October 17, 2021

Septuagesima Sunday

Dear friends,

In our traditional liturgical calendar, the three Sundays before Ash Wednesday bore unusual Latin names: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima meaning simply Seventieth, Sixtieth, Fiftieth. This was because these Sunday are roughly that number of days before Easter Sunday. This year Easter comes rather early, March 27th, and Ash Wednesday falls on February 10th.  Today then is Septuagesima Sunday.

In the “old liturgy” or today’s “Extraordinary Form” (offered in the Chapel every Sunday at 12:30 PM) these Sundays marked a sort of “pre-Lent” in which while the Lenten penances, fasting and abstinence from meat were not yet in force, the vestment color was violet and the Paschal Alleluia dropped from the Liturgy to return only at the Easter Vigil.  Among the reasons for this ancient time of preparation for Lent was to remind the believer that Lent was coming and it was time to give thought to one’s practices and resolutions BEFORE Ash Wednesday.

There were, and are, three main traditional Lenten practices: Prayer; Fasting; and Almsgiving.

This Sunday I would like to draw your attention to the first of these.

Prayer was simply and beautifully described in my childhood’s Catechism as “the lifting up of the mind and heart to God.”

Both intellect and emotion are involved in prayer.

There is a classical distinction between vocal and mental prayer that corresponds to this two-fold side to prayer.

Vocal prayeris as the name implies “saying” prayer(s). We use words, either others’ or our own, to express our adoration, petition, and praise of God. We use our minds and wills to utter, either aloud, whispered, or consciously thought, words to God. Common examples are the Rosary, Liturgical prayers, prayers from books, etc. Here we use words and formulas handed down from various sources and eras.

Mental prayeris more of a sense of presence: we are aware of God’s presence to us, and our presence of quiet receptivity to Him. This, of course, is not just holy day-dreaming, but involves more of a “resting in God” as we read in the Psalms “Be still, and know that I am God!” An anecdote from the life of the Cure of Ars, St. John Marie Vianney, sums it up well. He noticed an old man spending time in the parish church every day, merely sitting in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The Saint asked him what he was doing and the man replied “I look at Him, and He looks at me.”

For Lent then we might think of how we might enrich our “prayer life”. Some of us might be beginners, others more advanced; but all of us regardless of our state of prayer can benefit from a good Lent.

Maybe I need to get back to “saying prayers” in the simplest everyday form.

Maybe I need to make a better effort of paying attention to what I am saying in prayer and check my tendency to rush my prayers.

Maybe I need to prepare for prayer better, recollect myself, quiet down before beginning my prayers.

Maybe I could in fact find time for daily Mass, either here or in another parish or closer to where I work.

Maybe I could attend the Stations of the Cross on the Lenten Fridays.

Maybe I could “pop in” to “see Him” as I pass by the church, if only for a few minutes.

These are just a few suggestions we might consider.

Next week I will speak about Fasting as part of Lent.

Blessed Septuagesima Sunday!

Father Hewes

 

 

 

 

October 17, 2021

“As a gesture to make the Church more inclusive..”

I saw the above today on the front page of The Wall Street Journal with a big photo of many bridal couples arranged in a semi-circle before the High Altar in the vast space of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The event was a (literally and figuratively) “Mass Wedding” conducted by Pope Francis for the aforementioned couples who were of the Diocese of Rome on Sunday, September 14th.

The fact that some of these couples had been cohabiting before marriage and one couple ‘even’ had a child before marriage was trumpeted as yet another “gesture” by the Pope to make the Church “more inclusive”.

NEWS FLASH! Not only have Popes conducted marriage ceremonies before (though rarely, usually quietly and with less “PR”) but parish priests all over the world have been marrying such couples before last Sunday without needing this latest “gesture” to make them more “inclusive”.

In fact there probably hasn’t been a parish priest in history since the Church began who hasn’t “fixed marriages”, or celebrated “convaildations”, or persuaded unmarried couples (even with children) to be married “before God.” Many priests are quiet martyrs of patience and persistence in leading couples to a proper wedding, preceded by a simple, humble and private Confession, and celebrate their weddings with fatherly joy.

This is nothing new.

What seems to be new is the propagation of the myth of the Catholic Church as a hard-hearted community of ‘neurotic collectors of devotions’ which engages in “proselytism which is solemn nonsense” and even of priests who are “little monsters “who “turn their confessionals into “torture chambers.”  It seems that all the worse stereotypes of the anti-Catholic “No Nothings” of the 19th century are back and being accepted as true; and goes uncorrected by those who have a duty to do so.

