From the Pastor: A Father Palka Christmas
Once again this year I have to write the bulletin article for the weekend after Christmas early since the office will be closed after Christmas and we have to print the bulletins while the staff is still here. So I get to tell you the story of how I spent Christmas by jocosely using my clerical time machine. Enjoy a peek into the life of a priest on Christmas Day!
I would be glad to tell you all about how beautiful, reverent, and prayerful the Christmas Masses were. I would be delighted to write a column thanking everyone who helped to decorate, clean up, set up, sing, serve, and everything else that goes into Christmas celebrations. But, while that would be an honorable and perhaps even a moving tribute to all of our dedicated staff and volunteers, it wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as telling you what happened at my sister’s house after everyone woke up from an all too short, “post Midnight Mass” snooze. And so the story begins midmorning on Christmas Day while I was celebrating the morning Mass at Epiphany. My sister’s house was bustling with friends and relatives, including our favorite Aunt, Irma. As many of you know from past stories, whenever she is around, weird stuff happens, and “weird” might be too tame a word. But this time, just to make sure that she couldn’t get into too much trouble, she had a simple task to keep her occupied: bake French toast for brunch. On Christmas Eve I had sliced the bread and left it soaking in an egg and milk mixture in sheet pans in the rectory refrigerator overnight for her to just “take and bake”. It was foolproof. She had a task to do, she felt needed, she couldn’t get into trouble simply turning on the oven, and hungry people love the cook. Soon the whole house, yard, and neighborhood were filled with the wonderful aroma of toasted coconut. What? You’ve never had toasted coconut French toast? Me neither, but that is what Aunt Irma was baking, with thick slices of Panettone which, if you don’t know (poor you!), is a rich, Italian form of brioche bread with fruit baked into it. Oven-baked toasted coconut Panettone French toast. Wow, what a Christmas treat! The kids could hardly wait and the adults were pretty jealous of them getting first dibs. The youngsters gobbled up as much as they could eat just as fast as they devour the donuts after Sunday Mass. Then the adults came in for the next batch and boy, did they compliment the cook. But after they finished their meal they noticed that the children were acting a bit, well, they were all acting just like Aunt Irma. It’s hard to describe their actions exactly but everyone assumed that the kids were just playing a game of imitating her. It was just about then that I finally got over to the house, having locked up the church for the day. Although I was exhausted, I wasn’t so tired that I didn’t notice how strange even the grownups were acting. The women seemed to have a bad case of the giggles. A few of the men were telling jokes and funny stories, each trying to top the other, while a couple more were arguing belligerently, the women just kept snickering like schoolgirls, and the kids were wild. To me, as one just walking in off the streets, it was pretty obvious that everyone was tipsy! “What in the world have you been doing?” I asked, “How much have you had to drink already?” But nobody had so much as even opened the first bottle of wine so early in the day. “We just had breakfast!” they said and told me what they ate. I had noticed the delightful aroma as soon as I had gotten there but had been too distracted by their odd behavior to pay any attention to it. But now, hearing what Aunt Irma had fixed for them, I was beginning to get a clear picture of what happened. You see, I had brought with me the trays of French toast she was supposed to have taken to bake that morning and which I had discovered still in the rectory refrigerator. “Aunt Irma,” I called to the figure in the kitchen, “Did you get the fixin’s for the French toast from the rectory when you came by last night?” She replied with a sweet, almost condescending, “Of course, sweetie. I gathered up all of the bread and French toast batter from your kitchen. Why? Is there a problem?” I couldn’t bear to tell her that the Panettone loaves were actually gifts that Fr. Chien was planning giving out that afternoon on behalf of St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission! As for the “coconut French toast batter” she found in the refrigerator, what she actually discovered and used was several gallons of a delightful drink some cookbooks call “Carribean eggnog” which a parishioner gifted us with this year. Instead of using eggs and cream as in typical eggnog, this form of eggless eggnog, called “Coquito,” uses coconut and coconut cream as the base. Oh, and one more very important ingredient. Rum. Lots of rum. As in enough rum that thick, luscious slices of Panettone soaked in it, even when baked in the oven, does not burn off the alcohol. As in enough that children should not eat it ever, nor should adults consume it for breakfast. And that was just the beginning of Christmas Day with my family. How was yours?
