From the Pastor: Lenten Penances
OK, this is your last Weekend to plan your Lent. What penances are you going to willingly undertake? If the penances include abstinence from food or activities (obviously, in addition to the obligatory meatless Fridays of Lent), from what will you abstain? Will it be a complete abstinence (no “xyz” for the fullness of Lent) or a partial one (no “xyz” between certain hours, or on certain days, or unless “abc” happens)? What amount of alms are you going to give and to whom? What prayers are you going to offer to God? Are you planning on fasting? For how long? How severe a fast? Have you really given a lot of thought to these questions and chosen penances which you believe will bring about a spiritual benefit or do you just pick whatever your spouse (or neighbor, or friend, or kids) are doing? Did you choose challenging penances or did you wimp out? Do you plan on following the 1962 rules for Lent’s fast and abstinence or the current rules? (See elsewhere in the bulletin for the distinction between the two.)
I really don’t want to know the answers. They are simply for your own consideration. Unless you have a good reason to reveal your Lenten practices, such as setting out a good example for your kids or others to see and, perhaps, to imitate, you are usually better off keeping them to yourself so that you don’t get into a “one-upmanship” war or allow others think you are doing it just for show. You may, of course, have to reveal at least part of your penances to others, for oftentimes penance can affect more than just oneself. For instance, if a man decides to give up all meat this Lent yet fails to tell his wife, there could be plenty of trouble when he refuses to eat the steak she prepared for dinner. So please use common sense in the disclosing of your penances.
Notice also in the questions that there can be “wiggle room” in some of the chosen penances. Perhaps instead of a blanket abstinence from TV, there was a limit to three hours a week or one show every other day, with an exception for news broadcasts if something horrendous, like the country going to war, occurred. Electronic games can be put away for the entirety of Lent (NOOOOOO!!!!!), but often cell phones, email, texts, and twitbook are thought to be “essential” communication tools, so nobody thinks seriously of eliminating them. But, short of a total blackout, why not just sharply limit them? Perhaps no cell phone use except for true necessity. (“Could you please pick up Suzy from school? She missed the bus because she was in detention.” is an emergency worthy of phone use. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something life-threatening.) You could, since you are freely choosing your own penances for the most part, also make stipulations like this: “I am going to pray fifteen decades of the Rosary each day of Lent except for the day that I am competing in the Gasparilla Triathlon.” Do not think that just because you know in advance that you will not pray the fifteen decades on that one day that you cannot choose it as a penance. Make real life adjustments if need be, while still challenging yourself to not find too many excuses to skip your chosen penance.
Something else to keep in mind and to plan ahead for is the partial abstinence on Ember Wednesday, March 8 and Ember Saturday, March 11. Following the old calendar, these days permit meat, and soup or gravy made from meat, to be eaten only once a day, at the principal meal. Keep it in mind unless you gave up meat completely, for it is easy to overlook, especially for those unable to attend daily Mass and therefore don’t see it in their missal. Speaking of which, one of the best practices I can think of to institute for Lent is the practice of attending Daily Mass. Yes, it is difficult. Yes, getting to a Traditional Latin Mass on weekdays is even more difficult than doing it on Sunday. Yes, gas prices are high and cars put on mileage and traffic is terrible and eating breakfast (or drinking coffee) might mean attending Mass without being able to receive Holy Communion. Yes, your husband, wife and/or children might whine and groan and object. Yes, yes, yes to all the reasons why you cannot make it. But here is the reason to do it anyway: Mass is the ultimate prayer of Jesus to His Father, united completely, of course, with the Holy Ghost. It is the Holy Sacrifice He made for us, giving His life in exchange for ours. In other words, it is our sole means of salvation! We should greatly desire to join with Him in His sacrifice every chance we get. We should be willing to make our own seemingly large, but comparatively small, sacrifices in order to be at the altar as often as possible. It is a challenge, but it can be done!
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Learning about Hell to Prepare for Heaven
Last week was, according to the Traditional Latin Mass calendar, Septuagesima Sunday, which means that we only have 70 days left until Easter! It also means that Lent, the preparation time for Easter, is coming even sooner. It is a blessing to have this pre-Lenten season, complete with violet vestments, to wake us up to the fact that Lent is coming. Catholics are often caught off guard by Lent, much like our afternoon summer thunderstorms catch foreign visitors off guard at the beach. Having the earlier change of vestment colors and Mass themes should help us avoid the sudden shock of realizing that we missed both Ash Wednesday and the Friday Stations of the Cross, haven’t given up anything, or done any penance. Of course, some Catholics, even with three weeks advanced notice, still react to Lent as the typical husband does to St. Valentine’s Day. No matter how many jewelry commercials he has heard, no matter how many newspaper inserts sport red and pink hearts, no matter how many hints his wife has dropped, he somehow still is shocked when he hears a coworker wish everyone a “Happy Valentine’s Day!” as they all walk to their cars at the end of the day. Don’t be that Catholic!
