May 29, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I was ordained to the Holy Priesthood of Jesus Christ at St. James Cathedral Basilica in Brooklyn on June 2nd of 2001. As I celebrate my twenty-first Anniversary this year, I give thanks to God for the gift of my calling, which enables me to participate in the mission of Christ in a special way. I invite you to join me in giving thanks for the gift of the priesthood in the Church.

As our parish prepares to host a newly ordained priest’s First Mass of Thanksgiving next Sunday, June 5th (see my announcement in this bulletin), I thought it appropriate to encourage more prayers and support for priestly vocations, especially in our parish and diocese. More than ever, we need to have more priests. Without them, the mission of Christ cannot continue. Without them, your spiritual and pastoral needs cannot be met. Simply put, without priests, there would be no Church. I invite you to pray each day that the Lord may call someone from your family to be a priest or religious. The answer to tomorrow’s needs is found today, perhaps in you and through you.

Saint John Paul II, who played an important role in my Christian formation which led me to my vocation, said that “Everybody has a vocation to holiness. Vocation is at the service of holiness. Some, however, such as the vocations to ordained ministry and consecrated life, are at the service of holiness in a thoroughly unique manner. It is to these vocations that I invite everyone to pay particular attention today, by intensifying their prayers for them.” (Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, April 21, 2002). It has always been my passion to pray for and actively promote vocations. I do that by my daily prayers for the seminarians and novices in discernment, by my friendship and support to young people, by my own example of joyful service, and certainly
by my personal invitation and encouragement to the potential candidates that I know. I hope you can do the same and make someone aware of this sublime calling and the rewards that come with it. I have never regretted my choice, and the goodness of God’s people to me has never been outdone in my priestly life and ministry. The Holy Priesthood is a special gift not only to me and a chosen few but to the whole Church. We all know how vital the ministerial priesthood is for the life of the Church: Priests celebrate the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, preach the Gospel, and lead our parish communities. Catholic theology considers a priest as an “Alter Christus,” that is, “Another Christ.” A priest is called and set apart to speak and act in the name of the
Lord Jesus, announcing to everyone the Good News that God loves them, and bringing them healing and hope in a personal way.

In the twenty-one years, I have been privileged to serve as a priest, many things have changed in the Church and in the world, but the priesthood remains the same: being Christ’s representative in Word and Sacrament, calling people to spiritual growth and unity through the sharing of gifts, motivating others to come to know and love Jesus. This priestly journey has been quite an adventure for me. I never would have guessed, as a child growing up in Saigon, Vietnam, that God would one day use me as a shepherd to his flock in, of all places, the Diocese of Brooklyn, and in Astoria specifically, among the people of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish.

After Twenty-one years of service and I realize that I am just warming up. Even after all this time, I am still humbled when I approach the Altar to break the bread and be privileged to share the Living Presence of Christ with all of you. To me, the priesthood is an ongoing adventure. To me, there is no greater life. On my Anniversary, I thank you for allowing me to serve you, absolve you, feed you, preach to you, anoint you, love you… and allow me to be a spiritual member of your family! Commending you to the loving protection of Mary, the Mother of Priests, I remain
Faithfully yours,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

May 22, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I am sure you have seen more and more people spending time outdoors these days. Our streets are full of cars; restaurants and stores are packed with customers; school playgrounds and parks are bustling with activities; big box stores like Home Depot and Costco are increasingly overcrowded. Everywhere we look, activity seems to have returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Unfortunately, our church is still not as full as it used to be before COVID-19. The long pandemic has resulted in many faithful not attending Mass or choosing to attend it virtually due to health concerns. At the height of the pandemic, the bishops of the United States had granted the faithful a general dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, which was withdrawn at the end of June, 2021. Now that more people are vaccinated and going back to their favorite pre-pandemic routines, an important question should be on all our minds, “What about going back to church?”

“We welcome and encourage the faithful to return to full in-person participation of the Sunday Eucharist, the source and summit of our Catholic faith,” (Bishops’ Statement on Lifting the General Dispensation from the Obligation to Attend Mass, June 2021).  The reality is that many faithful have become accustomed to watching the Mass online and no longer see a real need to come to church physically. “It’s a lot easier to watch the Mass from home without the hassle of getting all the kids ready and in the car on time” someone recently said. Another person agreed, “I’ve really enjoyed the live streaming. Nobody bothers me and I can pray alone by myself.”

As a pastor, I have been anxious about this situation since the pandemic. I worry about the possibility that many of our faithful would decide that a virtual participation suites them just fine. Like some in the congregation who are concerned about the empty pews, I ask these questions: Will people not realize that receiving the Body and Blood of Christ sacramentally is never on par with receiving Him spiritually? Will the decline in Mass attendance, which began as a health concern, become a permanent habit? Will healthy and able-bodied people continue attending virtually, or not at all, even after the pandemic is over? Since the state of the pandemic is still unclear, and Mass attendance here continues to ebb and flow, especially with respect to the Bilingual and English Masses, answering these questions remains difficult.

Certainly, it would be a shame if the decline of in-person Mass attendance was an outcome of the pandemic. While virtual Masses and spiritual communions were a wonderful way to bridge the gap, they do not represent the fullness of the Sacrament, which is essentially an encounter with the Lord in His family, the Church.  As Catholics, we need to be together. The one thing about our Catholic faith is that it is deeply physical. It’s not some cloud or virtual religion. We literally receive our Lord and God in the proclamation of His Word and in Holy Communion. Therefore, coming in person is an essential part of our spiritual life. That is why the Church teaches that “Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation” (Can. 1246 §1, Code of Canon Law).

As a priest, I worry about those who are genuinely afraid, but I also strongly believe that it is now safe to attend in person and any health concern should no longer be an excuse. My mother, a Covid survivor, says, “we have to obey God’s commandment for our own good.” She also believes that “there is a palpable difference between watching the Mass on TV and being there in person, because part of being the body of Christ is being together.” Thus, the Church’s physical gathering is a visible expression of its spiritual nature; we believers are united by our faith in Christ Jesus, our Savior. To neglect, or forsake, assembling with other believers is to turn from the true nature of the Church and embrace a false substitute: the notion that Christianity is individualistic, rather than familial or communal.

In short, attending Mass is not only a safe but a healthy activity. If we are to grow spiritually, we need to be relationally present and engaged in one another’s lives. To anyone who wonders whether the “virtual Church” has now proven itself to be a preferred new normal, I believe the answer is pretty clear… it’s virtually impossible!

God’s blessings and see you in church!

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

May 15, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters,

The unprecedented leak of a draft of the U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding abortion policy in the United States last week has unleashed ferocious, and at times violent, reactions of people who support legalized abortion across the nation. As the current hysteria is largely driven by political ideologies and fueled by anger and rage, it seems that there is not enough willingness to address this important issue rationally. It is disheartening that people who are vocal on either side of the debate, including the most rational, often miss the point that abortion hurts both the mother and the child.

No matter what views you hold, the glaring fact remains that, in the nearly half-century since abortion was legalized throughout the United States, some 65 million preborn children have been killed by legal abortion. Beyond a doubt, there are millions of women who have regretted making that choice, women whose mental and physical health, jobs and careers, education and relationships – even with future children – were harmed by that decision. The fact that several generations have grown up with legal abortion, and the majority of our people may think of it as a non-issue, does not change the reality that it remains a tragedy and a violence against life.

We have seen and heard many slogans that belie the truth about abortion these days. The term “pro-choice,” for example, fails to point to what is really chosen, and would never be applied to child abuse or violent crime. Some choices have victims, including the choice of abortion. “Keeping abortion safe and legal” is another slogan which misleads people into thinking that if it is legal, it must be safe, and to keep it safe, we need to keep it legal. Yet the abortion industry is the most unregulated surgical industry in the nation, and regularly destroys the health and lives of the women who procure it in legal facilities. Most people do not know that there is an abortion every 20 seconds in America; it is legal and happens throughout all nine months of pregnancy; and less than 1% occur because of rape or incest. In 2019 alone, the ratio was 195 abortions per 1,000 live births (CDC Abortion Surveillance, Center for Disease Control and Prevention).

For many women, it’s not a choice at all. Many women are coerced by parents, boyfriends or even employers to “terminate their pregnancies.” But these women are the ones alone on the table, watching their own flesh and blood being destroyed. Contrary to the celebratory tone of some current protesters who tout abortion as something all women should be proud of, it is an ugly, brutal procedure that hurts a person, not just physically. As a priest, I can attest to the pain and devastation it brings to the women who experienced it. I have met countless women who came to talk to me about their pain and regrets. Many have developed mental, emotional, psychological and physical scars that torment them for the rest of their lives. For many of them, it seems that even the forgiveness of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation cannot remove the hurt and heal the wound from this tragedy.

Many protesters these days accuse religious, pro-life people of focusing exclusively on the rights of the unborn, while failing to pay due attention to the needs of the mother. While that may be true among some quarters, an authentically Catholic and pro-life position, however, takes both mother and child into consideration. Indeed, for Catholics, to be pro-life is to be pro-woman. One cannot love the child without loving the mother. The opposite is also true, namely, one cannot love the woman without loving the child, nor can one harm the child without harming the mother. The challenge the Church must pose to society is, “Why can’t we love them both?” One reason why many of us are reluctant to talk about abortion is because we do not want to make a choice between defending the rights of the baby or those of the mother, or that we have to consider the baby as more important than the mother. But the authentic pro-life message is a message of equality. It is an invitation to expand the circle of our love, welcome, and protection to include both mother and child. All who work to defend and protect life in the womb must work as diligently to defend and protect all life outside the womb, especially the vulnerable life of women in crisis pregnancies.

I must admit that it was not easy to write this letter. People may have strong feelings about abortion. A few will react angrily no matter how the subject is spoken about. Nevertheless, I want to address it upfront and personal as a pastor, given what is going on in our country and city. I don’t want to bury this important issue in the sand. The lives of so many people are at stake, and the tragedy of abortion is not helped by silence. A woman grieving over abortion might infer from their priests’ silence that they do not know her pain, or that they don’t care, or that there is no hope for her in the Church. I want to say to all such women that none of this is true.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you!” Let us show our love for both mother and child. There are many choices for women that are better than abortion. I think of the thousands of helping centers that provide women with financial assistance, medical services, legal advice, counseling, a place to live, jobs, education, and help to keep their child or to place their child for adoption. While it is important to communicate the Church’s position on abortion, it is no less important to communicate our willingness to provide alternatives. In this month of motherhood, let us pray that no mother in crisis would ever have to resort to such a tragedy.

With prayers and love,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

May 8, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This weekend we honor all Mothers for who they are and all they have done to impact our lives. We express our thanks to all these special women including the adoptive moms, the foster moms, the grandmothers, and all those women who, by their care for others, live out their motherhood. We celebrate mothering for the ways that it reflects the image of God by bringing forth new life and nurturing life.

I find it fitting that Mother’s Day falls on the second Sunday of May, the month of Mary, Mother of God, whose divine motherhood begins in her consent to God’s invitation to become the mother of Jesus Christ, and so to all of his brothers and sisters in faith. Mary knew in her heart that only in prayer would she be able to carry on the enormous mission to which she had been called. We give thanks for the blessing of our Mothers who, like Mary, have been faithful to their own calling of love. A mother’s love, like all love, is of God. It models unselfish love and is grounded in mercy and forgiveness. In their way of loving, Mothers show their children what God’s love is like. Thus, each mother is a very special person. God chose her to bring life into the world; a strength only a woman could handle. She carried us in her womb for nine months and introduced us to the greatest gift of God on earth—life. She made us realize the real value of that gift by acting as a guide, a best friend, and a guardian angel whenever we were left helpless on the thorny path of life. She was always there with a smile whenever we needed moral support and a shoulder to cry on. She watched our growth, success, and failures with so much love and compassion. No matter how old we may be, our mother always remains a mother to us. It would not be an exaggeration to say that a mother is the one that makes a household a home and a domestic church.

To all Mothers in our parish, I’d like to let you know how much I appreciate you today. Like my own mother who courageously bore and raised seven children and many grandchildren, some days you probably wonder if what you are doing even matters. Perhaps you may feel that your work is never done; that you are always exhausted. There is certainly no big financial reward since your role is neither defined by a paycheck nor by a promotion. In an age that seems to diminish service and exalt glitz, sometimes it is simply hard to value your investment. Yet, the truth is that you are highly esteemed by God and that your children are some of His most precious gifts (Psalms 127:3). In the words of the Scriptures, a mother is described as someone who “senses the worth of her work, diligent in homemaking, faces tomorrow with a smile, has something worthwhile to say, and always says it kindly. Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise” (Proverbs 31:18-19). As a son blessed with an extraordinary mother, I’d like to say to my mom today, and to each of you, with all my heart: “Many women have done these wonderful things, but you’ve outshined them all!