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: The Lord’s Birth is Near!
The following passage, snipped a little to fit the bulletin, is taken from The City of God, a book of visions experienced by Venerable Mary of Agreda. She is recounting the Holy Family’s last day of travel to Bethlehem a few hours before Our Lord’s Birth. One thing that struck me this year as I read it again is that even the cave they stayed at in Bethlehem was not offered by any relative but was only “discovered” due to a vague memory of St. Joseph. Beyond being told “There is no room at the Inn”, they were not even offered the stable! Enjoy this snippet of Venerable Mary of Agreda’s mystical vision.
460. The heavenly Lady [Mary] observed and knew the secrets of the different souls of those She met, penetrating into the very thoughts and conditions of each, whether of grace or of guilt in their different degrees. Concerning many souls She also knew whether they were predestined or reprobate, whether they would persevere, fall, or again rise up. All this variety of insight moved Her to the exercise of heroic virtues as well in regard to the ones as to the others. For many of them She obtained the grace of perseverance, for others efficacious help to rise from their sin to grace; for others again She prayed to the Lord with affectionate tears, feeling intensest sorrow for the reprobate, though She did not pray as efficaciously for them... The sick, afflicted and indigent whom She met on the way, She consoled and assisted by asking her most holy Son to come to their aid in their necessities and adversities. She kept Herself silently aloof from the multitude, preoccupied with the Fruit of her divine pregnancy, which was already evident to all. Such was the return which the Mother of mercy made for the inhospitality of mortals...
462... [O]ur travelers arrived at the town of Bethlehem at four o'clock of the fifth day, a Saturday. As it was at the time of the winter solstice, the sun was already sinking and the night was falling. They entered the town, and wandered through many streets in search of a lodging-house or inn for staying overnight. They knocked at the doors of their acquaintances and nearer family relations; but they were admitted nowhere and in many places they met with harsh words and insults. The most modest Queen followed her spouse through the crowds of people, while he went from house to house and from door to door. Although She knew that the hearts and the houses of men were to be closed to them, and although to expose her state at her age to the public gaze was more painful to her modesty than their failure to procure a night-lodging, She nevertheless wished to obey saint Joseph and suffer this indignity and unmerited shame. While wandering through the streets they passed the office of the public registry and they inscribed their names and paid the fiscal tribute in order to comply with the edict and not be obliged to return. They continued their search, betaking themselves to other houses. But having already applied at more than fifty different places, they found themselves rejected and sent away from them all. The heavenly spirits were filled with astonishment at these exalted mysteries of the Most High, which manifested the patience and meekness of his Virgin Mother and the unfeeling hardness of men...
463. It was nine o'clock at night when the most faithful Joseph, full of bitter and heartrending sorrow, returned to his most prudent Spouse and said: "My sweetest Lady, my heart is broken with sorrow at the thought of not only not being able to shelter Thee as Thou deservest and as I desire, but in not being able to offer Thee even any kind of protection from the weather, or a place of rest, a thing rarely or never denied to the most poor and despised in the world. No doubt heaven, in thus allowing the hearts of men to be so unmoved as to refuse us a night-lodging, conceals some mystery. I now remember, Lady, that outside the city walls there is a cave, which serves as a shelter for shepherds and their flocks. Let us seek it out; perhaps it is unoccupied, and we may there expect some assistance from heaven, since we receive none from men on earth." The most prudent Virgin answered: "My spouse and my master, let not thy kindest heart be afflicted because the ardent wishes which the love of thy Lord excites in thee cannot be fulfilled. Since I bear Him in my womb, let us, I beseech thee, give thanks for having disposed events in this way. The place of which thou speakest shall be most satisfactory to me. Let thy tears of sorrow be turned into tears of joy, and let us lovingly embrace poverty, which is the inestimable and precious treasure of my most holy Son. He came from heaven in order to seek it, let us then afford Him an occasion to practice it in the joy of our souls; certainly I cannot be better delighted than to see thee procure it for me. Let us go gladly wherever the Lord shall guide us." The holy angels accompanied the heavenly pair, brilliantly lighting up the way, and when they arrived at the city gate they saw that the cave was forsaken and unoccupied. Full of heavenly consolation, they thanked the Lord for this favor, and then happened what I shall relate in the following chapter.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Physical and Spiritual Handicap Door Openers
Last week you saw the framework for the new handicap ramp leading into the church and social hall. This week you can see that the concrete has been poured and is setting up. Perhaps by next weekend we will be given the green light to use the new ramp and steps. So the next step is to get the doors fixed up. So far we have not had any suggestions for which companies to use (or to stay away from!) so we are probably just going to have to randomly choose a number of door companies or handicap specialty shops to come by and give us a quote. Once we have expert advice as to what should be done and what needs to be done, I will be able to let you know what the cost will be. Already, though, several parishioners have stepped forward with donations specifically for the new doors and door openers. Thank you for your great generosity!
One of the nicest things about the new ramp is the visible problem which is visibly solved. People with wheelchairs previously had no choice but to go around the church to enter by means of the ramp which was as far from the handicap parking spots as possible. Visitors had an especially difficult time even finding our crazy access. Those with walkers or canes, for the most part, couldn’t make the long walk around the building to access the ramp, so everyone saw them struggle to get up and down the stairs on a regular basis. They were the visible reminders that we had a problem that needed to be solved. Everyone was constantly afraid that some frail and/or elderly parishioner would fall down the steps. Many prayers were silently prayed for their safety! But what about the invisible needs? During these last days of Advent, I hope you will consider that there are many other needs, some of which are much more important than the physical challenge of getting into a church building, which Our Lord may be asking us to find solutions to as well. I will mention two such things. First of all, how many of our parishioners might be alone for Christmas, with no family or friends to share the day? They generally won’t tell anyone that they will be alone so it is difficult to see the need. You might feel silly asking someone, even if you know them to be a widow or widower, if they need a place to go for a family celebration of Christmas, afraid that you will hurt their feelings if they have plenty of family and friends around but you forgot or never heard that part of their life’s story. You might not even know how to ask, assuming that any “outsiders” from church might feel out of place if your family is opening presents and they, being invited to join you at the last minute, have no gifts to give or receive. But maybe, just maybe, you will help someone with an invisible handicap called “loneliness” if you work up the courage and love to ask them to join you and your family for Christmas. Look around. Check your memories. Is there a new, young couple in town who might be missing extended family for the first time? Is there a man who lost his job and is struggling to put together a feast for his wife and kids? Is there an older couple whose kids and grandchildren are scattered through various states and who would actually love to put up with your little ones running around making a mess? Maybe you could invite them to join you for Christmas! Build the friendship ramp!
Another invisible need might not be found so easily, yet is even more important to fix. How many of you have neighbors and/or coworkers who have left the Faith? Perhaps they seem to be doing well, have a good job or are enjoying retirement, have good health, a nice family, maybe even a better car and house than you, yet have turned away from God and His Church. To them, Christmas once had meaning but now it might only be an excuse to give and get presents or to have a nice dinner somewhere. They no longer believe that they need a Savior, so His birth is nothing more than an excuse for a holiday. If they still believe in Heaven, they assume they will get there no matter what. Whether they lost Faith due to scandal, or due to their own lack of commitment to prayer, or because they had no real Catholic education (even if they went to Catholic schools), or simply on account of busyness with everyday cares and wanting to sleep in on Sundays, they have the mostly unnoticed but crippling disease of apostasy. They have, without, most likely, ever verbalizing it, given up all rights they once had, as baptized members of God’s Family, to Eternal Life in Heaven. Is there any way that you could build a spiritual handicap ramp for them? Maybe a ramp is too much of an undertaking right away. Start with just spiritually opening the door for them as you did here physically with the parishioners with walkers. Invite them to Midnight Mass with you. Bring them a church bulletin each week. Enthusiastically tell them about the Latin Mass or Adoration or even the potlucks. Sometimes all they need is someone (you!) to show some interest, to open the door, to give a simple invitation to come and rediscover Christ’s love.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Watch Out For Construction!
This week construction started on our new handicap ramp at the church. There is already a ramp for those who need it but it is strangely located on the side of the church opposite the parking lot! People can and do use it occasionally but it requires them to either go all the way around the church to access it or to park on the grass, away from most other people, which means that if they should have an accident, tip over their wheelchair, or fall from their walker, it is possible that they would lie there for quite some time before being discovered. Also, the old ramp only supplies access to the church up near the sanctuary so if anyone wants to enter the social hall while Mass or Adoration is in process, they have no choice but to come in through the church and, at least in their own mind, distracting those trying to pray. The new ramp will allow access from the parking lot near the handicap spots into both the social hall and the church, making it much more convenient for everyone involved. Unfortunately, it means that those much-used doors will not be functional until the construction is complete, the handrails are installed, and the cement has hardened. Will that be only one weekend or two? When it comes to construction schedules, only God knows! In the meantime, if you have trouble walking long distances, you might be better off parking closer to the front doors of the church rather than in the handicap spots so that you can get in easier. And, of course, the old ramp will remain usable even if it is not a perfect choice. Once the ramp is complete, we will need to replace the outside doors with those which can open with a push-button. If any of you have any expertise or experience in this area (doors, electronic mechanical openers, locks, trustworthy installers, etc.), please let me know. We can also use push-button operation thingies (that is the Latin technical name for them, or so I am told) for the swinging doors separating the social hall from the church. The cost of the ramp is being underwritten by some anonymous parishioners who saw the need and volunteered to do something about it. Many thanks to them. A few prayers for them from each of you reading this right now would also be wonderful!
On Saturday, December 7, a day which some of you might be reading this, there was a Rorate Coeli Solemn High Mass at Jesuit High School’s chapel. Obviously, I cannot tell you much about it since I am writing about it before it occurs but I hope you were able to attend. The chapel is beautiful, the acoustics are phenomenal, and a Mass by candlelight honoring the Blessed Mother is always a treat. We will have another Rorate Mass, this one at Epiphany, next Saturday, December 14. It, too, will start at 6:30 am, not at the normal 8:00 am Mass time on Saturday, for it is supposed to begin in the dark and end as light is dawning upon the world. Our Lady brings forth, as a result of her “fiat,” the Light of the World which scatters the darkness of sin and brings salvation to all who believe and accept and live all that He taught, most notably by entering His Church and receiving the Sacraments worthily. So mark your calendars, set your alarm a bit earlier than normal, and come for the 6:30 Mass next Saturday. Note that there will not be an 8:00 Mass that day but confessions will still be available at or around the normal time.
Finally, the Holy League Men’s Group will meet this Thursday after taking a day off for Thanksgiving which fell on our last scheduled meeting day. Men, if you haven’t been to one of these meetings or haven’t been in a while, I want to encourage you to come and see what you have been missing. We start at 6:00 pm with the Angelus and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Most guys are not there at the very beginning, as they are still stuck in traffic after work, but they trickle in when then can, so don’t be worried if you know you will be late. Vespers, or Evening Prayer, is chanted by two of the men (the rest have been taught how to join in and do so as they are able) and a rosary is led following the chanted prayers. I hear confessions during this time and then return to give the Benediction. After the pray time, we retire to the social hall to continue discussing St. Pius X’s Catechism. We are up to the section on the 4th commandment, one which those of you with children still at home certainly don’t want to miss! Last of all, we have time to socialize with other men who are struggling mightily to become better Catholic men, better fathers, better husbands, or, put succinctly, great saints. A bit of food and manly drink and even an occasional Ave Maria cigar accompany the social time for those who wish to participate in those ways, but they are in no way mandatory. Our next meeting after this Thursday (we meet on the second and fourth Thursdays) is the day after Christmas. At this week’s meeting, we will determine if there is any interest in keeping that on the schedule or not. If you are not there, you won’t get a voice in that decision!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: 50 Year Anniversary of Novus Ordo!
