Spiritual Resources

September 27, 2020 – Pastor’s Keyboard

“Then Jesus said, “Let us go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” Mark 6:31. He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles did not even have time to eat.

The importance of Holy Friendships – As many of you know, I have finally had a chance to get away for another week of vacation with some priest friends from our Archdiocese. Fr. Drew Royals from St. Joseph’s Parish has a family lake house in North Carolina that we stayed at last year. The trip was such a blessing to us that on the last day in the parking lot, we said we return and immediately booked a week for the next year to gather again. This year there were five of us, and what a blessing it had been. 

So, you may be asking what do priests do on vacation? The most important thing we do is offer mass together, though much later in the morning than normal, thanks be to God! We pray the Liturgy of the hours, which every priest is to pray five times a day (office, morning, daytime, evening, and night). Some of them we pray together and others on our own. We visit a local parish and make an hour-long visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, where we commune with the Lord in silence, letting Him speak in the depths of our hearts. We also pray the rosary together. Never leave home without the rosary!

I know you are thinking this sounds more like a retreat then a vacation. But what would a vacation be like for any Christian, and especially a priest, if a significant part of it were not spent with the one you all love the most. With no phone calls, emails, text, and unexpected visitors to take you away from Him. But obviously, we do more than just the spiritual, though this is the heart of our lives, as should be for every Christian (though one does not need to do all we do).

We take the time to have great conversations about the other great loves of our lives …. Wait …. Wait, yes, you guys! Those we serve in ministry. Some call it a talking shop. We call it our greatest joy and greatest cross. I think every parent can say the same. We talk about what is happening, the good and the bad. We talk about our plans to try to serve God and His holy people better and how we feel we are doing and ask for advice. We talk about the church universal as well as our own archdiocese. We share deeply about our joys and our struggles, and we encourage each other in the Lord.  We also take turns cooking meals, but not me. I am not good at it. I would rather clean dishes any day. If it is warm enough, we swim in the lake, and some go fishing or ride on the boat. But at the center of it all is fellowship in the Lord.

Last year, some asked me, how was your vacation? I said, it was the best one of my whole life. I spent it with my brothers, and it centered on our Lord. I feel that I came back from it more refreshed, encouraged in the Lord, and ready to climb Mount Calvary than ever before.  

Please pray for us. This year has been more trying than any of us could have ever imagined. Yet the Lord has seen us through and now wishes us to come away to rest awhile with Him, as He did in the gospels with the apostles. May we rest and return to serve you better and more on fire then we left. All Glory be to God!

Your Father and Brother in Christ,

Fr. Scott Woods

September 20, 2020 – Pastor’s Keyboard

I have noticed that very few people at St. Peter Claver feel comfortable coming into the church for Mass due to COVID, though many have come to listen to Mass outside in their vehicles. Then they will come to the side door to receive our Lord with great love and respect. So, an idea came to me of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass outside. I knew this would take a lot of work for the ushers, musicians, and the staff, but everyone loved the idea. Labor Day weekend, we saw a good size crowd. Then came last Sunday.

It started well with great weather and no rain.  But then at the start of Mass, there was some midst, and then the rain came during my homily. The few who did not have umbrellas (as most did not) went to their cars. But the fair majority stayed and participated with great joy in the rain. There was a long, socially distanced line to Holy Communion, and they came with joy and great devotion to receive our Lord.  It was simply beautiful!  And again, a good size crowd came out for Mass. 

I have been concerned about what is going to happen if we end up with early and colder Fall weather than usual.  Yet, I know Our Lord does not want us to worry.  He wants us to trust, pray, and prepare. Pray that the Lord bless our doctors and scientist with wisdom and knowledge to come up with good, moral, and affordable cure that can be given to everyone soon.  Pray that the inordinate fear we are all tempted toward during COVID is overcome with trust in the providence of the Lord and prudence in our decisions. Pray that everyone returns to the practice of the faith when the dispensation from Mass is lifted by the bishops.

Until then, let us continue to do all we can to increase our prayer, penances, sacrifices, and worship of the Lord. Remember that the convent chapel with the Blessed Sacrament at St. Peter Claver and the St. Cecilia church are both open 24/7 for private prayer. They are safe, clean, and filled with the Presence of the Lord.  Be Not Afraid!

Your Brother and Father in Christ,

Fr. Scott Woods

September 6, 2020 – Pastor’s Keyboard

I bring to you news of great joy! September 9th is the feast of St. Peter Claver. We are going to have two Masses to celebrate his feast day!  You might ask the questions, why do we name churches after Saints?  What is a feast day?  Why and how should we celebrate it? Here is your answer to these important questions.

 Long ago, in the ancient days, the church in Rome had to offer secret Masses in homes.  The safest place for Christians to offer the Mass was in the Roman Catacombs.  These were the subterranean cemeteries that were outside of the city of Rome. They go for many miles, and some are five, or more, floors of tombs.  At times of great persecution, Christians would go there under cover of night and offer Masses over the tomb of the martyrs (those who died rather than renounce their Christian faith).  In this way, they honored these Christian hero’s and asked for their intercession for themselves and non-believers.

Eventually, after Christianity became legalized, they began to build churches to hold the beautiful tradition of connecting churches with those Christians who either paid the ultimate price to stay loyal to Jesus or to honor Christians who lived lives of exemplary holiness.  They knew that since these saints were now in heaven, they could intercede with the Lord for the Church Militant (the church on earth). Whole areas, and sometimes cities, were named after the saints of a given parish church.  Often the life of the saint would be taught to the people and held up as a model of faithfulness and love.  Some churches even have the entire body of the saint, while most have an Altar Stone, which contains a fragment of the saint’s body in a marble slab that is placed in the altar.  The priest kisses the altar cloth over the spot of the relic at each Mass. Paying homage to Jesus and asking the saints prayers for the church. 

Every saint has two birthdays. The day of their birth into the world and the day of their birth into heaven.

The church, since time immemorial, has celebrated the lives of the saints on the day of their birth into Eternal Life.  This day is called their Feast Day. Traditionally in many catholic countries, this would be a day when the entire town or parish would attend a solemn Mass at the parish church and then have a huge party with food and fireworks and games and maybe even a procession of the saint’s relics and/or statue. 

The church offers a special blessing to those who attend Mass or pray in a parish church on its patron Saints feast day.  This blessing is called a Plenary Indulgence.  It reduces time in purgatory and comes with much grace. To receive this blessing, you must visit the church on the feast day, and you have to be:

1) free of mortal sin and attachment to sin

2) receive holy communion (within two weeks before or after)

3) go to confession (within two weeks before or after)

4) pray for the Popes intentions

5) and then you can apply the graces to yourself or a deceased person who may be in purgatory

Sadly, many of these traditions have not been kept up as they once were, yet we can revive some of them.  This year will be the greatest one St Peter Claver’s Parish has ever had.  I was informed that Archbishop Gregory asked if he could personally offer Mass at St. Peter Claver’s this Wednesday!  Sadly, because of COVID, the numbers will be limited, but we will offer the Mass live starting at noon.  There will also be a High Latin Mass at 6:00 PM for those who would like to attend. This is going to be a truly blessed day for us all. St. Peter Claver, pray for us!!!

Your Brother and Father in Christ,

Fr. Scott

August 30, 2020 – Pastor’s Keyboard

This past week, I was asked to give a talk for the Diocese of Arlington on racism. It was titled Responding to Racism: Understanding, Conversion, Action. The Bishop of Arlington has done a lot of work to try to create greater dialogue within his diocese about the issue of racism. How to understand it and how to fight it.  If I have not told you this before, you should know that I hate giving talks. This stems from my childhood insecurities.  Even homilies cause me a lot of anxiety.  While it is not as bad as it once was, it still strikes at times and leads me to avoid giving talks outside of Mass, unless absolutely necessary.  I share this with you so you can pray for me. And to reassure others who, like me, suffer from the same weakness. Yes, I am glad for this, for in 2 Corinthians 12:9 it says, “But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. “

When the head of the Diocese of Arlington Catholic Charities called and asked if I would be willing to give this talk, I felt fear and trepidation well up from within me. Then I heard the Lord encourage me saying that I should give this talk.  Just before he called, I had been explaining to some of the summer helpers why so many people were marching, why they were angry, and what we were called to do to fight the evil of racism in all its forms internal and external.  So it seemed to me to be Divine Providence that I would then receive a call right after this from a man I did not know, to give a talk in a diocese not my own, on a topic that I have only touched upon in homilies and conversations.

I knew that many who would be watching would personally not be from a minority community. Some were going to attend or watch online so that they might understand better the problems that were causing racism, injustice, and oppression in our society.  Others already had their minds made up. They were either very supportive or very angry at what they thought was a non-issue causing unrest.  I knew I needed to find a way to address them all and to try to crack open hearts and minds so that the Lord might use me to help them to understand the evil that confronts us as a church and as a society, and how we are all called as brothers and sisters in Christ to shine forth the light to fight it.

I spent time in prayer and study and even got significant aid from a very informed friend. I am not sure how it turned out in the end. I know all 100 seats in the gym were reserved in a short amount of time.  And that over 1,100 people watched online. There were so many questions coming in I was told they would have to email me the rest due to the short time allowed for questions. Many came up to me afterwards to comment or to tell me their stories with racism.  Some said they understood better. Others said they were challenged to do more, and still, others were happy to hear their own experiences (even in the church) affirmed.

In the end, only the Lord knows how well these seeds will flourish in each of their hearts.  All I can do now is pray that I spread them far and wide and that they will find good soil in which to grow and bear fruit.  Please pray for this weak vessel of the Lord, that my fears do not keep me back from preaching the gospel in season and out when it is easy and when it is hard.  Pray that as we approach what feels like the most contentious election of my lifetime, I will be able to boldly preach the fullness of the gospel and that we all have ears and hearts open to receive it and let it grow within us and bear fruit that will last.

 

Your Brother and Father in Christ,

Fr Scott

Responding to Racism: Understanding, Conversion, Action Recording.

August 23, 2020 – Pastor’s Keyboard

Hello everyone! This is Dcn. Nicholas here!  I have the pleasure of writing this Pastor’s Column, as it will be my last weekend with you all before heading back to school in Rome.  But before heading back, I am not ashamed to beg you all for your prayers!  Please pray for me during this next year, especially as it is my last year to prepare before priestly ordination.  Please pray that I have the strength to give everything away!  To give it all!  To shed the old man, so as to be fully invested and transformed into Christ!  Please pray that I might burn away completely so that only Christ will shine in me.

“I am the light of the world,” says the Lord. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Something interesting about flames is that wherever they are, they always seem to be the center of focus!  Have you ever noticed that when sitting around a bonfire or sitting around a candle in a dark room?  We always quickly find ourselves gathering around light as the center of attention!

We don’t naturally gather around darkness.  However, it seems to me that something has us all shaken up such that we have become consumed by the darkness of the world.  This exterior darkness has even begun to seep inside of us, leaving us with feelings of confusion, disorientation, anxiety, fear, despair.  Who knows when all this darkness will go away.  But, if this is the question that you are asking yourself, you are still focused on the wrong things!  We need to get our attention back on the Light!

The Gospel of John says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).  —The darkness has not overcome the light!  There is only one way this is possible.  In a world which seems to be getting darker, the only way that the light will not be overcome is if the light becomes brighter too!  As the darkness grows, so must the light!

Christ is shining away, like a light set on a lamp-stand, giving light to the whole house (Matt. 5:14).  But the powers of darkness are distracting and trying their hardest to take away the glory of this light.  We can join in this effort by lending our own lamps.  We are called by Jesus to be disciples with lamps burning (Luke 12:35)!  We must boldly make that stand and hold out our lights despite the darkness, even amidst the darkness.

We need to become enkindled!  We need to be ignited!  We need the flame of the Holy Spirit to rush upon us and consume us completely.  We need to gather so close to the fire of the Most High God that, like tinder held closely to a bonfire, we too burst into flames.  We need to become like Moses on Mt. Sinai, whose face was ignited and illumined with the glory of God.  “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he has been talking with God” (Ex. 34:29).  His face shone so brightly, they had to cover his face!

May our faces be so too!  May our lives be so too!  May our lamps be so too!

There is only one way to overcome the darkness, and that is to overcome it with light! We don’t fight darkness head-on, but we overcome by out-shining it with light.  We must become alight ourselves, and the brighter we burn, the more boldly we burn, we begin to outshine the darkness, the confusion, and the despair.  This comes by making a resolute stand to be more prayerful, more devoted to the sacraments, more pious.  We need to become more gracious, more grateful, more hospitable.  We need to become more outgoing, more friendly, more charitable.

As the darkness increases, so must the light!  The only way to respond is by shifting our attention back to the Light of the World.  Let this light fill your eyes and brighten your countenance so that we can spread the joy of the Light and scatter the darkness.

July 26, 2020 – Summer Helper Column

Good Afternoon, St. Cecilia! My name is Jacob Redmond, and I am the most recent addition to the summer helper program.

Growing up, I was Catholic and went to Archbishop Neale School in Laplata, Maryland. During my time there, I learned a lot about the Lord.  They taught me things like the ten commandments, the bible, and the rosary, but never told me that I could be in a relationship with Our Lord. No one told me that I could know Our Lord in the same way I know my closest friend. I did not know that the Lord and I could have conversations in which I would talk, and he would reply, and, most importantly, I did not know how to listen to his reply. I did not know how to enter a personal relationship with Him.

Lacking a relationship with Our Lord, I thought that being Catholic was pointless. I saw Catholicism as a whole bunch on standing and sitting on Sunday. I did not understand why I was Catholic, so in high school, I turned to the world for happiness.

I partied a lot starting in my freshman year through the first half of my senior year, but I was always interested in my theology classes. Particularly in my junior and senior year, I had a theology teacher named John Olon, who challenged my class to have a relationship with Our Lord. Bear in mind, this whole time, I was still living a very worldly life. In my mind, God was this big idea in the sky that was distant from us, so I ignored Mr. Olon and kept living a life trying to make myself happy.

Senior year of high school came around, and I was at rock bottom. By Christmas time that year, I was going to leave home and move in with a friend that was trouble. With my plans pretty much set, I went to a movie night hosted by Mr. Olon for his students. I liked his class and figured why not.

The movie was “Life is Beautiful” which is about a Jewish husband, wife, and son during the holocaust. The movie shows how, during the holocaust, the husband, Guido, sacrifice for the good of his family. For example, at one point, the family is brought to a concentration camp. His child starts asking questions about why they were there. So, the father comes up with the story that everyone in the camp is playing a game. He tells his son that in the game, the winner gets a tank, and the guys with guns are trying to get them out. All the son has to do in order to win a tank is to avoid the people. For the rest of the movie, Guido makes sure that the child is having fun playing the game. The father, in the face of the greatest tragedy in all of history, makes sure his son is having fun. Let the selflessness of Guido sink in for a moment. He wills the good of another through sacrifice. He loves his family.

I went away from that movie with a tear in my eyes. In my 18 years, I had done pretty much everything the world had to offer. I had drunk, smoked, fornicated, cheated, lied, and stolen. I had received all kinds of pleasures from these activities. But in all my life, I had never once encountered a person who loves so completely, like Guido in the movie. A love that selflessly lays its life down for the other.

I went home that night unsure about the whole Catholic thing, but I knew that I wanted to be in a relationship with the One who loves like that. Seeking that Person, but not knowing where to find Him, I got on my knees. I made the sign of the cross and said to the Lord, “Lord, if you want me to be Catholic, give me a sign in the next 24 hours.”

It is important to know that I was born on January 12th, 1999. My mom went into labor with me at 3:00 am. It is the night of January 11th, 2017, and Mr. Olon’s wife, Nahn, was due with her child on January 15th. That night after the movie, I was up late doing homework for the end of the quarter. Eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock, one o’clock, two o’clock, and nothing had happened. Then out of nowhere at 2:57 am, there was a text on my phone. It was from Mr. Olon which read, “Happy Birthday, looks like you are going to share a Birthday. Nahn just went into labor with our son.”

I started to cry then and there. Not because a man, whose wife was in labor with her son, took the time to text me, but because Jesus used this experience to reveal himself to me. John and Nahn had sacrificed a bit of their time, when Nahn was in labor, to will my good of companionship. Jesus showed me that how John loved me and how Guido loved his son, was a glimpse of how He loved me. Jesus used two men, who loved, to reveal Himself to me. That night, for the first time, I could say I knew our Lord and how He loved in a personal way. I got down on my knee, made the sign of the cross, and said, “Lord, you got me, I am yours. I will be Catholic. You win.”

From then on, I have continued to enter a deeper and deeper relationship with Our Lord. Things were still hard. I had vices, and still do, but that night a massive change occurred within my life. I choose to respond to Jesus’ call to enter into Him, with Him, and it is from that relationship that my life has been changed. It was not an idea, a philosophy, or a movement that changed me, but rather a relationship with a person.

It will be good to get to know you all during these strange times, and I ask that you please pray for me.

In Christ,

Jacob

 

July 26, 2020 – Pastor’s Keyboard

If you ask most pastors who are usually the most difficult people to work within a parish, and if they are honest, they will tell you it is the church musician! I am very blessed at both my parishes to have excellent, talented, humble, Christ-loving musicians who have been a joy to work with these 12 years.  Sadly, the time of service for us all is limited, but for most church Musicians, since they see it as a vocation (a call from God), they stay years, decades, and sometimes a lifetime. Down here, in St. Mary’s County, far from the colleges that turn out Musicians every year, it is often hard to find a talented church organist, piano player, and choir director. Yet, at both parishes, we have had them, and they have been with us for many years.

Today, I want to highlight Betty Wearing, our church Musician at St. Cecilia Church, who is now ending her tenure with us after 18 years of service.  At the beginning of COVID, Betty called to tell me she could not come in as long as pandemic was happening because of her need to protect her dad, who is in his 90’s.  We both thought this would last only a few weeks and then maybe a few months. Now that the experts are saying it will most likely last until next year, or longer, Betty recognized as much as she has loved working here, she was going to have to retire as our church musician at St. Cecilia.

Betty, like Roy at St Peter Claver’s, is extremely hardworking, kind, easy to work with, open to suggestions, and in love with God and His people. Many may not know this, but Betty has also acted beyond the job. She is the Sunday morning sacristan (one who set up for Mass), she used to shop for the food pantry, unlock the confessional, and assist visiting priest with the ins and outs of Mass at St Cecilia. Betty became a friend to several Parishioners, and has always watched out for me.  She has been a blessing to me personally and to the whole parish. Please pray for Betty and her family.

Your Brother and Father in Christ,

Fr. Scott

Side note:  William Bolin, our St. Mary’s College Campus Minister, has consented to take over the job leading music at St Cecilia’s. He plays organ, piano, and guitar.  He has lead music on many retreats and conferences all over the archdiocese and beyond.

July 5, 2020 – Summer Helper Column

In the gospel for this week, our Lord cries out to us with His most intimate invitation. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” It is in this invitation that we might come face to face with the fear that following our Lord can be overwhelming, especially during these times. This temptation can draw us away from our Lord’s message. Our Lord says definitively, “Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.” However, we must always remember that for anyone, at any time, challenge is a promise. But what we do when faced with these challenges, our crosses, that separates the Christian from all else.

While many of us are called to act or be inactive in different ways, one universal choice must be made: We must turn to our Lord and find rest in Him. It is through doing this that we will find true peace. While we are often told that hiding from conflict is the way to this rest, our Lord shows us the opposite. By being fearless and walking confidently into Our Lord’s rest, we find true peace.

I hope and pray that this week and onward, we will all turn to our Lord and trust that through bearing our crosses, we will find true rest in the loving guidance and embrace of our Lord.

God Bless,

Carson Phillips

July 5, 2020 – Pastor’s Keyboard

“You will be ever young” at the start of COVID, I visited Helen, a woman who had been a daily communicant, daily Mass sacristan, twice a week food pantry volunteer, and an active parish council attendee at St Cecilia’s. She was not very sick, and she had just gotten out of another extended stay in the hospital and rehabilitation center. She was physically weak, tired, hard of hearing, and her health was in decline. I came by expecting that with her condition, she would not be in the best of moods and would most likely would not want to speak long. To my surprise, once her home aid woke her up, she came alive. She was the same joyful, talkative, and, most of all, funny conversationalist she had always been. Normally on sick calls, I have to lead the conversation and find topics to discuss (which can be very draining). She not only led the conversations but swept me off of my feet with her humor, joy, faith, and trust in the Lord. She did not complain much and only had words of gratefulness about her home aid and her son Ed who took care of her. It was beautiful to behold.

I did not know this would be my last visit with Helen. She had health problems most of the time I knew her, but she always overcame them, and as soon as she could, she returned to Mass and to serve in the food pantry. Our Lord had other plans for her this time. It was so unexpected, even for a woman in her 90s, she was so young, so funny, and so full of life. I could barely believe it when I received the news of her passing. Yet she was always prepared to meet the Lord. Her life was a constant song of praise, a hymn of love to God, family, friends, and the poor. I only pray that others will now step into her shoes and continue to do the work of the Lord in this small part of God’s garden.

Your Brother and Father in Christ,
Fr. Scott Woods

June 28, 2020 – Summer Helper Column

What a peculiar time to be alive, yet, what a perfect time to be a saint. I pray all of us within this community are holding fast to our Lord. As the times grow more confusing, our Lord beckons us to grip him.

In this Sunday’s gospel, our Lord states we must have a deep love for Him, deeper than that which we hold for anything else of this world. Along with this, we all must have a deep ordering to follow our Lord by carrying our crosses, while many times, we can all be found guilty of desiring to avoid these crosses. Of placing our Lord anywhere else besides the center of our lives. Especially now, we must push ourselves to pray and fast, to bear these crosses with piety for the sake of our souls. It may sound like a punishment, but know that our Lord’s love for us does not cease when challenges are plenty. Our Lord shows His love to us the most when He calls us to suffer.

During this summer with Father Scott and the other men joining us, I have been experiencing a deep fraternity and joy, even in these complicated circumstances. Our Lord desires us to pray and fast fervently, for our Church, for our country and families. It is through these willful acts of penance that our suffering becomes like kindling for an intense fire of joy; a fire that spreads to others as a beautiful witness to our faith. While the words of this gospel are intimidating, our Lord does not send a challenge without a way to be joyful, appreciative of His love, and the beauty of his creation.

This community is incredibly powerful! I hope you all fervently take upon your crosses and pray for me as I do the same.

In Christ,

Carson Phillips