From Pastor's Desk
From Pastor's Desk
Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43, Psalm 118 “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad”, Colossians 3:1-4, John 20:1-9
Jesus is Risen! Yes, he is truly risen! On Friday, we gathered here to celebrate the passion and death of our Lord. He died the violent death of a criminal outcast. He died with a question and with a scream “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” After they buried Jesus in the tomb, they rolled a stone to seal the entrance and then guards were put there. The gospel tells us that on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning and found it empty. She was still sad about what had happened, she was wondering who was going to roll the stone for her. Then she got there and the stone was rolled away.
My dear brothers and sisters, today, Alleluia is our song. Because the question of Jesus on the cross “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”; is answered by the empty tomb. It is God’s answer to his Son’s suffering and death. The empty tomb is God’s stamp of approval on all that Jesus said and did: his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, his treatment of the poor, sinners and outcasts, his acts of compassion, healing, liberation, his understanding of forgiveness, his preaching, his intuitions, and his parables, they became validated, vindicated!
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and your believing is useless too”. And in Romans 10:9, “if you admit with your lips the Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. So we have a reason to be happy.
I wish to express my sincere gratitude to each one of you for journeying with us during the Lenten season and sharing in the resurrection of our Lord. Thank you for your continuous support to the St Eugene Catholic Mission and Students Center. May the resurrection of Christ permeate every part of your life. May you and all your dear ones share in the joy of the risen Lord. Happy Easter!!!!!
Father Paschal Chester
Readings: Luke 19:28-40, Isaiah 50:4-7, Psalm 22 “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”, Phillipians 2:6-11, Luke 22:14—23:56
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the first part of the celebration of this Sunday marks the triumphant procession of the crowds with Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. This event is what gave the name “Palm Sunday” to this Sunday but we know that as soon as we process into the church we also begin the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. The passion is both a physical and spiritual journey. In this Gospel, the physical journey starts near Bethphage and Bethany, on the mount of Olives, with Jesus sending two disciples to the village opposite them to get a tethered colt.
It was enough for the disciples to say to whoever asked to know what they were doing that “the Master needs it” and the deed was done. Jesus, who did not have any property, relied on his Father to provide him all he needed. The Father did so using other people who came to the aid of Jesus. His great trust in the Father is what made him confident in having the colt he needed for his triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem. We need to have great faith in God so that we can also experience his providence.
Another symbolic sign in the narrative is Jesus riding on a donkey or simply a young animal. Whereas many people would like to see an imagery of a warrior in the action of Jesus, it may seem more correct to think of the picture of a shepherd since that is the imagery that Jesus himself presents throughout his public ministry.
As he entered Jerusalem triumphantly, some people asked the question “who is this?” This is Jesus, the messiah and our King. He enters the city not as a warrior who has been triumphant over his enemies but as a shepherd who leads his flock of human persons to take procession of the city which is theirs by right. Thus each time we enter the church in procession, we know that Jesus our shepherd is before us and leads us to the house of God where we are called to dwell forever. Let us therefore learn to make God's house our dwelling place so that we may benefit from the graces that his triumphant entry showers on us.
As we begin this Holy week, we follow him who wants to enter triumphantly into the lives of people today. If we are to accompany Christ in his glory at the end of Holy Week, we must first enter Jerusalem with him and journey with him through these days leading to his death on the cross. May he grant us his presence, Amen.
Father Paschal Chester
Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126 “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy”, Phillipians 3:8-14, John 8:1-11
My dear brother and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel we have a magnificent story of the mercy of Jesus as he forgives the woman taken in adultery. Does God forgive as easily as that? In the Gospel story the woman is caught committing adultery. If it takes two to tango, it takes two to commit adultery, but the man seems to have had real access to an emergency exit leaving the woman in the scribes and Pharisees. These men are zealous about the execution of the Law which means the execution of the woman. They are in the moral majority for they clearly have the Law on their side. Thus armed they come to tackle Jesus on the issue.
