holidays, even if only by finally coming to an end! As I’ve shared before, the Christmas story in the Bible itself is complex. It incorporates not just pleasant aspects like the great faith of Mary in accepting God’s will, the glory of the angelic host inspiring shepherds in song, or precious gifts shared by mysterious magi from the East. The Christmas story is also a tale of struggle: of St. Joseph complying with persecution by the government, of a hard journey for a pregnant woman all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, of a real poverty that led to Jesus’ birth in a stable, of the murder of the Holy Innocents, and so forth.

Isn’t that what happens also in our own lives? We also live complicated lives, often struggling to find love in the midst of loneliness, and beauty despite no little dirt. I suspect that it is because we know what hunger feels like that we can appreciate feasting. I hope that generosity comes forth from us because we also know how selfish we can be. I’d like to think that beautiful music appeals to us in part because we’ve also heard cries of pain and loneliness and poverty.

Remember, it is in the midst of the darkness of our life’s limitations that light shines! If we get introspective, we should see something of the Christmas story in each one of us, in our personal history! My prayer for you at this special time of year is that you notice and savor the grace of Christmas, in your own favorite way – and that in so doing you notice how your very own life can reflect Christmas so much!

Finally, I also want to urge you to do something else: plan to attend our New Year’s Vigil Mass on Wednesday, December 31. This holy day Mass concelebrated by the bishop and me will be followed by a favorite Parish gathering: our traditional “Champagne and Gumbo” meal for everyone in the Cathedral Parish Hall. This popular event is the perfect way to bid farewell to 2014 and all of the headaches that we had to endure during our expansion and renovation of the Hall. And if you’re like me, it’s a way to anticipate 2015 and still be in bed long before midnight!

December 14, 2014

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

With our observance this weekend of the Third Sunday of Advent, famous throughout the world for its use of rose-colored vestments, the antiphon “Rejoice (gaudete!) in the Lord always,” and the lighting of the pink candles on wreaths everywhere, we pass an important point theologically. The Church at the beginning of Advent cautiously encourages us not to focus too early on the great mystery of Jesus’ nativity. There are, after all, other comings of Christ that deserve attention: His coming at the end of time and of course His coming into our own hearts.

Yet now, and even more after December 17 when the Church’s daily Bible readings at Mass begin “telling the Christmas story, the joy of the approaching Solemnity of Christmas begins to overtake us. This is done purposefully: many folks are surprised how rich the full story of Christmas actually is when they read it in the beginning chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It’s always a pleasant surprise to discover the Christmas story anew by an attentive and prayerful reading of it. This is why I always recommend that you and your family choose a time – the coldest days are best, while snuggling under blankets on the sofa with big mugs of hot chocolate nearby! – to re-read together and so re-discover the Christmas story. Religious carols and music will add much to the family experience also, one that will be treasured in memory a long, long time. Try it!

I do want to thank you, in advance, for your generosity in this weekend’s national Retirement Fund for Religious collection. While none of it will go to support me and the other priests of the Diocese of Baton Rouge – we are “secular” priests of Baton Rouge, and do not belong to any religious order – we do ask for a special gift each year to benefit those aging sisters and brothers who’ve spent lives of service in the Church but now can do little but pray for us! Because so many religious orders never foresaw the coming costs of caring for their elderly members, the need remains a special one. Please don’t just reach into your wallet to give something, reach into your heart!

(By the way, there is a special collection each year which does benefit our own Diocesan Priests’ Retirement Fund: it’s on Easter Sunday! This explains why you don’t hear it preached about much – folks would think we priests were really weird if we ignored Jesus’ resurrection from the dead to preach about our pension plan on Easter! But our diocesan Finance Office is happy to get donations for it at any time too! It too is an important fund: our retired priests are benefitting from it already, and we younger priests – I guess I’m soon going to have to stop calling myself that! – can’t figure out how to slow the aging process! So thank you for helping us out too whenever you can!)

