Happy New Year! I am so thankful for Christian hope. It means that no matter how hard, trying, or dark a certain time may be, the grace of Christ can break through all of it. There is nothing in our current times that can cause us so much distress or anguish that we lose our faith, hope, or charity. Often I hear people say, “I just need to have more faith,” but in reality faith is not something I close my eyes and make happen. It is a gift of God. God gives me faith. Faith first comes in the initium fidei, the first stirrings of faith before Baptism, where the adult believer is drawn to the Gospel. We receive the gift of faith in Holy Baptism. Then it becomes the believer’s task not to have faith or to keep faith, instead it is our task to nourish the gift of faith.

Here we are …. the last week of 2018 …. and I completely forgot one of the things I was going to dedicate my preaching to for the year of 2018. It was on the first Sunday of January 2018 I announced that I wanted to spend time preaching, talking, and teaching about family. Somehow this past year took my attention off the ball. 2018 was like a bull in a China shop for me! In a way it fits my personality. I am good with ideas. I’m great coming up with ideas. It is just the implementation of those ideas where I am usually lacking. And perhaps my inability to carry through is a good example of the virtue needed most in family life: fortitude. I let so many other things cloud my vision this past year.

I am happy to announce St. Mary & St. Margaret Mary’s conclusion of the One Church, Many Disciples Capital Campaign for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. I had a wonderful team of parishioners who helped me meet with many families. Last week we took the campaign public with an appeal to all parishioners to consider participating in the campaign. The goal was to ask parish families to consider a monthly gift over five years. The largest part of this OC,MD Campaign is to build a fitting Shrine Church for Blessed Stanley Rother. Last weekend parishioners were encouraged to turn in a pledge envelope during Mass. If you were away last weekend and would like to be part of this campaign you can go online to onechurchmanydisciples.org and make a pledge. Please remember to assign the pledge to either St. Mary or St. Margaret Mary. Since we achieved both parish goals for the campaign we will get back 50% of every dollar pledged! Thank you to all who helped me in this effort and most of all thank you to those who gave to this campaign. While the campaign will do great things for our Local Church, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, I am very happy our part in this campaign is concluded! Thank you all!!

Gaudete! That means Rejoice! The Entrance Antiphon for this Sunday’s Mass in Latin says: “Gaudéte in Dómino semper: íterum dico, gaudéte. Dóminus enim prope est.” It means: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” Fr. John Zuhlsdorf at his website wdtprs.com says it well: “This Sunday’s nickname, “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!” Gaudete, an imperative of gaudeo and the first word of the Introit chant, sets the theme in the Novus Ordo and the older, Traditional Mass: joy. Advent is not strictly a penitential season the way Lent is. Since Advent is about the Lord’s Second Coming, not just His joyful First at Bethlehem, we also prepare through penance, joyful penance, or maybe penitential joy. We sing Alleluia but not the Gloria. During Advent flowers and ornaments are put aside and musical instruments are not to be used, except organ to sustain congregational singing… except for today, when the discipline is relaxed. Gaudete parallels Laetare Sunday in Lent (which also means “Rejoice!”). Therefore, today is the only other Sunday we have rose (rosacea) colored vestments.”

I am very happy to tell you all that St. Mary has OFFICIALLY paid off our roof loan from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Over 3 ½ years ago Fr. Chuck Murphy signed a contract to replace the entire roof of St. Mary Catholic School. This roof replacement included the school gym. The loan we took out was for $110,000. The total cost to replace the roof actually came to about $111,000. By the time we got the bill I was the new pastor here. So I paid the roughly $1,000 overage on the bill and then we proceeded to make monthly payments on what was to be a 5 year loan. That was 3 ½ years ago. For that time we used the Building Fund collection envelope to help us make these payments. With your generosity and our Finance Council’s determination we have paid off the entirety of that $110,000 loan! Thank you all! From this month the monies collected from the Building Fund envelope will go to what has long been known as the Seeds of Faith savings account. It was a fund started many years ago under Fr. Hanrahan. It still exists and now we are going to start putting money in there again. You never know when something will break and so it is a good thing to plan for who knows what!

It is very easy to get caught up in the slogans of ideologies. Movements that tend to start out seeking good change in any institution often end up going off the rails. This has been the case throughout our human history since the First Fall of man. It is just as true today. In the 1960s there was a movement in the Church that within a few years, perhaps by the 1970s even, all Christian denominations would return to the Catholic fold. Churches at the time were designed with an un-Catholic sensibility. The best example is St. Thomas More in Norman on the campus of The University of Oklahoma. It is my home parish. It is where my first Mass as a priest was celebrated. It is where I made my First Holy Communion. It looks nothing like a Church.

What happens at Mass? Sadly – and I truly, honestly, and wholeheartedly mean sadly – many talk about the Mass in disparaging terms. What do I mean? Well there is a tendency to speak as if anything that came before the year 1970 was wrong. That after the Second Vatican Council a new Church was literally sung into being. I hear people say things like: “The priest had his back to us.” Is that true?! We should all be shocked and scandalized by such a thing….if it were true. Did the priest have his back to the people? Or sometimes I hear: “Jesus would never turn his back on us, why would the priest turn his back on us?” It is a curious thing because until about 1967 no one ever referred to the ancient ‘ad orientem’ posture as “the priest turning his back to us.” History didn’t begin in 1970 and so we have A LOT of historical documentation written about the Mass before 1970. In none of those is it ever said: “the priest turns his back on us.”

How long has it been since your last Confession? Hopefully you remember how long it has been. I will admit confessing one’s sins to a priest isn’t always the funnest thing in the world. Sometimes there are some big sins to confess. It is easy to let the sins accumulate on our soul before we confess them. I think the even greater temptation in this age is to not confess our sins at all. Some people truly have much anxiety over this. I have never met a priest who hated hearing confessions. It is almost universally agreed by priests that it a humbling act to hear people’s confessions of sins. It is my belief that the ability to confess my sins to a priest is one of the greatest gifts in my life. I will also admit I did not always hold this belief.

I believe most of us have those moments in our lives where we see very green grass on the other side. For those of us who are in a vocation to either marriage, priesthood, or consecrated life, there are those moments when things get difficult. It seems almost preferable to think about what you could be doing instead of where you are and what you’re currently doing. I would be lying if I said I never pondered what my life would be like had I married. In these difficult times in the church of late I have spoken to many priest friends. Many of them have had these thoughts. I don’t think they are planning on leaving their vocation. I have no plans to do so either, but in difficult times – in times of trial – our vocation is really put to the test. It is easy to be married, or to be a priest, or to be a consecrated religious when all in life is sailing along smoothly. It is a whole other thing when the times are tough.

The homily I gave last weekend is one I have wanted to give for a long time. Our beautiful One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church has been under assault for the entirety of its 2,000 year existence. The assault against the church has taken different forms over the generations. The early controversies of the first millennium revolved around the nature of Christ. Some said he was only fully human, others that he was only God (divine). If he was only human he would have merely been adopted by God the Father.

In the past two weeks I have been asked by many: “Are you shocked by the allegations against Pope Francis and many other church leaders?” It is a difficult answer for me to give. I am certainly shocked these allegations seem to encompass the pope. And so I think there must be an investigation into these matters. At the time this column went to press the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has said he will not speak on the matters. On the other hand I am not shocked at all. For those of us who believe our Lord Jesus Christ founded the church, it is our belief that he also gave the church a moral foundation so that we could be led in the ways of truth and life everlasting.

Sacred Scripture and the witness of the apostles informs us that our Lord Jesus Christ founded a church. After his Resurrection and Ascension into heaven the Holy Spirit would be sent upon the apostles so that when they work in the name of the Lord the wellsprings of grace and salvation would flow forth. Our church was founded under the rockiest of conditions. All 12 apostles ran at the arrest of the Lord. One sold him out. Another other denied him three times. Yet after the Resurrection our Lord set about to reconcile with 11 of the apostles. The 12th, Judas Iscariot, lost all hope in his sin and took his own life in despair. But 11 sorrowfully, yet gladly sought to be reconciled with our Lord. Once their sin and failings were forgiven they were given the Gift of the Holy Spirit. These 11 apostles added one more to their number to once again make 12. And these once frightened, cowering men went to all the corners of the earth to proclaim the Gospel.

