What is a Mission?

01-26-2020Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

Next weekend, we will have Fr. Eusebius Martis, O.S.B. with us to preach at the Masses and to introduce our Parish Mission that will follow on Monday - Wednesday, with talks at 10 a.m. and at 7 p.m. for the three days. The same topic will be covered at the morning and evening sessions.

A mission is a time for us as a parish to focus on our faith in an intentional way. The mission talks this year will help us to experience the liturgy as an encounter with Jesus in our lives. We are blessed to have Fr. Eusebius with us for these days. He is indeed an expert on the sacraments and the liturgical life, and he is a master teacher. Some of you might be familiar with Father from the video series: Elements of the Catholic Mass. He was the director of sacred liturgy at the seminary where I served before coming to St. Rose. I can therefore recommend that you attend the mission from my personal experience.

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New Routines

01-19-2020Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

With the renovations coming to a close in the church, we are getting used to some new routines and locations. The confessionals, for example, are in the back of the church, and the line forms along the back wall. The bulletin board and table that had been in the vestibule are now in the Shepherd's Hallway, where additional information can be found, as well as the lost and found, the "drop box'' for parishioners -- pretty much everything that was on that table and board before. The vestibule itself is now primarily for those who need to step out of Mass for some reason, particularly for parents dealing with a fussy child -- and for overflow crowds, which occur not infrequently. As long as there is room in the church, I ask that you come and find a seat in the church itself. Then the vestibule is available for those who need it. We will get used to the new situation soon enough!

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Lift High the Cross!

01-12-2020Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

When working on leaks that were coming from the church tower, we discovered that the mounting of the cross atop the tower was in bad shape -- so bad that we had a structural engineer analyze the mounting and redesign it. For the cross to remain lifted high above St. Rose, we need to remount the cross. Otherwise, the cross will have to come down as a hazard. This is an unforeseen and unbudgeted expense, but it is also one that I hope we will support and undertake.

If any parishioner(s) can help to underwrite this expense, please contact the church office. The project is quite complicated for a structure so tall as our tower. The estimate for remounting the cross is $10,000. Lifting high the cross is a great witness in our community, as well as an iconic emblem of our parish itself. Let's keep the cross lifted high!

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Prayers Please!

01-05-2020Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

By the time you are reading this, I will be in Guatemala. I am enrolled in an intensive immersion course in Spanish at the Priorato de San José in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. I will be taking instruction for several hours each day while living in a Benedictine community and participating in Mass and prayers with the community. My hope is that this will help me with conversational skills, in particular, and with liturgical Spanish. These are both important to me to be able to minister more effectively in a pastoral role for our Spanish-speaking parishioners. I will be in the program for two weeks, returning on January 18.

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Many, Many Thanks!

12-29-2019Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

Before the end of the year, I need to thank the parish for so much, both personally and as your pastor. First in my mind is the end of the Jubilee of 25 years of priesthood, which the parish celebrated with me so joyously in March. That celebration included the truly astonishing gift of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with my sister, Sr. Margaret Andrew, O.P. We were able to make that trip in July, and it is still resonating in my heart. This Christmas time, for example, I could not stop thinking of being in Bethehem and seeing the place of Jesus' birth and the Shepherd's Field with little caves like those that the Holy Family must have sheltered in.

As your pastor, I am grateful for the stability in faith of the parish in a year of many challenging circumstances. I have tried to deal with these situations prudently, and I appreciate your spiritually mature response as well. At the same time, there have been many positive developments in the parish. We have many new parish structures, for example: finance council, pastoral council, strategic planning committee, facilities committee, etc. I am grateful for the willingness of so many to serve and to be engaged. We have also just about completed some needed maintenance and upgrades in the church that I hope will serve us well for years into the future.

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The Sign of the Cross

12-22-2019Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

One important thing to remember about liturgical prayer is that it is expressed not only in words. Gestures are also prayers. We see this in the first prayer of the Mass: the sign of the cross. There are words accompanying this prayer: ''In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." But equally important as prayer is the gesture that actually gives the name to the prayer: the signing of the cross on our bodies. This gesture interprets the words for us. To accept the call to life in the Holy Trinity, it is necessary for us to be conformed the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is the way to the fullness of life, and there is no other way.

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Elevate!

12-15-2019Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

"Why do you chant so much? Why do you use incense so much? Why do you..." Let me offer you an explanation.

The liturgy is an enhancement of ordinary life. In the liturgy, we leave time and enter eternity; we leave earth and enter Heaven. The liturgy elevates us to greater heights of existence. Singing elevates speech. Incense elevates smell and symbolizes our prayers rising to Heaven. Vestments elevate ordinary dress into Heavenly attire. Ritual and symbolic actions elevate and provide meaning to our movement. If the rituals of a birthday party (including singing Happy Birthday and not just saying it) or of a football game matter, then how much more do those of the Mass?

The liturgy is not supposed to be ordinary. It should be as extraordinary as we can make it. To be present at the sacrifice of Calvary is extraordinary. To consume the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ is extraordinary. In the Mass, we intimately encounter Jesus. That's worth pulling out all the stops for! As an old evangelical hymn puts it, how can I keep from singing?

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The Altar as Jesus

12-08-2019Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

As the Procession reaches the sanctuary, the priest reverences the altar by kissing it. This might seem a bit odd as a way to reverence a piece of furniture, but that is exactly what the altar is not! The altar is the focus for the presence of Jesus at the Mass and so that kiss is a greeting for Jesus. Everything about the altar should be treated with the dignity we want to show to the Lord. The altar should be the focal point of the sanctuary. Even when the Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the highest reverence is paid to the altar during Mass. One should never pass in front of the altar without bowing, for example. The altar is where Heaven meets Earth, when Jesus becomes present in the Eucharist. We should never treat or consider the altar as an ordinary piece of furniture. The altar is Jesus!

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We will go up to the house of the Lord!

12-01-2019Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

This is the beginning of the Responsorial Psalm for this weekend:

R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord. I rejoiced because they said to me, "We will go up to the house of the LORD." And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem.

R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord. Jerusalem, built as a city with compact unity. To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD.

R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.

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One More Sacrament

11-24-2019Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

I know that I announced last week a series of articles on the Mass, but before beginning that project there is one more sacrament I want to encourage in the parish. I am very edified by the number of confessions we are hearing in the parish, and I want to continue to encourage regular and devout attendance at Mass. There is another sacrament that I want to encourage as well: the Anointing of the Sick. The Church instructs us that this sacrament should be received anytime we are in danger of death from sickness or old age. It can be received when it is first needed, perhaps at the time of a serious diagnosis, right up to the moment of death. It is there to sustain us spiritually in times of physical suffering. The two are related after all.

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The Mass in Slow Motion

11-17-2019Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

As we move as a parish from obligation to devotion in our spiritual life, I think that we can begin at no better place than the Mass itself. The Mass is both the source and the summit of the Christian life. As a human reality, the Mass communicates in deeply human ways. When we gather together we tend to act and speak in specialized ways. Think of a football game or of a family holiday gathering. There are certain ways that we do things that are very meaningful, but these very things would be confusing to someone who has never been to a football game or to our family gathering. The Mass works in the same way. The Mass speaks in ritual words and actions. It is steeped in symbolism and tradition. In order to enter more deeply into the Mass, we need to understand these celebrations of the family of God. I propose to reflect on the Mass in this space for many weeks to come, taking each part of the Mass slowly and unpacking the meaning as best I can. I hope that this understanding may help us to move into greater devotion for the Mass.

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I Look Forward to the Resurrection of the Dead

11-10-2019Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

We say this every Sunday at Mass in the Nicene Creed. What are we "looking forward" to? Resurrection means that when Jesus comes again at the end of the world, He will raise our bodies to be reunited with our souls forever. Jesus rose from the dead in his body. He promises that we will too. It is a radical idea. We see in the Gospel today that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It was one of the things that separated them from the Pharisees. When St. Paul was addressing the scholars of Athens, they listened to him respectfully until he taught about the resurrection of the dead. This most fundamental truth of our faith seems to many people too good to be true.

But it is true. It is the cornerstone of our faith that Jesus rose from the dead in the flesh. This is the resurrection that we look forward to when Jesus comes again. Death occurs when the body is separated from the soul. When the soul departs the body, the body dies. The soul is immortal, but after death it is deprived of the body. What does it mean to be a human being without a body? I really cannot imagine. Everything that we have ever known or experienced has come to us through our bodies, including eternal life in the waters of baptism and the food of the Eucharist. God somehow provides the soul an existence without the body, but even the souls of the saints eagerly await the resurrection of the dead.

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Many Thanks for Many Things

11-03-2019Pastor's LetterFr. John Sims Baker

St. Gregory of Tours began his History of the Franks (written in the 6th century!) with these words: "a great many things keep happening." A great many things also keep happening here at St. Rose in the 21st century!

Thank you for your patience with all these many things. I am sure that the mess of construction in the church and the resulting complications in the schedule are getting old for some of you. We have come through our parish stewardship commitment time, as well as the wrap-up of the Bishop's Annual Appeal and the Seminarian Education Fund. We are in the middle of strategic planning and a busy school year. The list goes on and on.

In the midst of the busy-ness, I believe that we are managing to keep the first thing first, which is the love and worship of God! Masses are still filling up. There are still lines for confessions. Adoration is on-going. If we keep these first things first, we will be able to manage all the rest!

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