One of the things I haven’t mentioned in a while is the Cathedral’s ongoing need for additional parishioners to serve as extraordinary ministers of holy communion. As you probably know, priests and deacons are the ordinary ministers of holy communion, assisted by adult acolytes (altar servers) in distributing the sacrament of the eucharist. But other laity can also assist these in distributing holy communion: since they’re not the ordinary ministers they are known as extraordinary, not in the sense of special but in the sense of auxiliary. In any event, please give consideration to offering yourself for service in this way. It’s especially important that we have persons young enough and comfortable enough to go up and down our many sanctuary steps: could you help?

Finally, since everything worth saying is worth repeating, let me repeat the two basic parking lot rules I mentioned in last week’s Bulletin. One is make our parking lots “one way” by always entering from North Street and exiting onto Main Street. This is safer, even if occasionally you’ll have to “go around the block” one more time than you’d prefer! The other rule is don’t park under the porte-cochère or between it and the Hall. Cars abandoned in driving lanes or outside of marked parking slots block others from getting in or out, and we want to avoid having to tow anyone away! Again, thanks for understanding, and even more for cooperating!

December 7, 2014

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

Even though the Advent season is preeminent in the Church’s consciousness right now, tomorrow (Monday, December 8) is something lagniappe: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation. The Blessed Virgin Mary was herself conceived without original sin, in a sense foreshadowing an even more miraculous conception years later when solely with divine intervention the Lord Jesus also was conceived without sin or any loss of her perpetual, purposeful virginity.

Mary’s own sinless conception within her mother’s womb had nothing to do with the holiness of her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne – although certainly they were exemplary in their lives of faith and religion. And it wasn’t her own doing, although she was a strong-willed young lady whose principal goal in life was to give herself completely to the divine will. Rather, it was through a singular favor of God Himself that despite her conception in the natural order of marital sexuality she nonetheless was preserved from inheriting any stain of original sin. She, alone among the rest of humanity, received the grace to resist the temptation of sin in every way. God the Father prepared her from the very first moment of her existence to be a worthy vessel within which to bear His only-begotten Son: a sinless mother for a perfect Child.

What does this mean for us? Well, there are lots of ways this mystery of Mary can be applied to us. (Apart from our being jealous, I mean! After all, which of us hasn’t wanted more grace from God to help us resist temptation to sin?)

The most important lesson we might learn is that God always does what is best. It is our job to cooperate wholeheartedly with Him. God gave the Blessed Mother the personal graces she needed to fulfill her destiny, and she acted in concert with these graces to be the very best servant of the Almighty that she could. This is also our challenge from God: to receive His graces and build upon them by our own efforts. In so doing, we fulfill the plan which in His wisdom He has designed for each of us.

A secondary lesson we can take away from this feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is the interconnectedness of sexuality and holiness. Yes, if you’ll pardon the pun, they are intimately related! It is the understanding of the Church that God’s grace operates within the realm of human sexuality, something that He created to be good in itself and perfect when used properly. When we cooperate with God’s design and with the graces He generously offers we become more pure, more holy. We are strengthened to resist temptation to sin, and in fact become more worthy servants of the Lord when we do act chastely. While Christ eagerly forgives us in our weakness (see Lk 15), He also urges us to be as perfect as we can (Mt 5:48). This means not leaving sexual virtue aside. Rather, we should try to achieve holiness within this portion of our life and behavior as well.

In any case, I hope you can join us for Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It’s important that we Catholics pray together on that day. Here at the Cathedral on Monday, December 8, our holy day Masses will be at 7 am and 12 noon. Other parish churches near your home may well have other convenient times for you.

Let’s change topics, away from a deep religious mystery like the Immaculate Conception to a more practical one, like parking. Everyone has been enjoying the availability of our parking lots east of the Cathedral Parish Hall. But I think we’ll all enjoy them a little more if we pay a bit of attention to their use, and in particular if we can learn two basic rules:

It’s best to train ourselves now: try always to enter the parking lot from North Street and exit onto Main Street. That makes driving in our lots “one way.” But it will also make them safer. The other rule? It’s simple: no parking under the porte-cochère or in the driveway next to the Hall – please park only in the marked parking slots. If people park improperly and block others from getting in or out, we won’t have much choice but to tow their cars away, and that won’t end up being convenient for anyone. I’m sure you understand!