I make that last point because one might accept that even as respectable a newspaper like the “WSJ” might fall for this; but, please God, does anyone in the Church seriously think that we only perform marriages and baptize the babies only of Saints?

Or must the slander and the false stereotypes go on unchecked in order to win the world’s applause?

September 15, 2014.

 

 

 

 

October 17, 2021

A date that will live…

There are certain dates that resonate with a generation.

They are almost a shorthand for an event that needs no further explanation.

For my parents’ generation it is “December 7, 1941.”

For those of my age in our childhood it was “November 22, 1963.”

For most of us it is now September 11, 2001, or smply  “9-11”.

Thirteen years ago we all stood stunned, shocked, and incredulous at the sights and sounds of that day.

Even now I find myself unable to listen the recorded voices, the 911 calls, the reactions.

We are still living in the aftermath of that day thirteen years ago in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria. Names like “ISIS” and “Al Quaeda” are on our lips.

A secularized, non-religious West faces in incomprehension religious fanatics whose words, and deeds, come straight out of history.

May the Lord Jesus Christ enfold those lost thirteen years ago “in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye” in His mercy and turn aside the hatred of our foes.

 

 

October 17, 2021

Will she keep it?

A few days ago it was announced from London to seemingly universal joy that another “Royal baby” is on the way.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ( “Will and Kate”) are expecting their second child. The announcement was necessitated, as was the case with their first child, due to the mother’s propensity to severe morning sickness that will prevent her from being able to commit to public appearances for a time.

Her willingness to endure this was regarded as laudable, as it indeed is, and there was immediate speculation as to the “baby’s” gender and possible names, and place in the Order of Succession to the throne, etc.

In the 19th century the English commentator Walter Bagehot commented that modern Royalty was “the brilliant edition of a universal fact”; e.g., births, marriages, deaths, etc.

In essence, a “Royal Marriage…Royal Baby… Royal Jubilees…Royal deaths” are the same as anyone else’s. There is just something emotively  and symbolically moving in “universal facts” occurring to one family that seems representative of  our own.

There was however soemthing quite striking in the language  in all the reactions to the announcement. The “baby” was already referred to as a “baby.”  To my knowledge, there wasn’t the slightest question raised that the announcement was good news.

However, one “entertainment figure” hit the modern note.

She “tweeted”: Will she keep it?

THAT’s some question, isn’t it?

The very thought of an abortion being the response to the “royal” pregnancy I’m sure would be repugnant to most people.

Yet millions of “babies” are aborted deliberately each year.

Why isn’t it as repugnant as a response to the butcher, baker, candle-stick maker’s wife’s pregnancy?

Because the “baby” is royal?

Wanted?

Or maybe, the “brilliant edition” of a “universal fact” is this: that the “Royal” baby is human, like that of any other woman’s pregnancy. Bagehot would tell us that a birth in a Palace is simply the brilliant version of a birth in a cottage.

If (please God) saluting guns will thunder, church bells peal, and crowds cheer next Spring at the new royal birth, it is only because we sense deep down that EVERY birth is  glorious. We just can’t do it all day long, every day so they do it for one family, which stands for all families.

The “mass of cells” in the womb of the Duchess of Cambridge is for most intents and purposes biologically the same as the “mass of cells” in the womb of the woman sitting in the waiting room today in an abortion clinic.

One is a “baby”, the other isn’t?

 

God help us to see the truth!

 

September 10, 2011

 

October 17, 2021

Suicide

In the light of Robin William’s recent suicide and the reportage concerning it, I came across a thought-provking article in a UK secular magazine. Though it references places and events there, I think the author is worth reading, even from his secular viewpoint.

 

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/there-was-nothing-brave-about-robin-williams-death/15654#.U_p3c2M2WSr

 

August 24, 2014

October 17, 2021

Getting all medieval..

Dear friends,

“Does it please Thee, O God, to deliver into the hands of these beasts the defenseless children whom I have nourished with Thy Love?”

The words above stood out like a thunderclap.

Earlier this morning (August 11th) I was reading the entry in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” for the saint of the day: St. Clare of Assisi, a friend and contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century.

I had not thought to have read such words from a Saint who followed her fellow-townsman Francis in the spirit of poverty and simplicity. As a line from a movie has it, Clare “got all medieval” that day.

Well, St. Claire WAS “medieval”.

However, the account of the events that lead to long-ago prayer of Claire are strikingly modern. An army in the service of (of all people) the “Holy Roman Emperor” in the year 1244 advanced on her city.  This host was ravaging the area around Clare’s convent just outside Assisi and was largely composed of hired “Saracens” (i.e., Arab Muslim warriors) and approached the walls of her enclosure. She took herself to the wall, the Blessed Sacrament borne before her in a pyx and she faced the advancing Islamic troops. It was then she prayed the words that began this article.

Not very ecumenical we might think. Maybe she was too harsh?

After all, can’t we all just get along?

It takes two to get along.

You and I are used to assuming all people are basically good, and all religions are essentially good.  How often do we think ‘we all believe in the same God”?

Do we?

What is emerging and is rampaging today now in the form of “ISIS” or “ISIL” is an old story: militant Islam carrying the sword and demanding total submission to Allah as they conceive him to be. We are in merely the newest phase of a struggle that has gone on intermittently from 1400 years in the Middle East and has now spread West, as it once did.

We’ve been preaching peace, while others preach war.

On that day in 1244, history records that the enemy withdrew, and Claire’s  prayer, so firm, forceful, and strong, to the Lord whom she deeply loved prevailed.

The manner of its answer is also striking. A child’s voice was heard: I will have them always in my care!”

May the God who became the Child in the person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, vindicate and defend His children from the ravages of men acting as beasts.

May fanaticism, superstition, idolatry, and false doctrine give way to the Truth, which alone sets men free?

 

God’s blessings,

Father Hewes

October 17, 2021

A wrong turn a century ago.

A hundred years ago, a harried chauffeur, berated by his boss in the front seat next to him, jammed on the brakes and started fumbling with the clutch and the gear shift of the big open bulky touring car.

Behind him in the passengers’ seats sat a large, mustachioed middle-aged man suffering with asthma in the heat and humidity that June day in a dusty Balkan town. Next to him was his good-tempered sweet-faced now plump wife. Both of them were rather over-dressed by today’s standards. The man was in full ceremonial uniform complete with green-plumed bicorn hat and his lady, in the full dress and picture hat so popular in those days. They didn’t “do” casual in his line of work.

He probably quietly fumed at the mix-up. The route of his primitive motorcade had been changed at the last minute for security reasons, and as so common in the army, “somebody didn’t get the word.” The low-ranking chauffeur hadn’t been told and made the turn off the main street as had been planned. The officer next to him, determined to fulfill his newest orders, had had the car brought to stop, so it could be backed up.

At a table, at a café, on that very corner sat a despondent 19 year old political activist, and, as he would have called himself, a patriot and a “freedom fighter”. That big man in the back seat had been his target earlier that day, but he had lost his nerve. Ashamed to return over the border to face his masters, he sat there sad and with a drink before him. He looked up, and there was the car, and the man directly before him. He must have thought this was a Heaven (?) sent second chance. He withdrew the pistol he had in his pocket, stood up, approached the car, aimed, and fired three shots into the back seat. In an action that would presage countless repetitions in the century just begun, he didn’t care if he struck the woman as well as the man. His bullets hit home, the man and the woman, partners in a love-match that defied all the traditions of his proud family, collapsed into each others’ arms. He was heard to mutter Sopherl, don’t die, live for the children.

The youth, a Serb named Gavrilo Princip, was seized and beaten by a crowd, and then taken off to jail, where he would die two years later.

The man in the back of the car was His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Highness, the Archduke and Throne-Heir Franz Ferdinand von Habsburg-Lothringen-d’Este and his wife was Her Serene Highness Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.

They died that day in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

By four years later, anywhere from fourteen to sixteen millions had died and an entire European order was gone.

Lenin and his Bolsheviks began the “construction of the socialist order” in Russia, and millions more would pay the price.

A former subject of the Archduke’s family, who had served in the German Army in World War 1, would be brooding in his Bavarian garret and cell and would plot revenge.

Millions of average men, women, and children would be uprooted from ancestral homelands. Half of France and almost all of Belgium devastated.

American farm boys and city-tenement boys would be sent “over there”.

And all because a wrong turn was made that day, 100 years ago, and three shots were fired.

June 28, 1914- June 28, 2014.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine!