Jesus’ reaction to all the fuss is to start writing on the ground. But his questioners persist and Jesus responds not by taking issue with the law but by taking issue with the lawyers. When you remember the law but forget what the law is for, perhaps your memory is a little selective. Jesus seems to think that all victims can do with some form of allegiance and he refuses to join this moral majority. Jesus does not say the woman is innocent or argue that adultery should be taken off the books; but neither is he persuaded about the innocence of her accusers. He asks them to exercise their memories and check their own track record on sin. If any are innocent, they can throw stones. And while they are all having a good think running their own home videos in their heads, Jesus goes back to his writing.
At least the woman’s accusers are honest people for they readily recognize that they are not innocent accusers. So the procession of unemployed executioners is led away by the elders- who is no doubt giving the example of necessity! Of course Jesus doesn’t want them just to walk away but to exercise their forgiveness too. Jesus and the woman are left alone. And she hears good news from Jesus: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.
The challenge of the Gospel is not whether we can see ourselves as the woman who is caught in adultery, but see ourselves as the man who is caught up in forgiveness. Can we forgive as readily as Jesus forgives? Or do we dote on people’s wrongdoing, reminding them of past failures, and lighting vigil lamps to their mistakes? Can we forgive and leave it?
May the Lord grant to us his blessings, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Father Paschal Chester
Sunday, February 6, 2022 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C
WHAT DOES EVANGELIZATION LOOK LIKE TODAY?
There is a great deal of urgency here. Whereas in the early centuries after the resurrection, the people embraced the faith because it was completely new, most people today have already heard about Jesus and the Gospel. Some say that they have already tried Christianity, but now they are embracing a new faith – or, most likely, no faith at all. Thus it will be an even greater challenge to bring them back.
However, the goal is not just to bring people back to church; it is to help them to find LIFE in Christ Jesus. We need not get caught up in the thinking that one needs to be eloquent or perfect before one evangelizes. No, this is something for every baptized person. We have the authority, the power and the commission to do this.
Evangelization, put simply, is a means to awaken in people’s hearts a love of God and an adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What can we do to participate in Christ’s mission and continue his work of evangelization? I offer the following suggestions and guidelines. I am sure that you can think of more ideas as well.
Before going outward, remember: Evangelizers must first be evangelized. Learn as much as you can about our Catholic faith (by reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sacred Scriptures, the writings of the saints, and the magisterial teachings of the Church). Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you and to deepen your relationship with God. Never cease to grow in the practice of the faith.
Pope Francis offers us practical advice as we strive to share our faith in the world: “You too need to see the entirety of your life as a mission. Try to do so by listening to God in prayer and recognizing the signs that he gives you. Always ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every decision you must make so as to discern its place in the mission you have received. Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world.” 8
Celebrate the Mass and the other sacraments regularly. In the sacraments, God forms us as his people, strengthens and forgives us, and empowers us to be his witnesses in the world. Pray and ask for God’s help. Then you will take seriously the invitation given at the end of every Mass: “Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord!” Make it your number one priority to practice the faith above all with your family. Pray the rosary together, go to Mass as a family and talk about the readings and the homily afterward, celebrate the liturgical seasons together and pray before meals and bedtime with your children.
Share the joy of the Gospel. Do not be afraid to give an account of yourself to others. Tell people what it means to you to be Catholic. (No one can argue with you over this since it is your personal experience). Start simply by establishing a friendship with someone. Walk with them and listen to them. Tell them about how you know the Lord and how much joy that gives to you.
Invite people to church or Bible study, or simply ask if you can pray with and for them. (Note: while it is good to invite someone to come to Mass, this may not be the best way to evangelize someone new. They may come to Mass, but because they are not familiar with it, they might become lost and thus turned off.) We cannot simply point out the way for others; we have to accompany them on the road as Jesus walks with us all.
Live your faith well as an example to others. Let people know that you practice your faith in your parish and in your home. When you encounter people who are negative or hostile to the Church – especially, these days, in comments and articles online – point out the benefits of believing and the good things that God is doing in his Church. Preach with your actions. Serve our neighbors in need, whether they are in prison, or are homeless, victims of natural disasters or crime, or simply without basic necessities to survive. Be ready to articulate and defend the faith at work, in grocery stores, airports, schools and wherever people gather.
Questions for reflection:
Vatican II recognized the need to return to our original charism. Gaudium et Spes was a path forward to engage the world around us. Lumen Gentium serves as a reflection on who we are as a Church, here to glorify God and announce the Good News. If you have not read these documents of the Second Vatican Council, or if it has been several years since you have done so, I exhort you to read these documents, which are still relevant today and are more accessible than ever before. “By her proclamation of the Gospel, [the Church] draws her hearers to receive and profess the faith, she prepares them for baptism, snatches them from the slavery of error, and she incorporates them into Christ so that through love for him they grow to full maturity.”
4 Pope St. John Paul II was the first to use the term “New Evangelization,” and in response to the question about what he meant by it, he said: “The commemoration of this half of the millennium of evangelization will achieve its full meaning, if as bishops, with your priests and faithful, you accept it as your commitment; a commitment, not of re-evangelization, but rather of a new evangelization; new in its ardour, methods and expression.”
5 Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, picking up the theme of evangelization, taught that our faith is not merely a program but rather an opening of the heart … to a person: Jesus Christ.
6 Then – and now – we have to think of new ways to evangelize and re-evangelize the world.
Even more recently, our Holy Father Francis has laid out a vision for the universal Church, building on the teachings of his predecessors: “I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming every-thing, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”
7 Pope Francis has repeatedly urged everyone – clergy and laity alike – to leave the comfort of our homes, churches, rectories, etc., and imitate Jesus in seeking out the lost and bringing them the Good News of salvation. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is moving us to return to our roots.
Questions for reflection:
This statement is meant to be provocative. It does not mean that Christianity is dead – that will never happen, of course. Rather, it can no longer be taken for granted that Christian values are the norm. In 1974, Archbishop Fulton Sheen declared, “[W]e are at the end of Christendom.” He could see how people were turning away from God and the truth, in order to refashion God in the image and likeness of humanity. Like our first parents, we were disregarding our dignity and declaring the Church to be unnecessary – even a detriment – to our happiness. In our day, Pope Francis has said, “Brothers and sisters, Christendom no longer exists.” 3 We see it even more clearly today: the Church – and her leaders – are often suspect, ridiculed and dismissed. To be sure, many members and leaders of the Church have engaged in sin, infighting and scandalous behavior, sowing doubt about the truth of the Gospel and its transformative effect on the lives of believers. The people of God must go forward in a spirit of humility, penance and service, in order to show forth the presence of Christ in our midst. For many people today, there are few (if any) objective truths. “Truth” for them is what matters most to them and their happiness. Any restrictions on their freedom or happiness are regarded as suspect or even as intolerance. “That may be truth for you,” they say, “but not for me.” We may argue and debate over where this attitude – this ‘hardness of heart’ – is coming from, but we cannot dismiss the fact that it is the prevailing attitude of our time. What has worked in the past will not work in the same way today. We can no longer be content with opening our church doors and watching people come in. In fact, they are leaving faster than they are joining, and they have been for quite a while.
Questions for reflection:
Over the course of the fourth century, Christianity went from being a persecuted, marginal religion, to a religion favored by emperors and the elite and the wealthy. Over time, Christianity was not only accepted; it became one of the world’s largest religions. As new lands were developed and countries were conquered, Christianity spread wider and wider. “Christendom” (an unofficial term) came about.
What is Christendom? In essence, Christendom constitutes a society that is guided by Christian ideals, beliefs, morals, etc. “When the Christian narrative of the human drama and its corresponding moral order have become prominent in a given society and have come to provide, at least largely, that society’s ruling vision, what emerges can be called a ‘Christendom culture.’” 2 For many centuries (in the West, at least), Christianity was accepted as the norm. The Church was protected, respected, and given a great deal of prominence in society. Despite setbacks, scandals, and even a great schism between the East and the West in 1054, followers of Christ were still able to carry out the mission given to them by their founder.
There are periods in history when evangelistic fervor was greater than others. Wars and crusades were waged to defend the faith and to convert non-believers. The physical structure of the Catholic Church, that is, the hierarchy, became more prominent and defined. In places like what is now our diocese, the State encouraged and funded efforts to bring the Gospel to people in far-off lands. For example, the king of Spain commissioned Tristan de Luna y Arrellano to colonize (and evangelize) Florida in 1559. The Franciscan missionaries who traveled with him celebrated the first Mass in what is now the United States that same year.