I remember the story about a little boy who forgot his lines in the parish school play, so his mother leaned over and whispered, “I am the light of the world.” The child beamed, then with great pride announced: “My mother is the light of the world!” Everyone smiled. Yes, that child got it right. Mothers indeed write on the hearts of their children what the hand of time cannot erase. Often it is only in hindsight that we behold and discover how a mother’s hand and heart have shaped our destiny. A mother’s mark, for good or for ill, is permanent in people’s lives. May all the Mothers of our parish continue to leave a good mark on the lives of your children, and may they remain thankful to the One who gave children to them as a reward.

To anyone who might not feel a good reason to celebrate today, including those who did not have the blessing of a mother’s loving presence in life; anyone who has walked the hard path of infertility, fraught with tears and disappointment; any woman who mourns the loss of her child through abortion, I’d like to express our Church’s spiritual closeness and understanding. Be assured that there are always maternal gifts that you can share in our faith community. I encourage you to seek the healing that God desires for you, then seek ways to be a mother that loves and encourages others.

Finally, to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising, I wish to assure you that the Church joyfully anticipates with you and accompanies you with prayers. Mothering is not for the faint of heart, and we salute all Mothers as the real heroes in our midst.

Happy Mother’s Day!
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

May 1, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May is the month dedicated to Our Lady. It is a time when the People of God express with particular intensity their love and devotion for the Mother of God. We honor her not only as the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, but also as our spiritual mother, who constantly watches over us from her place as Queen of Heaven and wraps her mantle of protection around us as a mother embraces her children.

The Church regards Mary as the perfect disciple, the model for all men and women who wish to follow her Son. Mary imitates Christ perfectly because of her humility. She completely forgot about herself in the face of the Divine Will. Her “Fiat”“Let it be done to me according to Your Will” sums up her whole life. Whatever God wanted, she wanted too. She always desired to fulfill whatever God would require of her. We do not see much of her in the Scripture because the focus was on Jesus. She was happy to fade into the background; she did not distract us from her Son, who alone should be the center of each of our lives. This is why Mary is the model for every person. She shows us that no one of us is more important than Christ is. She helps us to have that humility which keeps God first and foremost in our lives.

Contemplating the beautiful face of Mary during this month of May means dedicating ourselves to her and imitating her example. As Mary made room for Jesus, both in her womb and in her life, we too can open our lives to welcome the Lord in and make room for him to dwell within us. When recalling her generous Yes to God’s plan, we must allow ourselves to say Yes to whatever God’s plan is for us, no matter how difficult or incomprehensible it might be at times. Pope Pius XII, in his 1947 Encyclical “Mediator Dei,” encouraged special prayers to the Blessed Mother during the month of May. Popes down the centuries have consistently taught and promoted Marian devotions throughout the Church. Most recently, Pope Francis himself has expressed this desire for the faithful: “I want to encourage everyone to rediscover the beauty of praying the Rosary at home in the month of May. This can be done either as a group or individually; you can decide according to your own situations, making the most of both opportunities. The key to doing this is always simplicity, and it is easy also on the internet to find good models of prayers to follow… I myself will pray in the month of May, in spiritual union with all of you.” (Holy Father’s Letter for the Month of May 2020).

In our parish, dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Marian devotions have always been an important part of life. There are various ministries and groups dedicated specifically to the promotion of Marian cult, such as the Legion of Mary, the Rosary Society, the Virgin of Guadalupe Prayer Group, etc. Throughout the week, the faithful also gather after each Mass to pray the Rosary and other Litanies to Our Lady. Every Wednesday afternoon, a special Novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated after the Noon Mass. On the First Saturday of every month, many faithful observe such Marian devotions with greater intensity, including the reverent reception of Holy Communion as requested by Our Lady herself at Fatima in 1917. In our lower church, there are many different shrines dedicated to the Blessed Mother under various titles according to the unique cultural traditions that make up our parish community, yet none of those shrines is ever without fresh flowers. In addition, the votive candles that constantly burn before the statues and images of Our Lady provide a powerful testimony to our people’s closeness to the Mother of God.