 

 

 

October 17, 2021

A Tale of Two Cards

A few years ago I had the privilege of visiting the city of Paris. Among the glories of the “City of Light” that had once been the second city of Roman Catholicism ( the venue of the work of Saint Albert the Great, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the capital of Saint Louis IX and the city of so many other Saints and martyrs) is the great Baroque complex of buildings known as Les Invalides. Built by Louis XIV (1638-1715) as a home for old or wounded (the “invalids” of the title) soldiers it has as its center a striking church named after Saint Louis.  The larger part of the vast and grand church has been secularized and is better known as the site of Napoleon’s Tomb and is no longer used for Mass. However, a smaller section remains and is a “memorial chapel” for more recent French generals and military notables.

There one may see plaques commemorating the names, dates, and accomplishments of the deceased ending with the striking and peremptory command Priez pour lui! (“Pray for him!”)

That phrase is in my mind this November, traditionally the month dedicated to the “Holy Souls”: i.e., the Faithful Departed still in need of our prayers and Masses as they make their way after death through the preparation for their final glory through the cleansing of Purgatory.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). It notes that “this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031).

The purification is necessary because, as Scripture teaches, nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven (Rev. 21:27) and, while we may die with our mortal sins forgiven, there can still be many impurities in us, specifically venial sins and the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.

That militarily abrupt command I quoted above, “Pray for him!” expresses nearly two millennia of both Christian practice and Catholic doctrine. These souls cannot merit for themselves, they need our prayers and Masses to hasten their final release from what is universally described as a kind of Via Dolorosa.

As I write this, however, I cannot but mention for your consideration a trend that as your pastor and a Catholic priest I believe needs to be addressed.

When I was ordained in 1978 and started visiting wakes to offer prayers for deceased parishioners the well-known Catholic remembrance card had a standard format: one on side a “holy card picture” of Our Lord, Our Lady, Saints, Angels, etc and on the other a prayer for the deceased. Back then one could still occasionally see the traditional “Gentlest Heart of Jesus” prayer with its references to a drop of Thy Precious Blood easing the flames of Purgatory.  More often one would see a newer prayer from the reformed Liturgy, or quotes from Scripture or the Saints appropriate to the theme of death and salvation.

However a process was underway whose results are now apparent.

Today, the card still might have a sacred image on one side, but more and more often a photo of a sunrise, sunset, seashore or other natural and non-religious imagery. What one now, sad to say, rarely finds on the other side is a prayer or anything drawn from Catholic tradition or culture. An impartial observer unfamiliar with the actual deceased person might even assume that he/she was not a Christian, nor even had any particular religion at all.

The quintessentially Catholic and once universally known simple prayer for the dead Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord today is most often met with a puzzled silence; much less the also once universally known reply And let perpetual light shine upon them. This is not true only of the “unchurched” but also of practicing and regular Catholics.

Many of the “eulogies” that are sometimes insisted upon at Catholic Funerals are reflections upon the mourner’s loss and memories, without a word about the deceased’s religious life (if there was one), much less a proclamation of Catholic Faith in the necessity of prayer for the dead.

I must admit the Church herself as we have experienced her over these decades on the grass-roots level has not effectively resisted this secularization of death and the removal of any vestige of concern for the person’s soul before Almighty God. The substitution of unrelated “favorite songs” (not always religious) in place of genuine liturgical music is nearly, universal today. The old standards Ave Maria or Panis Angelicus, though having nothing to do with a Funeral have at least the sanction of Catholic tradition. The newer popular selections often do not even have any relevance to a Funeral other than to make me feel better. (A perfect example is Here I Am Lord with its bold assertion “I will go if you need me”. This hymn is a vocation song, not a Funeral hymn. When it comes to death, we didn’t choose to “go” and, pardon me, He probably doesn’t “need” me all that much. I’m the one that needs HIM!)  The stories of homilies in which family remembrances and assertions that “grandpa is in heaven” are the subject even though “grandpa” might have rejected every conscious opportunity he had to receive the Sacraments or live as a Catholic are too legion to be entirely untrue.

Now, of course, one does not over-compensate with harshness or condemnatory words or attitudes which would also be inconsistent with Catholic teaching on the Mercy of God and Purgatory; as well as a proper regard for the grief of others.

However a more judicious use of traditional Catholic funerary practices such as perhaps vestment color, the choice of solid Catholic music appropriate to a Funeral Mass, makes for a well-done solemnity which both avoids a superficial “joy” that few actually feel at a funeral as well as uplifting the mourners while preserving a reverent and dignified humility before God that accepts death, judgment, and provides a hope founded upon the intercessory power of the Mass as well as prayers for the dead both by ourselves and the Angels and Saints.