Especially in recent centuries, the Catholic Church became established throughout the world – and the sense of urgency that our ancestors had was diminishing considerably. Even so, the Church has faced many persecutions over the years, for instance, during the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, the rise of Communism, the Cristero War in Mexico, and so on.
Questions for reflection:
“The Church exists to evangelize.” Addressing the signs of the times and the urgent needs of the day, Pope St. Paul VI taught us to reclaim our heritage and the Great Commission of Jesus Christ: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This is not something that we do in our spare time or something that is “extra” to our Catholic faith or even optional; it is the heart of everything we do. Now more than ever, our God calls us to be disciples of his Son, and apostles who bring the good news to the world. It is clear that today we are bogged down by so many important issues and concerns. here is a great deal of anger, division, anxiety and hopelessness in our world. In times like these, we are tempted to retreat and “circle the wagons.”
Some would have us focus only internally, guarding and defending our Catholic faith against the forces of the world. Others want to use the faith solely to resolve key issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, capital punishment, immigration and so many others.
Before and above anything else, however, our Catholic faith unites us with Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, and thus leads us to the Father and the kingdom of heaven. We remember Jesus’ words in the Gospel: “I have come so that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) We have received this incredible gift, and all God asks of us is that we extend it to others.
Questions for reflection:
1.How comfortable would you feel explaining your faith to a non-Catholic?
2. How do I “live my faith well …” so that others might ask me about God because they are sure he is with me? ( Zech 8:23)
3.How does the call to evangelization represent a solution to being endlessly bogged down in the debates over important issues outlined by the Bishop?
4.What are the signs of the times which make the call to evangelize so urgent in this day?
Bishop William A. Wack
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Greetings in the Lord! As I celebrate my fourth anniversary as your bishop, I wish to express in this Pastoral Letter my deepest hope for the Church (that is, the People of God – us). The longer I serve as a priest and bishop, the truth of this statement becomes more evident: The Church exists to evangelize! Put simply, if we believe that Jesus Christ suffered and died for us and rose again to set us free from sin and death, we are compelled to share that Good News with everyone around us.
We are living in challenging times, to be sure. Our world, our families and even our beloved Church, is experiencing a great deal of division, acrimony and confusion. It seems as though we are condemned to exist in a world where everyone either agrees with us (and thus are on our side) or disagrees with us (and thus are to be shunned – or, worse: treated as ‘enemies’). However, there is
a way out: embracing and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who said, “Seek first the kingdom of God …” (Mt 6:33) A focus on sharing the Good News not only helps us to address the many challenges we face, it is something very positive and hopeful.
Is there anything more hopeful and joyful than knowing that in Christ Jesus we are loved, redeemed, and are given the promise of
eternal life? If we truly believe that, we can say with St. Paul: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31)
Sisters and brothers, why are we downcast today? Why does there exist so much anger and outrage within ourselves and in the world today? I believe that we have forgotten the truth of the Gospel: God the Father sent his Son into the world to save us from our sins, and God also gave us the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us. Thus, we are invited to share in God’s divine life even now. Since that is so, what could possibly afflict us? Jesus says to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled… Have faith in me.” (Jn 14:1)
One of my (new) favorite passages from the Bible comes from the Book of Zechariah. The prophet lived and ministered in times of struggle and confusion, not unlike our own day and age. Yet he was absolutely convinced of God’s ultimate plan to bring salvation to all of creation. One of his prophesies ends with great hope in the coming of the Messiah, and the response of God’s beloved people: “In those days, ten people from nations of every language will take hold, yes, will take hold of the cloak of every [Jew] and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” (Zech 8:23)
May we live our faith well, confident in the glory that is ours in Jesus Christ, so that people around us may say the same thing:“Tell me about God, for I am sure t hat he is with you!” This is our task and our challenge. If we believe in the Good News, we must share it with everyone we encounter. I hope in this Letter to instruct, exhort, and then join you in living as a missionary disciple of our Lord. I humbly ask everyone in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee to read it and pray with it. My prayer is that all of us – as families, as parishes and as individuals will put this teaching into practice and heed Jesus’ call: “Go and make disciples of all nations …” (Mt. 28:19)