Holy Hour

Every Saturday in Lent we will have a Holy Hour beginning at 4:00 p.m. followed by Vespers and Benediction at 5:00 p.m. Holy Hour is a time of meditation and prayer in silence before the Blessed Sacrament.

Additionally during Lent, Private Confession will be available from 4-5 on Saturdays.

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Lent 2021

THE LENTEN COMMITMENT

Life is short. There are only so many Lents. And while we all begin with good intentions, too often we reach the end of Lent regretting that we have squandered yet another opportunity to grow in our life in God. Perhaps this year can be different. Perhaps this year we will resolve not to settle for the status quo in our spiritual life, nor coast in our Christianity.

The most amazing and wonderful thing in the world is that God has made Himself totally accessible in Jesus Christ. We can go to Him, call upon Him, be with Him. May God help us, this Lent, to be deliberate and conscientious; to awake and arise each day with the purpose to keep this Lent in spirit as well as letter.

This Year’s Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 17 and concludes on Holy Saturday, May 1. This holy season prepares us for Easter in three segments: a time of instruction in the Christian Faith (March 17-April 17), a time of pondering Our Lord’s Passion (April 18-28), and a time of immersing ourselves in the mystery of our salvation during the triduum sacrum (“holy three days”) of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter (April 29-May 2).

THE THREE DISCIPLINES OF LENT

Lent involves the practice of three disciplines as a preparation for the newness of life which we celebrate with much joy at Easter. For during this great Feast, we both commemorate the Resurrection of Our Lord, and also celebrate the spiritual resurrection of our lives from dead works to serve the living God.

To set ourselves in the right path toward Easter, the Church uses Our Lord’s own words which establish three life-long disciplines. These three disciplines revolve around

♦   Increased prayer (public and private) (Mt 6.1-3)

♦   Unostentatious self-denial (Mt 6.16-20)

♦   Sacrificial giving (charitable donations) (Mt 6.4-15)

All three Lenten disciplines form a unit in order to aid us in our observance of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.

INCREASED PRAYER

Both private & public prayer should be augmented and increased as part of our Lenten commitment. At St Michael’s, ample opportunities are given to cultivate the virtue of public prayer which, in turn, leads to enhanced private devotion.

The Mass (Divine Liturgy) is celebrated daily at 9 a.m. during Lent. Each day has its own unique theme which unfolds in the prayers, Scripture readings, chants, and meditations. Each day leads us to see the several aspects of Our Lord’s passionate grace.

Vespers & Rosary are also prayed in community every Wednesday at 7 p.m., and the Stations of the Cross with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament will be offered every Friday at 7 p.m. On Saturdays, Holy Hour will be available at 4 p.m. for adoring and meditating before the Blessed Sacrament displayed on the altar. This will be followed at 5 p.m. by Saturday Vespers & Benediction. During Holy Hour, Private Confession will also be available. You may also join us on Tuesdays @ 8:30 p.m. for Rosary via Zoom.

In the home, increased private prayers and devotions should also be cultivated during this Season. These prayers and devotions should begin and be formed by the Psalms and readings from the Bible. This year parishioners are especially encouraged to spend each day in Lent reading a portion from the Gospel according to St Luke.

FASTING & ABSTENTION

In Scriptures and the Church, fasting is a communal habit. The purpose of the fast is to bring to our mind, each day, Our Lord’s sacrifice, to aid our compassion for others, and to set our minds on spiritual things (Rom. 8.5). Fasting also allows the entire body to participate in the penitence characteristic of this Holy Season.

As a community, on Mondays through Saturdays we abstain from all meat and meat products (except fish); and we fast by limiting the amount of food we eat to one full meal each day and refraining from all snacks. (A smaller meal of soup or salad may also be consumed at another time during the day.)

The Orthodox Lenten Fast does not offer suggestions on what to “give up.” Rather, it prescribes the common rule the faithful are to follow as they fast together. Individuals may choose to “give up” additional items during Lent (e.g., alcohol or screen time), but such choices should not replace the Lenten fast. Likewise, those who (for medical or other legitimate reasons) find it difficult to observe the Lenten Fast should first speak with their spiritual father concerning modifications in order to keep the spirit of the Fast.

More important than the type and amount of food is abstaining from anger, strife, envy, and the other deadly sins so that we might cultivate the godly virtues of humility, charity, chastity, temperance, patience, kindness, and diligence.

ALMSGIVING

Increased charitable donations should also be attempted during Lent, in addition to the regular tithe or pledge. These alms can come from the money saved by eating less during Lent or by decreasing personal spending. By giving to those in need, we remind ourselves that Our Lord’s love knows no economic boundaries.

You may also wish to designate a particular local charity for additional funds. Such charities may include the local FOCUS North America chapter, the IOCC, the OCMC, the Obria Medical Clinic, the Archdiocese Food for Hungry People campaign, or any number of homeless shelters. Donations of foodstuffs are accepted at the church, and opportunities in distributing assistance are frequently advertised.

LAUDABLE LENTEN CUSTOMS

Christians during Lent put the remembrance of Our Lord’s Passion above all other pursuits. For this reason, Lent is a closed season of the Church Year. This means that the solemnities of this season should not be disturbed by wedding celebrations, parties, or other activities that would encourage us away from the three Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and charitable giving.

The Liturgy itself during Holy Lent expresses the seasons’ penitential character. The Gloria in excelsis, the Alleluia, bells, and extra organ music are omitted. Somber violet covers both Altar and Celebrant, lightened on only two occasions: Laetare Sunday, with rose as the proper color; and Holy Thursday, when white is used for the Mass of the Institution of Our Lord’s Supper. 

Passion Sunday falls on April 18 this year. At this time, the Lenten observance is heightened in anticipation of the greater nearness of the celebration of Our Lord’s Death. Passion Sunday is when violet veils are placed over crucifixes, icons and statutes in church and home.

HOLY WEEK

The dramatic services of Holy Week bring Lent to its fitting climax. Mass will be celebrated each day of Holy Week, climaxing with the triduum sacrum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Pascha.

On Maundy Thursday evening (April 29) in a most splendid and dignified Sung Mass, the Institution of the Most Blessed Sacrament will be celebrated. This Mass concludes with the solemn Procession and the Stripping of the Altar. Every communicant should make every effort to receive Holy Communion on this sacred evening.

The Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ will be celebrated with the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy on Good Friday (April 30). This Solemn Liturgy includes the Veneration of a relic of the True Cross and prayers for people in every relationship with God. Every member should make an effort to attend the Good Friday Solemn Liturgy.

The Queen of Feasts will be celebrated with great joy at St Michael’s Church. The feast will commence with the Great Vigil of Easter, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Holy Saturday (May 1). Then, on Easter Sunday (May 2), we shall hear again the Gospel of Our Lord’s Resurrection at the Easter Sunday Mass. How greatly our joy would be increased if every communicant member of our Parish would come to the Altar to receive the Eucharist on this Day of Resurrection!

THE END OF LENT

Everything we purpose for Lent is designed to draw us closer to God. What has been offered here (and elsewhere) by the Church will aid us in keeping our resolve and maintaining godly diligence.

The life of self-denial is the path of salvation, and so these practices should not end after the 40 days, but should help us re-group and put forth extra effort to be intentional as we strive to make a new beginning. Without such purposeful commitment, we may complete another Lent, regretting that we have not made the most of the opportunity. May none of us say at the end of this Lenten season; ‘well, maybe next year…?’

If we fast and do not pray; if our prayer dies on our lips without affecting how we deal with others; if our love for God does not extend to those whom He loves—then we have gained little. Let us keep in mind, then, that we keep Lent not for its own sake or as a Spring ritual. Rather, we keep Lent in order to (re-)orient ourselves to God in repentance and prayer.

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Easy It Is Not

Matthew 8.1-13
A homily for Epiphany III

Being Christian isn’t easy. It isn’t comfortable or convenient. And, for millions throughout history, being Christian has not been safe.

That’s what St Paul told St Timothy, whom we commemorate today. When Timothy was a teen, in his hometown St Paul was nearly stoned to death and then dragged from the city. Yet at that time the holy Apostle strengthened the shocked and frightened disciples and urged them to continue in the faith with these words: “Through many tribulations, we enter the kingdom of God.”

Let’s not go too quickly past those words. Paul says that the only way into the kingdom of heaven is through tribulation. But like St Paul, we shouldn’t focus on what others do to us, but on what Our Lord does for us; not with what we have to put up with, but what Our Lord gives us; and not zeroing in on the adversity but on the deliverance. St Paul sums up our life when he says: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

All means all. As St Ambrose reminds us: “All suffer persecution. There is no exception. Who can claim an exemption if the Lord Himself endured the testing of persecution” for our good? “There are many today who are secret martyrs for Christ,” who suffer persecution without protest or resistance because they know they model Christ and witness to faith by enduring injustice without complaint.

