Praised be Jesus Christ and Mary His Most Holy Mother! As bulletin deadlines dictate I find myself writing this column on December 26, 2013, the Feast of St. Stephen. My heart, mind and soul are still filled with the glorious sights and sounds of Christmas at St. Paul’s. Many of you have celebrated Christmas at St. Paul’s for perhaps 51 times, since the very beginning of the parish. As you realize this was my first Christmas at St. Paul and therefore the happiest of my life. I pray it will be the first of many. As I stood at the altar of the Novitiate of the Little Sisters of the Poor at Christmas 2012, I could never have imagined that God, in His goodness, already had willed that I would be here standing at the altar as your pastor at Christmas 2013. But as we all know, God knows the way and we follow. Or as the proverb goes, Man proposes and God disposes.
May I express sincere best wishes to all of you for a Blessed and Merry Christmas. Although the stores are filled with After Christmas signs, we who are believers, know that Christmas is so great a mystery that it is not celebrated in merely one day, but it continues until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, next Sunday. May I also express sincere gratitude to all of you for your great generosity to both me and to St. Paul’s parish. It is precisely your sacrifices and selflessness which enables St. Paul’s to continue to shine forth as a Light on our little Hill and bear witness to the Light of the World, Our Lord Jesus Christ. May God bless and reward each and every one of you. We are most grateful for all who worked so diligently and with such great care to make the Church look so beautiful. There were parishioners of all ages working on the decorating of the Church: children, teenagers, twenty-something’s and adults. We are so grateful to our parish organist and cantors as well as our guest musicians (provided by a very generous parishioner). The music was so uplifting at Christmas and many remarked it was like being at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I am so grateful for the return of orchestral music to St. Paul’s at Christmas (which I understand was a long standing custom).
I cannot adequately express my sincere gratitude for all you have given to St. Paul’s and to me. Be assured that all of you are daily remembered at the altar and in the Divine Office (the prayers that all priests are bound to say each day).
Today we keep the glorious Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord. The Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6th, the Twelfth Day of Christmas, but we keep it on a Sunday so that as many as the faithful as possible may receive the grace of this mystery.
On Christmas Day it was our joy to kneel at the foot of the manger. There we joined Our Blessed Mother, the good St. Joseph, the angels and the Shepherds. (Many of you have remarked of the beauty of the Holy Infant in the Church and have asked if it were new. Actually, the Hoy Infant in our nativity scene is not new but quite old. It was given to me as an Ordination gift by a Spanish Carmelite Nun almost 33 years ago. She was at that time the Mistress of Novices at the Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila. It was made by the Carmelites who have a particular devotion to the Holy Infant. It now belongs to St. Paul’s). Although God had become a man on Christmas Day, the mystery was known by very few. It was as though the sun were just rising in the east with its glorious rays shining forth. But on the Feast of the Epiphany, we may say that the sun is shining forth in its noonday zenith and spreading its light throughout the whole world. That is why the Epiphany is the Feast of Light as our six candles on the altar so beautifully attest.
The word Epiphany means Manifestation. On this glorious Feast, the great mystery is made known to all the nations and peoples of the World. For on this day, the three Kings arrived bearing their wondrous gifts for the Holy Infant. In the person of the three Kings all the nations of the earth streamed to the manger. On Christmas we sang in the Liturgy, Christus natus est nobis, venite adoremus! Christ is born for us, come let us adore Him. But today, the Epiphany, we sing, Christus apparuit nobis, venite adoremus! Christ has appeared for us, come let us adore Him!
Actually on the Feast of the Epiphany three mysteries are celebrated: The three Kings come to the manger, Our Lord manifests His glory at the Jordan River, and He reveals His glory in the Frist Miracle of Cana by changing water into wine. The famous author James Joyce bases his charming short story The Dead from the Dubliners on these three manifestations. Therefore, the Epiphany fills us with joy. Many of our dear little ones may be interested to know that in Italy, Spain, and the entire Ibero-Hispanic world it is the Three Kings who bring the good children their gifts. Just as American children may leave a snack for Santa and the reindeer, so in those lands the children leave the gift of hay for the camels of the Thee Kings.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this column, I write on the morning of December 26th. I would like to tell you of a very special gift I received at Christmas. After the joy of celebrating the Christmas masses, I returned to the rectory and there was soon an emergency call. A relatively young woman was very seriously ill with cancer and was at home with hospice care. I went to the home on Christmas afternoon and spent about an hour with this young woman who had a great desire to go home to God. We spoke of the happiness of heaven and how she would once again see her loved ones. And then I could give to her what all priests give, the Last Rites: Confession and absolution, the Apostolic pardon, the Holy Anointing, and the Holy Viaticum. Just as we all receive our First Holy Communion, so we will receive our Last Holy Communion; that is called Viaticum. It comes from the Latin via tecum, meaning to be with you on the journey, the journey to eternity. I write of this not to inform you of my afternoon activities, but rather because of something so grace-filled that occurred as I was leaving. After bidding good-bye the young woman, in spite of all her suffering and approaching death, called to me at the door and said, Remember, I would like to be buried from St. Paul’s because I belong to St. Paul’s.
I was intrigued by that beautiful phrase, I belong to St. Paul’s – she did not say I am a member of St. Paul’s or I am parishioner of St. Paul’s or I go to St. Paul’s. She said I belong to St. Paul’s. I could not stop thinking of that beautiful phrase. This dying young woman still had a lesson to teach her pastor and fellow parishioners.
So in closing may I remind all of us that we all (you and I) belong to St. Paul’s. We are all joined as a family. The parish is not a place where we go or where we are registered or even where we are parishioners. It is a place to which we belong, mush as children belong to their parents or a husband and wife belong to each other.
At the time of my Formal Installation as Pastor in September, I mentioned that we (you and I) have entered into a pre-arranged marriage. We belong to one another. I am so grateful to belong to you. Please pray for me so that I may be less unworthy of belonging to you!
A very Blessed Christmas and New Year to All.
Nos cum prole pia,
Benedicat Virgo Maria!
In Jesus and Marry,
Monsignor James F. Pereda