Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Today we begin the most sacred week of the Church Year with the celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion and culminating with the sacred Paschal Triduum.  Our Liturgy is rich in symbol, ritual, word and sacrament.  I encourage all to take part in as many of the liturgies as you are able this coming week, and to take some extra time praying with the Scriptures of the day.  If you find it helpful, use the process of centering prayer we have been using throughout Lent and take time for quiet reflection along with some “imagery prayer.”  Let us continue the “retreat like atmosphere” these days ahead and open ourselves to the grace God is ready to pour into our hearts and upon us.  As we enter into the celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, many of us are experiencing our own suffering, letting-go, grief, anxiety, uncertainty, confusion, etc.  With deep faith and great trust in God, we rely on him to get us through these difficult experiences.  We know that Christ himself has suffered and understands our pain.  We know that he rose from the dead to life, and that he, too, will lead us to new life.  As we journey through these holy days ahead, please know that I will be praying for all of you in a special way.  Let us keep focused on Jesus, our Savior, and trust in the ways in which he is leading us and our parish.

Last weekend, I shared some important news from Bishop Hurley.  I have printed it below today, especially for those who were not present this past weekend.    

I have some important news to share with you from Bishop Hurley.  As of July 1 (this year), Saint John Paul II and Christ the Good Shepherd Parishes will become linked.  Each parish will still retain its own identity.  However, both parishes will be served by one pastor and a parochial vicar.  Bishop Hurley has appointed Father Ron Wagner as pastor to both communities, and he will be assisted by the [soon] to-be-ordained Father Matt Federico.  Father Matt is also assigned as chaplain to Nouvel Catholic Central High School.

Since I just received this news on Friday afternoon, I will do my best to provide any additional information when the Bishop communicates with me - either in the bulletin or in future announcements.  I realize that this is a time of transition for all of us, so let us pray for one another and our new bishop yet to be named.”

Please make sure you read the article in today’s bulletin addressing the topic of linked parishes.

Blessings on your Holy Week Journey!
Sister Chris Gretka, CSJ

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Believe it or not, it is already the Fifth Sunday of Lent.  We have departed from the Gospel of Luke and read from the Gospel of John.  Once again, the Gospel passage is a familiar one.  It is the story of the woman caught in adultery whom the scribes and pharisees bring before Jesus.  Of course, they quote the law of Moses.  Then they challenge Jesus regarding the punishment of stoning.  This Gospel is all about the mercy of God.  Jesus does not condemn the woman but tells her, “From now on, do not sin anymore.”   Neither does Jesus condemn those who are ready to stone the woman.  He simply says: Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  In the early Church, Christians struggled with the notion that God would forgive someone if they sinned gravely after their baptism.  The sins they were particularly concerned with were: apostacy, adultery, and murder.  People were baptized as adults (or often delayed baptism until they were adults so as not to falter after baptism).   As the Church began to understand that God was indeed merciful, the first response to those who sinned gravely after Baptism is that they would have one more chance.  They could enter the Order of Penitents – and would do rigorous prayer and fasting and penance during the Lenten Season – and then be received back into communion with the Church at Easter tine.  The time in which one might be in the Order of Penitents might be longer than one Lenten Season.  (More details about that in another article or teaching).  Penance came to be called “Second Baptism” since one was not rebaptized. So, what is the Gospel trying to teach us today?  It is so much easier for us to point out other people’s sins and faults than it is to confront our own.   It is so much easier to “throw stones” at others and act as though we are “judge and jury” than it is to compliment, affirm, or show compassion to others.  We are called to love our neighbors, not to condemn them.  We dare to pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Jesus reiterates this in the way he responds to the woman caught in adultery.  The ministry of Jesus is not about separating or excluding people but about including them through forgiveness and reconciliation.  How do we model the compassion and mercy of God and imitate Christ in our willingness to forgive?

We have one week left before Holy Week begins.  Please look at the opportunities remaining for spiritual enrichment and reconciliation these Lenten days.

Blessings on your Lenten Journey!
Sister Chris Gretka, CSJ

Fourth Sunday of Lent

This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Lent - also called Laetare Sunday.  Laetare is a Latin word which means rejoice.   The Entrance Antiphon in the Missal today begins: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.  Be joyful…”  Traditionally, this Sunday has a tone of joy to it in the midst of Lenten seriousness, somberness, fasting and repentance.  On this Sunday flowers may be placed in church and rose vestments may be worn.

The Gospel passage today is very familiar: the parable of the Prodigal Son, or the Forgiving Father.Familiarity with a Gospel story may prevent us from paying close attention when hearing or reading it.In spite of our practically knowing it by heart, God is still able to speak to our heart in a new way as we reflect upon it. While on directed retreats, taking part in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, praying with an assigned Scripture passage, I have very often experienced God revealing something new to me, no matter how familiar the bible passage was.When doing the Spiritual Exercises, one engages in imagery and imagination.God works through one’s “theological” imagination to reveal himself more deeply to the person.The process is: one prays for a specific grace, reads the Scripture passage, places oneself in the reading by identifying with one of the characters, listens to how God is speaking by answering some questions or by journaling, and ends with a prayer of gratitude.In today’s Gospel, one of the graces we might pray for is the gift of forgiveness.We might identify with the prodigal son, the son who remained faithful, or the father.Placing ourselves in the parable as the prodigal son, we might ask: “What is the inheritance I received from my father, God the Father? How do I express gratitude for what I have been given?How have I used my inheritance over the years?For what do I need to be forgiven?Will I have the courage to arise and go to my Father?”Identifying with the “faithful” son, we may ask: “What inheritance have I received from my father, God the Father?How have I expressed my gratitude for his gifts?Striving to be faithful, do I think I must be favored above others, and when I am not, how do I react?What resentments have I harbored over the years?Will I have the honesty to arise and go to my Father?”Being drawn to the father, we may ask: “How do I show generosity and mercy to others?What have I let go of in my life in order to be a forgiving person?Will I have the humility to arise and go to my Father and ask for his continued grace to lead me in the ways of love and forgiveness?”In this “Year of Prayer,” consider reflecting on the Gospel in a new way this week.

Blessings on your Lenten Journey!
Sister Chris Gretka, CSJ

Third Sunday of Lent

This weekend we celebrate the Third Sunday of Lent.  The Gospel passage focuses on two points: the understanding of suffering and the call to repentance.  At first, in speaking to those gathered, Jesus tries to explain that the Galileans who were suffering were not greater sinners than those who were not.  He took their mistaken notion of why some people suffer and others seem to be blessed is not dependent upon how good or bad they are or whether or not they have sinned or not sinned.  God looks upon just and unjust in the same manner.  All of us sin and all of us are in need of repentance.  Jesus goes on to tell the parable of a particular fig tree that was not producing fruit in the orchard.  The person to whom the fig tree belonged tells the gardener to cut it down.  The gardener, however, tells him to leave it, and that he will cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it.  The gardener also says that if it does not produce fruit in the future, then cut it down.  God gives us second chances.  When we are unfaithful to our baptismal promises and when we do not “produce fruit” – good fruit – God’s first reaction is not to cast us off.  We do “judge” trees by their fruits and we do judge others by their words, actions, and by their social status.  Sometimes, we do not want to give another a second chance.  When we act in this manner, families are torn apart, friendships are broken, people suffer at home, at school, at work, and in the parish.  And we ourselves suffer from our actions toward them.  As we continue to reflect upon this Gospel passage, let us ask ourselves: how tolerant are we of others?  Are we critical and judgmental?  Do we judge by outward appearances?  Or, do we empathize with others, extend compassion, offer forgiveness, or give a person a second chance?  God has offered us the opportunity for continual conversion in our lives.  Lent is the perfect season to repent and not only believe in the Gospel, but act in a manner that demonstrates that we truly are committed to the Gospel. 

This Sunday is the first of our Vicariate Communal Penance Liturgies.  It will take place at 2:30 PM at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption.  Individual Confessions take place on Saturdays at 11:00 AM at Saint John Paul II Parish.  Please take time to read the special insert in today’s bulletin entitled God’s Gift of Forgiveness, published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  One way in which we are able to respond to Christ’s invitation to continued conversion is to celebrate the sacrament of Penance this Lent.

Blessings on your Lenten Journey!
Sister Chris Gretka, CSJ

Second Sunday of Lent

This weekend we celebrate the Second Sunday of Lent.  In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus takes Peter, James and, John up the mountain to pray.  While he is praying, his face changes in appearance and his clothes become dazzling white.  Moses and Elijah appear and are in conversation with Jesus.  The disciples have fallen asleep but are awakened and see Jesus in full glory with Moses and Elijah standing next to him.  Realizing how good it is to be there, Peter suggests to Jesus that they put up three tents, but he really did not know what he was saying.  While speaking, a shadow is cast over them and they become frightened.  A voice comes from the cloud saying, “This is my chosen son; listen to him.”  Then there follows a great silence.  The disciples tell no one what they have seen.  This is the second time in the Gospel of Luke that the voice of God claims Jesus as his own son.  The first time this occurred was at the baptism of Jesus.  At that time, the voice of God spoke directly to Jesus; “You are my beloved Son.” The second time, the voice of God is addressed to the disciples, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”  Today we are invited to go up the mountain with Jesus to pray.  What will God reveal to us as we enter into prayer?  What will Jesus say to us in the depths of our hearts?   As we continue to embrace reverential silence and pray, “Jesus, Savior,” what difference will that make in our daily lives?

Please make sure to read Bishop Hurley’s letter to all regarding the Catholic Relief Services Collection that will take place next Sunday.  Also note the special bulletin insert with information about this annual collection.  The theme is: Help Jesus in Disguise.   Jesus comes into our lives every day in various ways.  Sometimes we recognize him, and other times we are totally unaware of his presence.    Supporting the Catholic Relief Services Collection helps us to focus upon the presence of Christ, the suffering Christ, in the poor, in refugees, and in victims of human trafficking.  Our prayers and almsgiving (donations to this cause) will go a long way to make a difference both in our own country and around the world.  If you need an envelope, extras are available in the pews this weekend.  Please be generous to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need.

This week I would like to highlight Tuesday evening Mass – the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It is the patronal feast of The Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.   

Blessings on your Lenten Journey!
Sister Chris Gretka, CSJ