But visible persecution is not the only kind. Whenever we are tempted to give in to our ungodly desires, whenever our minds tell us to give up, whenever we avoid the hard path of prayer and holy living, of forgiveness and kind-speaking—then we are being persecuted invisibly. By the devil, and by our own flesh. For “the devil directs his many servants in their work of persecution…in the souls of individuals.” (St Ambrose)

Christianity isn’t easy. But we can see Our Lord’s glory while staring at the gory; and want Our Lord’s body and blood while seeing what it cost to bring it to this altar; and know that the Lord comes through when you can’t feel it. Because we understand that Christians walk in the path Jesus walked, following the Way He is—through suffering into glory, through death into life, through hell into heaven.

To be a Christian we need look at now through the lens of later; at what threatens by seeing what awaits us; at how much it asks by receiving how much Christ gives.

That takes faith. A faith that doesn’t lie down when things get tough. A faith that doesn’t give up when it feels defeated. And a faith that can swallow pride, and sacrifice what we are sure is necessary and right and good—even a faith that sacrifices our own carefully crafted identity.

But above all, being Christian means we look to Christ. Knowing that He alone can get us through. He alone can undo what’s been done to us, and untangle what we’ve done to ourselves. He alone is our help and our salvation.

That kind of faith requires humility. The humility that says, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” The humility that says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” And the humility that says, “Lord, I am not worthy.”

Some may see that not as humility, but as humiliation. Not as faith, but as groveling. Not as strength but as weakness.

Humility makes sense to a man suffering a debilitating disease, a man who has no hope, a man who is desperate; a man who is ostracized because he is a leper in Judaea. Yet even this man must humble himself to cry out to Christ. For pride says, “No one can help. All is hopeless. I’m cursed. Nothing will work.” Pride believes those words because pride makes us look only at ourselves—how much I hurt, what I can’t do, why no one meets my fears.

But humility says, “Lord, if you are willing.” Humility places everything in the Lord’s hand, knowing that He hears the cry of the poor and needy. And so, when life is hardest, we can say in true humility: “Despite my comforts, I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks upon me. Thou art my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God. Make haste to me, O God!” (Ps 39, 69)

How quickly Our Lord comes to our aid! For “He delivers the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper.” (Ps 71) And so, without fear of contagion, Our Lord touches the leper and says, “I am willing. Be cleansed.”

We can understand the desperation of the poor and needy, the helpless and bed ridden. But a commander; a man who can run roughshod over people; a man who has servants; a man who is certainly privileged and among the elite—can he truly humble himself? Can he honestly say, “I am not worthy”?

Yet that is exactly what we must say. Not ordering God by our prayers, as if He is our servant who waits on us. Instead, we ought to pray this prayer: “Lord, I am not worthy. Have mercy on me. Help me because I cannot help myself, or anyone else. You know far better what is best for me—even if it is best that we stay as we are for many days, weeks, or months. I am not worthy to tell you how things should go. So only speak a word, and I shall trust that what you say is truth, what you give is health.”

That is the humility of the centurion. Yet it’s not easy to deny and put to death our instinct and passion, to control, to be impatient, to whine, and to protest and insist. And it’s not easy to refuse ourselves the pleasures we are sure we deserve, and the rights we know we’ve earned.

Yet being a Christian isn’t easy. It isn’t about comfort or convenience. And, it’s not about having no more rough times, no more worries, no more problems.

Being Christian means we need to confess our pride, repent of our complaining, and see that in every kind of ordeal, temporary or permanent, God hides His grace and calls us to a “new normal of greater piety, increased participation in the sacraments, and more love and service to our neighbor.” (Metropolitan Joseph)

But above all, being Christian means humbly accepting Our Lord’s will, trusting that He is arranging things—even pandemics and politics—for our salvation. And there’s the joy—that He is always there, always pulling us through, always doing what is best, and always leading us deeper into His love.

To this Lord Jesus Christ, by the prayers of St Timothy and of all the saints, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

This way was blazed first by Our Lord, not just when He died, but even as He put up with the traps and restrictions of His own people. Let me be clear: Christ’s suffering does not mean that we won’t suffer, any more than His death and burial means we won’t die and be buried. What His passion does mean is that dealing with hard times is inseparable from the Christian life; and tribulation is our path to true intimacy with Our Lord God. Like any love story, real relationships grow and strengthen only when we work together through trying times.

24 January 2021

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Looking Past the Herods

Matthew 2.42-52

On Wednesday night we were likely distracted by a leader obsessed with power trying desperately to ward off the chosen and rightful ruler. Like many after him, even to the present day, this monarch refused to believe the truth. He consulted with advisors who either supported his distorted views, or lost courage and would not stand up to him. In either case, King Herod twisted their reports for his own purpose, and, in the end, he orchestrated violence to get his way.

The rapid flow of events caused great anxiety. The news reports stated that all were troubled. And the unrest and apprehension were deliberately fueled by the panic of a narcissistic Machiavelli in order to divert our attention away from Truth.

Where were we when we heard about this? Were we wringing our hands in fear, or kneeling in prayer? Were we focused on the fighting, or asking for God’s mercy? Were we huddled in our homes, or standing with the Magi?

The Magi did not deny reality or hide their heads in the sand when Herod became unglued and tried to wipe out our King. Neither did the Magi get caught up in the country’s anxiety, and resort simply to more talk. Instead, they did what they came to do, what we are designed to do, and what is undoubtedly the best course of action when everything is in chaos. “They fell down and worshipped” the Lord Jesus. For these wise men knew two things for certain:

  • First, Herods, both old and new, succeed only when they ramp up our fear and distract us from gathering where Christ is laid out for us; and
  • Second, worshipping Christ by prayer and receiving His gifts actually resists evil better than anything else.

So, the Magi were not uncaring cowards. In their wisdom, they firmly believed that no human resources—no legal actions, no might, not better leaders—none of these could stem men bent on riding out their selfish ambitions. What is needed—what is always needed—is for us to tear ourselves away from Satan’s only weapon—fear of the end—and flee for refuge to the hope—the only true and real hope—which is set before us in Christ on the altar.

Wise women and wise men look past what we can’t control and what is used to distance us from the person and gifts the Lord has placed in front of us. Wise women and wise men fix their hearts and minds on the truth

  • that our Lord God has already taken our flesh through the worst;
  • that in our flesh He has overcome every evil past, present, and to come; and
  • that by His Sacraments He places in our mouths and ears true courage, sure hope, and real strength.

Twelve years after the violence incited by Herod, panic and anxiety arise once again. This time in the hearts of a married Holy Couple. They are distressed and suffering acutely because they cannot locate their only Son. Some years earlier the Holy Mother of God had heard from Simeon that the Christ Child would cause sorrow that would pierce her own soul. Now, she plainly tells her Son that they have sought Him sorrowing. Blessed Joseph and Mary were afraid that they had lost their most precious Child. And they fear that they have negligently guarded Him as they noticed that He was no longer with them.

Without a doubt, they must wonder if they have lost God. Or if He has abandoned them. Perhaps they think that God has taken back His promise, His pledge to be with them, His vow to save them from themselves, and to deliver all people from their self-pleasing, self-chosen worship.

From our vantage point, the scene may look comical. An old man and a young mother scurrying around the city, looking in taverns and hotels, searching diligently for a twelve-year old whom they have somehow misplaced because they assumed He was where they thought He should be. In their frantic questions among relatives and acquaintances, in their frenetic search for the Son of God, they are convinced that this Child has purposefully grieved them. Certainly, from their perspective, the Christ has sorrowed them, piercing their souls.

They find the Holy Child on the third day. Of course it is the third day—the day when life is restored, when hope is renewed, when faith is strengthened, when love chases away all sorrow and grief. The third day is also the day when all the evil schemes, all the alternate truths of power-hungry leaders, all the devilish tricks, all the delusions of my narrative—the third day is the day all of that is exposed and undone. Because on the third day Truth reveals Himself fully.

So on the third day, Mary and Joseph find the boy Jesus where they should have looked in the first place—in the place of sacrifice surrounded by the sacrificers and perhaps even some of the very men who would clamor for His death twenty years later.

No doubt, this is why Mary and Joseph are amazed and astonished. It was not merely that they finally found Him, but also where they found Him—and what the Spirit helped them see. For in that tableau of Christ in the temple, the Blessed Virgin and her Holy Spouse saw more than a precocious Child. They saw His passion and the means of His death. But they also saw where this would lead—to our redemption which flows from His Sacred Heart into the Chalice sitting on our altar.

Mary and Joseph are astonished and amazed. Not in shock but in joy; not in disbelief but in faith; not in relief that they have found Him, but in beholding how He will help them find their way to His Father.

When we don’t recall where Christ is leading us; when we are convinced that everything rests on our choices; when we invest time and energy in proud and scheming leaders; when we forget to find Christ where He always is—in His temple at His altar; and when we can’t remember or see that the Lord’s will is always done, usually in the most surprising ways—then it’s easy for us to let our anxiety take over; easy for us to ride our frenzied emotions in a frantic quest, as Mary and Joseph did for three days.

But now we have reached the third day: the day when we get to participate with the Holy Parents in their astonishment at seeing the benefits of their Son’s impending sacrifice. And this is the Father’s business.

So instead of getting caught up in the machinations of feckless leaders, let us surrender our anxiety to the God-Man who has always been about His Father’s business. And let us marvel and take to heart that Our Lord, even as a little boy, urges us to look up, to lift up our hearts, and to look ahead and to contemplate not the business of others, or our own busy-ness, but His Father’s business. Even if His words are hard to understand and even harder to live, let us trust Our Lord enough to subject our desires, deeds, and words to His wisdom and care. For He truly cares for us: to whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

The First Sunday after the Epiphany
10 January 2021

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Mass During Christmas

Dear Parishioners & Friends:

For most of this year we have been challenged to make a number of sacrifices out of love and concern for each other. The parish has responded well in adapting to these challenges by making necessary sacrifices so that we can continue to offer Mass daily to as many as are able to attend. Although our worship and social routines at church have been disrupted, and perhaps our personal spiritual life has diminished, I’m convinced that we have done well together in balancing the importance of worshiping Our Lord with our love for all humanity, because we have kept in mind this soul-searching question from St John: “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn 3.17)

These past few weeks have challenged us again. Our hearts are set on celebrating Christmas as we are accustomed. The weather has changed and so requires changes in our usual routine. Our hearts are also close to those parishioners who are hospital workers, caretakers, and who have endured separation, isolation, or the effects of loved ones who have been sick. And we must not ignore the concern and uneasiness brought to our attention by the physical and emotional strain on all those who work in our healthcare system.

It is quite apparent that concern and anxiety have certainly increased during these past few weeks as we have seen an alarming increase in cases which are taxing our health systems. Permit me to remind you that our fears can cause spiritual harm. Equally important, refusal to have compassion or acknowledge the fears of those in our parish family can also cause spiritual harm.

The challenge before us, then, is to maintain our care for others without falling prey to pride, anger, judgment or—worst of all—dispiritedness; and to balance love and prudence with the necessity of gathering as Church. This challenge faces us directly with the question of how we will continue the Mass in the days ahead.

As I have, in prayer, considered these challenges and weighed the various factors, I am persuaded of three foundational points:

  • That we are able to gather for Mass is a matter of faith.
  • How the Mass is conducted announces our faith.
  • Where, when, and under what conditions Mass is celebrated is a matter of love and sacrifice by each one of us.

With these thoughts in mind, last Thursday I sought the counsel of the Parish Council concerning Mass for the next few months. We discussed the possibility of moving the Mass from the courtyard to inside the church. The members of the Parish Council made several good and necessary points which adequately represent the wide spectrum of opinions among us concerning the pandemic and the attendant restrictions. I genuinely appreciate their counsel and thoughts as I weighed this decision.

Based on these considerations and taking into account the conversation with the Parish Council, after prayer and reflection I have determined that, out of love and concern for all, it is best that we continue for now to worship outdoors in the courtyard.

I realize that this decision may be disappointing and that it asks us all to sacrifice our own comfort and ideals. Among other things, being outdoors means that

  • We will not be able to have the usual Christmas decorations, which I know is a significant marker of Christ Mass
  • We will get the joy of attending the Mass in the same conditions (temperature, etc.) that the Holy Mother of God and her spouse Joseph experienced on the night when Christ was born
  • We will not be able to gather on church grounds as we have in the past to greet each other with Christmas joy. Instead, we will need to be content with receiving our Lord’s sacred and precious gift of Himself in the Mass.

Yet it will also mean that all those who are able can gather as the Body of Christ to receive the Body of Christ. Therefore, despite sacrifices and inconveniences, the good news is that we will be able to worship together, unlike at Holy Week in Easter earlier this year. And these sacrifices will permit us to focus on exercising our faith in the most foundational way—as God’s children gathered in adoration around His altar. Above all else, this is of greatest importance.

This year challenges how we live our faith; whether we will truly love one another to the same extent as Christ first loved us; and whether we will set aside our notions of rights and justice and convenience as Christ did for our sake. (1 Jn 3.16)

Most certainly, that is the heart of the Christ Mass story: that He, who had all the comforts and did not need to take on any sins or death, came down into our meanness, poverty, sickness, and death; so that we, who had no possibility of escape, might share and partake fully in everything that is rightly His, and extend the Love He is by being that love to others (cf. 2 Corinthians 8.9).

In Christ,

Fr John W Fenton

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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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