From the Pastor: The Exodus 90 Challenge
There are some great things happening at Epiphany of which you should be aware. I have already written about the Solemn High Mass and Blessing of Candles which will happen next Saturday, February 2, at 8:00 am so this is just a simple reminder about it. Bring your candles for the blessing and procession! In the evening of that same day is the celebration of the Lunar New Year (TET) by the St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission and they want to be sure that you all know that you are invited. Come early! Getting here will be a nightmare after 8:00. The children’s activities begin about 6:00 or 6:30 pm (exact times are not seemingly too important!), following the 5:00 English Vigil Mass. Food will be plentiful and all of the booths will be selling traditional Vietnamese soups, meats, shrimp and many things which are completely unidentifiable. Come with an adventurous hunger!
Something already underway and continuing until Easter is the “Exodus 90” challenge. Andy Whiskeyman asked if he could recruit a group of men to take on this challenge of 90 days of prayer, ascetical exercises, and fraternity. Six things would be expected of any man who signed up: 1) Pray daily prayer and read through the Book of Exodus; 2) Sacrifice with twice-weekly fast days; 3) Give up alcohol and sweets, social media, video games and televised sports; 4) Don’t spend any money except for necessities; 5) Take only cold showers and commit to a program of strenuous exercise; 6) Meet at least once a week with a group of five to seven guys who are doing the same thing under the Spiritual Direction of a Priest. Out of that list, there was one expectation which multiple men told me they couldn’t do. Others told the office staff that they couldn't do that same one. Still more told Andy that that same one was holding them back from participating. At one point Andy told me, “I always thought Hell would be burning hot. Evidently it will need be nothing worse than a cold shower!” Yes, number 5, taking cold showers, was the one so many men were unwilling to do. We did get enough men. But really? Cold showers are too much? They are more difficult than exercise or twice weekly fasting or giving up sports or alcohol? Unbelievable.
I had agreed to be the spiritual director for the men. I figured that I couldn’t very well lead them spiritually if I wasn’t willing to join them in these practices. I also figured that, since I was poking fun at the snowflakes, I had better strengthen myself by undertaking this hardest ascetical practice before anyone else. So I began taking cold showers before the 90 days began. It’s not that hard, really. Right? Why, just last year the rectory’s water heater broke and it took a week to get it fixed. Those cold showers were forced upon me. These were my choice. During the forced cold showers I only got wet and then turned off the water until needing to rinse. This time I was going be a man and shower like normal except never turn the hot water handle. Or so I told myself before getting in. “YEEIAYAYIOOEEIIAYIYIYI” or something like that came out of my mouth involuntarily even before I got my face into the flowing stream of liquid icicles. I kept telling myself over and over, “It’s only cold water. It can’t hurt you. It’s only cold water...” but I just couldn’t make myself believe it. I grew up swimming in Florida’s freshwater springs where the water temperature remains constant at 70 or 72 degrees all year long. When it is 94 outside, that temperature difference makes entering the water seem difficult. Some people entered this way: Two inches at a time. Stop. Acclimate ankles. Wait 45 seconds. Step forward, submerging two more inches. Stop. Repeat. Other people just jumped right in and got the shock out of the way all at once. I was a jumper. But a shower is not jumpable. Brrrrr.... “A few days of crying, shivering, and talking myself through it should do the trick,” I lied to myself, “and I will quit acting like a little girl and just calmly step under the spray as if it is nothing.” I haven’t yet gotten to that point. It has gotten easier, but it showed me quite clearly that I am too soft and squishy. I like physical comfort so much that even something as seemingly simple as a cold shower takes getting psyched up for. This is really showing how much I need ascetical practices like this to toughen me up. If I can barely stand ten to fifteen minutes of 65-68 degree water (yes, I measured it several times after my second day of wimpiness and that is the temperature range so far!) how can I ever expect to be a martyr or withstand torture for the Faith, not knowing if or when real pain will end? How can I even begin to properly contemplate the pains of Purgatory so as to do extra penance before death in reparation for my many sins if I avoid even inconveniences (for cold water showers are not truly painful)? A brief discomfort once or twice a day is nothing compared to the excruciating and eternal pains of Hell but it just might keep me and the men with me (and then their families and you) out of it! Please pray for us as we continue these 90 days of spiritual fitness and purification.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Courageously Living the Gospel
Bishop Parkes has a program going on, or, maybe it’s not exactly a program but a project, or perhaps it is better described as a plan for a program for a bunch of projects meant to increase the Catholic Faith of Catholics and to evangelize non-Catholics in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. If you get any mail from the Diocese you see the name of this program/project/plan, Courageously Living the Gospel, on the envelope, on the letterhead and on any brochure tucked inside. It is on posters in the church, on calendars, and on the web. He promotes it on his podcasts and videos. It is in your face so much there is a danger that you just treat it like muzak and tune it out even when it surrounds you. Maybe you couldn’t even think of its name, let alone call to mind what it is all about as you read the above sentences. Do you remember hearing about or attending the Diocesan Family Fun Fest? That was part of it. Most of the rest is stuff we are still planning (we being mostly the priests along with parish staff and a few lucky parishioners) for our individual parish and for our local community or deanery (which is a group of somehow connected parishes, though not necessarily the closest ones). Here are three things which each parish is expected to do at the parish level as part of the plan. 1) One hundred percent of parishes will establish and/or enhance youth ministry opportunities by July 1, 2020. 2) Every parish will equip parishioners as Missionary Disciples who are inspired to invite and accompany others by Pentecost 2020. 3) All parishes will enhance or establish family ministries to respond to the diverse needs of families by Pentecost 2020. We are already well on our way to making those three things happen at Epiphany.
The priests of our deanery have been planning and debating and thinking of what we can do to fulfil one of this plan’s larger requirements, which is a deanery wide collaborative project, an interparochial activity in which parishioners of each parish in our deanery will participate. The project is supposed to address a regional community issue. It should relate to or support one or more of the three diocesan vision goals of evangelization, which are: 1) Evangelization; 2) Youth or young adult outreach; and 3) Social justice/serving those in need in one of our parishes or our area. One proposal is to have parishes take turns feeding the poor on Saturday mornings at Santa Maria Mission in the north end of Tampa. If you don’t know that there is a mission there, this is already increasing your knowledge about things happening in our neck of the diocesan woods! Another proposal is to get parishioners to commit to evangelization on the USF campus. Apologetics and a few other basic means of teaching the Faith to college kids will be taught to interested parishioners by the campus minister, Fr. Paskert, and the volunteers will share their Catholic Faith on campus, where many kids face great temptations to abandon the Faith in part or altogether, and help Catholic students look at their Faith with, perhaps for the first time, the eyes of their budding adulthood. They might also find students with no or deficient faith who are hungry for the Truth and introduce them to the One True Church. (This is my favorite of the proposals, even though very difficult to do.) Yet another project put forth for consideration is putting together an Interparochial Catholic Youth Athletic Soccer League. Regardless of which of these proposals gets chosen to be our “official” project, if one of them strikes your fancy and you want to get involved in it, let me know and I will see what can be done to make that happen.
For the sake of those who don’t know which parishes are in our North Central Deanery (and even I had to look it up to be sure I didn’t forget any parish), here is the list. Epiphany of Our Lord. (Of course we have to be in our own deanery!) St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission. Immaculate Conception Haitian Mission. Corpus Christi. Most Holy Redeemer. Our Lady of the Rosary. St. Mark the Evangelist. St. Mary. Santa Maria Mission. St. Paul. St. Timothy. USF Catholic Student Center. The current dean of our deanery is the pastor of St. Mary, Very Rev. C. Timothy Corcoran, JD, VF. Why would you want to know this information? I don’t know if you do, actually, but since we will be working with the other parishes on at least one of the above mentioned projects, it sure cannot hurt to have at least seen this list somewhere along the line.
The deanery meeting discussions about how we are to implement the Bishop’s plan have been alternating between being very fruitful, very frustrating, very humorous and very vacuous. We all think it is wonderful that the Bishop has a plan for increasing the Catholicity of the people of his diocese. We don’t all think the same way about what should be done about it or in which way to achieve even the same goal. We all (at least the pastors, if not the parochial vicars, who don’t yet have to pay the church bills) worry about whether each project is a good use of parish money and volunteer hours. Somehow, though, it will all work out. May God bless this undertaking for His glory and our salvation.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Looking Ahead to February 2
Although February 2 is still a couple of weeks away, I want to bring this celebration to your attention with enough time for you to plan. Yes, it is Groundhog Day on the secular calendar but, more importantly, it is Candlemas Day (aka The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary) on the Liturgical Calendar. Some of you have participated in the Candlemas festivities for the past three years we have been at Epiphany but, since this is the first time it has fallen on a Saturday, I expect that many more of you will be able to attend this time. We will have a Solemn High Mass that morning. Mass usually starts at 8:00 am but on this day, like on Palm Sunday, a blessing and procession precede the Mass. We will begin with a blessing of candles at 8:00 at the rectory chapel. Since the chapel only fits approximately 25 people, we will have to be outside rather than inside. Bring candles with you! (More on that in a moment.) Once the candles are blessed, we will have a daytime candlelight procession to the church where Mass will be celebrated. Since the Mass will be Solemn and the congregation will be large and the blessing of candles and procession will take some time, this will take a bit longer than the normal 45 minute Saturday Low Mass. I want you to know that ahead of time so that you don’t schedule something for 9:00 thinking you have plenty of time to get there after Mass!
Because Candlemas celebrations have been largely done away with in recent decades, many Catholic have never been to one and don’t know why we bless candles, why they bring candles, how many candles they can/should bring, etc. Even in the mid to late 1800’s Dom Gueranger knew that he had to explain it to people, as the tradition was already being maliciously neglected. From his masterpiece, “The Liturgical Year” we read (with bold emphasis mine), “The mystery of today’s ceremony has frequently been explained by liturgists, dating from the 7th century. According to St. Ivo of Chartres, the wax, which is formed from the juice of flowers by the bee, always considered as the emblem of virginity, signifies the virginal flesh of the Divine Infant, who diminished not, either by his conception or his birth, the spotless purity of his Blessed Mother. The same holy Bishop would have us see, in the flame of our Candle, a symbol of Jesus, who came to enlighten our darkness. St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking on the same mystery, bids us consider three things in the blest Candle: the wax, the wick, and the flame. The wax, he says, which is the production of the virginal bee, is the Flesh of our Lord; the wick, which is within, is his Soul; the flame, which burns on the top, is his Divinity.
Formerly, the faithful looked upon it as an honour to be permitted to bring their wax tapers to the Church, on this Feast of the Purification, that they might be blessed together with those which were to be borne in the procession by the Priests and sacred Ministers; and the same custom is still observed in some congregations. It would be well if Pastors were to encourage this practice, retaining it where it exists, or establishing it where it is not known. There has been such a systematic effort made to destroy, or at least to impoverish, the exterior rites and practices of religion, that we find, throughout the world, thousands of Christians who have been insensibly made strangers to those admirable sentiments of faith, which the Church alone, in her Liturgy, can give to the body of the faithful. Thus, we shall be telling many what they have never heard before, when we inform them that the Church blesses the Candles, not only to be carried in the Procession, which forms part of the Ceremony today, but also for the use of the faithful, inasmuch as they draw, upon such as use them with respect, whether on sea or on land, as the Church says in the Prayer, special blessings from heaven. These blest Candles ought also to be lit near the bed of the dying Christian, as a symbol of the immortality merited for us by Christ, and of the protection of our Blessed Lady.”
Even way back then he saw that leaving behind such processions and blessings was a systematic way of destroying the Faith and was being done on purpose. So let’s fight back and regain what we have lost. Bring candles. Lots of candles. Beeswax (as we use at Mass) or paraffin or even oil candles can all be blessed. Bring them in a container with your name on it so that you can pick your “extras” up after Mass, plus one that you can hold during the procession and Mass. The next day, February 3, on the Feast of St. Blase, we use two of those blessed candles to bless throats. At least that last part is still seen in a good number of parishes today, even if the pastor doesn’t bless the candles the day before! Obviously, St. Blase’s feast day falls on a Sunday this year so, while we will celebrate the 4th Sunday after Epiphany that day, I will still, through the intercession of St. Blase, Bishop and martyr, bless throats after the Masses. Be prepared for that to take a long time, too!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: My (Hateful?) New Year’s Resolutions
Here today, on the Feast of the Epiphany, I, the pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord parish, wish to make public my New Year’s Resolutions, with the hope that I will be able to better keep them if the whole parish knows what they are. Unfortunately, even Church bulletins are often scrutinized for content in such a way that I had to “clean up” my resolutions so as to fit in with the norms of society and not get into hot water.
My first resolution was to lose weight. Notice that I said “was” instead of “is”. It seems that the mere typing of such four-letter words as “diet” or “fast” is considered to be body shaming. I didn’t know how evil “body shaming” is seen to be until it was explained to me by the Inquisitors. Indicating that a person, even if that person is myself, might be too heavy implies—no, rather, SHOUTS—that everyone who is that weight has something wrong with them. I was told that saying that I am going to lose weight is not only a form of self-abuse stemming from a low self-esteem but also shows that I despise and belittle others who weigh what I do. By stating that I want or need to lose weight I am, evidently, not pleased with just being me. I don’t accept myself as I am. I think I need fixing. I should be able to look into the mirror or at the bathroom scale and say to myself in a very affirming voice, “I am perfect. I am the exact right weight. I accept myself as I am.” Then I should expect everyone else to see me in that light as well. Should someone, say my doctor, tell me that I need to lose weight, I am fully entitled to pout and cry because he hurt my feelings (I use the masculine pronoun here because obviously a female or other-gendered doctor would never say something so despicable) and call 1-800-snowflake to get a lawyer who will get rich (ahem, I mean, fight for justice) putting Doctor Meanie out of business. Furthermore, if I fail to affirm my own exact amount of body fat and instead say that I am going to lose weight, then everyone who weighs the same or more than me can then accuse me of causing them to feel ashamed of their own body and hire that same lawyer to sue the cassock off of me (err... kindly correct me through the justice system). And once a lawyer brings a suit against a priest he also goes for the deep pockets of the diocese, the USCCB and the Vatican. Therefore, lawyers from multiple Church sources “asked” that I not write such a thoughtless or perhaps intentionally heartless resolution. Therefore, my first New Year’s Resolution became, in its second iteration, the resolution to remain exactly the weight that I am right now.
Wouldn’t you know it? That resolution caused an uproar as well. Legal letters came quickly, pointing out that by stating that I would retain my exact weight I was, in a roundabout way, insulting everyone who is not currently the same weight as I am. If my weight is said, by me, to be the weight which I wish to keep, then I am making the not so subtle derogatory statement that every other weight is less than perfect. I would wind up shaming both those who weigh more than me and also those who weigh less than me. Egads! I would be, in effect, condemning them for either their obesity or scrawniness. How cruel of me.
But the lawyers didn’t stop there. Once legal pit bulls gets ahold of something they won’t let go. So they started looking at everything I was writing in my Resolutions article and started seeing lawsuits waiting to happen in every angst-producing word. I was quickly told not to start with “Here today, on the Feast of the Epiphany” because, while the Feast happens this year to fall on the same day on both the Novus Ordo and Traditional Latin liturgical calendars, anyone realizing that in future years they might be attending a non-January 6 Epiphany Mass on the Sunday to which it was transferred might just get their feelings hurt as they assume that even now I am condemning them for not celebrating on the correct date. And if I assure them that, since it was our US Bishops who made that brilliant change I would certainly NOT be condemning the Catholic in the pew, then I would be destroying all of our ecumenical efforts to placate the Orthodox, for they never made what I just called a “brilliant” change, thus implying their dopiness in remaining traditional, should they not catch the sarcasm. (Interestingly, nobody cared if I insulted actual Catholics who follow the traditional date for Epiphany.) Then the lawyers jumped on my use of the word “pastor” because everyone knows that it means “shepherd” and so I was said to be doubly insulting the people by 1) calling them sheep and, 2) as shepherds are almost always pictured as males, implicitly excluding women priestettes from ministry. Needing to be erased next was the word “parish” for evidently Vatican II mandated a change to the word “community” because it sounds so much more soft and huggly. When the lawyers insisted that the not very politically correct “...of Our Lord” words modifying “Epiphany” had to go, I decided to just give up. That’s probably shaming those who persevere, though...
With prayers (or happy thoughts) for your holiness (or self-contentedness),
Rev. Fr. (Revoltingly Fearful) Edwin Palka