A Word from Father
Słowo od Pastora
JANUARY 10, 2021
Dear Friends in Christ,
On the last day of the year, December 31st, the Church offers a plenary indulgence to those who publically recite the ancient, fourth-century hymn, the Te Deum, as an act of thanksgiving. The hymn starts like this: O God, we praise you; O Lord, we acclaim you. Eternal Father, all the earth reveres you. All the angels, the heavens and the Pow’rs of heaven, Cherubim and Seraphim cry out to you in endless praise: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are filled with the majesty of your glory.
We have come to the beginning of another year, dear friends. It’s hard to believe that we really are in 2021 already. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made the year 2020 one for the books. We won’t forget it any time soon. Perhaps you remember my bulletin column back in May when I wrote about King George VI’s 1939 Royal Christmas Broadcast. This Christmas message was delivered on the first Christmas of the Second World War. In that broadcast, he said, “A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”
Last May I connected that text to the coronavirus pandemic. It came into my mind again this New Year because, I fear, 2021 will bring us some continued struggle. And yet, no matter, we remain undaunted. We do not remain undaunted because of our faith in mankind or our faith in science alone. Rather, we remain undaunted because of our faith in God. God will give the strength we need to approach the struggles of the coming year. When the struggles that will inevitably come towards us this year do come, we should hold firm to our Lord and pray, perhaps in the words of St. Basil the Great: Steer the ship of my life, Lord, to your quiet harbor, where I can be safe from the storms of sin and conflict.
While the Church offers a plenary indulgence on December 31st for the recitation of the Te Deum, the Church offers the same on January 1st for the public recitation of the hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus invoking the Holy Spirit on the new year. One verse of that ancient hymn goes like this: Far from us drive our deadly foe; true peace unto us bring; and through all perils lead us safe beneath thy sacred wing. That seems like an especially good prayer for any year, but most especially for 2021. May we remain safe from all evil under God’s guidance and may He drive far away the enemy and grant us peace in this new year and at all times. God bless you all in 2021!
Fr. Alan Guanella
DECEMBER 26, 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
Merry Christmas! I pray that the newly born Christ child has blessed you and your homes this year and brought joy to you during these challenging times. May we who have known the mysteries of Christ’s light on earth also delight one day in his gladness in Heaven!
For this Christmas, I had a holy card printed with an image of the nativity and a prayer to be prayed at the Christmas crib. If you were unable to get one after one of the Christmas Masses, please feel free to pick one up in the back of church—there are plenty—and it is my Christmas gift to you, humble though it may be.
The image is painted by Lorenzo Lotto, a Venetian painter born in 1480. This painting struck me for a number of reasons, most especially because of the crucifix present in the background of the image. In my studies of spirituality, I was always attracted to what is called “the French School of Spirituality.” Founded by French Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle, the French School was the principal devotional influence in the Church from the mid-17th century through the mid-20th century. Among other things, it focuses heavily on the Incarnation of Christ. For Cardinal Bérulle, the mystery of the Incarnation was that which centered his contemplation. This emphasis on the Incarnation does not detract, however, from the passion and death of Our Lord. Rather, for the French School, only in Jesus can humanity be both reconciled and re-created. The way to Jesus is through the Cross.
With this in mind, the image of the crucifix in the background of the nativity in Lotto’s painting struck me (even though Lotto painted the image long before Bérulle). An Italian priest, Father Andrea Coldani, notes that the crucifix “shows us how Lotto’s nativity does not yield to a certain sentimentality typical of Christmas but presents us with the truth of the evangelical revelation. Christ was born with the destiny of announcing salvation by defeating death on Calvary.” The author James Monti notes: “The shadow of the cross colors each chapter of the Christmas mystery…The wooden manger was the foreordained throne for the Infant God Incarnate who was to die on the wood of the cross for us.”
In the opposite corner of the painting from the crucifix is a block of wood. Some have said this is just a piece of interlocking wood representative of Joseph’s work as a carpenter. However, the Italian art scholar, Fern Rusk Shapley, sees it as a mousetrap. Why? Father Coldani explains: “Observe the location of the trap: it is on the opposite side of the crucifix, but in direct correspondence with it as if they were joined by an invisible thread. Between these two elements, [lay] the figure of the child Jesus.” In fact, St. Augustine notes in one of his sermons: The devil exulted when Christ died, and by that very death of Christ the devil was overcome: he took food, as it were, from a trap…The cross of the Lord became a trap for the Devil; the death of the Lord was the food by which he was ensnared.
There is even more I could say about this painting but I’ll close with this: it is the Cross that has saved and redeemed us and Jesus was born into the world to do just that. In one of the often-unsung stanzas of the Christmas carol Silent Night, the original German states: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Die der Welt Heil gebracht — Silent Night, holy night, that has brought the salvation of the world. And that, my friends, is what Christmas is all about.
DECEMBER 20, 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
The great fourth/fifth century archbishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom, wrote about Christmas: “I behold a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The angels sing. The archangels blend their voices in harmony. The cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The seraphim exalt God’s glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the godhead here on earth, and a man in heaven. The one who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.”
In a few short days, we will celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas. Like St. John Chrysostom, we will “behold a new and wondrous mystery.” What is this mystery? It is the mystery of the Incarnation: The one who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.