The summer has surely gone fast! At St. Mary and St. Margaret Mary we are gearing up to participate in the One Church, Many Disciples capital campaign as part of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Perhaps you have read about the campaign in the Sooner Catholic. The campaign has many objectives. The biggest is the construction of a shrine church for Blessed Stanley Rother. The second biggest portion of this campaign will actually be returned to our parishes. 20% of the funds raised up to our goal will be returned to St. Mary and St. Margaret Mary. Once we reach our goal we will receive 50% of additional funds raised.

I have heard a lot of good feedback on the new parish website. Go to stmaryguthrie.com to check it out! In this week’s column we are going to keep looking at some of the new features on the site. I am so happy Solutio – the web company that designed our site – came out to St. Mary from their headquarters in Wichita, KS and gave us an 8 hour workshop on how to manage and maintain the website.

Our new website – stmaryguthrie.com – is officially one week old! We are continuing to tweak things, but our goal is a website that is easy to navigate and also easily accessible to communicate information. On our home page has a rotator graphic that displays some of the upcoming and current events goings on at St. Mary. Below that are some quick links such as Mass times, online giving, the parish Google calendar, forms (this includes any kind of registration forms), and also our “Catholic Netflix”, FORMED.org. Below that is another section of current events happening at St. Mary.

The day has finally come! After all these months of waiting! What will it look like? You’re probably asking yourself: “What in the world is he talking about?!” I’m talking about the new St. Mary website. If you go to stmaryguthrie.com no longer will you see an Under Construction banner. Now you’ll see the fruit of months of work on the part of many people. About 130 people made this website possible! If you all remember it was a cold night, two days after Christmas, when I asked all the parishioners to come and take a picture of us all in the dark church holding vigil candles. About 120 of you came that cold evening, two days after Christmas. It nearly brought me to tears that so many of you would come. It made for a beautiful picture. The pictures were so well-done that Solutio, our web design company, has asked if they can use these pictures on some other websites they are designing. Who ever thought little St. Mary Church in Guthrie, America would be a trend-setting parish?! Thank you to the 120 of you who came out two days after Christmas to indulge your pastor. It was a wonderful Christmas present and it is my hope this website will serve St. Mary for years to come!

I am continuing in my column a written walk-through of a typical Catholic Church.  We have discussed the narthex, which is the church entrance.  The nave is the place where the lay faithful sit and stand.  The sanctuary, which I began discussing last week, is the special and sacred place where God comes among us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  In last week’s column I spoke about how easy it is to make the sanctuary uncommon, how in the past few generations the sanctuary has become in many churches a short-cut to somewhere else on the church property.

We are continuing with a written walk-through of a typical Catholic Church. Today we will look at the final place in a church, the sacristy. The sacristy is a place most pew-sitting parishioners will never see. It is the place where the priest, deacon, and altar servers prepare for Mass and vest. If we look at the word sacristy it is easy to see that this word derives from sacred. It is the place where the vestments the priest, deacons, and servers wear are kept. It is also the place where the sacred vessels that will contain the Body and Blood of the Lord are kept. St. Francis of Assisi always said he could tell a lot about the holiness of the priest and people by how they took care of sacred things. St. Francis could see the connection with how the church building, vestments, and sacred vessels are cared for and how we care for our souls.

Hopefully you will remember a few months ago I began in this column a written walk-through of a Catholic Church.  In these previous columns I spoke about the narthex, which is the church entrance.  I spoke of the nave, which is the area where the lay faithful sit.  Today I would like to continue and talk about the sanctuary.  In Protestant buildings the entire area where the faithful sit as well as where the sermon takes place is usually called the sanctuary.  For a Catholic Church this is not so.  The sanctuary in a Catholic Church is the area where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass takes place.  For us at St. Mary and St. Margaret Mary the sanctuary begins from the steps in the church and continue all the way to the high altar or the back wall of the church.

Several weeks ago I announced we had reached and surpassed our fundraising goal of $50,000 for the tuition assistance fund.  This assistance fund goes to help school families be able to send their children to St. Mary Catholic School.  Normally we try to raise about $25,000 each year but this year was a special year.  As you all recall budgetary pressures this year came home to roost in a big way.  The cost of health insurance continues to rise and with some unexpected additional health care expenditures there had to be some staffing changes for the coming year.