Laetare Sunday/4th of Lent

REJOICE in Strive, Share, Serve
By Fr. Pete Iorio

The deacon and I are wearing a rose or pink colored vestment to get your attention.  Actually it is an option only two days a year: the third Sunday of Advent and the fourth Sunday of Lent. The official name for today is Laetare Sunday. The name Laetare (Latin) means REJOICE and comes from the entrance antiphon that we sang as this Mass began. We are more than halfway through the season of Lent and soon to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.

*[There is a lot to be joyful about. In the Gospel, the familiar parable of the prodigal son or better yet, the merciful father shows us the inexhaustible love that God has for all of us, even though or even when we do not deserve this love. Both sons of the father were ungrateful for the tremendous gifts that the father bestowed on them. One abused and wasted everything. The older son was calculating and judging in his relation to his father and his younger brother.

Truly the story shows us that the father, our wonderful God is prodigal or wasteful in giving us limitless love and forgiveness.

Let us thank God for His wonderful gifts.

I, as your pastor, also thank you for the countless ways in which you offer your time, talent and treasure for this community of faith.] We are very blessed as we strive to do God’s will, share His merciful love and serve his people with compassion. This is our newly revised mission of St. Mary’s parish. I am grateful for the Parish Pastoral Council for articulating this so well. It is easy to remember: Strive, Share, Serve.

As I reflect on all of us, who are God’s beloved children, my heart is filled with gratitude.

Our largest ministry is our wonderful parish school where faculty, parents and students, pray daily, grow in the faith, strive for academic excellence and are formed in Christian love. Our parish children’s faith  formation program catechizes and forms our young people who do not attend our parish school. I am thankful for those of you who volunteer in teaching the Catholic faith. You may have noticed that some of those teaching the little ones are themselves young people. This shows me that there is a hunger to receive the faith and to share it with  others. Our middle school and high school youth program is one of the most active in the diocese. Thanks to our youth minister and her team, teens not only  learn the Catholic faith, but are taught how to defend it and live it by many service opportunities. Going on pilgrimages and retreats on and off campus give our young people the opportunity to experience the greatness of our Catholic tradition. This weekend 30 teens prayed for the 24 Hours for the Lord and had the annual Homeless-A-Thon where they ate little and slept outside. As a gift to the parish, there are thank you cards in the pews. Take them and read them.

The Men’s and Women’s Welcome Retreats over the last nearly ten years have touched the lives of many of our adults and connected you more together as one family of faith and helped you to strive to live your faith in more meaningful and deliberate ways.

Under the leadership of Father Jesus, our ministries in Spanish has organized and been formed to grow and worship and serve. These brothers and sisters are hungry to learn and eager to share what God has given them, especially with  their talents.

Over the years, St. Mary’s has been served by excellent parish nurses who assist us priests in identifying the sick and homebound, serving them the sacraments and sharing resources that many do not have.  My heart is filled with awe and gratitude when I experience the lives of parishioners who have no family member except us, brothers and sisters in Christ, and who receive charity, kindness and love. Not too long ago, Johnny who lived right up over the hill in public housing, used to walk to daily Mass when he was able to do so. His blood family was not Catholic and also not very caring about his failing health. There was a tremendous outpouring of prodigal love from St. Mary’s to Johnny especially during the last months of his life and for his funeral.

This most beautiful campus (nearly 40 acres) has ongoing maintenance needs. When we surveyed you all two years ago, a top priority was resurfacing the driveway and parking lot which had become dangerous in parts. The new lower level is being completed to access the large space below us and to provide handicap access. At times in the summer, you have experienced the breakdown of the air conditioning. The system is 18 years old and has almost reached the fullness of life. Our patch jobs will soon not be enough to keep it going.

Our St. Mary’s food pantry, the Melting Pot ministry to help homeless downtown, St. Vincent de Paul ministry helping people pay bills, Family Promise, JPIC (Justice, Peace, Integrity of Creation) ministry which raises money for an orphanage in Ecuador, South America and a clinic in Haiti are all amazing ministries of striving to do God’s will in loving God in the poorest of the poor.

This mission: Strive Share Serve flows from the mission of Christ in the Eucharist. His self-giving and sacrifice are nourishment for us to let Him  live in us. At St. Mary’s, we offer four Sunday Masses and many of you serve in liturgical ministries which make our celebrations beautiful and to meet practical needs. We offer two daily Masses as well as a Saturday morning Mass that many other parishes around us do not have; therefore, we have visitors who join us for Eucharist. We two priests and four deacons are grateful to be able to serve the Lord through the Eucharist. The amount of Masses we celebrate is a drop of water in the sea of graces that God pours out through the sacraments.

I have just given a glimpse of what we do. To give you more of an idea of the good things at St. Mary’s, we have put together a booklet for those of you who want to see more great things that are going on.  I ask you to take one as you get a bulletin. As you read and realize how extensive the work of St. Mary’s is, maybe you will be inspired to get more involved. I hope so.

Lent is a time to reflect on the abundant goodness that God has given us, especially in the sacrifice of His Son. With the full support of the Parish Pastoral Council and the Parish Finance Council, we are instituting an annual process to allow the St. Mary’s family to renew your financial commitment to our parish for the services and resources we provide so that we can sustain and grow our parish and ministries. Stewardship is the Christian way of life, allowing God’s bountiful goodness to flow through you so that His life and Kingdom grow.

This week every registered parish household will receive in the mail a Strive, Share, Serve brochure that I ask you to review carefully and prayerfully. There is also a commitment card included in the mailing so that you can make your commitment to financially support the important work and ministries here at St. Mary’s parish. Next weekend will be Commitment Sunday. Your participation by returning your commitment card for the parish on Commitment weekend is vital to the success of our parish mission: Strive, Share and Serve.

I thank God daily for all of you who make up St. Mary’s parish family. Rejoice St. Mary’s. God is so very good!

*ALTERNATIVE OPENING FOR YEAR A READINGS:

[There is a lot to be joyful about. In the Gospel, Jesus heals the man born blind. With this tremendous miracle, a man who lived his whole life in darkness, receives the blessed gift of sight. His life will be changed forever. This story is also symbolic for our lives of faith. As we grow in Christ, we can have our eyes opened and declare like this man that we believe in him by our words and by our deeds.

I, as your pastor, have a responsibility to see the big picture of what is going on here. Today I want to open your eyes to the countless ways in which I see you offer your time, talent and treasure for this community of faith. I am very grateful.]

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