Father Cibelli's Homily for the Announcement of the Build our House, Guard Our City Campaign Thirty-first Sunday of Time Throughout the Year, Fourth Resumed Sunday after Epiphany, 4 November 2018
For 260 years, St. Mary’s has been forming Christian disciples. From our beginnings as a mission under the care of the Jesuit Fathers from Conewago, to the construction of our beautiful church in 1826, to the establishment of our school in 1874, to years of great expansion in the 1940s and 1950s and again in the 2000s, each generation has made a mark on this community by means of spiritual, financial, material and physical sacrifices.
For 260 years, St. Mary’s Church and School has been a center for people of all ages and backgrounds to come to know and love our Lord Jesus Christ, and we have a special duty towards our children in this regard. Whether we are their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, friends, or priests, we are blessed to have so many children who call St. Mary’s their home in one way or another. Striving to form them as Christ’s disciples is our chief duty.
On Pentecost, when I shared with you the plans to renovate the Msgr. Passarelli Room, Pangborn Hall, the kitchen, and replace the chain link fence with a beautiful brick wall, I asked you to look at these projects as far more than cosmetic. I invited you to consider them not just an opportunity to leave our mark on this sacred ground, not just an opportunity to give our children a safe and attractive place to grow in who God made them to be, but an opportunity for the physical renewal of our campus to help inspire a deeper and more important renewal, the renewal of our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
We’ve had the opportunity to speak of renewal these past few months, but for an unexpected, sad, and deeply troubling reason. Not for the reason I had intended. We have been confronted by horrible failings on the part of bishops and priests throughout the Church. While much has been accomplished since the first wave of this scandal in 2002, we must keep before us and insist upon reform on every level where it has not yet taken place.
My encouragement to you has been to hold fast to your own pursuit of holiness, for just as the suffering of some of the members of the church cause all the members to suffer, so, too, does the pursuit of holiness by some – God willing, many – members of the Church help to increase the overall holiness of the Church (Cf. 1Cor. 12:26). Our prayers and sacrifices are needed especially now to bring the gospel and the light of Christ to those areas where we can. You are the face of the Church, you are the ones who give her witness credibility these days.
Indeed, the Lord tells us today that the first commandment is that we must love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength and that the second commandment is to love our neighbor as our selves. If we are truly to love God and our neighbor in this way, if we are going to pursue true holiness, if we are going to be instruments of renewal, it’s not enough just to say this.
For such a renewal to succeed, it must be God who does the work through us. In Psalm 127 we read, “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch.” That means striving to bring together all our daily actions and efforts into the perspective of love of God and neighbor.
Today I wish not only to repeat this message in an effort to keep it ever before our hearts, I would also like to ask your help in a very practical and important way. It is certainly notthe mostimportant way. In fact, it’s the aspect I enjoy talking about the least. But that is why it is so important to me that I remind myself (and you) of the proper perspective to maintain when discussing the financial side of our spiritual endeavors. The Lord addresses this kind of topic when He talks about the laborer deserving his wage (Cf. Luke 10:7). Saint Paul does similarly when he gives instructions to the Corinthians about taking up collections (Cf. 1 Cor. 16).
The particular case I would like to present to you is that of the present and near future needs our parish and school community. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of our predecessors,
pastors and parishioners alike, St. Mary’s has a firm financial foundation to stand on (reviled only by the firm spiritual foundation they built). This firm financial foundation allowed us to carry out these construction projects when the time was right this summer.
But to preserve that firm financial foundation, we have to replenish the investments we used to make this happen. The gym, dining hall, and kitchen project cost about $950,000. The wall cost about $450,000. We also had to consider what projects would need attention in the near future. The AC system here in church is nearing the end of its useful life. The rectory kitchen and foundation walls need attention. The rooves on the church, school, and rectory will soon need to be replaced. We have estimated these costs at about $375,000. For a total of $1.75 million.
Fortunately we are off to a great start:
The Knott Foundation has made a grant of $100,000 towards the new gym. The Archdiocese’s Embracing our Mission campaign has sent us a check for $100,000 towards the gym, dining hall, and kitchen. And a generous but anonymous benefactor has given us $125,000 towards the construction of our beautiful wall. Moreover, several of our fellow parishioners have already made generous pledges. These contributions and sacrificial gifts have already brought us to more than $600,000 towards these projects.
Today, I respectfully ask you to consider what contribution you can make to this work. You’ll be receiving a packet in the mail this week with details on this endeavor along with a suggested donation based on your past generosity for your prayerful consideration. I have no way of knowing what your current situation is. Your first duty is always to your family. I also ask that you try to leave your regular offertory contribution as is because we depend on this to pay our employees’ salaries, fund our programs, and take care of day-to-day operations.
This week, I simply ask that you prayerfully consider joining me in supporting these exciting and important projects as a way of expressing your gratitude to God and helping to advance His kingdom here in Hagerstown. Please use the prayer we have designated for the campaign, which you will receive as you leave church. It’s mostly two traditional prayers, but I think it’s important to use a prayer that keeps the focus on what is truly important, not just the campaign itself. The campaign is at the service of the bigger picture: Christ’s Gospel. So this prayer is an appropriate prayer for all of our endeavors.
Next week, I invite you to join us for coffee and donuts or cookies in the newly renovated spaces and make your commitment to this campaign. All of your support benefits St. Mary’s and only St. Mary’s.
Whatever gift you can offer to this campaign, financial, spiritual, something else or both, I ask that you allow the Lord to be the one who guides your efforts. Please pray that He always Build our House and Guard our City, that we may serve Him will our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Father Cibelli's Homily for Twenty-ninth Sunday of Time Throughout the Year, Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, 21 October 2018
This homily was largely inspired by Fr. Mike Schmitz presentation: “We are not cosmic accidents” (https://youtu.be/MoYMEju41Sw, accessed, 20 October 2018).
We certainly could not endure it if the Lord were to count all of our iniquities (cf. Ps. 129:3). In contrast, we hear St. Paul say that “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). Moreover, Jesus tells His disciples that to be great they must become servants, even slaves of all (cf. Mark 10:35-45). To live in the reality of these profound statements requires, at base, the virtue of humility. But once we start thinking about that virtue, we need to make sure we have the right understanding of it.
Too often we confuse “humility” with self-contempt or letting people walk all over us.
And sure enough, no one is going to find this attractive. No one would want to pursue humility if that is what it is. In fact, despising our self or thinking less of our self than we actually are is not only incorrect, it can even be sinful.
When we hear the Lord tell His disciples that to be great they must be servants even slaves of all, yet Jesus is certainly not promoting self-contempt. He’s not saying we should let people walk all over us. We can probably even think of folks that are in harmful relationships because they let the other person take advantage of them under the guise of humility or service.
So, what does true humility look like?
One priest puts it very simply: “humility is the willingness to acknowledge, tell, and live the truth of you … I acknowledge my weaknesses, I acknowledge my strengths, I acknowledge my failures, I acknowledge my successes.” Humility is an “accurate assessment of my gifts and strengths, my weaknesses and wounds” (Fr. Mike Schmitz, “We are not cosmic accidents,” accessed 20 October 2018).
Even still, this is challenging because we can be disappointed if we start acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses and feel like our list of weaknesses is longer than the strengths.
Or maybe we have a really great long list of strengths and successes – but then we make a mistake. We trip and fall, we lose or fail. If I put all my self confidence in that long list of successes, all of a sudden, with one slip, it’s wiped away, and we are disappointed, even down right depressed.
In another kind of extreme, some folks might even define themselves by their wounds or weaknesses and thrive off of the sympathy they receive. Offense can be taken if this expected sympathy isn’t offered.
Therefore, this still isn’t the right – or complete – standard of humility, because we might be truthful about what our strengths and weaknesses are, but we’re relying on them for the source of our goodness and dignity. If we lose one of our strengths or even weaknesses, we feel like we have lost our goodness and dignity.
So, another key to living a truly humble life, a life of true service, is acknowledging what or who reallymakes us good, what reallygives us dignity. The answer lies in what Jesus replies to the Pharisees tempting Him regarding the tribute Caesar. If the tribute to Caesar is to be paid with what has Caesar’s image on it, the answer to what makes us truly good, what give us dignity, is whose image is imprinted on us (cf. Matt. 22:15-21).
The source of our goodness and dignity is nothing other than God. It is God in whose image and likeness we are made. It is God who redeemed us by becoming one of us and suffering, dying, and rising. It is God who has sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts to make us His dwelling place.
And no one can take that away.
We might shut the door on Him, but He will never take that away, nor can anyone else.
Consequently, a complete understanding of humility is notjustacknowledging our true strengths and weaknesses, but acknowledging why we are good, why we have dignity.
If we are going to follow Christ’s call to greatness, if we are going drink the cup that He drinks, becoming the servant of all, the slave of all, if we are going to allow Christ to being the good work He has begun in us to completion, we must first acknowledge that our goodness and dignity comes from God, and that cannot be taken away.
We must acknowledge that Christ humbled himself not by denying who He is as God, but by choosing to accept our lowly human condition and all the sufferings that come with it.
Christ accepted those sufferings while still acknowledging His goodness. With His help, we can do the same.
Assisting the person in need, being generous with our time, bearing insults patiently, forgiving those who hurt us, praying for our enemies: all of this will be possible if we realize that we do not have to give up our dignity to do so. Indeed, we must not give it up, for Christ is the source of that dignity.
Father Cibelli's Homily for the Closing of the Rosary Congress.
Votive Mass of Our Lady/Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Time throughout the Year
14 October 2018
On October 13, 1917, the sun “danced” in the sky above Fatima, Portugal. Word had got around that something special would happen that day, so anticipation had been building.
There were roughly 70,000 people gathered. Some hoped to witness the event; others hoped to laugh mockingly when, supposedly, nothing happened. Indeed, it seemed that nothing was going to take place. It had been raining heavily that day: everyone was soaked, and the ground was muddy. Yet, despite the heavy rains, the sun not only showed itself but “danced,” turned colors, and even seemed to fall from the sky. When all returned to normal, both the ground and everyone’s rain-soaked clothes were dry. These facts were verified by believers and un-believers alike. It continues to be one of the most well attested miracles in history.
But to what end? Did God think we needed a little entertainment? And if it was just entertainment that was needed, why just in Fatima? Why then and not now?
The Blessed Mother had promised a miracle not to “wow” the people but as verification of the authenticity of the message she had been sharing in her appearances over the previous five months.
In fact, miracles are not an end in and of themselves. Jesus performed many miracles that are recorded in the Gospels, and frequently these are healings including three instances of raising the dead. He did not perform these miracles to impress His would-be followers. He offered them as proof of the authenticity of His message. More to the point, as our speaker on Monday night insightfully remarked, the miraculous healing of the body, even bringing it to life, was meant to show Jesus’ disciples that He was capable of a far greater healing, a far greater miracle: the forgiveness of sins (Dr. John Mark Miravalle, 8 October 2018, St. Mary’s, Hagerstown).
Similarly, the Blessed Mother’s message at Fatima is aimed not so much at intrigue or creating a closed inner circle of people in the know. The Blessed Mother’s message, and the miracle that confirmed it, was directed at inspiring holiness of life in those who would receive it.
For the past week, we have been engaged in a special time of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and frequent recitation of the Holy Rosary. This has been accompanied by special liturgical, musical, and intellectual events. The altar has been adorned with beautiful flowers and the Blessed Sacrament surrounded with many flickering candles. A lot of hard work has been put in, by many different people in many different ways to make all of this possible.
And we might ask, like the miracle of the sun, to what end? I can assure you that none of the organizers are suffering from boredom. We weren’t expecting all of Hagerstown to show up in Thursday’s down-pour – and certainly not all at one time!
On one hand, the Rosary Congress had no other aim than to honor our Lord and our Blessed Mother. If only this was accomplished and nothing else, it was well worth the effort. On the other hand, it was to provide an opportunity for a brief retreat from the hectic-ness of daily life for a special time of prayer, an opportunity for renewal and increase to our individual and collective pursuit of holiness. In this regard, even if only one person benefited from it, it was well worth the effort.
We offered it in a special way for the healing and sanctification of the Church, that she may be healed from the sins and crimes of too many bishops and priests, especially for healing of the direct victims of these grievous sins and crimes. In this regard, it was well worth the effort.
However, just like the Blessed Mother’s message at Fatima (confirmed by the dancing sun) was not intended to be relegated to the world of memories, neither is the Rosary Congress intended to be an event we forget about until it comes around again next year. Central to the Blessed Mother’s message at Fatima was the great value of praying the Rosary every day for peace in the world and the conversion of sinners. Similarly, what I would ask you to take away from the Rosary Congress is a renewed sense of the importance of the Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration in your lives.
The Eucharist and the Rosary are the chief weapons with which God has entrusted us for combating evil in our lives. Whether it’s the evil present in the Church and the world on account of abuse, abortion, drugs, terrorism, or all sorts of attacks against the family. Whether it’s the evil that seems to afflict a family member, a friend, a neighbor or the sins we struggle with personally, perhaps unbeknownst to anyone. The Eucharist and the Rosary are there for us to overcome these evils.
One half hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament once a weekand a decade of the Rosary once a dayis a great step to take whether it’s your first or next.In particular I encourage you to consider stopping in the Adoration Chapel at St. Maria Goretti High School (for a key card, contact Donna Louzon at 301-733-0410 x10 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
There may be some sacrificed in making such a commitment, and we may feel tempted to walk away sad, like the rich young man in this Sunday’s gospel passage (Mark 10:17-30). But whatever the sacrifice, please make prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and the Rosary a prominent part of your life each week. In light of eternity, it adds up to a few minutes of our time. Finally, it’s a surefire way to know you are doing something good for you, your neighbor, the Church, and society as a whole – all at the same time.
There are plenty of things in life that are truly optional, things that it doesn’t matter if we choose to do them or not: our hobbies or recreation, playing sports or an instrument. You can probably think of plenty examples on your own.
Yet there are certain things that are not optional – food, water, breathing, sleeping. We take these things for granted, but of course if we were to “choose” not to do one of these things, we wouldn’t last very long.
But how many of us would list prayer in the optional category? When we compare prayer to things like breathing, we probably think, “I can go a lot longer without praying than breathing or even eating.” With the non-optional things, the obvious ones at least, we realize it pretty quickly when we don’t have enough of whatever it is: food, water, air. But do we ever consider what happens when we don’t pray?
Of course, just the fact that we’re all here at Mass right now means that we pray at least sometimes. Still, just as folks who are malnourished can survive for some time without proper food or water, so too can we survive quite a while without the right amount of prayer for us individually. To mix analogies a little bit, we can a ride a bike or drive our cars with deflated tires. If that’s all we’ve ever known, we think everything is fine. (I speak from some personal experience!) But once we properly inflate them, how much faster do we go. The same can be said with our energy levels when we have the right amount of sleep and food.
I recently heard a priest talk about these things that are optional and not-optional (Fr. Mike Schmitz, The Battle of Prayer, accesed via https://youtu.be/DHDQ4Xowfa8). Without any hesitation he put prayer in the non-optional category. A lay woman who teaches in a seminary explained, “if we’re too busy to pray, we’re too busy” (Dr. Mary Healy, Symbolon, “The Journey of Faith,” Part 2, accessed via FORMED.org) About a century ago, a great spiritual author made an analogy between prayer and the body. Prayer is not like the arms or the legs. When they have been used too much, we must let them rest. Prayer is like the heart, we dare not say to the heart, you’ve been working hard, take the day off! (The Soul of the Apostolate, Part II, Section IV).
We seem especially susceptible in society today to get wrapped up in so many exciting, enjoyable, even important things. It can be very easy to get to the point where we feel like we don’t have any time to pray, or maybe we don’t even realize that we’re not praying. Our heart begins to beat dangerously slowly, and we might not realize it.
Now to be fair, the opposite extreme is possible, too, albeit less common. We may be so excited about and wrapped up in our Faith and the life of prayer that we don’t realize that our duties to our family are being neglected. We might say, in this case, our heart beats way too rapidly.
Yet a healthy balance is well within our reach. A healthy life of prayer is one that is appropriate to where each one of us is at the moment. It factors in our state in life – single, married, celibate, priest, religious. It factors in our profession – student, laborer, home-maker, or more of a desk job. It even factors in our personality. We know we can find a healthy balance to eating, drinking, and sleeping, and the same is true for prayer.
Where ever we are on this spectrum, we have a unique opportunity this coming week.
From this evening until next Saturday evening, the church will be unlocked 24/7 and the Rosary recited at the top of each hour. We’ll have special events in the evening, which you can find in the bulletin. No matter what time you find yourself free, no matter whether you need vocal or silent prayer, some music to lift your spirit or a talk to inspire your intellect, you will have a chance this week. Mass will be celebrated each evening at 6:30, and the rest of the time the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed on the altar, adorned with flickering candles to remind us that God is powerfully present among us.
In particular, please consider giving the Rosary new or renewed prominence in your life. Pius XII, Paul VI, and John Paul II have described it as a compendium of the Gospel (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 1). In it we use the words of the gospel to meditate on the stories of the gospel, and our guide is the one human being who knows Jesus best, His Mother, Mary.
John Paul II quotes a spiritual writer who says, “Just as two friends, frequently in each other’s company, tend to develop similar habits, so too, by holding familiar [conversation] with Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary and by living the same life in Holy Communion, we can become, to the extent of our lowliness, similar to them and can learn from these supreme models a life of humility, poverty, hiddenness, patience and perfection” (quoting Blessed Bartolo Longo, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 15).
The rosary can be prayed anywhere, at any time. We can say just a decade or two throughout the day, we can pray it in the car or on a run. We can pray it in church or at home. We can pray it with our family, our friends, or by ourselves.
It is a powerful antidote to all the evil in our world, especially that which has come to the surface in the Church in recent weeks.
When our diet or sleep or breathing is out of balance, a visit to the doctor can help us regain our equilibrium. Similarly, a special time of prayer, a retreat, can help get our spiritual lives in order. This week, let us take advantage of that very opportunity in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, with the guidance of our heavenly Mother. May the Rosary in particular be that baseline, that place we always turn to to keep focused and regain our balance. And not just this week, but always.
Fatehr Cibelli's Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday of Time Throughout the Year
26 August 2018
As Jesus finishes His teaching on the Eucharist, we see today that some of His disciples had a hard time accepting it. In other words, some of the men and women who had freely chosen to follow Jesus were having second thoughts. They had come to know and love Him to some degree, yet they could not accept what He had to say about His flesh being true food and His blood being true drink.
How Jesus handles this is frequently pointed out as evidence of the truth of His testimony on the Real Presence. When His disciples murmur about this teaching, notice that Jesus does not turn around and say, “Hey just kidding guys” or “You’re taking me too seriously.”
He lets them walk away.
In fact, “he knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him” (John 6:64).Jesus doesn’t change His teaching just to accommodate those who did not want to accept it. That is not to say, however, that He was happy that those disciples walked away. In fact, Jesus “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), but He who is “the way and the truthand the life” will not compromise on the truth (Cf. John 14:6).
Yet, in addition to making it clear that Jesus meant every word of what He said about His flesh and blood and the Eucharist, this passage shows us that Jesus made decisions that he knew would disappoint His followers. My attention is drawn to this significance because I know that as your pastor I sometimes have to make decisions that may disappoint some or all of you. It’s easier to make these decisions when I know that I am doing so for the sake of one of the truths of the Faith, even though that can be very challenging too. However, there are also times that the decision is more on the prudential side, between options that are not right or wrong, but one may have certain benefits over another.
Any parent who has had to tell their children “No, you can’t have…” understands this dynamic. Parents try hard to make the decision that is best for their children, even though it might mean initial disappointment. Or maybe a given decision seems to benefit one child versus another.
So maybe you’re realizing where I’m going with this. Now that I’ve had a chance to hear from anyone who wanted to respond to the question of how to proceed with the Mass schedule, I have to make a decision.
But I need you to know not just the reasons in favor of one option or the other, I also need you to know that I don’t take this decision lightly, and I don’t wantto disappoint anyof you. Clearly this is not on the same level as Christ’s teaching on the Eucharist. Yet in as much as there are two options (and even possible variations on those options), I know I will be disappointing some of you whether I pick a or b.
I need you to know that I read through all of your responses and have taken them all seriously. There are even some ideas in there that I might not be able to address right now but could be helpful in the future.
My decision is not based on my own personal convenience nor even onlyon what the majority wanted. (Of approximately 145 respondents, there was a 60/40 split). Neither was this decision made any sooner than the last couple of days. I think you already know that I try to take a lot of time to make important decision with as much thought and prayer on the matter as possible. I certainly did the same for this.
I had to make my decision based on which schedule seems to provide for the needs of the greatest number of parishioners, especially factoring in the schedules that our neighboring parishes offer. While I don’t want to see any of you go anywhere else, there will always be times when another parish’s Mass schedule is more helpful.
I had to make my decision based on which schedule would help me and Father Larry best serve the needs of as many of you as possible.
Ultimately, my criteria had to be, how can we better grow as disciples of the Lord, by our devotion to Him in the Mass? Not that a schedule make or breaks discipleship, but does one of these two schedules facilitate that better than the other?
I have to admit that having more time in between Masses provides two very important opportunities: more time for prayer in church and more time for conversation with all of you on the way to your cars.
You hear me speak about prayer frequently, this is not by accident. It’s not that I am running out of things to say. It’s just that prayer is so important for our relationship with God, especially with how we participate in Mass. Having more time before and after Mass gives us greater options for developing this important aspect of the life of Faith.
I also realized two Sundays ago, when we first started talking about the awful scandal of clerical abuse that I had time to hear from people that I normally would not have. For some of you, a few extra minutes is enough to talk about whatever is on your mind. For others a few extra minutes allows us to begin a conversation that can conclude later.
Moreover, there is no virtue in being constantly in a rush or stressed. Sunday is not a day of rest for priests, but they do need to be able to set a good example for their parishioners, including what it means to pray and prepare for Mass and how to interact with others in a compassionate way. Sometimes that means slowing things down and taking a little more time.
There are other considerations that I could speak about, and I will do so eventually, but I also mean it when I say a reverent Mass can normally be celebrated in about an hour, and I certainly want to maintain that practice. (Of course the added solemnity of the 11:30 and on certain days the 5:00 pm Mass will mean that they normally will take a little more than an hour.)
So allow me to conclude by saying this. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns with me. For those of you who find it disappointing that we will keep the summer Mass schedule, I am truly sorry that this disappoints or inconveniences you. For those of you who are happy about it, I trust that you will at least be compassionate to those who are inconvenienced if not find a way to help.
I ask that you would consider allowing your fellow parishioners hear this decision form my mouth.
Whatever group you fall into, please know you are my family – you are the people I happily spend every Saturday and Sunday with – and that you are important to me. I do not want to disappoint any of you. What I do want to do, however, is whatever I can to help you grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ, especially by means of participation in the Mass where He feeds us with His very Body and Blood.