Fifty years ago, on the First Sunday of Advent in 1969, everything changed. It was on that fateful day when the New Order of Mass (Novus Ordo in Latin) was mandated to be celebrated throughout the world. In the Church, as in the world, we like to celebrate anniversaries. 50 years is always considered a very special anniversary. But I don’t see any celebrations, large or small, for the Novus Ordo Mass. There has been no special promulgation, no encyclical written, no apostolic letter sent out, nor even diocesan luncheons. There has been nothing but silence. Why? Why would the Church leaders remain close-mouthed about something that greatly affected every single Catholic and indirectly, at least, every non-Catholic? Why, when the Novus Ordo Mass is constantly promoted as the greatest thing since sliced bread, aren’t we witnessing great processions through the streets of Rome, huge diocesan Masses with the bishops rallying all of their priests, or even individual pastors celebrating special Masses anywhere in the world? I think it is pretty obvious. Because, no matter what “everybody” says, the Novus Ordo Mass has been a failed experiment and celebrating it would put the focus where “they” don’t want it to be.
Let me sidetrack for just a moment. I constantly hear from priests that I should never say that one Form of Mass is better than the other. They give this command even though I generally don’t tell my fellow priests that I am thoroughly convinced that the Traditional Latin Mass is much more efficacious and far more pleasing to God than the Novus Ordo Mass. I don’t have to tell them. They know, just from the way I speak about my parish and what we do and why we exist, what I believe. And they don’t want to hear it. So they tell me that a Mass is a Mass is a Mass and that the Form I celebrate (most of the time, anyway) is not any better or worse than the Form they celebrate. The funny thing is, though, that they don’t believe what they say. They believe that the Novus Ordo Mass is much superior to the Traditional Latin Mass. How do I know? Because they won’t even attempt to celebrate the TLM. Most look at it with contempt and even the most “open-minded” see it as a quaint relic of days before the Novus Ordo Enlightenment. Once that line of communication is open, though, I sometimes have the opportunity to put a bug in their ear about why I believe what I believe. The people don’t know Latin! So what? My parishioners know that the Mass isn’t a dinner party (we need more food and drink if it is) but is, rather, the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who took on our human nature, perfectly offering Himself to the Father in an unbloody way just as He did in a bloody manner two thousand years ago. The same sacrifice. Even those who cannot read or hear or see can enter into that sacrifice! But what about the little old ladies praying their rosary? Isn’t that showing that they don’t know what is happening? Strange that you don’t realize that the Mass is presenting to us the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord and that the little old ladies are meditating on the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord as they pray the rosary! But the people don’t get to have full, active, and conscious participation since the priest reads all of the readings, prays all of the prayers, and distributes Holy Communion himself! 97% of your Novus Ordo Mass parishioners aren’t lectors or EMHCs, either, you idiot! (I sometimes lack perfect charity.) But certainly, you must admit that the 2 and 3 year cycle of readings is much better than hearing the same old thing year after year. And it certainly makes it easier to preach when the content is always new. No, I don’t admit to any such thing. The Mass is not a Bible study. If it is, it is a poorly designed class. After 50 years of the new lectionary, are Catholics really better Bible scholars? Are the priests really better preachers? Rhetorical questions, obviously. The TLM converted the world from paganism. Under the NOM paganism is regaining its prior stronghold and nothingism is battling for prominence.
That brings us back to why there are no celebrations. Statistics show quite clearly that millions of people left the Church when the NOM was forced upon them. Many who stayed and most of those who grew up in the new Mass don’t believe in even the core teachings. Only 30% of active(!) NOM Catholics believe that the Eucharist is really, truly and substantially Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. 98% of TLM Catholics believe. No, there is nothing to celebrate and “they” would look foolish if they tried. True faith has collapsed, religious life is decimated, pews are empty, vocations have tanked, and marriage and other sacraments are mocked or ignored. There is absolutely no statistical proof that in the past 50 years the Catholic Faith is stronger, more widespread, better practiced, or changing the world for the better. A celebration of a failed venture might open people’s eyes to the disastrous results, and the 50 year old NOM mantra “old is bad, new is great” would be seen for what it is. So they tell me, “Don’t rock the boat. Let sleeping dogs lie. Ignorance is bliss.” What would the prophet Ezekiel say? Jeremiah? The Apostles?
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka