"Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (Jn 12:27)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This verse from the Gospel used to come into my mind before my final exams. In front of the anguish or anxiety, we always want to escape from suffering. However, I had spent the whole semester preparing myself for that moment. The same happens in our lives. We are almost a month already in “lockdown” and we do not know how much longer it will last. Certainly we would like to go back to living a “normal life”, stop the fear, anxiety, the deaths, the social distancing etc…however, God has prepared us to live this time with him. Many people have shared with me how this time has led them to reflect many things in their lives, to put things into perspective. Others have learned to pray the Rosary, or got back in the practice of praying it daily. Our morning mass attendance on-line has increased tremendously. I believe that the timing of the whole outbreak was a good preparation for us to live this Easter with Christ. But what good is it to celebrate Easter alone or away from the rest of our families? Maybe we can ask ourselves, what is the meaning of Easter?
CHRIST IS RISEN!!! HE IS TRULY RISEN!!! This is the ancient greeting of the Church on the Passover night and during the Easter time. This is the central belief of our faith, our lives, of the whole universe. Christ has come to GIVE US A NEW LIFE!!! All of the triduum, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, indeed all of his life, points not to the cross, but it POINTS TO HIS RESSURECTION FROM THE DEAD!!! CHRIST IS ALIVE, and He wants to give us his eternal life today. Easter is the passage from death into life. The farmers first celebrated Easter as the passage from winter into spring. Later God used this moment to teach the people of Israel to celebrate the Passover from the slavery of Egypt into the Freedom of the Promised Land. They did not remember as an intellectual exercise, like we remember someone’s anniversary. They LIVED AGAIN that same night, as if that very night God was passing to take them out of the slavery to Pharaoh, which can be seen as the slavery of vices/sin that we struggle with. There Christ makes the utmost revelation. His Passover opens up for us the passage from DEATH TO SIN INTO ETERNAL LIFE. The same way in which He died and rose to a new life, He GIVES US TODAY THE POSSIBILITY OF RISING TO A NEW LIFE WITH CHRIST. This Passover is individual, because CHRIST COMES TO YOU!!!! Our celebration should not be merely ritualistic, but realistic. Christ comes personally to give you a share in his resurrection. He goes ahead of us into everything that is “killing us at this time,” such as serving one another, doing those tasks that you dislike, forgiving, “putting up” with other people, or other people’s idiosyncrasy/eccentricity. THE GOOD NEWS is that THOSE THINGS DON’T HAVE TO “KILL” US ANYMORE!!! Finally, we were freed from all that oppressed us, and from our sins. We can truly live in a different way because of Christ. Should we say “save us God from this hour”? Let us use this time that God has given us to reflect and realize that HE IS THE CENTER OF OUR LIVES. It’s for this reason that we live!
As much as we would like to spend this special day with our families, God has chosen to spend this Easter with us. As much as we miss our families, I invite you to celebrate this time with him. Those who live with others (spouses, children…), I invite you to do, as much as possible, something special. First, on Holy Saturday, we should clean the house, prepare the best China, silverware, for the Easter Meal on Sunday. On Easter Sunday, I invite everyone to dress in your best attire, as if you were in Church, to celebrate Mass (virtually), and to have a great meal!!! Otherwise, Easter Sunday will be like any other day we are living… It’s important to do that especially for the children. To help them understand why Easter is a different day from all other days. Those who would like, take a picture of your family during Mass, and we will post it online to show our community gathered for this special celebration. Remember, Christ is coming to us, let’s be prepared to welcome him!
On behalf of your priests, the parish and school staff, and of everyone else, WE WISH A HOLY EASTER TO EVERYONE!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I PRAY FOR EACH OF YOU EVERY DAY!!! That’s one of the reasons I have not had the opportunity to write this letter to you before, as we pray in the morning, afternoon and evening. As the rumors grew each day of the possibility of school and church closures, we never imagined that we would be at this point. On that very Friday 13th, when I locked the church before people arrived for the stations, I must confess that it saddened my heart. My first reaction was to run down to the chapel and pray in front of the blessed sacrament. Jesus is always the right answer…and the only person at this point who can help us. It dawned on me that it might be a good idea to share this opportunity to pray in front of the blessed sacrament with everyone else. That was my first “live” streaming ever… or my first attempt!!! I’m glad we have this possibility, even though it’s virtual, to see that Christ does not abandon us…HE EVEN GOES ONLINE TO SEE US!!! This is important, no matter how low or high we are, THERE IS GOD!!!
In the Old Testament, God reveals his relationship with his people by using the image of marriage. When I think of this relationship, I always think what I see from a privileged position in every wedding I celebrate, namely, the vows! The groom and the bride promise to be faithful to one another, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, to love and honor each other every day of their lives. I’m sure the wedding vows in the Old Testament were not the same as we use nowadays, but GOD’S PROMISE IS! How many times do we hear that He will be OUR GOD and we will be HIS PEOPLE, or that even if a mother forgets her child, God will not forget us? Didn’t we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” just a few months ago? Isn’t the meaning of Emmanuel GOD IS WITH US??? Therefore, let this be our consolation and our strength. In the same way that God was with us in the good times in our lives, in the moments when we were healthy, he will also be with us in these scary moments of sickness. And if we have God, what else can we ask? St. Teresa says in her prayer, “Whoever has God lacks nothing, only God suffices.”
I’m not sure if I shared with you before that at one point in the seminary I wanted to become a monk! After my experience in Israel, where I lived for 1 year, I really learned to pray, to have the intimacy with the Lord. I liked it so much that I wanted to spend my whole life dedicated to prayer. We also worked in a place where I was serving the pilgrims who passed by. Basically, I followed the Rule of Life of St. Benedict, “Ora et Labora” (Pray and Work). We had different tasks during the day and we would also pray at different moments. It was a great experience, and I asked God if that was my vocation. As you can see, He called me to a different life, serving you in the parish…and now online.
When I first heard about the possible lockdown, I must confess that part of me looked forward living a monastic life for a bit. I thought that I would do some videos and dedicate the rest of the time to prayer. It turned out that God thought of something else. We still do our prayers, but we also are visiting some people (with the necessary precautions), we are calling others, keeping up with all facilities, and recording videos.
In this Holy Week that we are about to begin, I invite you to prepare your hearts for the Lord, to learn more about Him and what He already did for His people. I encourage everyone to spend some time in PRAYER and WORKS. There are many ways in which we can SPEND THIS TIME WITH GOD! Maybe we can begin the day with a personal prayer in the morning, or attending Mass with us at 9 AM online. Then do some work in the house, fix the messy room…then after lunch, dedicate some time to read the Bible (you can read the story of the Exodus, or even the 4 different accounts of the Passion.) After some rest, working, or video calling the family, you can have supper, and get ready for the Rosary at 6pm. In the evening, you can always watch a documentary on the Bible, on the Holy Land, or even the life of a Saint (my favorite part of the day…when I make it that far).
Take advantage of this time to have a spiritual retreat, to rest in the Lord. Many of us spend our lives working hard, running around, serving people. Let’s spend this time resting in the Lord. Let’s be at peace. Let’s have a holy preparation for Easter.
Finally, no matter what happens, be assured of this, GOD LOVES YOU, and He sent his only Son to give us life. That was the ultimate sacrifice, a Father who gives his Son to save the World. Look into your lives. He was always there for you…and He will continue being there for you. We, your priests, are praying for you every day. If there is something that we can do for you, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I pray that this message finds you and your family well. As we continue this most unusual Lenten journey together, please be assured of my constant prayers for the health and safety of the Immaculate Conception Parish family.
Your priests and our parish staff are here to assist you during the Covid-19 crisis. I encourage you to visit our website at www.icmarlboro.org, so you can stay up to date with all of the resources available to you. We are currently offering livestreamed daily Mass, Sunday Mass, daily Rosary, evening prayer, and Stations of the Cross. In addition, we are hearing confessions outside keeping safe social distancing, distributing Holy Communion at home, and the Church is open daily for individual prayer. Please remember to keep safe social distancing and we ask that you do not come to Church to pray if you or a family member is experiencing cold or flu symptoms. I ask for patience as all priests and the faithful are learning how to practice our faith together in these unprecedented times. As always, anyone who is in need of pastoral care should call the rectory at 508-485-0016, or contact us via e-mail through the parish website.
Many of you have asked how you can help support the work of our parish. Since my first day at Immaculate Conception Parish, I have been overwhelmed by the support, generosity, and dedication of our parishioners. For this, I am truly thankful. I am mindful that many in our parish community are suffering financial hardships, and their ability to help others will be understandably limited. It is important that we remember to pray for all who are affected by this crisis and lend support as our ability permits. Many in our community are in need of help. I encourage you to maintain social distancing, follow the instructions of local, state and federal authorities, but to check on your neighbors in need, especially our seniors.
We also face another reality. Our parish expenses remain unchanged. Our ability to meet our expenses is dependent almost entirely on our weekly offertory. Through the stewardship of our pastors and administrators through the years, we are fortunate to have manageable debt and some savings. But our weekly offertory is essential in maintaining the financial stability of our Parish.
There are three ways to help as your financial circumstances allow. First, I would encourage you to visit our website and sign up for our electronic offertory program. Second, if you cannot sign up for weekly offertory, you may make a one-time contribution through our website using the "donate" button for the Restoration Fund. During the time we are not able to gather for Mass in person, contributions to the Restoration Fund are suspended and all donations will be earmarked for weekly offertory unless we receive specific instructions otherwise. The Cardinal understands that the parishes are currently struggling financially and is allowing Easter offerings to be used for the parishes instead of retired clergy. He has asked that anyone who wants to contribute to retired priests to use the regular envelopes but anyone who wishes to support their own parish should use a separate envelope. Third, we will be placing a drop box for offerings inside the front door of the Church. You may use this box for your offertory envelopes. You may also mail the envelopes. Since this is an unattended box, I do ask that you only deposit checks into the box. Please know that I am truly thankful for all that you do and for your continued support of our Parish and the ministries that your generosity allows us to provide.
Although we are living in confusing times and the news of the day can be overwhelming at times, I encourage you to take a step back from the news periodically. Take stock in the one constant, God's mercy and love for all of us. We are all worthy of his mercy and love. I pray that you find comfort in these words in the days ahead.
Father Steven Clemence