As we celebrate today the Fourth Sunday of Advent—the final Sunday before Christmas—our Scripture readings for today focused more intently on the story of Christ’s birth. We must, like Mary, say ‘Yes’ to God’s plan for our lives. We must always celebrate Mary as the spotless dove, as the holy Jerusalem, as the exalted throne of God, as the ark and house of holiness which Eternal Wisdom built, and as that Queen who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, entirely perfect, beautiful, most dear to God and never stained with the least blemish—the Virgin of whom Jesus was born. The English monk, the Venerable Bede (673–735) wrote in one his Christmas homilies that “it is indeed fitting in every respect that when God decided to become incarnate for the sake of the whole human race none but a virgin should be his mother, and that, since a virgin was privileged to bring him into the world, she should bear no other son but the son who is God.”
May Jesus Christ fulfill his saving task by saving us from our sins; may he discharge his priestly office by reconciling us to God the Father, and may he exercise his royal power by admitting us to his Father’s kingdom, for he is our Lord and God, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen. Merry Christmas to you all. Safe travels for those traveling. God bless you all this Christmas.
DECEMBER 13, 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
At the end of the homily at this weekend’s Masses, I presented briefly on the Christ Our Cornerstone campaign that seeks to help fund needed repairs at our diocesan Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman in La Crosse. The Cathedral is a special church for me personally since my parents were married there, my grandparents were buried from there, and I was baptized, confirmed, and ordained a priest there. As I mentioned, the repair of the Cathedral is both critical and urgent. The Cathedral was dedicated in 1962 and is presently facing some severe difficulties with several heavy stone pieces from the steeple have already fallen, posing the risk of further structural damage and creating hazards. This has necessitated closing off the main entrance from public use.
It is important to understand that while the Cathedral has its own parishioners who belong to her, she is also the Mother Church of the entire diocese. It is at the Cathedral that our priests and deacons are ordained. From there they are sent to bring Christ’s mission and their ministry to serve across our entire diocese. At the annual Chrism Mass, the holy oils are blessed and the chrism is consecrated to be sent and used in all of our parishes for the sacraments. While the Cathedral is located in La Crosse, its impact is diocesan wide.
The total estimated cost of restoring the steeple and other needs of the Cathedral is $6.1 million. Thus far the campaign has raised $2.5 million from the parishioners of the Cathedral Parish itself. In order to help fund this necessary and urgent restoration, St. Ambrose Financial Services, Inc. has agreed to match $2 for every $1 generously pledged to this campaign up to $3 million so your gift is effectively tripled. All the faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse are being invited to participate in this campaign. One-time donations are appreciated as well as three-year pledges. If you wish to contribute to this campaign, brochures and envelopes are provided in the back of the church. Thank you for your generosity in this one-time request.
In other matters, Bishop Callahan has written to the priests to underscore the importance of following the pandemic protocols at Mass. The bishop reiterated the importance of keeping our churches at 25% capacity (so please continue to call the office to register for Mass), of wearing face masks, and keeping a 6 foot social distance from one another. Bishop Callahan states: “By doing our part in following the guidelines, we demonstrate the value of everyone working together in charity with a commitment to care for one another. I recognize that we each have a different perspective of the pandemic situation but I am confident that we all agree that we have a responsibility of respecting human life.”
I am fully aware that not everyone is in agreement with how churches should respond to the restrictions, but I ask that you please put those feelings aside and give thanks for all that has been done to ensure we have implemented the procedures necessary to safely reopen our parish. Moreover, keep in mind that not everyone may feel as you do, so please be considerate of others. As regard to everyone wearing masks at Mass, I will simply underscore what the bishop has directed. I am not going to be involved in matters of enforcement if someone is not wearing a mask. If you are in close proximity with people who are not from your household, it would be an act of charity to wear a mask.
DECEMBER 6, 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
I’m not entirely sure why, but during my eight years in the seminary, the Season of Advent was always my favorite time of year. Perhaps it was because the daylight was short and time in the chapel seemed more cozy. Perhaps it was because of the light of the Advent wreath and the near-daily singing of Creator of the Stars of Night. For some reason, Advent always struck me during those years. It still does. It’s still my favorite season of the liturgical year.
It seems as though we humans like waiting expectantly for things. Most of don’t like waiting and most of us could work on our patience at times, but expectantly waiting is something different. Before a big event, we are happy to get to the venue a bit early “lest we miss out.” We are anxious to celebrate parties and events. Before sports games, the tailgating experience can be even more fun that the game itself. There is something about the buildup before something big that we humans enjoy. When we look at children and young people, this is even more clear: the buildup to birthdays and Christmas is almost bigger than the main event.
Advent is a time of expectant waiting and of preparation. Because we know that the Lord will come, we aren’t impatient. We can, however, make ill use of the time we have been given to prepare. It’s all too easy to push our preparation off for another day. Before we know it, Christmas is here and we hardly did anything to prepare. The popular Advent hymn People Look East, written by the British writer Eleanor Farjeon (1881–1965), puts this preparation in metaphorical language: Make your house fair as you are able. Trim the hearth and set the table.
We should not be impatient, therefore, during Advent. We know that the Lord will come at Christmas. It is our duty to wait expectantly and prepare our hearts. If we can give such energy to birthdays, weddings, baby showers, and tailgate parties, we can certainly give more to our Lord. It always bothers me to see people toss out their Christmas tree the day after Christmas or when radio stations stop playing Christmas music the day after Christmas. We are preparing our hearts for Christmas (which lasts until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in the current calendar). It reminds me of a text from the Liturgy of the Hours for the morning of December 24th: Today you will know the Lord is coming, and in the morning you will see his glory. Happy Advent to you all!