When you read the readings this week, they’ve clearly got an overarching theme of life overcoming death. Ezekiel prophesies that the Lord would have the people rising from their graves and that his Spirit will give them life. Paul, in addressing the Romans, speaks of being alive in the Spirit of God, that is if the Spirit is dwelling in our life. And then there is the familiar story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The plea of the sisters begging for life for their brother and Jesus reiterating that he is ‘life’ itself, and that if they trust, and believe, that Jesus will overcome death.
A lot of us feel like we’re being hemmed in and that our way of life has taken a turn for the worse, so to say. And yes, we have had to experience many little deaths this Lent. No public Masses, no gatherings, no school in person, no friendly gatherings, shops shuttered, work curtailed, all little deaths. In them though is the seed of life. There is the promise in our faith that life overcomes death, and there is too within our spirit the promise that things will come back alive. Christ Jesus calls all to life, and he comes that we have it more abundantly. A life that is focused and examined, one that is full and intentional. Intent on doing the will of God, and avoiding sin so as to live as we’ve been called to by God. That’s the Gospel summed up.
And, for all it’s stresses and difficulties, this virus is serving a purpose too. When we gather once again without the threat of disease, will we go back to the old normal? Will it just be a tireless run of school assignments, social gathers, and sporting events? If we don’t cherish every moment, and every hug and handshake, every Sunday Mass, and those little league games, then have we really grown or did we waste this opportunity for grace? Pray as we continue through this struggle that we can all come out on the other side of this more grateful, more loving of life, and converted to not only enjoy the daily things of life, but converted in our hearts and minds of God.
– Father Mark Schoffner, March 29, 2020
This week is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord and a great day to celebrate and ponder what it means to say ‘yes’ even amidst uncertainty. With the whole shutdown/postponement/quarantine and such, we are faced with many new situations to say ‘yes’ to. Many of you may be uneasy with what is being advised by the government and health officials. And too, many of you may be saddened or disheartened by the restrictions put on the daily life of the Church by the bishops. Those are valid feelings, but they are not a reason to lose hope. Amidst being asked to do the seemingly impossible, or the extremely difficult, we are equipped as Christians to respond. Mother Mary, ever virgin, said ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel when presented with the Divine plan laid out for her. To conceive and bear God in the flesh, the Son of God, this was a daunting prospect that even though astonishing to us, she was able to say “yes.”
We are able because of our growth in the life of holiness to say yes. To give to The Lord our ‘yes’ even when challenged by situations of the world. No need to fear. This feast day is a great one to look forward to this week and visit frequently in our personal prayer. The Good Lord wouldn’t give us anything that we’re not capable of handling, We simply need to conceive within ourselves the desire to fulfill the will of God even if we don’t know or see what that will lead to around the corner. Many blessings to y’all, and you’re in my prayers!
– Father Mark Schoffner, March 22, 2020
This coming up week, on Thursday, is the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Eastern rites of the Church, he’s called St. Joseph the Betrothed. This break from our Lenten Fasting is traditionally still a meatless day, so you can celebrate it with fish dishes and sweets and whatever. You can come to Assumption Church to see a Sicilian tradition which was brought to Natchez through the immigrant communities that founded Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saturday, March 21, from 9am till noon, Assumption will have its St. Joseph Altar.
St. Joseph isn’t all about eating and revelry though; he is a powerful intercessor who on earth was closer than anyone else to Our Blessed Lord and his Immaculate Mother. This exalted position was surely continued in death. In life he prepared a place for Jesus; and in his going before him in death, he in a way continued his fatherhood to prepare a place before him to join his Father. I bring up St. Joseph and hold him up to everyone as a model for our life in striving for holiness. St. Joseph worked and worked at living a virtuous life as he cared for the Blessed Mother and Our Lord. Worthy of emulation and a frequent go to for intercession, we would all be better to have him as a friend to call on in matters of faith and life.
In this time of sickness, I recall how in St. Joseph’s Litany he is referred to as “Solace of the Afflicted, Hope of the Sick, Patron of the Dying.” This would be a good time amidst the the Covid-19 sickness to pray for healing and consolation for those suffering and protection for everyone who is in danger of sickness. From plague, famine, and war, deliver us, O Lord.
– Father Mark Schoffner, March 15, 2020
When in the Holy Land, there is a familiar sound to my ears, Abouna, ,أبونا literally ‘Our Father.’ When my friends would address me, guides speak to me, sacristans help me, and locals offer me something, the term Abouna would be used. ‘Our Father Mark,’ the form of address for a priest. The people there have a living sense of the Holy as they live in a place so steeped with ‘holiness’ and respectful of the traditions. The term also recognizes something communal about the priesthood, that the priest is ordained by Jesus Christ for all people, hence the ‘Our.’
When I arrived back and walked into the school, into a loud multipurpose room of several classes of kids, one saw and cried out, “Everybody! Father Mark is here!” and almost all of them quit their play and came running to me, to hug me and say hello. Their actions proclaimed “Abouna!” Fatherhood is more than a biological function; it is an honorable life called to virtue, sacrifice, and offering in service for the other. And it’s for all. When it comes to priesthood, it is a spiritual fatherhood in which we as priests are something other than biological fathers and not temporal, of this world. It is a timeless and placeless fatherhood. One that is united and fostered with a person, the Eternal Word Jesus Christ crucified. There has been a struggle in being newly ordained, or a young person in general as it pertains to priesthood. People discount us, call me ‘baby priest’ or won’t call us ‘Father’ because “we’re too young.” At community events is where we’re hounded the most by people. It’s disrespectful of Fr. Scott and me, but too, disrespectful of you and the faith. Jesus didn’t seek special treatment, and I didn’t give my life for accolades. A priest voluntarily gives up the goods of marriage for greater goods to the Kingdom and God’s holy people, to be in the person of Christ to others. To disregard this is to disregard Christ.
– Father Mark Schoffner, March 8, 2020
When all is good in the world, we don’t tend to see the evil one tempting us. When everything is going to plan with the family, work, school, life in general. He sits over on the way side and plots and waits like a lion stalking his prey. The devil doesn’t assault Jesus while he’s in the Jordan River being baptized, or even when the Father’s voice is clearly heard from the skies. It’s when the Spirit prompts him to move forward with the Father’s plan that the devil takes on a full assault. Tempting Jesus with food, power, and worship. We too are tempted with the same things, and in the same ways. This is just another sign to us that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine. We share in his temptations. Food, power, and worship.
The failures and sins of our lives come when we fall to the temptations which the evil spirit lays before us. To desire to feed ourselves with what we think we need, to take power where it may not need be taken, and to give inappropriate worship to creatures rather than the Creator. Idolatry ensues and we find ourselves in sin. This is the plight of what happens when we listen to the ‘great deceiver’.
This Lent, make yourself on guard and attentive to the evil spirit’s temptations of food, power, and worship. Frequently re-read this weekend’s Gospel, Matthew 4:1-11. In hearing Jesus overcome evil and temptation, you gain his power in the fight and seize upon the graces given to you at your baptism. Fight the good fight and pray that you may not undergo the temptation!
– Father Mark Schoffner, March 1, 2020
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