I suggested, and suggest once again, that getting a book on “hell” would be a great way to prepare for Lent, and then, rather than thinking that simply buying the book was enough, that you actually read that book during Lent. “Why ‘hell’?” several people asked, “and not ‘Heaven’?” Does the word, “snowflake”, ring a bell? It is not just the seculars who are snowflakes today. We have plenty of Catholic snowflakes, as well. Toughen up, buttercup, and read about what hell really is. Hell is not like having a headache, a sore tooth or bad knee. The pains of hell do not go away with an aspirin or even with a handful of OxyContin. There is no surgical procedure to remove the unremitting agony, no caress to sooth the hate, no vacation during which to recuperate. Hell is terrifying beyond any fear you have ever had. Hell is a place you would not wish even your worst enemy to go. But snowflake Catholics, being afraid of being afraid, don’t often spend any time thinking about or learning about hell, therefore--and this is the whole point--they do very little (or nothing!) to avoid it. And, if they are not actively trying to avoid hell, they are also not actively trying to obtain Heaven! Snowflakes’ penances during Lent are, at best, a form of physical betterment, i.e., a time to diet and exercise for health reasons. Or they might just be a social exercise rather than a spiritual exercise if the penances are simply items to either complain about or brag about.
When Catholics buck the system, so to speak, and open their eyes to the reality of hell and all of the eternal torments endured by the humans who go there, then, and, often, only then, do they begin to understand just what Our Lord was saving us from when He took on our human nature, when He underwent His Passion, when He suffered even death on a cross. That is when our own suffering, willfully undertaken and/or offered up in union with the suffering of Christ, begins to make sense. Looking only at Heaven as our goal without knowing what are the consequences of not reaching it, leads us to think it is not worth it to strive for Sainthood. Think about what the Hebrew people did in the desert when their scouting party entered into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land rich and fertile, a land beyond anything they had ever experience or even dreamt of. They reasoned that it was too hard to enter it, so they decided to “take the easy way out” and say, “Thanks, but no thanks!”. It cost them, not just 40 years of hardship in the desert, but their very lives. Only two adults, Caleb and Joshua, who had tried to convince the rest of the “people of God” to trust Him and conquer the land, lived to finally enter it. All the others perished. How few today, even if reading about the splendor of Heaven, the true Promised Land, are willing to fight to conquer the enemy, a very difficult and life-long battle, indeed. Most, sadly, will turn back, looking fondly to slavery to sin, or seeing a life of desert-wandering as “good enough”, without a thought to the eternal consequences of such a decision. Fearing hell will help you fight for Heaven.
I will leave you with three suggested readings. Father F.X. Schouppe, S.J., “Hell: The Dogma of Hell”; Dante’s “Inferno”; Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement, Question 97, “The Punishment of the Damned”. These are not “fun” reads. But they are each eye-openers. Read them and weep. Read them and repent. Read them and do penance. Read them and resolve to become a Saint and to help others to do the same.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka
It’s That Time, Again!
From the Pastor: It’s That Time, Again!
February is always parodied as a dark month. The skies are grey, the snow is grey, emotions are grey... But here in Florida, none of that, at least this year, rings true. But, just for the sake of bringing a little grey-ness to those of you who so miss the depressingly long, dreary grey Februarys of your northern memories, this week I bring you...wait for it...the diocesan Annual Pastoral Appeal. Yay, I mean, groan, it must be February.
Those of you who are registered have already received a letter ostensibly written and signed by me, your pastor, welcoming you to experience the joys of giving to the APA, of donating to the diocese to pay for those things which cannot be done without help from each parish, and, hopefully, from each parishioner. I have no doubt that, if you read my bulletin articles even every once in a while, you can tell that the letter which came in the mail was not composed by me. It is a form letter, sent out to all registered parishioners in the diocese, in the name of their own pastor. “But Father, but Father! Didn’t we just get an APA letter from you last year?” Yes, you did. I am amazed by how many people don’t know the meaning of “annual” in the APA title! (See, that’s the kind of stuff I would write.) The expenses of the diocese and her many activities, just like those of the parish (or those of your own house), rarely go down. They rarely stay the same. They almost always go up. Sometimes they go waaaaayyyyy up!
