September 2020

This coming week is the Memorial of St. Jerome, priest and Doctor of the Church. We can thank St. Jerome for his humble acceptance of the task to translate the Scriptures into a single work in Latin. Latin, being the official language of the Roman Catholic Church and still very much in use today, allowed for a great step to be taken in terms of having an official text of the Holy Scriptures. When Jerome got the request, he went to Bethlehem and felt that in order to faithfully transmit the truth of the words of Scripture, he should be as close as possible to the place where Truth incarnate lived. So, he took up residence near the Grotto of the Nativity. It’s currently underneath the great Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. That current church, built by the Emperor Justinian, is the oldest church in the Holy Land. I’ve been there, and I’ve been privileged to offer Mass in the cave of St. Jerome for the pilgrims who traveled with me in February. You can go there too if you go on pilgrimage with Fr. Scott this coming year!

St. Jerome spent his days translating and studying, writing letters, and surely pondering in silence the land and places he visited. Although he died in Bethlehem, being originally buried there, Holy Mother Church moved his remains to Rome. He was edgy, cranky by some accounts, but he was very pointed; and that is what is my point in this piece. Two quotes I give you: “Begin now to be what you will be hereafter,” and “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Take his advice. Begin to be holy today, striving to become united with Christ and full of divine grace, for that is what you are called to, a divinization of the person as we become more like Christ. Don’t wait, for today is the day we are to begin this calling. And, don’t be ignorant. We have to dive in, wade about in the rich waters of Scripture. How are we to live, how are we to suffer, what should I do to find joy in this world? How are we to know unless the living Word of God informs our days and our actions. Resources abound in this parish for continuing education and personal enrichment. Today is the day you begin; today is the day.

– Father Mark Schoffner, September 27, 2020*

Dedicated: given over to a particular purpose, that’s what Merriam-Webster gives as a definition for the word dedicated. This weekend we celebrate the Anniversary of the Dedication of our parish church. Much like a marriage anniversary, this recalls a moment in time and space where a people sealed themselves to God and God to man in a specific locale. Our dedication must have been a joyous celebration as it took so long for the final product to be completed.

There was lack of money at first; then war came and went; then Reconstruction took its toll; but throughout it all, the parish grew, and the church was decorated more and more. It took four bishops to sit in the cathedra of Natchez before his Cathedral was complete. The month, days, and years must have been a true labor. And upon its completion, it was surely a spectacle and reason for rejoicing. The ceremonies of the actual event, the prayers, hymns, the processions. All teamed with the sights, smells, and signs.

Like the dedication of the church, we too are called to be dedicated to the Lord in the same manner. We are born and blessed through the ceremonies of baptism. The Lord makes a covenant with us and never leaves us. Through life in the church and through the sacraments, we are continually drawn into the spectacle of Holy Mother Church to be made beautiful, clean, and adorned with a life of virtue and holiness. It can be a spectacle to some who notice. Our growth in holiness, personally, is all about our growth as temples of the Lord. St. Paul reminds his listeners that we are temples of the Lord; and, therefore, we are called to live upright Christian lives, not offering sin, but rather living in the grace God supplies us with. When we leave the doors of our Church, we carry with us a little bit of Our Lady of Sorrows, making this temple of the Lord present through our life. Recall your dedication to God, renew it, celebrate God here and working in you.

– Father Mark Schoffner, September 20, 2020

This month we celebrate two important solemnities for our parish—our patronage and our dedication. In the current laws of the Church, the celebration of a parish’s patron can be moved to the nearest Sunday in the Ordinary Form; so that’s what we’re doing this weekend. The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows is the 15th of September, so this Sunday we celebrate our patron! I invite you still to make a special prayer or trip to the Basilica during the day on Tuesday, September 15, and offer a small prayer.

What does it mean though to have a patron saint? A patron saint is one who is in heaven already and intercedes for us through the Son to the Father. It’s like asking a friend to pray for us, but closer than a friend, a brother or sister, or a mother. As the Catechism states: “The intercession of the saints. "Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped." (CCC 956)

There are seven events, sorrows, which serve as the principle scriptural basis for Mother Mary’s patronage of our home. Our church is Our Lady of Sorrows. And even though it changed from a cathedral to a parish church to a basilica, she’s still Our Lady of Sorrows. Over the years in colloquial discussions, she’s fondly become referred to as St. Mary; and that's a good sign we’re familiar with and close to her as an edifice. But, better realizing our specific patronage would spiritually benefit all of us who cross her threshold. She was given this title by +Bishop Chanche and confirmed in that title from the papal designation as a Minor Basilica: “...the church dedicated to God in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows, in the city of Natchez...”

Shall we then remember perpetually every day and year of ours that Our Blessed Mother suffered so greatly in the life she lived as she strove to complete what was set before her? Will we recall her sorrows? Will we then live in the knowledge of a son or daughter of God who strives for holiness and still suffers? But rather than give up hope, call out to Our Lady who was before us and goes before us and ask for her to walk with us on our way.

Our Lady of Sorrows, Pray for US!

– Father Mark Schoffner, September 13, 2020

The ‘Common Man’

Fanfare for the Common Man, a symphonic piece written in 1942, is a piece of music which all Americans probably easily recognize. For me, it evokes images of American astronauts and the mighty Saturn V rocket which took them, and us, to the moon. Man, reaching and looking towards the heavens seemingly in vain for time immemorial, attempting to know the heavens. Now, now able to touch what we had all shared in sight. This piece, for it evokes a nobility and dignity that when heard evokes a high dignity and honor given to some mighty person. Maybe an skillful athlete, a benevolent king, or a president of greatness?

It was written for the ‘common man’ though. The common man with the common job. The welder, the accountant, the farmer and farm-hand, the janitor, the assistant to the assistant. The country doctor and the small town lawyer, the machinist and his lineman son-in-law, the nurse and pharmacist, the teacher and the housewife. There is greatness in the common man and his job which builds, sustains, organizes, and contributes to the world.

We need common men and women, not only to contribute to the common good, but to contribute to the common priesthood which we all participate in by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. Jesus Christ is the one high priest, singular, in the order of Melchizedek, holy and unblemished and unstained. “By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb 10:14).

Jesus, the unique mediator between us and the Father, allows us to participate in his priesthood through baptism and make us a royal kingdom of priests (Rev 1:6). We then are Priest (offering prayers), Prophet (proclaiming the Gospel), and King (being good stewards of man and creation). We share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and the common priesthood exercise it “by the unfolding of baptismal grace---a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit---, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood” (CCC 1547). W e must remember that we too are tasked with building up the world, praying for it, hoping for it, and giving ourselves in it. God gives us then, the common man, the grace he needs through the sacraments to follow him and offer the world to him. Exercise this great gift here in Natchez and abroad.

– Father Mark Schoffner, September 6, 2020