Taking Care

The Sacraments are essential to your life. This means that they maintain not just your spiritual well-being but your entire welfare. For our life is lived toward one goal: to attain, through the grave, the kingdom of heaven. The Holy Sacraments are the means to this end since they both strengthen your life in God here and now, and prepare you to attain their fullness in the life to come.

For this reason, these Sacred Mysteries are the essential ministry of St Michael’s Church. They are the primary reason why the parish was formed, why the Metropolitan assigns you a priest, and why we desire to gather. Without the Sacraments, our care and love for each is vapid and insipid since it lacks Christ Himself and His Spirit’s energy.

While other things also take place at St Michael’s, the most vital and very necessary activity for your soul, as well as your body, is providing the Eucharist and Private Confession.

Lately we’ve been restricted, for good reason. But little by little, with safety and precaution, I’m now able to offer these vital life-sustaining aids to you. And I’m so honored and grateful that many of you have made your confession and come for Holy Communion this past week. The conditions are not what we are used to, but what we now offer is an important step in the right direction.

Some may be cautious or nervous, and for good reason. Only you will know the right balance for you between prudence and fear. But I promise and firmly intend, with the help of many others, to make sure that this work of God so necessary for your life is carried out with the diligence, care, and safety of at least the other places you frequent to receive food and other earth-bound essential services.

May God continue to be merciful to us as we wait patiently for Him. For He blesses those who set their hope in Him.

Make an appointment for Private Confession
Make an appointment for Holy Communion

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Go Safe, Go Slow: Re-Opening the Parish

Dear Parishioners & Friends:

Christ is risen!

In the spirit of love, His Eminence has provided us with a modification to his previous Directive as a first phase to reopening our church in a measured way. This Directive gives us prudent path toward receiving the Sacraments beginning Sunday, May 17.

Since it is a first step, there are many details. These details are important to meet various regulations, but they can also seem a bit overwhelming.

I found it very helpful to join with His Eminence in a Zoom call yesterday with nearly 300 priests and deacons in the Archdiocese. He spoke about the details and answered our many questions. In the same way, I will be pleased to talk with you and answer any questions you have when we have our Zoom call this Sunday after Mass.

Before getting to the details, let me first summarize the spirit and tone of the Directive and today’s call.

His Eminence urges us to not be afraid, and at the same time to be prudent. None of us wants to do anything that will hurt others—either physically or, most importantly, spiritually. To paraphrase His Eminence, “When the life of humans is endangered, doctors use their tools and we [bishops and priests] use our tools: prayer, forgiveness of sins, material aid—all toward the goal of saving souls.”

That was the loving message from His Eminence. It is a message of hope and encouragement, and filled with pastoral wisdom.

In collaboration with our Diocesan Bishops, His Eminence has given us discretion in proceeding with caution in the upcoming weeks. By your continued prayers, they hope that this gradual increase in our sacramental life will not require any reversal of the positive trends that we have recently observed.

As you know, the situation in Los Angeles county is different than in other places. Therefore, with pastoral discretion, here is how we will implement His Eminence’s instructions at St Michael’s:

Liturgy Online

  • Saturday Vespers, Sunday Lauds, and Sunday Mass will continue to be live streamed as before. (Other services will not be live streamed except for Ascension Day.)

Receiving Holy Communion

  • Laity may receive communion in family groups after the Mass by registering in advance. To register, you must contact Fr John the day before, and he will assign your family group a time between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (A “family group” consists of those who live in the same dwelling.)
  • All who attend must wear a face covering, except at the moment when Holy Communion is received. (“The celebrant should not wear a face covering while serving.”)
  • Holy Communion will be offered in the usual manner. For your safety, Fr John will clean his fingers and hands frequently when giving communion.
  • Before receiving Holy Communion, prepare yourself by saying at least Psalm 42 [41], 84 [83], and 122 [121]. For your convenience, these Psalms, with other prayers before Communion, are attached.
  • Those experiencing cold or flu symptoms (fever, coughing, fatigue, etc.), the elderly, and any at-risk persons should remain at home, and may contact Fr John for an individual appointment to receive Confession and Holy Communion.
  • Before your scheduled time, please remain in your car and maintain appropriate physical distancing, wearing a face covering, if you interact with anyone outside your family group.
  • After receiving communion, please depart in the prescribed pattern and in a timely manner so that the next family group may enter.

Private Confession

  • Given the inability to confess during Lent and the long absence from Communion, as well as anxiety, fear, despair, and other passions we have all felt during this pandemic, you are encouraged to come to the Sacrament of Penance (Private Confession) before receiving the Eucharist.
  • Confession will be available by appointment on weekdays and Saturdays.
  • Physical distancing between Fr John and the penitent will be observed; and the absolution will be spoken from a distance without placing a hand on the penitent’s head.

Cleaning and Sanitizing

  • Before May 15, the entire facility will be professionally deep-cleaned and sanitized for your safety.
  • When you arrive, we ask that you refrain from touching the pews, door handles, or other items (except the top of the communion rail, which will be sanitized between each person).
  • Hand sanitizer will be available in the Narthex. Because supplies are short, we ask that you consider bringing your own for personal use.
  • Please observe all posted signs which encourage good hygiene practices.

Other Gatherings

  • The church and parish hall are closed for all non-liturgical functions. All Bible studies, Didache, catechetical instruction, organizational meetings, and various groups will continue to meet online (i.e., via Zoom).
  • Beginning May 18, by appointment only the church will be open during the week for private prayer and lighting candles. Fr John will be available during this time to lead a devotion or meet with you, following the safe procedures in effect in our county. If you come during these times, please limit your contact with furniture, pews, etc. and follow posted signs when you make use of this opportunity.
  • Mass will be celebrated daily (see schedule below) and family groups may register to receive communion after the Mass on any of those days. To register, you must contact Fr John the day before who will assign your family group a time.
    • Mondays: 7 p.m.
    • Tuesdays: 9 a.m.
    • Wednesdays: 9 a.m.
    • Thursdays: 9 a.m.
    • Fridays: 7 p.m.
    • Saturdays: 9 a.m.

Finally, His Eminence made it clear that our Archdiocese is partnering with other Orthodox bishops as well as Catholic bishops and Protestant leaders to petition our State Government and Governor to certify in clear terms that clergy as “essential workers” and worship as “essential.”

Your patience, understanding, care for others, and most especially prayers for our state and nation during this pandemic health crisis are appreciated and welcome. And, by the prayers of the Holy Archangel Michael, may our parish family be guarded and protected from all harm.

Your spiritual father in Christ,

Rev Msgr John W Fenton

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Paschal Triduum Resources

Triduum means “three days.” The Paschal Triduum refers to the holies three days, in which we commemorate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Live-streaming these unique and dramatic services is certainly not the same as being there. But in today’s situation, it can be helpful so that we don’t lose track of our ‘church time.’

To assist you, booklets for the three services (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil) are attached. Due to the unusual circumstances, the services need to be slightly modified.

On Thursday and Friday, the live-stream begins at 2 p.m. PDT. On Saturday evening, it begins at 7 p.m. PDT.

Booklets for Tenebrae (the service of darkness) are also included. Tenebrae is live-streamed at 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday evenings.

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Sorrows Enlarged

The Sorrows (or Compassion) of Our Lady are commemorated on this day, Passion Friday. And on this day, in particular, we experience and participate more deeply than usual in the Holy Mother’s grief due to our present situation.

To assist us, we received both an updated directive from Metropolitan Joseph, and a letter to all clergy and laity in the Archdiocese for this unique Holy Week. The letter is attached below. Please take time to read it. It is, in my view, very comforting and heartfelt.

As you read, I ask you to take to heart these words:

We need all of our homes to be churches during this Holy Week, and we need all your prayers to be offered up continually as sweet-smelling incense. Do not let up, my dear spiritual children!

This year we will anticipate the glorious Resurrection on the third day as the disciples did – from within our homes with the doors being shut. Just as the Resurrected Christ came to them in the Upper Room to reveal His victory over sin and death, may He also reveal Himself mystically in all our homes and instill in our hearts the joy of His presence and the firm assurance that He has overcome world.

That our homes be our church this Holy Week: this is especially this Holy Week because, in the latest directive, His Eminence has closed our parish (and all churches in the Archdiocese) until the end of April.

The exception is this: only the pastor and 4 other persons (who must be the same four each time) are permitted in our buildings. With careful consideration and deliberation, I’ve designated the four who are permitted only to assist me prepare and conduct the liturgical services. (I am permitted to work in my office during the week, provided no one else enters except those four.)

These four are making a sacrifice that is no less honorable, no less laudable, than the sacrifice you are making by not attending the services. Your sacrifice is to protect others by staying home; their sacrifice is to expose themselves in order to pray for you and all humanity, and assist you to pray with us, as we offer the Holy Sacrifice beseeching God’s mercy.

Most unfortunately, no other persons or parishioners may enter for any reason: to pray, to clean, to work, to meet with me, to purchase items, or to do anything else. I know that several have a key; but I must ask, for the safety of all else and in obedience to your bishop, that you not make use of that key to enter the church unless you are one of the four mentioned above. Of course, we may still meet, as we have been, via Zoom, telephone, or other electronic means. And I heartily encourage you to join us so that we can still, in some way, be together.

These are unusual times. But they are not unprecedented. For two years (or more) during the Bubonic Plague, churches were closed in many European cities. We are hoping that, by God’s grace, our extended Lenten discipline is shorter. Toward that end, we all need to do our part so that, through the prayers of you faithful Christians and all the Saints, we may soon gather to worship together.

Finally, I encourage you to take to heart His Eminence’s words (in the attached letter) about what the new normal should look like in our parish and in each of our lives.

May God be gracious to us all!

Rev Msgr John W Fenton

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Incarnation & Disease

Our present situation is part of why God became man.

The primary reason, of course, is so that we might have communion with God, so that we might live in a close intimate relationship with God, so that we might behold God as he is, in the same way that he knows us as we are. He knows us as we are because God became man; which means that he took into Himself all that we are in our humanity, without sin. Even the result of sin—our vulnerability, our contingency, our need to be healed, our death—every weakness that we have in our mortal condition; all of this God in Christ took into Himself. And he did this so that we might know him and behold him as he is in his heavenly kingdom.

That is the primary reason God became man. That is the primary reason we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord; the day when God was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and so became incarnate.

The secondary reason is our present situation. Not just our situation where we are deprived of the goods that we are so used to, the goods that we take advantage of, the goods we take for granted. Our present situation is more dire than that.

Our present situation is that we take God for granted—the Good that he is; the Good from which all good things find their source; the Good that we falsely believe is our right; the Good that we too often take for granted.

In order to rescue us from our present situation—not simply the Coronavirus, or the threat of death, or the loss of economic security, or the shaking of our sure footing—more importantly, to rescue us from the deprivation of our life in God—that is also why God became man. Why He was conceived in the womb of the virgin. Why He was incarnate.

God saw that we were slowly killing ourselves; and that we were scared to death, and therefore moving not toward Him as our Life, but away from Him in irrational fear. He saw that we were threatened—and worse yet, that our very existence, our Life in Him, was threatened. The very things that He had made good, we now in absurd fear turned against ourselves. The very things that He gave us to sustain life, we now handed over to death.

Seeing all this, seeing that we were mindlessly digging our own hell—God determined to have mercy on us. He pitied us as a father pities His misguided children, and so He stepped in. But when He stepped in, Our Lord did not force us to turn back to Him. He did not erase our ability to turn away from Him. But by becoming one of us, one with us, Christ Jesus made our way of escape, and gave us the strength to escape with Him and in Him. And He does this by taking as His own a body, a physicality, a materialness, that is foreign to His nature. And by granting that body the capability of communing with God and in God—that is His incarnation. And that is what we celebrate.