This year we have a new bishop. The diocesan expenses and the APA were already worked out on paper in numerous budget meetings long before he arrived here. He has promised to look into the finances of the diocese (he has a financial background of sorts, having worked at a bank before entering the seminary) and see if there is any “dead wood” that can be eliminated, but as it stands, this year will be “business as usual” since he knows next to nothing about the who, what and wheres of the APA recipients. Which brings us to our share of this necessary source of diocesan income.
First of all, please know that I truly appreciate all of you who donated to our APA last year, and the year before that, and even the years before I arrived. Epiphany parish has a long history of meeting its APA goal, saving the parish from having to take money from the collection to send to the diocese, as some parishes must do. You long-term parishioners blessed Fr. Tuoc every year when he appealed to your generosity. You, both long-termers and newcomers, have blessed me when I, too, made the appeal for the Appeal. Thank you very much. Now I am going to make a bigger appeal for a much larger Appeal. How large is our increase? I thought you might ask. When I came here a year and a half ago, bringing what the former bishop described as “those few people who have been attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form” to join with “the small remaining remnant of territorial parishioners”, the collections increased but our APA goal went down slightly, from $12,674 to $12192! (It was discovered that they were including non-APA-able monies as if it was our collection money.) But now you “few” have been here for long enough that a full year of your donations have been included in our (hopefully accurate) APA formulation and now, as a percentage and as a dollar amount, our APA increase is youge. This was not unexpected, as the APA is based on the prior year’s collection. But, “not unexpected” does not equal, “not a big deal.” This year our goal (and when I write, “goal”, that means that that is what the diocese will either get from us or take from us, for they make sure that each parish meets their “goal” even if it means taking out a loan) is $42,058! Though I gasped when I first saw the figure, especially since we only raised just under $29,000 for APA last year, I have to believe that you will continue in your generosity toward this appeal. This year I have to ask that everyone give to APA, not just those who have given in the past. Please don’t let a few of your fellow parishioners take on the whole burden by themselves. (Are you still registered elsewhere but attend Epiphany? You can/should still give to our APA.) Officially, we have 247 families registered (which is strange, since only 300 people attend the 3 Sunday Masses combined), yet only 47 families contributed to last year’s APA. To the 47 I say again, “Thank You!” and to the other 200 families, this additional appeal is directed specifically to you: Will you please help us make our APA goal? Donation cards are available on the table near the main church doors if you threw your mailing in the trash.Thank you in advance for your generosity.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka
Super Bowl Sunday
From the Pastor: Super Bowl Sunday
I cannot tell you how happy I am that I don’t have a Sunday evening Mass this weekend. After all, how often is our own home team in the Super Sugar Bowl? And to have it happening at our local Oldsmar stadium, no less! This is more than I can handle. I can already picture our rookie quarterback, Warren Sapp, fading back for a long pass to Bob Buckhorn for the winning run in the 5th period. With Steven Stamkos blocking the opponent’s kicker and Evan Longoria faking an end around, I can almost hear the swish of a perfect shot and Dave Miskin, the TV announcer, screaming, “GOOOOOOOOOAAAAALLLLLLLLL”! Our fabulous coach, Stuart Campbell, getting soaked with the traditional bucket of Caldo Gallego moments before the final inning is over, will still be composed enough to diligently check that Willie Taggart’s racket is strung tightly enough so that he can block the puck on the next corner kick. Then, just to make sure that there are no high sticking penalties or red cards being shown along with the usual 9.8’s from the judges, a few buc(k)s will cozy up to the referees of the night, Anderson, Bowmer, and Kotvas. Then, when the final bell rings, signaling the end of the last round, and the Mayhem Buccaneers, decked out splendidly in their new green jackets, will lift high the Stanley Triple Crown Trophy and spray milk all around, and all will be right with the world.
What is that? None of the above made any sense? Yeah, there are a lot of things that don’t make much sense right now. Many of the things coming out of Rome and various Bishop’s Conferences make about as much sense as what I just wrote. A Pope who resigns? A Jesuit who becomes Pope? German Bishops “earning” between $131,000 and $189,000 per year and denying a funeral Mass or Catholic burial to parishioners who don’t pay the Church Tax? Last Rites for Canadians killing themselves through assisted suicide? Adulterers and others in “irregular marriages” able to receive Holy Communion? A possible reversion of the revision of the Novus Ordo Mass? A fired condom distributor reinstated into a Catholic nation’s charitable organization while the Sovereign-for-life who fired him for his lack of Catholicity is forced to resign? By the Pope? Heretic Martin Luther’s revolt celebrated in the Catholic Church? The list of nonsense could go on seemingly forever.
Just a few short years ago, which paragraph would have seemed more unlikely? Maybe this is all just a bad dream. Yeah, that’s it. Everything will once again make sense if I just wake up...
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka