New Wines in Fresh Wineskins | January 23, 2021 Essay

The parish staff spent the morning of January 20th in prayer and sharing, led by Father Jim Martin, S.J., a familiar and wise guide. We prayed over the images of the new piece of cloth on an old garment, and the new wine in fresh wineskins. The gathering was virtual but the prayer was actual.

In preparation for the morning of reflection, we read Pope Francis’ recent book, Let Us Dream. That text has been the inspiration for our ongoing apostolic planning as we slowly and haltingly emerge from the crisis that has been our challenge—and our grace—these past twelve months.

The Holy Father describes what happens in a crisis this way: “In a crisis, our functionalism is shaken loose and we have to revise and modify our roles and habits in order to emerge from the crisis as better people. A crisis always demands that our whole self be present; you can’t retreat, pull back into old ways and roles” (page 3). New wines in fresh wineskins.

The creative juices have certainly been flowing the past year in our parish. We can be strengthened by the observation of Pope Francis: “I’ve been so impressed with how so many in the Church have responded to the pandemic, seeking new kinds of closeness to people while strictly observing social distancing measures: live-streaming liturgies…arranging meetings and prayers on digital platforms, giving remote retreats…making videos where dozens of singers and musicians contribute to a beautiful song from their homes. It has been a time, in the Church, of forced separation, yet also of new, creative ways to come together as the People of God” (pages 23-24).

A frustration for me personally has been the absence of parish-wide activities. Especially during Advent and Christmas, I missed the concerts and pageants, the Bethlehem woodcrafts for sale in the narthex, the Christmas Angels on the trees, and, yes, the Snowball Dance!

With this essay, I would like to speak of a series of parish-wide events that we will celebrate throughout the coming months, and I dearly hope that all parishioners will respond with the enthusiasm with which these events are being organized. We will be celebrating “Catholic Women: Agents of Peace and Trust in the Church and the World.”

From January to May, with monthly webinars and one extraordinary in-person and live-streamed event in March, the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola will honor the multitude of talents and the varieties of service, and most of all the expressions of living faith, of the women of our parish community.

Pope Francis has a powerful word to say on the topic: “A sign is something that stands out and strikes us. A sign of hope in this crisis is the leading role of women. Women have been at the same time among the most affected and the most resilient in this crisis. What does this sign invite us to think about? What might the Spirit be saying to us?… Could it be that in this crisis the perspective women bring is what the world needs at this time to face the coming challenges? Could the Spirit be prompting us to recognize, value, and integrate the fresh thinking that some women are bringing to this moment?” (pages 62-63). Our collective response is a resounding “Yes”!

The women we celebrate are for the most part members of the parish who are bringing “fresh thinking” to various critical fields of endeavor: Medicine, Nutrition, Homelessness, and the Environment. The presentation of the four webinars is to be found on our website, under “Events” and “Faith Life.”

THE FIRST WEBINAR WILL BE NEXT TUESDAY, JANUARY 26, AT 7:00 pm. REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED!

At Work I’m In Charge, in Church I’m Invisible.” This is the title of the first event which will have the form of a panel discussion. Four women, prominent in the fields of Medicine and Scientific Research, will discuss their work, their experiences of the COVID crisis, and their Catholic faith. There will be time for Q & A.

Finally, please save the date for the March 11th event which will coincide with International Women’s Day. It will be a time to celebrate the social, educational, and cultural achievements of women, and to honor the extraordinary contributions of a few to our parish.

After the parish staff morning of prayer, I went to watch the Inauguration of our new President and Vice-President. I felt pride as a Jesuit, watching Fr. Leo O’Donovan, S.J. offer the Invocation. I experienced joy listening to Lady Gaga sing the National Anthem. But the tingling gratitude in my soul was awakened by the poem “The Hill We Climb” by the Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. The poem captured the moment. “For there is always light / If only we’re brave enough to see it / If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Of course it was written by a woman; Pope Francis couldn’t have said it better!