As we honor Mary in a special way during this month both in church and at home, let us invoke her divine love and protection not only upon ourselves, but also upon our mothers, living and deceased, who will be honored in a special way on Mother’s Day, and upon our children who will be receiving their first Holy Communion this month. May we all remain close to Mary’s maternal heart, and know the joy of union with Jesus, her Son.

Commending each of you to Our Lady and assuring you of my own spiritual closeness, I remain

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

April 24, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

ALLELUIA! Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, the Octave Day of Easter! In the Church’s reckoning, it is still Easter Sunday. In other words, the Paschal mystery that culminates in Christ’s rising from the dead is so huge an event, it takes a full week to fully grasp it. On this day, we Christians still find ourselves huddled in the Upper Room and are both overjoyed and fearful as we experience the Risen Christ in our midst, addressing us with the Easter greeting: “Peace be with you!”

In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II declared the Sunday after Easter to be “Divine Mercy Sunday” based on the revelations of St. Faustina Kowalska, a nun who, in the 1930s, received a series of private revelations from Christ. Her revelations highlight God’s inexhaustible mercy toward humanity and feature an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus emanating with divine love. It is through the vessel of trust, Jesus revealed to St. Faustina, that we gain access to the fountain of God’s mercy. Thus, the image of Divine Mercy always includes that incredible statement of faith “Jesus, I trust in you!”.

Far from being an intrusion in the liturgical season of Easter, the celebration of Divine Mercy stands at the core of what these sacred days are explicitly about. In her vision, St. Faustina saw coming from the Heart of Jesus two rays of light which illuminates the world. The two rays, according to what she heard the Lord himself tell her, denote blood and water. The blood recalls the sacrifice of Golgotha and the mystery of the Eucharist; the water, recalls our Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3:5; 4:14). Through the mystery of Christ’s wounded and Sacred Heart, the restorative tide of God’s merciful love continues to spread over us and all generations.

In the Gospel of John for this Divine Mercy Sunday, we encounter this merciful love. While the disciples were locked in the Upper Room, Jesus came and stood in their midst. He could have condemned them. He could have judged them. He could have rejected them for denying Him and leaving Him—but he doesn’t. He says: “Peace be with you.” This is what the Resurrection is all about. This is what mercy is all about.
“Peace be with you.” The very first word uttered by the Risen Christ to his Apostles conveyed His special Easter gift to the Church: “Peace!” Commissioning the Apostles to forgive sins in his name became all the more significant because He immediately followed his peaceful greeting with the solemn declaration: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus clearly wanted his apostles to realize that peace and mercy are inseparable; and that true peace can only be achieved by forgiving one another.

In the weeks leading up to the Holy Week, most of us have experienced firsthand the healing forgiveness of God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Forgiveness, however, consists of far more than just the awareness of God’s love and mercy. Jesus said, “Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful … The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.” (Lk 6:36-38). He also said: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7). Hence it is clear that the prerequisite for our receiving mercy is our showing mercy to others. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we have forgiven those who have trespassed against us” (Mt 6:12). He also warned: “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their sins, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your sins.” (Mt 6:14-16).

As we spread the Good News that Jesus has truly risen in our midst, may we all experience the power of God’s mercy and never grow tired of forgiving each other. May our faith increase in this Easter season so that we can declare all the louder with St. Faustina and eventually St. Thomas: “Jesus, I trust in you!”

I wish you all a Happy Divine Mercy Sunday and a Blessed Easter Season!
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham
FROM THE PASTOR’S HEART
April 23,

April 17, 2022

Dear parish family and friends in Christ,

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! The Easter message of joy echoes through the whole world proclaiming Our Lord‘s ultimate victory of light over darkness, grace over sin, and life over death. It is the message upon which our faith rests and to which we anchor our own hope of victory with him. In this faith and hope, I wish you and your families a most holy and blessed Easter Season!

There is something quite unique about the Easter liturgies, namely, the reality of movement—the joyful movement of going forth—that shows the Church at her best—when she goes forth! We see this in the Gospel for Easter Sunday with Peter and John running towards the empty tomb, after Mary Magdalene had run to them with the news that the Lord‘s body was no longer there! We read again, in the same Gospel, that Mary Magdalene encounters the Risen Lord outside the tomb after Peter and John had hurried off and she, in turn, runs to tell the other disciples: “I have seen the Lord!” Mary Magdalene was not only the first disciple to see the Risen Lord; she was also a missionary disciple—a running disciple—who could not contain within herself the Good News. She portrays, in a real way, the image of the Church that goes forth with a joyful message to share!

