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Jul 30

To Our Parish Community

Keep Calm and Love Thy Neighbor


January 8, 2021

My Dear Fellow Parishioners,

This is my first message “From the Pastor’s Desk” of the New Year. While I imagine your Christmas celebrations were a bit different this year, I hope they were all good in their own way. It was tough knowing that some people were unable to see family and friends, and others who were alone. All four Masses for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day happened amid threats of rain, as did all Sunday Masses on the feasts of the Holy Family and Epiphany. The biblical image of the Christian community as a “vineyardof the Lord” is more apt than ever. Like vineyards out in nature, our parish is for the time being dependent on the heavens for favorable weather– as vine-growers, farmers and ranchers have been for millennia.

Today I received an anonymous (but respectful) note which read: “Hi– Why aren’t you fighting or suing for our religious rights? Come on!!” Attached to the note was a news clipping of a local letter to the editor stating that churches are receiving unfair and discriminatory treatment compared to commercial establishments of all kinds which remain open to large numbers of people. I sympathize with the general point, and know that many of you do as well. Nearly all of us have been to supermarkets or big-box stores (Costco, Target, Home Depot, etc.) and seen large crowds, and thought it terribly unfair that our church must remain closed while they are operating at full swing. There are more subtle points to be made:

1) St. Vincent’s has a far greater moral duty of care for our parishioners than a corporation has for anonymous customers, much less the degree of responsibility a government entity will accept for its citizens. I take this duty of care for you personally and with utmost seriousness– apart from whatever civil authorities may think is reasonable. The current resurgence, when coupled with understandable COVID-19 fatigue, plus the conspicuous lack of seriousness on the part of those who break the rules they make for the rest of us, make it all a harder lift.

2) COVID-19 is highly unpredictable: There are 100-year-olds who have recovered from it, but apparently healthy young people who succumb. In other words, the chances of getting COVID may be small, but the consequences for the person who does get it are potentially fatal. Admittedly, it’s a very small chance when protections are in place, but not one I am willing to encourage others to take. (Fr. Andrew and I continue to take sick calls, no questions asked.) Reasonable people may differ, but for the time being I think our parish has struck a reasonable balance between safety and religious practice.

A couple of final points:

Nobody wants to return to our church (and schools) more than I do. What we need perhaps, even more, right now are safety, order and predictability– in our parish, our schools, our families and our wider society. As I mentioned before, the California Conference of Catholic Bishops (and their lawyers and policy experts) are doing all they can behind the scenes to “move the needle”. It is unlikely that a wildcat action on the part of a pastor here or there would have much lasting positive effect; we must work together. Observing laws we and distasteful or wrong-headed, while we work to change them, is the price of living in a reasonably free and ordered society.

In other matters, I want to reiterate my thanks for those who have supported our parish so generously, especially over the past two months– not to mention the personal Christmas cards and gifts I received. I am still working on my thank-you notes, not only because I am truly grateful, but also because eternity is long and my mother, whom I plan to see in the hereafter, will not give me a minute’s peace until I do.

Most of us are familiar with the British World War II slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On”. More recently, it has been retooled for countless other messages. The version I like best is, “Keep Calm and Love Your Neighbor.” We don’t need to be preached at. At most, we need gentle reminders. The New Year is ours to make better through the cheerful practice of our faith, not just in great moments, but in our daily lives.

With blessings,

Fr. Bill Donahue

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December 30, 2020

My Dear Parishioners,

On Friday, January 1st, we celebrate two notable events: The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and New Year’s Day.

It is fitting that the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God falls in the middle of the Christmas season, which celebrates Mary’s motherhood of Jesus. The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God makes a key distinction, as it celebrates Mary’s motherhood not only of Jesus, but of God. The ancient title “Theotokos”, i.e. “God-bearer” refers to this distinction.

The Gospels we hear during the Christmas season repeatedly attest to Mary’s motherhood of Jesus. Our own internal imagery of Christmas invariably includes the presence of Mary (and Joseph) at the side of Jesus in the manger.

What was not as immediately obvious was the fact that Mary was also the Mother of God. In the first centuries of the Church, this question became a matter of significant controversy. It was settled at the Third Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., with the definition of Mary as Mother of God, not merely the Mother of Jesus. This was the first specifically Marian dogma defined by the Church.

For extra credit, there are four main Marian defined dogmas: Mary as Mother of God, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, Mary’s Assumption into Heaven and Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.  

The other event we celebrate this week is New Year’s Day. Much has been made of the unprecedented difficulties of 2020, and rightly so. However, we should be careful not to let the events of this past year limit our sense of the possible for the New Year 2021. One of the features of being a priest is that we are witnesses to many happy life events. During this past year, many marriages were witnessed, many families were blessed with new children (and grandchildren), many personal successes were celebrated, and many others were givers or receivers of kindness and generosity which in more normal times might never have arisen. Just as many people have re-discovered their inner strength in tough times, the great residual strength of this parish and its families has shone bright– despite the fact that we have not been able to gather in our church for months.

We do not know when the COVID-19 pandemic will be largely behind us, or when we will be able to return to our church and receive the Eucharist on a regular basis. This has been a heavy burden for so many to bear, just as it is hard for a priest to celebrate the Eucharist in an empty church. The positive side of the coin is that many people have recovered a sense of self-reliance in their spiritual lives– through participation in video Masses, personal reading and reflection. The resources available at the entrance to the rectory have been flying off of the table– a good sign that people are adapting to changed circumstances while pressing on in their spiritual lives.

I would like to close with the following encouragement for the New Year:

“In the best of times, our days are numbered anyway. So it would be a crime against nature for any generation to take the world crisis so solemnly that it put off enjoying those things for which we were designed in the first place: the opportunity to do good work, to enjoy friends, to fall in love, to hit a ball, and to bounce a baby.”– Alistair Cooke

With blessings for a blessed and healthy 2021,

Fr. Bill Donahue

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Christmas 2020

Dear Fellow Parishioners,

The two watchwords for Advent are longing and preparation. During this pandemic, we have learned as never before how it feels to not be able to attend Mass in the church when we long to do so.

Those of you who are unable to attend Mass in person are never far from our thoughts and prayers. We miss you, as I know you miss receiving Our Lord at the Eucharist and seeing your fellow parishioners. I have also been greatly moved by the devotion of those who come to Mass outdoors on chilly Sunday mornings. Our acceptance of hardship and longing is much more akin to the true spirit of the first Advent than anything we could manufacture on our own.

As for preparation, we will continue to have Confessions available on Saturdays at 3:30, or by appointment. In the alternative, a personal examination of conscience and sincere Act of Contrition will be met by grace of God who, in His mercy, hears the prayers of our hearts.

Enclosed is an Advent and Christmas schedule of services. In addition to the Masses, we will also post a video recording of our annual Remembrance Service as well as a program of Christmas music recorded by our parish musicians in our church.

We have also included our Christmas envelope, which can be returned either at Mass, by mail, or in our locked mailbox at the entrance of the rectory. Your generous response to our parish appeal letter a month ago has been a tribute to your generous faith, and to the great residual strength of this parish. Anything you and your family can do will be met with our unreserved gratitude at this most challenging time.

On behalf of Fr. Andrew, Deacon Jim and our dedicated staff, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a blessed and healthy New Year 2021.

In Christ our Lord,

Rev. William P. Donahue, Pastor