— Rev. Michael Hilbert, S.J., Associate Pastor

From the Pastor: Abide in My Love | January 16, 2021

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins on January 18th, the traditional Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (in 1962 its celebration was moved to February 22nd), and concludes on January 25th, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The theme for this year’s observance is taken from the 15th chapter of the Gospel According to St. John: “Abide in my love…you shall bear much fruit.”

All those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior share the desire to cooperate with God’s grace and join in the mission of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. And yet throughout the centuries, Christians have been at odds with one another on a whole host of matters, from fundamental issues of doctrine to arcane issues of ritual. Wars have been fought and lives lost to preserve a flawed sense of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. At the intersection of flawed reasoning and human frailty, the name Christian has been used to sow division and incite conflict.

To what end then are we invited to pray this week for Christian Unity? Do we merely seek to settle into a safe haven of harmony, or do we dare to delve deeper into the very prayer of Jesus to his Father, “that all may be one, as you Father, are in me and I in you.” (Jn 17:20)

The theme of this year’s observance provides us with a lens through which we can consider what we are praying for. At face value, it appears to be easy enough. “Abide in my love.” Aren’t we already doing that? We say our prayers. We provide for our families. We help our neighbors. We are, in various degrees, committed Catholics and faithful members of this parish. Perhaps our attention should be on “you shall bear much fruit.” We have a good work ethic that we instill in our children and model for our colleagues and co-workers. We have earned the respect and, at times, admiration, of others. So all things considered, this will be an easy week of prayer for us because we have checked all the boxes. Or, have we?

In many past conflicts among Christians, all the boxes were checked. Good Christians, God-fearing, all the actors considered themselves to be on the side of the angels, defending truth and vanquishing apostates, heretics, and infidels. They often reaped the damaged fruits of their unholy labor, the spoils of war. They accumulated power, status, and an inflated sense of self-worth. Righteous warriors? Perhaps. Christian? I have my doubts.

The elusive and least understood quality that defines who we are as Christian is Love. Without it we may yet consider ourselves good citizens of the world; with it, we can transform the world. The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity situates us squarely at the heart of the matter if we are to attain unity, unity among Christians, and more importantly, a union with God.

In his prayer to his Father in heaven, Jesus revealed where love is to be found and how it is to be attained. It requires a continual and radical conversion of heart so that we act in selfless ways and build bridges rather than walls; we reach out to the anawim of our times – the poor, the homeless, the powerless, innocent victims of hatred, bigotry, and abuse; we care for our common home, the earth itself; and we recognize in one another the very face of God. Only then will we be one with God and experience unity with one another.

Christian Unity is well worth our effort in prayer. It is not an illusory notion. It is a habit of the heart that brings us closer together as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, striving to imitate his life of service so that we too may be in union with our heavenly Father. To be one with God is to abide in love; and to acknowledge and accept one another as sisters and brothers who share a bond of love in the name of Jesus Christ will surely bear much fruit.

– Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., Pastor

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord | January 10, 2021 Essay

As we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we should prayerfully reflect on our own baptism and what our baptism calls forth from us. Living in faithfulness to our baptismal vocation, our lives and our world will be richly blessed in this new year.

How sad it is that so few Christians regularly call to mind what is now ours by virtue of our baptism. In baptism, we die to sin so as to rise to the newness of life in the risen Christ. Each one of us participates, here and now, in the risen life of Jesus Christ. What a remarkable truth that is! We dwell now in the risen Christ and Christ dwells in us. As remarkable as that truth is, it leads us to a still more remarkable truth. As we live in faithfulness to the risen life of Christ in us, we strengthen our confidence that one day we will enjoy the fullness of Christ’s risen life forever. Amazing! Admittedly, it is quite difficult for us to reflect on this truth, and to deepen our appreciation and appropriation of this truth; that we dwell now in the risen life of Christ so as to have the real and certain hope of one day knowing the fullness of his risen life forever. What makes it difficult for us to reflect on this truth, so as to own this truth, is that it so exceeds our human capacity to understand it. At the same time, we are still able to intuitively grasp what this truth calls forth from us, and, unfortunately, many persons recoil from what this truth calls forth from them.