That abrupt  command “Pray for him!” on the plaques in the Invalides is also a supreme act of charity for the dead.

As one twentieth century Saint put it: Make friends with the souls in Purgatory!

When our time comes, they will be our best friends.

November 7, 2013

Father Hewes

 

October 17, 2021

Sound the Retreat

Dear friends,

 

This week I will be away on my annual spiritual retreat. This is an obligation required of all priests by Canon Law. I must say however I have always found it a pleasant obligation.

When I first began my priestly formation way back in 1965 at the old Saint Pius X Preparatory Seminary in Uniondale the word “retreat” was pretty much a purely religious (and military) term. Now we hear of corporations and organizations of all sorts taking their employees on “retreats”.

 

For us priests, it is a time to leave our everyday parochial responsibilities behind for about a week.  It is a time to follow the advice of the Lord “come apart by yourselves and rest awhile” and “watch and pray.”

Prayer, rest, reflection, and resolution are the traditional parts of a priestly retreat. Some are what are known as “directed”; that is conducted by a “retreat master” and others are “private” (alone and self-guided).

For me the last several have been of the latter type.

I go away just far enough to feel a true psychological distance from my normal environment. Traditionally some have sought out the solitude of the desert.  True to the instincts of my ethnic background (Celtic and Scandinavian) the sea is my “desert” and I spend the week in a place where the land and sea intersect.

I take my “old friends”: favorite spiritual and theological books, with some variants thrown in for perhaps fresh insight; I immerse myself the Sacred Liturgy: the Divine Office and the Mass. The season of the year, redolent of Saints and Faithful Departed, puts me in mind of that vast Kingdom of Christ of which Saint Matthew’s  Parish is but a small part.

Also, the flesh has its respite too, with an early bed time and an early rising.

 

I don’t claim to come back a “new man”; but perhaps just a better man and a better priest.

 

I’ll be praying for you; please spare a thought for me.

November 10th, 2013

 

October 17, 2021

If there is no God….

I am currently reading the most dreadful book I have ever read in my entire life.

I do not mean that it is poorly written or dull. In fact, it is just the opposite.

The book is Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder published just a year ago. It is about a band of Central Europe running from the Baltic States ( Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), down through Poland,  western Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine to the Balkans. The author documents in horribly fascinating and readable detail the literally dreadful fact that in and from those lands , between the years from 1933 to 1945, about 14 million human beings, men, women, children, were done to death by deliberate government policy of either or both the Soviet Union and the Third Reich.

Stalin’s forced collectivization and subsequent starvation of Ukrainian farmers, his various “purges” started off the process. For almost two years he and Adolph Hitler together “decapitated” Polish society and then after June 1941 carried separate massive slaughters of their own and others’ peoples.

The title “Bloodlands” is coined by Snyder as it was in this swath of Europe that so much death was concentrated. It was to these lands that Hitler came, belatedly, to systematic mass slaughter with the death camps in Polish territory. Those 14 million does NOT include the battle deaths of 1939-1945 in that region that would also see well over 50% of all battlefield fatalities in all of World War Two.

Aptly named indeed.

It is also worth remembering that while Hitler’s contribution to this utterly horrific history ended in 1945, Stalin’s continued into the 1950’s.

The book is well-written, well-researched, fascinating, and heart-breaking.

It is also true.

Snyder describes an actual place, a former monastery, in western Russia, in which Soviet commissars were headquartered in their joint campaign with Hitler’s SS in 1940 to destroy all educated Polish society and to begin the extermination of “undesirables” and Jews. The place was also the setting in the great Russian novel The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoievski where his character debates the existence of God with a monk. It was in this setting that the famous lines were spoken in the novel: If there is no God, then anything is possible.

This assertion, a rallying cry of the “brave new world” of nineteenth century revolutionaries, bore horrible fruit in the twentieth century.

If there is no God, then anything is possible.

The denial of God by both the neo-paganistic ex-Catholic Adolph Hitler and the ex-Orthodox seminarian Joseph Stalin and their respective parties made them and their dreadful world possible.

Today the “bloodlands” are the regions where murderous religious fanatics following a false God shed literal blood, and in our own more sophisticated Western world in the sterile and hushed clinics and institutions that produce millions of aborted babies and euthanized sick and elderly every year; in the random “drive by shootings”; and the mental and moral deterioration of so many in a “modern” secular culture.

If there is no God, then anything is possible.

October 23, 2013.