So, as many of the church fathers say today with certainty, today is the celebration of the beginning of our salvation. For Our Lord’s suffering and death and resurrection, His experience of our common condition with viruses and deprivation and death—that is possible, that is truly real, only because God assumes and takes into Himself all that makes us who we are.

And thus, taking from us our greatest weaknesses, receiving from us the capability to die, and putting all of this to death in Himself, Our Lord Jesus offered our human nature, cured and purged, to His Father because He was in love with all humans.

Let us not take for granted this great gift. Let us not, in our present situation, get so caught up in fear and anxiety that we lose sight of the greater good from our good God. And the greater good is this—that while we may, for a while, endure a ‘penance kindly, but severe;’ although we may, for a while, be deprived of our usual life—all of this our kindly Lord knows, and assumed, so that He might bring us back to Him; more so, so that He might give us greater and worthier gifts.

To whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship; now and forever, world without end.

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Sheltering-in-Place during Lent: A Homily

I am sure it doesn’t feel like it, but sheltering ourselves in place can really help us—not  just physically, by avoiding or spreading the virus. Best of all, sheltering can help us spiritually, with our Lenten discipline. For, really, what is Lent about? It’s about cleaning our spiritual house by increasing our prayers, by working on self-control, and by living less inside ourselves and more outward toward others. When we are safe-at-home, we can do that: by spending less time on our self-serving passions, and by spending more time in prayer and in reaching out to others.

Cleaning our spiritual house: that’s what today’s Gospel describes. For Jesus doesn’t simply heal a man. He casts out a devil. And when the devil is cast out, the man is healed. Or, to say it another way, Our Lord re-calibrates the man and cleans out the spiritual clutter the devil brings, so that this man may now live more fully focused on and devoted to the Lord.

And if we use these weeks wisely, if we use them as a Lenten exercise, Our Blessed Lord can help us achieve the same: re-calibration with a more focused, more devoted life in Him.

To do that, we need to see these days not as a nuisance but as a blessing; not as something that keeps us away from our normal routine, but as hours and days and weeks that allow us to pull closer to Christ. Not as minutes and hours and days that need to be filled, but as more time for prayer, more time for spiritual reading, more time for developing good habits, and more time to live outside ourselves.

But there are two dangers. The first is that we’ll agree with the sentiment but fritter away the time. And that will happen if we see this as a vacation. Or if we get wrapped up in our fears and anxieties. Or if we wonder why others aren’t doing what they’re supposed to. When we do that, we’re wasting our time on things that do not edify or strength us spiritually.

Let us, instead, spend our energy on reading the Scriptures, on praying with our family, and on making ourselves available, as much as our situation allows.

The second danger is that we’ll actually see these days as a great blessing, we’ll actually immerse ourselves more and more in prayer for others, we’ll actually grow closer in our relationship with the Lord—and then we’ll go back to business-as-usual once the crisis passes.

That’s the greater danger. And it’s the danger Our Lord warns us about in today’s Gospel. For He tells us, in effect, that Lenten house cleaning should be done not for its own sake, but to make more room in our daily routine for our Lord. For when we do Lent just because it’s Lent, then we’ve actually made things worse. For then it’s one step forward during Lent, and two steps back after Easter.

One response to this danger is to say to ourselves, “So, why even bother beginning? Why do Lent at all if there’s the possibility that we’ll backslide? And why make meaningful, spiritual use of our sheltering time if I already know that I won’t keep it up when life gets back to normal?”

The better response, however, is to establish a new normal: where more prayer becomes the new norm; where living for the end becomes our new way of living.

When we do that—when Lent becomes our way of life—then Christ, the Stronger Man, not only overthrows the strong devil; Christ Jesus also then moves in and makes His home in us. Which is what we should want. And what we should aim for, especially now as we have the time, the blessing of time not spent on the freeways, the blessing of time to say more prayers and live more in love with our Father.

These sheltering days—they really can be a blessing if we use them wisely, in prayer and attentiveness to Our Lord, to those who suffer, for those who are first-responders, and in supplication for our city, state, nation, and all humanity.

Through the prayers of the Holy Mother of God, and of all the saints, may our Father have mercy on us and, by His grace, lead us in these days closer to Him; who lives and reigns with His Son, our Hope and Salvation, together with His all-Holy and Life-Giving Spirit; now and for ever, world without end.

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Annunciation of BVM (Livestream)

The Feast of the Annunciation will be celebrated tomorrow with Mass at 10 a.m. We will use the same procedure as last Sunday. Click on this link: or https://www.facebook.com/stmichaelwhittier/videos/

Livestream will begin at 9:00 with Lauds at 9:15, Mass at 10 a.m. If your schedule does not allow you to join us at those times, you may worship with us later in the day.

PLEASE REMEMBER: This is an not ‘netflix,’ but an opportunity for you to worship with us during this extraordinary and strange time. Toward that end, I ask you to review these recommendations:

Asking your prayers,

Fr John

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Watching Our Live-Stream Mass

Be assured of my prayers, and that each one of you is close to my heart while we adjust to our temporary living and work situation.

In his latest directive, Metropolitan Joseph has required all parishes in California (and other states like New York) to celebrate Mass (Divine Liturgy) on Sunday, together with Lauds (Orthros). However, only three persons may be present during these services: the priest, one server, and one chanter.

His Eminence also encourages all parishes to live-stream the liturgical services so that people may pray together, albeit imperfectly, in their homes while they follow the directives of the government.

We live-streamed last night’s prayers, and will do the same tomorrow morning from 9 a.m. until the end of Mass. (The Mass will begin at 10 a.m.).

Here is the link: https://stmichaelwhittier.org/parish-site/videos.

This link automatically takes you to our Facebook page. You don’t need a Facebook account to watch the services; however, you may need to expand the picture. We have learned that this will work much better on a computer than on a phone.

THIS NEXT PART IS IMPORTANT

It is really hard, and unreal, to participate in the Mass by watching it on a device in your home. It’s easy to get distracted, to get up and get something, or to do several things at once. I urge you to resist these temptations as you watch.

Here are practical tips to get the most out of the live-streamed Mass:

  • Before 9 a.m., place your device (phone, television, computer, tablet) on or near your icon corner; OR, surround your device with one or more icons.
  • Turn off all possible distractions (phone, notifications, oven, alarms, etc.)
  • Like you do before church, take care of all personal needs beforehand.
  • Dress like you would for a regular Sunday Mass. (Casual clothes may encourage a casual, non-prayerful attitude.)
  • Follow your regular pattern for maintaining the Eucharistic fast, refraining from food, coffee, etc. until after the Mass.
  • Print the attached service booklets and have them in hand.
  • Follow along during the services, and sing/speak along with us, in whatever way you normally would do during the Mass.
  • As you are able, stand, sit, and kneel as you normally would do during the Mass.
  • Finally, resist the urge to offer any comments online until after the Mass is over.

In short, I encourage you to make these few hours a time of sincere devotion and worship.

These are strange days, but they can be a blessing if we use them rightly:

  • By spending some of our “shelter time” in prayer and spiritual reading
  • By caring for each other and those in need in whatever way we can (even by simply making a phone call)
  • By entering more deeply into the fast itself

Again, please be assured of my prayers.

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Resources During These Days

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12.32)

​During these extraordinary times, when you are prevented from attending Mass daily and on Sundays and are relegated to the reality of God’s kingdom relayed through pixels, please be assured of my prayers.

Above all else, do not let fear have the upper hand, nor the devil steal your joy. Instead, as your spiritual father, I urge you to see this time as a deepening of your Lenten devotion:

  • a time to pray more purposefully, particularly with your parish family
  • a time to set aside worldly distractions, especially the ‘virtual’ world
  • a time to love more deliberately, by helping concretely those in need
  • a time to limit your appetites, so that you don’t feed your fears

To aid you in this godly endeavor, I offer you three resources that we have recently put together. These are:

  • Daily Prayer at Home During Lent
  • Prayer in Time of Pestilence
  • An Act of Spiritual Communion

Use the Daily Prayer to join the church, from your home, in the Scriptures and prayers appointed for daily Lenten Masses.

Use the Prayer in Time of Pestilence, both to join us in your home as we pray this on Friday evenings at the church; and as an additional prayer throughout the week.

Use the Act of Spiritual Communion to assist you as you abstain from the Holy Eucharist until we are able, with great joy, to gather again.

You may also wish to listen to the podcast “The Fathers Speak,” which consists of me reading selections from the holy fathers based on the Gospel reading from the daily Mass.

Finally, let us in prayer and in deed do what we can to take care of each other and our neighbors, particularly those who live alone and have no family nearby. Please help me by checking on each other proactively and letting me know who may be sick or in need. As much as I am able, I will bring food, medicine or hygiene products to those who can’t get out. If you’re willing to help, please let me know.

Be assured that each of you are close to my heart, and that my love for you increases even as our contact is decreased.

May God have mercy on us, and comfort us during this affliction.

Your spiritual father in Christ,

Fr John

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Coronavirus: The Latest Archdiocese Directive

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (1 Jn 4.18)

Pastoral Counsel

It was good to see so many of you at today’s Mass. I’m confident that, during these Lenten days when our faith is being tried, you find great consolation in Our Lord’s Body (both ecclesial and eucharistic). Together and individually, let us offer our prayers

  • for those afflicted in body (for those suffering the virus and its material effects)
  • for those afflicted in mind (suffering isolation and loneliness)
  • and for those afflicted in spirit (suffering fear, anxiety, and doubt)

In fact, those working from home or limited in their movements might want to devote their ‘extra’ time to prayer, as well as checking in on relatives, friends, neighbors, and parishioners.

Above all else, as I have said before, let us not give into fear. Rather, let us see these days as part of our Lenten sacrifice, a time when (as Hannah, Elijah, Job, and Anna) we can grow closer to our Father in the midst of our trial.

From the Archdiocese

After this morning’s Mass, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph sent the following encyclical, updating the measures the Antiochian parishes will take during the rapidly changing situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of this directive, at St Michael’s Church:

  • All Bible studies, Parish Council, Men’s Workshop, Antiochian Women, Society of St Benedict, and other non-liturgical meetings and gatherings are cancelled.
  • Lauds and Mass will be celebrated only on Sunday, with only myself, servers, and the choir in attendance.
  • We will make every attempt to live-stream our Sunday liturgy. You will be notified when we have the details in place.
  • On Friday, in keeping with the spirit of the Metropolitan’s directive, we will offer the Rosary at 7 p.m. followed immediately by “Prayer in the Time of Pestilence” (which includes blessing with the Relic of the True Cross). We will attempt to live-stream this devotion as well, since only myself, servers, and choir may attend.
  • With your help, we will continue our daily cleaning and sanitizing. But we need your help to be diligent about this.
  • I will be putting together and sending to you daily prayers and readings.
  • The church will be open from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. every day to give you the opportunity to offer individual prayers and light candles.
  • I will keep individual appointments with those who need the ministry of the Church.

On a Personal Note

This is an extraordinary time, but not unprecedented. The Church has lived through worse diseases than COVID-19 and has emerged stronger every time because she has served the faithful without fear, and has found strength and comfort in the Eucharist and in prayer. And, true to her Lord, the Church has always been willing to sacrifice her well-being for the welfare of those who draw near in time of need. The greatest harm we can do to others and ourselves, then, is to let the devil drive us away from others, and God’s sacred mysteries. Of course, we must be prudent, which includes acts of love that are often inconvenient. But let our love be not because we are afraid of what may happen, but because we cling to Love Himself who casts out every fear.

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