As we now share in the risen life of Christ by virtue of our baptism, we should desire to deepen and strengthen our participation in his risen life. This requires a regular practice of prayer. To pray is simply to share honestly with God all of your own hopes, dreams, desires, doubts, and disappointments, and then to quiet yourself to hear God speak to you of all that is right, beautiful, and true in your life, but also what needs to change in your life if you are to be faithful to that risen life of Christ in which you now share. To deepen and strengthen our participation in the risen life of Christ also requires that we actively seek to make his life our life which we do when we shape our daily living according to his values – his values of compassion, generosity, mercy, forgiveness, selflessness, service to all, and an active concern for the poor, the vulnerable and marginalized of our world. Here is where many Christians recoil from doing what is required in order to strengthen their participation in the risen life of Christ within them so as to also strengthen their hope of one day enjoying the fullness of that life forever.

The values of Jesus Christ are clearly not the values of this world. It is, therefore, difficult each day to consciously choose to conform our lives to his values rather than simply acquiescing to a life lived in conformity to the values of this world. Yet, it is only by our willingness to conform our values to the values of Jesus Christ, that we deepen our participation in his risen life, strengthen our hope of one day sharing in that life forever, and serve as instruments through whom this world is transformed so that it better reflects God’s original vision for it. May we make of this new year a blessing for us and for our world by our embrace of our baptismal vocation!

– Rev. Mark Hallinan, S.J.
Associate Pastor

Finding God in Paradox | January 3, 2021 Essay

The feast of the Epiphany invites us to seek God in unforeseen, unexpected places; in paradox rather than logic.  The Magi, quite reasonably, assume that they will find the newborn “king of the Jews” in the palace of King Herod.  Yet the Divine GPS leads them to a cave in Bethlehem – a stabling place for animals, their feed, and smelly dung!  If you and I were planning the arrival of God’s messiah, I’m sure we would not create such an absurd tableau, but as God declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor my ways your ways” (Isaiah 55:8).

“Epiphany” derives from the Greek epiphaino, meaning “to be seen, to show, to give light to, become apparent, make an appearance.”  Our gospel reading for today – a jewel of the New Testament – relates that the Divine Child makes his appearance in the shockingly unanticipated – in a backwater town, born to peasant parents, much removed from power and privilege.  In this narrative, God’s providence confounds human reason, so that God’s grace may transform the human heart.

The Epiphany drama invites us to contemplate that God is not incarnated in pristine, gold-plated perfection, but rather in those smelly, dark, grubby places within and without that we’d rather not visit, and certainly don’t want anyone to see.  Let’s imagine the Magi posing a question for spiritual reflection from across the millennia – “Where is the stable in your heart where this child wants to make his light be known?  Where does the Lord want to set up a Christmas crèche in your life this year?”  Is there a place of woundedness, pain, shame, addiction, or past trauma that will-power alone cannot bring to rest?  Where is this vulnerable, unattractive place within and without where God wants to be born?

Welcoming God into the dark caves and squalid stables of the heart will be a radical revolution for the ego, that part of us that seeks accomplishment, status, and a burnished persona, so ready to put on facades and erect defenses.  The ego’s logic would have us be more spiritual by being more angelic, i.e. chasing perfection, imagining we can be free from conflict and complexity, and floating three inches above the ground.  The paradox of God’s grace, however, is that “the stone rejected by the builder has become the cornerstone.”

Our gospel closes with the Magi, ever attentive to God’s mysterious guidance, whether in the stars above or the angelic messages in the depths of the soul, being directed in their dreams not to return to Herod. The birth of the Divine Child has disturbed a kingdom and an empire.  And so it will be with us.  If we can find the strength, through the alchemy of prayer and God’s grace, to persevere long enough to allow this divine impregnation to take place within us, we too will be disturbed to our core.  We will be transformed; our lives restructured.

As the Christmas season draws to a close, I invite you to spend time in prayer with the Magi today – before they leave “for their own country by a different road” – contemplating their amazement at where they have found the Divine Child, and the sheer delight they take in welcoming him as he takes his place among us.  Perhaps ask for their blessing on us – may we share in their graced bewilderment and joy, and may we find and welcome Christ in those unexpected stabling places in our hearts.

– Brian Pinter
Pastoral Associate