It is hard to believe but come this July I will have been pastor of St. Mary and St. Margaret Mary for four years! These two gems in Logan county are truly unique and I have and continue to enjoy my time here!! I don’t often get to write about St. Margaret Mary, our mission parish in Crescent. I know many of you have probably never been there. It is a very small church, but it is very beautiful. Over the high altar on the east wall of the church is at least a ten to twelve foot stained glass window of the Crucifixion of our Lord. Gathered around Him are the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary Magdalene, and St. John the Apostle. When the sun rises from the east during Mass on Sunday mornings the window is at its best. I love looking up at that window!

This Sunday used to be called Quinquagesima Sunday. Quinquagesima means 50, as in there are 50 days until the completion of the Easter Octave. This Sunday as well as the past two Sundays used to be part of the season of pre-Lent. The past three weeks have been a time to ease into a penitential state of fasting and abstinence. So now that we are on the cusp of Lent here are the current penitential practices Catholics are bound to:

Last Sunday began the traditional season of pre-Lent in the Catholic Church. Last Sunday was traditionally called Septuagesima Sunday. Septuagesima means 70, as in last Sunday there were 70 days until the completion of the Easter Octave. Today is traditionally called Sexagesima Sunday. I’m sure you guessed that means 60. Then the following Sunday, a few days before Ash Wednesday, is what was once called Quinquagesima Sunday, which means 50. The Christian Orthodox in the East still hold to the season of pre-Lent even though we discarded our celebration in the Catholic Church in 1970. Today the Orthodox celebrate what they call Meat-fare Sunday. Today for the Orthodox is the last day to eat meat at all until Easter. Before refrigeration meat would spoil before too long and so Meat-fare week was the week to feast and eat all the meat in the house. Then tomorrow, Monday, begins what is called Cheese-fare week which culminates next Sunday with Cheese-fare Sunday. By next Sunday all the cheese and dairy must be eaten as it cannot be enjoyed by the Orthodox until Easter. Does that sound scary? I don’t know about you but I love meat, cheese, and dairy!

Ash Wednesday is March 6. That means Lent is fast approaching. Until 1970 the Church observed what it called pre-Lent. It is a tradition that was celebrated in both lungs of the Church east and west. In 1970 the Catholic Church suppressed it. It is a true tragedy it was suppressed. The idea behind pre-Lent is that our penances of abstinence and fasting begin slowly. We slowly ease into a penitential state rather than abruptly begin on Ash Wednesday. This Sunday (February 17) is actually the beginning of pre-Lent. Until 1970 this Sunday was called Septuagesima Sunday, which means 70. It means from today’s Mass there are 70 days until the completion of the Easter Octave. For our ancestors food was nowhere nearly as readily available and abundant as we have it today. So the idea behind pre-Lent was to eat up all the forbidden foods so they wouldn’t spoil during Lent.

It is hard to live a truly authentic Catholic life! It is hard for us to turn from sin and selfishness. Often I hear people say, “I try to be a good person.” The internet company Google’s motto is: Don’t be evil. What is good and evil? How do you know if you are doing good or doing evil? Does it just mean you try to obey the speed limit, or obey government laws, or pay your taxes without grumbling, or not make people angry? The problem boils down to what is good and what is evil? We could put 50 people in a room and each would have different ideas of what is good and what is evil. This is where our world is right now.

Today begins Catholic Schools Week. Making faith a priority is one of the great goals at St. Mary Catholic School. We are blessed to have a Catholic School, but merely having a school, putting the name ‘Catholic’ on the sign, and having religion classes is where so many schools stop. The question St. Mary Catholic School seeks to ask itself is: What does it mean to be a faithful Catholic Christian in today’s world? This year – with the blessing of Archbishop Coakley – St. Mary Catholic School began a gradual transition to a classical education.

I have received the final numbers of St. Mary and St. Margaret Mary’s pledges to the One Church, Many Disciples campaign of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. You will remember this campaign took place to raise money to build a fitting shrine for Blessed Stanley Rother and to bolster the efforts of evangelization and spiritual as well as catechetical formation of our local Church: the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Remember as Catholics our view of the Church is an ancient one, going back to our Lord Jesus Christ, His Holy Apostles, with the bishops of the Church as successors to the Apostles. That’s what we mean when we say: I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church! Our Church is one gathered around the bishops as successors to the Apostles. St. Ignatius of Antioch, born in the year 35 AD, only two years after the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Where ever the bishop is there is the Church!” This idea of bishops is not some new imposition on the Church. It goes back to the very nature of the Church as founded by the Christ as blood and water flowed from His side! Wow!!

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.