The past two years has not been a time of going forth for most of us. With the pandemic raging unstoppably through our world and ravaging our lives, leaving permanent wounds within us, we have been forced into withdrawal, sadness and fear. The current war in Ukraine has exacerbated our sense of helplessness. In this situation, some may be tempted to believe that the power of darkness now has the upper hand. Nevertheless, Easter tells us otherwise. “Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!”“Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands”. This is the reason for our joy, our hope, and our life.

Perhaps there is nothing as hopeful and meaningful in our faith celebrations as the Solemn Easter Vigil Mass when the new Paschal Candle is brought into the darkened church. The simple light is held high and shines brightly in the darkness as a reminder that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. As people in the assembly light their small candles from the Easter Candle, one by one, the whole church becomes radiant with light, and a visible sign of hope begins radiating from each person holding his or her lighted candles. The movement of the Paschal Candle up the aisle amidst the exultant proclamations “Christ our Light!” echoing through the gradually brightened church is a uniquely powerful visual experience.

Is this not a sign of what we are called to do as we move forward through the uncertainties of these current times? Are we not called to be signs of hope as we rebuild our lives and communities after a time of so much struggle, difficulty and pain? In fact, I believe that we are already on the very doorstep of a unique experience of spiritual renewal. The lessons we have learned through suffering must play a part in this renewal, especially in our deeper appreciation of how important, beautiful and valuable our faith really is; how vital the Church is, and how necessary the Good News of Jesus Christ is to our hope. Is not our task to go forth and to proclaim the reasons for our hope—He who is symbolized by that light at the Easter Vigil?

St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless, and our faith too is in vain” (Cf. 1 Cor 15:14). The Resurrection is thus the foundation and cornerstone of our faith. On Easter we are called to live as people deeply touched by the Lord‘s Resurrection, those who cannot contain the Good News within themselves, and those who must run out to proclaim it. Like Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and all the disciples of Christ, may our encounter with the Risen Lord on our journey of faith touch us deeply and transform us into eager witnesses as well. May we become what St. Augustine referred to as an “Easter People”, a people changed into running disciples.

As we celebrate this most beautiful feast, I want to thank all our priests, deacons, staff, ministers, catechists, lay leaders and volunteers who have given so much time, talent and treasure throughout the season of Lent preparing for our Holy Week liturgies and devotions. Your “going forth” has certainly borne much fruit in the spiritual renewal of countless people who came through our doors. I also want to thank all members of our parish who have joined us fervently in prayer and worship. You bring a smile to your priests‘ face each time that we meet, in church and in prayer.

May the joys of Christ‘s Resurrection fill you and all your loved ones!

Happy Easter!

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

April 10, 2022

 

Dear parish family,

The most intense week in the Christian year begins today. The powerful liturgies of the Church confront us with the violence that we human beings inflict upon one another and our ingratitude toward God, juxtaposed dramatically against the forgiving love of God and the assured hope that Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection offers our world. As we enter Holy Week, we invite you to join us for a rich array of worship and spiritual opportunities at our parish. The complete schedule of these events is available in this bulletin, on bulletin boards and posters around the church, and on our parish website at www.mountcarmelastoria.org.

On Palm Sunday, we commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem with palms and hosannas. On Monday of Holy Week, our parish will participate with over five hundred other Catholic churches throughout New York City and Long Island in observing Reconciliation Monday. Confessions will be heard by our priests from 2:00pm to 4:00pm, and again from 6:00pm to 9:00pm in in the lower church. On Tuesday of Holy Week, we will celebrate the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Devotion in Spanish at 7:00pm in the lower church, as our priests and deacons will join our Bishop at the Chrism Mass, to be held at that same time at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn. On Wednesday of the Holy Week, traditionally known as “Spy Wednesday”, the Stations of the Cross will be prayed in Spanish in the upper church at 7:00pm.

Our Holy Week worship continues on Holy Thursday, traditionally known as “Maundy Thursday”. We will celebrate the Solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7:30pm in the upper church. This Mass begins the three most sacred days of the Church year, called the “Holy Triduum” which will culminate with the Easter feast. At the Holy Thursday’s evening Mass, we remember Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, his institution of the Holy Eucharist, his compassionate act of washing their feet, and his “new commandment” to love one another as he has loved us. Following this Mass, we will begin adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until midnight in the upper church. This is an act of love that recalls the final hours of Jesus in Gethsemane Garden. The Vietnamese, English and Spanish-speaking communities of our parish will take turns to lead the prayers and music meditations during the adoration.

On Good Friday, you are invited to join the Stations of the Cross in English at 12:00pm in the upper church. Our Hispanic community will organize a living Stations of the Cross in Spanish at the same time outside the church, with the re-enactment of the Passion of Our Lord on the streets of our neighborhood. As always, hundreds of people are expected to attend. The highlights of the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday will be the Veneration of the Cross and the Dramatic Reading of the Lord’s Passion, which will be done in Italian at 2:00pm in the lower church, in English at 3:00pm in the upper church, in Spanish at 7:30pm in the upper church, in Czech at 7:30pm in the lower church, and in Vietnamese at 9:00pm in the upper church. In addition, you are also invited to attend the Seven Last Words of Christ Meditation in Spanish at 6:30pm in the upper church. Hymns, solos and choral music will accompany the readings.

On Holy Saturday, you can bring the food that your family will use to celebrate Easter to the lower church for a blessing during a Prayer Service at 12:00pm. Confessions will be available again from 3:30pm to 4:30pm in the lower church. That evening, our whole community will gather for the Easter Vigil Mass at 7:30pm in the upper church. The Easter Vigil is the Mother of all Christian liturgies, as it is the most important liturgy of the year, commemorating the Resurrection of Our Lord. We will celebrate that Solemn Mass with all the language groups of our parish family. The liturgy that night will begin in the front vestibule of our church, with the lighting of the new fire and a joyous procession into the sanctuary, where the ancient Easter Proclamation or “Exultet” will be sung by one of our priests. On Easter Sunday, our Masses will be celebrated solemnly, following our normal Sunday schedule, accompanied by hymns, choral music and string trio. Please note that there will be no 5:00pm Mass on Easter Sunday.

These services take us on a sacred journey with Jesus: from the streets of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the Last Supper of Maundy Thursday, to Golgotha and the desolation of the Cross on Good Friday, and finally, to the Empty Tomb on Easter morning, to hear the surprising and joyful announcement that “Christ is Risen!”

We hope that you can join us for the full spectrum of worship. These services provide an opportunity to experience more of the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for us and for the world. We also encourage you to consider someone who might be enriched by this opportunity to worship with us—a friend, neighbor or family member—and invite them to come with you.

Looking forward to praying with you, I remain

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Rev. Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

April 3, 2022

Dear parishioners and friends in Christ,

We have reached the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The Liturgy presents to us the Gospel episode of Jesus forgiving a woman caught in the act of adultery, for which Mosaic law prescribes stoning (Jn 8: 1-11). The scene is full of drama: It begins with a group of Pharisees and scribes ready to stone the sinful woman. She knows how the law of Moses treats her crime. It says, “You shall bring them both out to the gate of the city and there stone them to death” (Deuteronomy 22:24). Thus, she expects no reprieve. She figures all is lost. She assumes that her sin is unforgivable.

Yet Jesus treats her differently. He forgives her sins, restores her dignity, saves her from a violent death, and sends her away as a new creation. As the accusers are insistently interrogating him, Jesus bends down and starts writing with his finger on the ground. According to St Augustine, this gesture portrays Jesus as the Divine Legislator. We can recall from the Book of Exodus that God, in fact, wrote the law with His finger on the tablets of stone. Thus, Jesus is the Legislator; he is Justice in person. And what is his sentence? “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”. These words contain the disarming power of truth that pulls down the wall of the accusers’ hypocrisy. They open their consciences to greater justice, that of love, which consists of the fulfillment of the law.

Imagine ourselves in the place of the woman. We would be very nervous at this point, wondering when the first stone is coming. We would hide our face, too afraid to even look. But the rocks never come. We are in shock and wondering what has happened. Then, after sitting crouched in the corner for a while, we would look up. We would see only the merciful face of Jesus who offers us a hand up. All our accusers have quietly walked away, one by one, beginning with the eldest. Then we would hear Jesus says, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more.” This experience must be so liberating and life-giving! We are not condemned but given another chance to be good.

Brothers and sisters, this liberating experience can be ours as well when we go to meet the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We’ve all done something that we know is wrong, and our conscience is condemning us. Then, when we go to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we experience the overflow of God’s abundant mercy washing over our souls.

Some people today are reluctant to go to Confession. They might say, “I find myself confessing the same sins over and over. Why confess them at all?” One way to look at this dilemma is to draw a comparison between our spiritual health and our physical health. Scientists tell us that due to the complexity of our genes, each of us is born with certain physical weaknesses like poor eyesight, different kinds of allergies, or some physical defects. Would it not be unusual if we stop taking the allergy shots because our allergies never go away? Our spiritual health is like that. Each of us has certain spiritual weaknesses, such as the tendency to be impatient, critical of others, proud, self-centered, dishonest, lazy, and the like. Thus, we should not have considered it unusual that we must keep going back to Confession, seeking God’s forgiveness for the failures related to these spiritual weaknesses.

Some of us might also feel that we don’t have anything to confess. Perhaps we have become insensitive to our spiritual weaknesses and failures. Scripture puts it bluntly, “if we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves.” (1 John 1:8). Perhaps it can be that we have been focusing too much on sins of commission rather than omission. It comes as a surprise to some people to learn that the Gospel lays most of its stress on sins of omission – not doing things we should do. In the story of the Last Judgment, Jesus emphasizes this teaching, “For I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me…What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:41-45).

Dear brothers and sisters, Lent is the time to seek out the forgiving Jesus so that he can heal our spiritual defects and restore our freedom, like that woman in the Gospel today. As we approach closer to the Holy Week, why not give yourself a chance to experience Jesus’ liberating mercy?

Devotedly yours in Christ,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

March 27, 2022

Dear parishioners and friends in Christ,

This weekend, throughout the Church, Catholics will hear one of Jesus‘ most well-known and well-loved stories: the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus told the parables in response to the religious leaders of the day who were shocked that he was associating with sinners and spending time with them. In the strict interpretation of the Old Testament laws, forgiveness and new beginnings for the lost weren‘t readily available. In most cases, the lost simply remained lost and not too many would bother to look for them. Forgiveness was something desired, but not always assured.

In telling the story, Jesus reveals in a powerful and touching way something extraordinary about God. God is merciful, generous and kind. God loves us so much more than any earthly father ever could. He does not want the lost to remain lost forever. Thus, someone who has drifted away from God, even abandoning His flock, because of their own sinful-ness, is never written off. Unlike the way human beings often treat one another, God doesn‘t close doors to those who have lost their way. Jesus affirms that for those who are ready to begin again, forgiveness can be a reality, not only a hope or desire. In other words, God is always eager for the lost to be found and brought back to the fold. When the lost realize that they are missing God in their life, all they have to do is return home.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son shows a vivid picture of our own lives before God. There were surely many moments when each one of us has been in the pigpen of life, and what motivated us to get out was probably the same as what mo-tivated the prodigal son: he was miserable and was tired of being miserable. When we realize that what we are doing is not working, and that we are so far down in the pigpen, the only natural thing to do is to look up. Jesus tells us that when we do so, we shall see the merciful face of the Father.

As we continue the journey of Lent, this Good News of Jesus gives us hope and motivation. The Lord has opened the gates of heaven for us; he did not die to keep them closed. That is why our Catholic faith has an incredible gift in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we call a Sacrament of Healing. It is the opportunity to realize that God‘s love for us has not stopped, despite the distance that we have put between us and Him. God‘s love is stronger.

So, dear brothers and sisters, why not give yourselves a chance this Lent to experience the depth of God‘s healing love in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Opportunities for this abound in our parish. You can take advantage of the weekly confessions that are offered in our lower church every Saturday afternoon from 3:30pm to 4:30pm or come to celebrate the Sacrament with us on Reconciliation Monday, April 11, 2022 – the day when all Catholic churches in our city will be open for Confessions (see this bulletin for more details).

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father runs out to greet his son with love and compassion. I can sympathize with the son because I myself have been in his shoes many times. And I can reassure you from my own experience that there is great joy in being embraced by God through the voice of a priest: “I absolve you from your sins!” There is great joy in returning home. Whenever there is forgiveness, there is celebration. This incredible experience of transformation is not closed to us; it is waiting to be found.

Blessings & grace to you!
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham