May 9, 2021 – Pastor’s Keyboard

May is here! St. Mary’s College of Maryland College, St. Mary’s Ryken high, and St. Michael’s school will soon hold graduate.  Our first summer helper has arrived, and more are on their way. We’re especially excited about the arrival of our summer seminarian, Colin, on Saturday, May 1th.  

Looking through old photos from past parish events, I was struck by how much younger I looked.  Altar boys who once couldn’t see over the altar now tower over me, and many treasured members of our community are now at home with the Lord. 

As life speeds along, I sometimes feel I can’t keep up. Our Lord provided the books of Nature and of God’s Word to help us in these times.  The book of Nature reminds us to appreciate God’s creation. We need to make time to sit outside or take a stroll. In creation, God ministers to us and enables us to thirst upon His love and goodness.

The book of God’s Word helps me slow down and center myself in God. Though the world changes and the storms of this life rage, He is “my rock and my salvation, whom shall I fear”. The more we abide in him, the more we can appreciate each day, both dark and light. With Jesus, we are never frail, as the “joy of the Lord is my strength”.  Allow Our Lord into your heart through these two books. If you give Our Lord the chance, you’ll find deep peace in every moment with Him.

God bless and keep you always!

Fr. Scott Woods

April 25, 2021 – Pastor’s Keyboard

For the first time in U.S. history, less than 50% of citizens attend church or other religious houses weekly.  In 1975 (the year I was born), 71% of Americans attended church. This trend was happening long before COVID, but certainly, COVID has made it much worse. It was understandable why people were nervous about attending Mass early on when the churches opened up again without the obligation to go to Sunday Mass. The number of people catching COVID was growing, and we had little knowledge on how the virus spread, and there was great concern about any gatherings of people outside the same household, especially since we did not have a vaccine at the time. But now, anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be, and we know that the chances of catching the virus from touching surfaces are minimal. At least in our area, there have been no major outbreaks stemming from church attendance or schools. Children are returning to school, and people are going to stores and restaurants. As people get the vaccine, many are visiting family and friends. All this is to say I strongly encourage you to return to church. Return to the supreme act we are called to do as Christians, the worship of God on Sunday at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 

At St. Peter Claver and St. Cecilia, you can still attend Mass in the parking lot and come in for communion. Both parishes are cleaned between all Masses, and hand sanitizers are available at every entrance. Social distancing is maintained, and masks are worn. There are those in the High-Risk category who have not been able to get the vaccine yet either for medical reasons, age, or other issues, which is understandable. They may need to stay home for themselves or to keep a loved one safe. For this reason, the church has not reimposed the obligation to go to Mass. It is left up to each family and individual to discern if and when they can return to church.

I am especially concerned about how many young adults and younger families are not attending in the numbers they did before.  Many have not been to Mass in over a year. I fear that they will continue to stay away even though schools are opening, people are going shopping and visiting friends and family, and playing on sports teams. The message children and teens will get is the worship of God is not essential and not worth the risk. I fear this could endanger future generations far more than the pandemic, for it will then endanger their souls. 

I am saying all of this to encourage everyone to invite those who can to return to the full practice of the faith. Whether you worship inside or outside the church. I encourage younger families to ask themselves if sending their kids to school for seven or more hours a day or those who play sports and go shopping is safer than attending Mass for one hour inside or outside of church once a week. Every Sunday is a chance to worship the Lord and receive Him who is the true protector and healer of souls. 

Please pray that more of our fellow parishioners who can safely come back to church will choose to do so. Also, pray for those who cannot attend because of pre-existing conditions or other dangers. The obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains lifted, but the desire should remain strong for us all. 

May God Bless you all and guide you in your discernment of these most important things I have touched upon in this Pastor’s Keyboard.

Your brother and father in Christ,

Fr. Scott Woods

April 11, 2021 – Pastor’s Keyboard

This past Easter Sunday, I was blessed to bring three adult men into the church. All three were heavily influenced by the example of faith they saw and experienced in the lives of members of our parish. This should be a good reminder of how much our living out of the faith can lead people away from or to the Lord. 

Shawn is a young man in his 20s who works at McKay’s Grocery store. He came to know a parishioner of ours who works there, and who has a deep love of the Lord. This parishioner often spoke to him of Jesus and the importance of the Mass and Confession. After many discussions and attending Masses on his own, he felt a great desire to enter the church. At the Easter Vigil, Shawn received Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion! His friend, Marcus, who was influential in his conversion, served as his Godfather and Sponsor.

Stephen is a young man in his 20s who just graduated from St. Mary’s College. He met Catholic students on campus who took their faith very seriously and lived it out well. Though not Catholic himself, he joined the Catholic Seahawks for Mass, retreats, social gatherings, Bible study, and many other events. This awoke in him a great desire to become Catholic and to receive the Sacraments. Our Catholic Campus Minister, William Bolin, worked with him for almost a year to prepare him to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. At the Easter Vigil, where he was received into Full Communion of the Catholic Church, he had his parents and their current spouses, his brother, and his step-uncle and aunt. They were happy for him and attended to show support with his decision to live a life as a disciple of the Lord in the Catholic church.

Finally, we welcomed Dr. Chuck Benner into full Communion with the church. Raised in another Christian tradition, he had been very active in several Christian churches over the years but has finally found a home in the Catholic Church. He was strongly influenced by his wife, Dr. Patricia Gurney’s faith. Coming often with her to Mass, he had a desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. I prepared him with one-on-one classes to enter the church. He consumed the church’s teachings with joy and faith.  I have known the good doctors for years. They have both come to my rescue many times over the years, as they have for so many of their patients. Dr. Chuck’s decision to join the church was incredibly special for me because of our friendship and the blessing of seeing their faith grow together and leading them closer to the Lord, each other, and our parish. 

Please pray for all three of these men and their families. Remember, continue to seek to lead others to the Lord by your example, words, and good deeds. Nothing attracts people to Jesus like a Christian filled with the Joy of the Lord. May the many opportunities to receive the grace and love of Jesus this Easter season in your reception of Holy Communion, Confession, daily prayer, personal scripture reading, and bible study set you on fire with the joy and peace of the Lord. From you, may others catch the flame!

Your brother and father in Christ,

Fr. Scott

March 7, 2021 – Pastors Keyboard

Recently, a teacher at St. Mary’s Ryken high school suggested that I read a book on the challenges that confront us as Christians. In these times, when society has almost completely transformed from a Christian culture, built on moral norms that descend from scripture to an increasingly atheistic secular society, where norms change frequently and further and further away from the Divine Law and Natural law. Because of this rapid change, Covid-19, the reality of continued racial injustice, riots by various groups, and political upheaval that is unprecedented in our nation’s history, not to mention world history, many have said they feel like the world has turned upside down.

This has led some to become very hopeless or at least very discouraged with the state of the world. The book I read spoke of this transition from Christendom (when the culture was a Christian culture) to Apostolic Mission (Christians are now a minority in a hostile environment to the faith, called to spread the gospel like in the time of the apostles).  Because of this reality, we can lose focus on the good that lies before us and Him who is with us as we enter a new era of evangelization. 

While this is all good, the current situation still looks bleak. Huge numbers of the faithful no longer practice the faith (and that was before Covid). Many young people are apathetic, if not hostile, to the faith, and the morals of the wider culture are not only moving away from that of the Lord but are increasingly hostile to the mere mention of them. 

Ok, Father! Ok, I get it. Times are not good! Any good news for me, Father? YES! In the second Book of Kings, the prophet Elisha was dealing with an invasion of an alliance of hostile powers that invaded Israel. Things were looking very bad. The prophet’s servant was very discouraged and felt they were done for (sound familiar)?  The prophet then said, “Don’t Be Afraid; those who are with us are more than those who are with them”. This seemed like a crazy statement to make. Then the prophet asked God to let him see the truth of the situation with spiritual eyes. He was then able to see the genuine reality. He then saw “an army of heavenly horsemen and chariots around Elisha more than equal to the task of handling the enemy forces.” This is the reality for every one of us who profess the name of the Lord and hold to His teachings! 

We are never alone in any situation or circumstance. We are loved. Even those who have turned away from the Lord, those who have turned against His teachings, are loved and sought by Him.  So, we have a reason for hope, despite the lack of numbers, money, political capital, or all the other things that are seen as essential by the world. The Lord provides all that we need.  Let us ask for that faith and spiritual sight to see it, believe it, and act on it! Let us be on our way to spread the message of the gospel to everyone! Be Not Afraid!!!

Your brother and father in Christ,

Fr. Scott

February 7, 2021 – Pastor’s Keyboard

It has been an amazing thing to see new faces appear in both parishes, even though the number of you who can attend Mass has been very small compared to normal. One of these new faces is a young man who is now discerning the priesthood. Another is a couple who just recently got married and have joined the parish. While others from parishes around the county have started to attend our parishes. This does not take into account the many people who attend online, from all over the country.

Now, this does not change the sadness of missing so many of you in the pews due to COVID-19 safety precautions. Yet, it is a reminder that the Lord is still bringing growth to our parishes, nonetheless. Despite most parish activities needing to be canceled, and without most of the community present to welcome visitors, new people are attending Mass. Not in vast numbers, but it is increasing. Why? Because their hearts were made for the Lord, and we desire to be close to him.

I believe it is the faithfulness of all of you who pray for our parish and support it in all the ways that you can. Whether it be financially, volunteering, and by your presence online and in person. I know for many of us, it can be difficult not doing what you used to do due to the dangers that exist. Your prayers are still bringing people to the doors of the church. While we do not know how much longer this will last, we do know that the Lord is calling so many more people to come and worship Him. Saint Augustine used to say that our hearts were made for the Lord and will not be satisfied until they are filled to the brim with his love. This happens in the reception of the sacraments, community life of this parish, and in our prayers. No pandemic can stop it.

Yes, parish life is quite different than before, but it has not ended. I pray for all of you every day, both those present at the church, and those remote. Please pray for me, the parish leaders, and volunteers that we may allow the Lord to use us. The way He wills despite the dangers. Please keep praying for our church families. May we continue to grow and show forth the love of the Lord to all people!  Let us be on our way!

Your Brother and Father in Christ,

Fr Scott

January 10, 2021 – Pastor’s Keyboard

Welcome to one of the best years of your life!!! This greeting might sound outrageous to some, but I genuinely believe it to be so! I believe that if we choose to center our lives and our attitudes in Jesus, this can be one if not the greatest year of our lives. This can be true even if COVID does not disappear like the Spanish Flu, even if the social upheaval does not just settle down, and even if we ourselves must deal with our own sickness or that of a loved one due to COVID or some other medical problem.

How can this be, you ask? If this life is truly about entering into a deeper encounter with the living God, and I am open to that encounter, regardless of the circumstances, God will see us through. He will help us grow in TRUST and FAITH that will help us to receive the joy and peace only He can give and sustain.

I have experienced this in my own life and witnessed it in many who struggle financially, with mental illness, with their own sickness or that of a loved one, and even from the dying. What lessons have I learned from them? Pray ceaselessly in all circumstances. Praise the Lord for all the goods of each day, make constant acts of trust (Jesus, I trust in you, help my lack of trust), read the scriptures every day, and receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as often as you can.

The more we stay centered in Christ, the more prepared we will be to face all circumstances with peace and joy.

Your brother and father in Christ,

Fr. Scott

December 27, 2020 – Pastor’s Keyboard

Christmas is Cancelled! That was the headline we woke up to a few days ago. The Prime Minister of Great Britain announced further lock downs during the Christmas and New Year’s Holidays to prevent a new COVID strain from spreading. Once again, the media got it wrong! No one has the power to cancel Christmas! Not the prime minister, not the Queen, not the President, and not even the Pope.

Christmas celebrates an event that has already happened, has permanently changed the world, and affects eternity. Its celebration will take place with or without a congregation in every church and monastery where a priest lives and is able to celebrate Mass. After all, the word “Christmas” is really made up of two words: “Christ” + “Mass.”

The words were put together over time, changing as the English language has changed over the centuries. Yet, the core of the celebration, the Holy Sacrifice of the mass, has not changed and never will. Christ comes to us, the same Christ in Sacramental form at every Mass, even when we sadly cannot be there due to the COVID pandemic, sickness, or work

Because of COVID-19, sickness, or work, we can unite our prayers to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass said at all the altars all over the world and God’s abundant grace is given to US in every home, hospital, or nursing home room. We can do this as individuals, families, and friends, and the Christ Child is indeed made present to us and we to Him. Yes, family and friends may not be able to gather as they usually do, yet now we are given an opportunity to really keep the coming of the Christ Child at the center of our Christmas and our lives as well as those of our family members.

The Greatest Gift ever given or that could be given to us by God Almighty is coming for US. Let us rejoice! Christmas has arrived and “Christ Mass” is being offered for us all on every altar in every Catholic parish and monastery in the world! Nothing and no one can cancel it, reduce it, or prevent the graces offered to us because of it. All we can do is ignore it or embrace it.

Let us rejoice in what the Lord has done, is doing, and will do this Christmas season.

Your brother and father in Christ,

Fr. Scott

December 13, 2020 – Pastor’s Keyboard

Who is one of the most powerful intercessors in all of heaven but is often overlooked when it comes to knowledge or appeals to him? St. Joseph! He is the foster father of Jesus, the husband of Mary, and a most righteous man.  Why do I bring him up? Because Pope Francis surprised the worldwide church on December 8 (the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary) by announcing that this year will be dedicated to St. Joseph.

Why is he often overlooked?  I believe it is because he is verbally silent. We only have his response to the Word of God.  He also disappeared from scripture after Jesus is found in the temple and before he started his public ministry. Yet, he has been a model for Christian manhood and fatherhood from some of the earliest centuries of the church. The Holy Father wants this to be a year in which we will grow closer to St. Joseph in prayer and meditation in his responsiveness to God’s call to Holiness.

To encourage this, the Holy Father is offering the chance to gain extraordinary graces. For more information on this, please see below. We need to especially lift up our biological fathers and all the spiritual fathers that God has placed in our lives.  It is my prayer that all of us fathers will model our lives after the example of St. Joseph’s faithfulness and obedience to God the Father.

Your father and brother in Christ,

Fr. Scott

Conditions for the plenary indulgence

The plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the Pope’s intentions) to Christians who, with a spirit detached from any sin, participate in the Year of St. Joseph on these occasions and manners indicated by the Apostolic Penitentiary:

–           The plenary indulgence is granted to those who will meditate for at least 30 minutes on the Lord’s Prayer or take part in a Spiritual Retreat of at least one day that includes a meditation on St. Joseph. “St. Joseph, an authentic man of faith, invites us”, the decree reads, “to rediscover our filial relationship with the Father, to renew fidelity to prayer, to listen and correspond with profound discernment to God’s will.”

–       The indulgence can also be obtained by those who, following St. Joseph’s example, will perform a spiritual or corporal work of mercy. St. Joseph “encourages us to rediscover the value of silence, prudence and loyalty in carrying out our duties,” the decree notes.

–       The recitation of the Holy Rosary in families and among engaged couples is another way of obtaining indulgences, in order that “all Christian families may be stimulated to recreate the same atmosphere of intimate communion, love and prayer that was in the Holy Family.”

–       Everyone who entrusts their daily activity to the protection of St. Joseph, and every faithful who invokes the intercession of St. Joseph so that those seeking work can find dignifying work can also obtain the plenary indulgence. On 1 May 1955, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of St. Joseph “with the intent that the dignity of work be recognized by all, and that it inspires social life and laws, based on the fair distribution of rights and duties.”

–       The plenary indulgence is also granted to the faithful who will recite the Litany to St. Joseph (for the Latin tradition), or the Akathistos to St. Joseph (for the Byzantine tradition), or any other prayer to St. Joseph proper to the other liturgical traditions, for the persecuted Church ad intra and ad extra, and for the relief of all Christians suffering all forms of persecution. Because, the decree notes, “the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt shows us that God is there where man is in danger, where man suffers, where he runs away, where he experiences rejection and abandonment.

December 6, 2020 – Pastor’s Keyboard

Amid the growing number of COVID cases and the political upheaval, I feel so blessed to have been able to perform two baptisms last week.  One was at St. Peter Claver for Stevie Marie and Adam Starks. The other baptism was at St. Cecilia for Jeffrey and Melanie Norris.  I have known both Stevie Marie and Jeffrey since they were both in high school.  Stevie Marie was active at St. Peter Clavers through the youth group and her involvement with many parish activities (Martin Luther King Day celebration, Labor Day festival, etc.).  Jeffrey was active in my Boy Scout retreats, helping with the youth group, and as a chaperone for many vocations’ trips.

I was blessed to prepare both of them for their marriages, and I performed their marriages here in the county. At both of these baptisms, it hit me that these are young people who have not only come back to the church to dedicate their children to the Lord,  but they have continued to practice the faith.  The baptisms were not just a checking off the box of things they do to please their devout parents or to feel good. They genuinely want their children to have Jesus in their lives, and they know this is the first of many steps they can do to help their children toward heaven. 

Though Covid prevented many family members and friends from attending who ordinarily would have been there, both had family there who largely take their faith very seriously. Before me were grandparents, parents, and children.  At one point after the baptism, I saw Stevie Marie holding her daughter, taking a picture with her mom and grandmother. Four generations of strong Catholic women.  These two baptisms were so inspiring to me, I felt I needed to write to you about it. 

Yes, Covid continues to worsen, and people are struggling with finances, mental health, and family issues.  Yet, by God’s grace, these two Christian families gathered to thank the Lord for the gift of new life and to affirm they so believe in the eternal life to come. They were not going to let Covid stop them from Baptizing their children and dedicating them to the Lord.  Yes, we all wore masks, used hand sanitizer, and kept social distancing. Pray God, when these two Christian children look at the pictures of these events some years from now, it will look strange.  They will know that their parents loved God and them so much nothing was going to stop them from giving their children Jesus in the Sacrament of Baptism.  Please pray for these two families. Pray that they may remain faithful and strong. Pray that others may follow their good example of trust, prudence, and hope. 

Your brother and father in Christ,

Fr. Scott Woods

November 15, 2020 – Pastor’s Keyboard

During this month of the dead, I especially think and pray often for the soul of my grandmother, Silvia Scott.  Her final days were extremely hard. Her kidneys were failing, she had a tracheotomy (incision in her throat to allow for breathing), and was in a hospital for weeks on a floor that was largely silent since all the patients had had the same procedure.  She could not call for assistance but had to count on a button they handed her. If it slipped out of her hand, she could not reach for it herself.  My grandmother had always been a strong and independent woman. Now she was helpless. Thanks to the visits of family, friends, and church members, she was well prepared to meet the Lord.  Near the end, I asked her if she was ready to meet the Lord, and she signaled to me that she was.

She eventually accepted the reality of her coming death, and thanks to a good friend of mine who lived nearby, she was ministered to every day.  Often, I would come to visit her, and my friend would have already been there praying with her, reading her scripture, or encouraging her to trust in the Lord. I noticed as she got closer to the end of her sojourn in this life, she watched less tv and spent more time in silence. Her faith grew stronger even as her body grew weaker. 

When I received the news from my mother that my grandmother had passed, rather than feeling the extreme sadness I had expected, I felt peace and unexpected joy. When I consulted the Lord as to why wondering if maybe I was not accepting the reality of it, I discovered that it was because I knew she was well prepared for her final judgment. She had made her peace with the Lord and trusted in His love and mercy.  During those days, she, and my mother (her daughter), who had not had an easy relationship, was able to reconcile and find peace.

Every time I think of her, I offer up prayers for the repose of her soul. So that if she is in the purgatorial state, she might receive the final graces to see her to her heavenly homeland.  I also ask her to pray for me now that she is so much closer to the good Lord.  I hope that all of us will have time to prepare to meet Him before our deaths, to trust in Him, and to prepare for our final judgment.  This is not granted to everyone but to those who it is what a blessing!  Leaving this earth may be far harder than our arrival, but if it helps us prepare better, then how worth it will it be! Ask God daily for the grace of final perseverance in Faith.  We know not the day nor the hour.

Your father and brother in Christ,

Fr. Scott Woods