August 14, 2022

Dear parish family,

Have you ever found yourself stunned by something in the Bible that just didn’t seem to make any sense to you? Have you ever heard something that might sound outrageous from the Word of God and wondered, “How am I to make sense of this?” Sometimes, if we’re really honest, we might even say, “I wish this weren’t true!”

I experience something like that when reading the Gospel passage for this Sunday. Even though I am quite familiar with the story, it still shocked me a bit to hear Jesus saying: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51).  My initial reaction was: Wait a minute! Am I not supposed to believe that Jesus is the Prince of Peace?  After all, at his birth, the angels celebrated “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). The New Testament repeatedly explains how Jesus came to bring peace. So, how could I make sense of Jesus’ stunning statement above? Isn’t it an oxymoron? a contradiction? How can I respond to these unsettling words of the Lord?

Fortunately, as they say, context is everything. It is important to point out that here Jesus is not making some broad statement about his ultimate purpose. Rather, he is pointing to a very real consequence of his kingdom proclamation. The kingdom of God, which calls for absolute allegiance, often can split communities, friendships, and even families. Not everyone will readily accept truth. Not everyone will be ready to understand. Thus, even though the kingdom of God ultimately does establish peace on earth, we often find that when we are ready to trust Christ and leave all behind to follow him, not everyone else will. Many will be hurt; many will be angry; many will be confused.

This unhappy truth does not, of course, imply that followers of Jesus are to seek conflict or to try to split up families. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that we are to be peacemakers and “to live in peace with each other” (Matthew 5:9Mark 9:50). St. Paul adds: “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). But making peace is not the same as making nice. Sometimes, our efforts to bring genuine peace to a situation or a relationship will, in fact, lead to conflict. Yet, we seek to be faithful to God and His values in such circumstances, knowing that, in the end, His genuine, lasting peace will prevail.

To be honest, my first reaction to this Sunday’s Gospel was not a happy one. I like the idea of a straightforward type of peace on earth. I like singing about it, preaching about it, and writing about it. The reality is that the truth of this Sunday’s Gospel passage is a hard pill for even a priest to swallow, but I must acknowledge it. There are times when loyalty to Christ divides families. I’ve seen it in my own ministry. I have lived through it in my own fatherland, where being a Christian could be a political offense. I am experiencing it right here in our city, in our country, where standing up for Christian values and speaking about certain Catholic beliefs can bring about unprovoked harassment, rejection, and even violence.

Someone recently told me: “These days, we Americans are united at least on one thing: we are sick and tired of being so divided.” I think I can agree with that assessment. Indeed, it seems that just about everybody is unhappy about the condition or direction of the country. At times it seems impossible to have a civil discussion without someone getting offended or angry. Divisiveness is perhaps one of the biggest problems we are facing as a nation. Like most of you, I don’t know to what I should attribute this problem. We can speculate, but more importantly, as a disciple of Christ, I must ask myself: “What can we possibly do about it?” Often, we hear that Christians shouldn’t be part of any kind of conflict. We should be like Jesus and treat everyone with love to bring them to unity. At times, I do find myself torn in the face of an important issue that demands a clear and unequivocal position, “If I speak out on this issue or if I take this stand, then I’m going to be in conflict or I’m going to create division.” The words of Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel make me realize an important truth, namely, division is already there if we choose to follow Jesus. Sometimes people will take issue with what we believe to be right, just as they did in Jesus’ time.

I believe that Jesus desires us to be reconciled and at peace with everyone, and especially with those in our family, but we cannot be so by sacrificing our God-given principles or what we consider to be true of human value. This is the fire Jesus is referring to in the Gospel – that of authentic truth and justice. We must have the courage to stand out and to stand up. And many times, we will simply have to “agree to disagree” while expressing our disagreement with a Christ-like love that embodies both compassion and long-suffering patience, which are necessary to the Christian way.

Offering you these thoughts for further reflection this week, I pray that you may be kept safe and close to the heart of Christ always.

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

August 7, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This weekend I chose to write to you about the ministry of hospitality, an important lay ministry in the Church. It is sometimes called the ministry of welcome or the usher ministry, and those who serve in it are known as “greeters” or “ushers”. If you attend Sunday Mass frequently, you will most likely recognize some of these ministers in our own church. Perhaps you already know one or two of them by name. They are not just volunteers who offer help at the liturgy. They are truly spiritual ambassadors for the local church. They serve as “first representatives” of the Lord Jesus Christ who invites people to His banquet and serves them with the feast of His Word and Sacrament.

Hospitality is a hallmark of the Christian way of life.  As baptized faithful, we are called to “go and make disciples”. Our welcoming disposition plays a vital role in the apostolic mission of the Church, that of being a fisher’s net, bringing all men and women to the Lord. The usher is a person chosen to reflect the warmth and welcome of Christ Himself. Always conscious of Christ’s words: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Mt. 25:35), ushers are friendly people who are attracted to all age groups and nationalities. Their faith enables them to see Christ’s presence in individuals and in the gathered community of believers.

Ushers carry a dignity about themselves even when performing hidden and often unsung tasks. As the first faces that people see when they come to church, ushers have the unique opportunity to represent the rest of the congregation in offering hospitality. People’s impression of a parish is significantly shaped by the presence or absence of a welcoming atmosphere. Offering a smile and a word of welcome can have a profound impact on people as they arrive, especially if they are visitors to the parish. Making them feel at home is one way in which ushers help build up the Church, as hospitality is a vital element in creating a sense of community and family. A person who feels welcomed and valued is much more likely to enter wholeheartedly into the celebration of the liturgy and eagerly want to return to be an active part of that community. Ushers thus assist in bringing together the Church, sharing in the work of God who “gathers a people to Himself.” (Is. 25:6-9).

The ministry of ushers is the oldest lay ministry in the Church. The ushers of today have descended from a long line of people of God who have gone before them. During the time of Christ, the doorkeepers of the temple numbered in the hundreds and were the forerunners of today’s ushers. The more immediate predecessor of today’s usher can be found in the clerical order of porter, instituted in the third century A.D. During those times, it was the duty of the porters, or ushers, to guard the door of the church against any intruders who might disturb the service. The porter duties were so important that they came to be included in the rite of ordination, where they were specified as “to ring the bells, open the church and sacristy, and open the book for the preacher.” In 1972, Pope Paul VI abolished the order of porter and this important task was given over to the laity. While today’s ushers don’t ring the bells or open the church, their primary duties include greeting and welcoming parishioners as they enter the church, helping parishioners find seats, taking up the collection of the faithful’s offerings, and wishing everyone a good day at the conclusion of the Eucharistic celebration. In other words, these ministers act as hosts to warmly welcome the people of God to their Father’s house.

As a priest, I am always at ease when I know that there is a good group of ushers at Sunday Mass. Just as the ministers at the altar play an important role in the smooth flow of our liturgical prayer, so too do our ushers in making sure that nothing distracts from Christ and His welcoming love which the liturgy is intended to convey. Being an usher holds a special pride of place in the celebration of the Church’s great rituals, ministering similarly as priests do to the God we are called to see in the face of our neighbors.

In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus instructs us: Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.” (Lk 12:32-48). Jesus, our master, who comes to us in the face of all those we come to meet, calls us “blessed” for waiting to welcome Him home whenever He arrives.

My brothers and sisters, I hope that I have given you a deeper appreciation of the beauty of the ministry of hospitality in the Church, a service rooted in Christ’s mission and our own vocation as disciples. I invite you to consider taking part in this ministry by volunteering to be an usher in our parish. You can speak to any priest about your interest or desire to learn more. The usher ministry is open to all – women and men, young and the young at heart.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

 

July 31, 2022

My brothers and sisters in Christ,

As this month of July comes to an end, we find ourselves faced with one last month before our children go back to school or return to college. Our young people surely know better than the rest of us the importance of taking a break. As a priest living in a rectory community, I feel fortunate to have many of our household chores taken care of by a diligent staff. Yet, even with that blessing, rest and relaxation still seems a luxury as my days are filled with the call to ministry and the constant demand of administrative responsibilities. I am sure the parents in our parish know this very well from their own daily experience: taking care of the kids; doing the laundry; cooking; cleaning; driving here and there; making money and keeping up with relationships, etc. Life can be exhausting.

Nevertheless, it is important to find time for rest. Rest and relaxation is not a luxury but a necessity. It is good for our body and soul. In our very busy lives, I still appreciate the need to escape the mindless humdrum of daily responsibilities.  I know firsthand that our lack of appreciation for rest and our default habit to keeping ourselves busy with fidgety works have grave consequences in the quality of our life, health, relationships, and even our faith. The banal routines that become entrenched in our habits often take the life out of our days, and the inability to rest only makes it worse as it affects our sense of fulfilment and self-regard. Yet the remedy for this compulsion to overwork can be quite simple. I invite you, for example, to savor the remainder of this summertime when there is not much to do. Let’s enjoy our friends; spend time enjoying this wonderful city we call home; taste the rich food and discover the fascinating cultures around us! Let’s take advantage of living at a slower, more rested pace. And most importantly, let’s take time to just stop and be still.

From the opening pages of the Bible, we might say that aside from breathing life into the cosmos, the first act of love God shared with humanity was that after making us, He took time to rest. Scripture tells us that on the sixth day, God created man and gifted him the earth, thus giving us our first vocation to fill it and to care for it. Then “He rested on the seventh day from all his work that He had done” (Gen 2:1-3). I see this first act of rest as an act of love between God and His creation. It conveys to me the significance of God’s command for the Israelites, and for us, to observe rest, not only as a people once a week, but also as individuals when we can. God surely does not need to rest, yet finds rest refreshing nonetheless. God rests so His people can partake in His refreshment. His rest from work fosters His relationship with His people. People take delight in the “very good” creation of God, upon which humanity’s work is meant to build. Thus taking time off from the busy and monotonous routines is a good way for us to honor God. How wonderful it is to be able to take trips to the beach and feel the sand between our toes. How marvelous it is to watch the sunset glow across the ocean horizon or the gleaming city skyline. How fulfilling it is to be with our loved ones and friends and really hear the melody of their voices. God has entrusted all these gifts to us as an act of love. They must be returned as an act of gratitude. We must do with them what God had intended for us: to enjoy. It is in the enjoyment of God’s creation that we are taken out of ourselves and oriented towards Him who wants us to spend quality time with Him, and who has left us traces of Himself in His creation.

This Sunday we are reminded in the Gospel that God wants us to orient our lives towards heavenly things and to detach ourselves from worldly treasures. This is not to say that these things are bad. Rather, the Lord invites us to not see things as ends in themselves, but as important tools in orienting us towards Him. We human beings need a rhythm of work and rest in order to live up to our God-given potential. Work gives us the opportunity to partner with God in His goals for creation; rest allows us to enter into communion with Him in enjoyment of creation. So, I urge you, brothers and sisters, though I personally know too well that it can be difficult to heed, to slow down and enjoy life as God intended. Prayerful rest is also a right and just way to give Him thanks.

Always, you are in my prayers,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

July 24, 2022

 

Dear parish family,

As the historic heat wave continues to grip a broad swath of the United States and millions of people across the country are sweltering under extreme temperatures these days. I pray that you have been able to find a cool and comfortable place to be during these very hot days.

Summer months can be a slow time, as the pace of life changes for most people. The record-setting heat at this time certainly slows the world even more. Many families are already enjoying their vacations in different parts of the country or abroad. Here in our parish, however, I notice that many of you also enjoy just being “homebodies” and not getting away at all. Regardless of whether you are at home or away, I would like to encourage you to keep the Lord at the center of your daily activities. Amid the glory of summer, we may be tempted to forget about God. For those who are on the move, it may be hard to find enough time for all the exciting itineraries and fun programs. For those who remain at home, there can be so much to do both in terms of recreation and summer projects around the house and yard. In many households, the summer months can be quite stressful because the children and teens are off from school and constantly demand attention. In these circumstances, we can easily let go of our spiritual commitment.

The truth is, while we sometimes are tempted to forget about God and often fail to keep Him at the center of our life, God never forgets about us. He is constantly aware of the struggles of our hearts, our hopes and dreams, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows. God knows all our needs and is constantly at work to meet those needs each day. God’s loving attention is always focused on us. He keeps us as the “apple of His eyes” (Psalm 17:8; Deuteronomy 32:10). Thus, as you move through summer know that God is there. As you travel to exotic places, or maybe familiar ones: know that God is there. As you graduate and prepare to begin a new chapter in life: know that God is there. As you face struggles and triumphs, know that God is there. His abiding presence beckons us to draw near to Him.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has said that summertime is the perfect opportunity “to enhance our commitment to seek and encounter the Lord”. He encourages young people in particular to spend their summer break from school in a good way, such as by spending time in rest, prayer, service, and helping their families: “I encourage you to use well and responsibly the time that is available to you: it is in this way that one grows and prepares oneself to take on more demanding tasks” (Message to Youth, June 28, 2022). When used well and wisely, this so-called “lazy time” of the year can be quite a providential moment for renewal.

I love summer. The glory of God is shown in summer in a marvelous way. This year, while I have chosen not to take a vacation now to be available to you at the parish, I do look forward to taking a few weeks later on in the fall to recharge, re-focus, and be with my family. While Mass attendance at our church has typically declined during these months, it is encouraging to see many of you making the effort to come regularly. I am also edified by the faithfulness and consistence that many of you have shown in your sacrificial giving.  The summer months are always a bit challenging for our church as the bills continue to arrive and must be paid. I am always thrilled—like you—to be able to pay the bills on time. It helps our parish keep a good witness in our local community!

I offer a special prayer for those who are unable to take vacation due to age, health, work or financial hardship. May these summer months still be a relaxing time for you, cheered up by good company and happy moments.  Commending you all to the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and wishing everyone a serene and profitable summer, I look forward to seeing you in church as much as possible!

Blessings in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

July 17, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters,

This weekend, we celebrate our parish’s Patronal Feast. It is a day that many of us have been looking forward to for a long time. This year’s patronal feast seems to be anticipated even more eagerly than in other years, partly because our parish has not been able to celebrate it in a solemn and festive way as we used to do before the pandemic. Now that life has returned almost to pre-pandemic normalcy, many seem excited about “pulling out all the stops” to honor our Patroness, who is beloved and revered by all the ethnic communities that make up our great parish family.  For me, this week is also significant because it marks my “First Anniversary” of being your pastor. I thought it would be a fitting occasion to invite my family and other
important persons in my priestly life to come and see “my spiritual family” at one of its finest moments.

There has been much to prepare for this special occasion. In addition to the normal tasks of planning the liturgy and programs, meeting with leaders and ministers, coordinating the efforts of all groups, designing programs, and preparing facilities, I have also been thinking about how to make our special guests feel welcome. Perhaps you can recall the joy of last year’s celebration when we were privileged to welcome His Excellency Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States who came to preside at our patronal feast. This year, we are blessed with the presence of our own diocesan shepherd, His Excellency Bishop Robert Brennan who presided at the 8AM Mass on the feast day, and His Excellency Bishop emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio who presides at the 5PM Solemn Mass. We are also honored to have His Excellency, Bishop Raymond Chapetto, native son of our parish who presides at the 5PM Sunday Mass. Many guest priests, most of whom have been an integral part of our parish community over the years have also been invited. When I started reflecting on this Sunday’s Gospel story of Martha and Mary, I couldn’t help but think of the hospitality that we are hoping to extend to these distinguished visitors this weekend.

When we hear the story of Martha and Mary, I’m guessing that many of us think about people—usually other people—in our families or among our friends. Even if you’ve never said it yourself, odds are that you have heard the comment that someone is “such a Martha”—as if that is a bad thing. Jesus never tells Martha that she shouldn’t fuss over company or prepare a wonderful meal. There is in fact a lot to admire about Martha. It was Martha who “welcomed Jesus into her home” (Lk 10:38) in the first place. She was clearly eager to spend time with Jesus and to show her esteem with a meal in his honor. Meanwhile, Mary’s idea of hospitality was a bit different. While Martha was engaged in preparations, Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.” Mary gave Jesus and his words her full attention. For me, the two sisters represent two complementary aspects of hospitality, both of which are important, even essential. Yes, extending welcome requires preparation. Jesus never suggests that this work is unimportant or unnecessary. But the “better part” of hospitality is giving to guests one’s full attention—being with them, listening to their stories, learning about their experiences, and savoring their presence.

The story gives us insight not only on how to welcome guests into our home but also on how we are to welcome Christ into our lives and into our communities, whether at the liturgy or in the faces of those in need. As one who spends many hours and much energy creating a welcoming environment for thousands of people in our big community every week, I find this message particularly enlightening. Too often our service to others causes us to be far more focused on what we are doing than on the presence of Christ among us. We forget that personal relationship is what it should be all about. In busily preparing, whether for the guest to our home, the person we are serving, or the God that we worship, we need to keep in mind that the Lord of the work is far more important than the work of the Lord. Good works are good, but the reason for our good works is not so much achievement as a personal relationship.

I pray that this celebration of our parish feast gives us all an opportunity to offer an authentic welcome to one another, to our distinguished guests, and to the Lord, our most important guest, that fosters a personal relationship beyond the external hospitality and festivities.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

July 10, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters,

Next weekend, July 16/17, we will celebrate our parish’s patronal feast, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is certainly one of the most important annual events in our community.

Mary, the Mother of God, has a multitude of titles under which she is invoked for various needs.  When our parish and school were founded, our founding fathers entrusted the community to Our Lady under a most appropriate title.  Through the past 182 years, we have invoked Our Lady’s protection and guidance under this title.  She has responded with motherly protection and love in every instance.

The title “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” first derives from the experience of the prophet Elijah who, on Mount Carmel (located in present-day northwestern Israel), challenged the worshipers of false gods to a contest (see 1 Kings 20-40).  They were to call on their gods and Elijah would call on his God, and whichever God was able to light the fire to begin the holocaust offering was proved true.  Elijah taunted his competitors, but of course their gods could not deliver.  After drenching his own wood and holocaust with 12 buckets of water, Elijah called on the Lord who, at once answered with fire.  The God of Elijah was victorious.  Ever since the time of Elijah, the mountain has been considered sacred and hermits have always occupied a spot on the mountain where they devoted themselves to a life of austerity and prayer.

When the Carmelite Order was established many centuries later in the Church, the priests adopted Our Lady of Mount Carmel to represent their spirituality – both Marian and deeply contemplative.  Since the 15th century, popular devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel has centered on the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, also known as the Brown Scapular. Traditionally, Mary is said to have given the Scapular to an early Carmelite named Saint Simon Stock (1165-1265) as a sign of her divine love and protection. There are a host of promises that go with the pious wearing of the Brown Scapular, the first of which is eternal salvation through the intercession of our heavenly Mother.

A 1996 doctrinal statement by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments states: “Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is bound to the history and spiritual values of the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and is expressed through the Scapular. Thus, whoever receives the Scapular becomes a member of the Order and pledges him/herself to live according to its spirituality in accordance with the characteristics of his/her state in life.” In a nutshell, the Scapular is a both Marian sign and a pledge. A sign of belonging to Our Lady; a pledge of her motherly protection, not only in this life but also in the next. As a sign, it is a conventional sign signifying three elements of belonging: first, association with a religious family particularly devoted to Mary and especially dear to her – the Carmelite Order; second, consecration to Mary herself, being devoted to her and trusting in her Immaculate Heart; third, motivation to imitate Mary’s virtues, above all her humility, chastity, and spirit of prayer.

Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel has always been a hallmark of our parish. At present, it remains an important devotion among the majority of our parishioners of Italian, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Czech and Filipino backgrounds, as the Carmelite Order and its lay associations are particularly strong in these cultural groups.

I invite you to mark your calendar for the festive events published in this bulletin leading up to next weekend’s celebrations. It is our hope that you and your family will be able to join us at the 5:00PM Outdoor Procession and Solemn Mass, followed by a special celebration in the Institute that will feature a great program of music, dances and international food for everyone. Together, let us honor Our Lady in ways that are dear to her heart, and invoke her blessing upon our parish and all our families.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham 

 

July 3, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters,

This weekend, our nation celebrates its Independence. We take time to look back and reflect on the gift of freedom, and where true freedom lies. As Christians, we believe that everything good in life comes from God, including our freedom. From the Catholic perspective, true freedom allows us to do that which is right. Too often, however, liberty can be misunderstood for license. Yet the truth is that we are not free to do whatever we want. Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles which presumed that there is objective right and wrong. Our Founding Fathers had a clear sense that all our rights come from God.

On this national holiday, we are reminded that we are one nation, under God. May we never forget this basic truth as we see our contemporary culture trying to redefine much of the natural order established by God and failing to protect the most vulnerable lives. As a Church, we must be a prophetic voice calling our nation to never forget the true Source of our freedom, and the true Power that guarantees it. At the same time, let us never forget those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and those who have served and are serving to maintain the privileges that we continue to enjoy in this land.

I remember growing up under the communist regime in Vietnam and was deeply inspired by the American concepts of “the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. While Americans understood these rights as God-given, sometimes taken granted, they existed for me and my people only as a dream then.  When I came to this country as a young teenager and began attending school here in New York City, I was very proud of putting my hand over my heart and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in school every morning: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Those words have a powerful meaning for me because I know that what they represent is not free and I would never take it for granted.

Now as a proud citizen of this great nation, I am grateful for our heritage. I am grateful for the privilege of living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  I am thankful for those who came before us paving the way for unrivaled liberties that allow us to freely make choices about our life, our faith, our work and our lifestyle. I am indebted to past and present veterans who made sacrifices in the pursuit and protection of these freedoms. Ultimately, I am thankful to God for all the blessings that have come into my life in the United States of America, including the ability to practice my faith and live out my faith, comfortable housing, decent healthcare, social mobility, an abundant wardrobe, a diverse menu of fantastic foods, and state-of-the-art communication and entertainment.  I feel that I am blessed beyond my deserving.

Yet as a responsible and faithful person, I am also concerned for our future. I am concerned that our nation’s many different perspectives and ideologies are now driving us further apart from one another. Threats of violence, the abuse of political power, the divisiveness of harsh and misleading political rhetoric, a lack of civil discourse, a growing sense of hostility towards human life, a constant pushing of the envelopes in terms of morality. These concerns have given me heightened anxiety about the direction of our society in general. I suspect that many of you also feel the same as you look upon the current state of our nation.

This weekend, I invite you to pray that these sentiments of gratitude and concerns will lead us to a deeper appreciation of what God has done for us in Christ. Without Christ, there is no life. Without Christ, there is no liberty. Without Christ, there is no pursuit of happiness. May we who live in this land and enjoy its privileges never take God for granted, for He is indeed the author and guarantor of all our rights.

Wishing each of you and your family a very blessed Independence Day weekend, I remain

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham  

June 26, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ!

As we continue to maneuver through challenging times in our nation and the world, I thought it would be of value to offer you some words of encouragement based on our faith.

With each passing day, we are confronted with higher prices at every corner. For example, gas prices have impacted every one of us in unprecedented ways, making life more difficult for those who are already struggling to make ends meet.  Just the other day, I had a first-hand experience of this impact when driving from our parish to the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia for the funeral of a dear friend – a young Navy officer who died tragically of cancer.  As I stopped at the gas stations in three different states, various people have approached me to share their anxiety, and frustration, over the rising gas prices.  I not only felt their pain in my heart, but also in my wallet.  It is, without a doubt, that inflation is causing everyone stress.

As a nation, we seem to be “turning the corner” as far as the pandemic is concerned, but now we are confronted with a host of other problems that are no less threatening and disheartening. I am thinking not only about these rising costs, but also about the constant violence and deadly mass shootings that plague our cities; the incendiary political blame games that keep dividing our nation further on the issues of abortion, gender theories, gun control, religious freedom, foreign policy, border security, etc; and the destructive cancel culture that has led to so much intolerance, fear, mental health and even death. The negative effects of all these issues can be seen everywhere. At times, they even project a sense of powerlessness and despair. “When is it going to end,” many people ask. I find myself asking these same questions over and over, even in my prayers.

Nevertheless, I am a firm believer. I believe that God never abandons us. He never leaves us alone in our suffering. In Him, we find meaning and purpose in all things, including the problems that we face each day. As the psalmist sings on this Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: “My heart is glad and my soul rejoices. My body, too, abides in confidence, because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption. You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever. You are my inheritance!” (Psalm 16). How reassuring it would be to be able to repeat these words and make them our own in prayer these days!

I want to encourage you to stay “laser-focused” on the Lord as the One who walks with us; who is always by our side; who knows and supplies all our needs.  We just need to be patient and wait for His time. It will come, as it has always been in our history. Things will get better. I know you’re tired. I am too. But hang in there! Jesus has sustained us through all this and he is still sustaining us. He is there for us; we must be there for one another. We must never lose faith and we must do our best to lift the spirit of others. If there’s ever a time the enemy would love to divide us, it’s now, but we don’t have to succumb to his schemes. More than ever, God needs to be at the center of our lives. Contrary to what many are pushing for in our increasingly secularized society, God needs to be more present in every aspect of our lives, including the solutions that we are seeking for all problems.

Jesus never promised that we wouldn’t have any hard times or difficult situations to go through, but He did promise that He would walk with us: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Another Scripture that helps me stay focused during these times is: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

And so, brothers and sisters, hope in the Lord, and take heart! Remember that the darkest time is when the light of the Gospel is brightest! It might seem to you like a “little light,” but what a difference it can make! May these words of assurances inspire all of us to get through these challenging times together…

Faithfully yours in Christ!

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

June 19, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This weekend the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, traditionally known as the Feast of Corpus Christi. This Solemnity honors Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is really, truly, and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine. This Real Presence happens through the change which the Church calls “transubstantiation” (“change of substance”), when at the moment of consecration during Mass, the priest says the words which Christ Himself pronounced over bread and wine, “This is My Body,” “This is the Chalice of My Blood,” “Do this in remembrance of Me.” On this day, we Catholics are reminded that Jesus Christ still gives Himself to us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is always with us until the end of time. In the Holy Eucharist, we have the most tangible form of His presence.

This year, this solemn feast of Corpus Christi coincides with Father’s Day, when we honor all those men who have been fathers to us in our lives, not only through biological connection but also through personal affiliation because they chose to be father figures to us and have nurtured us in different ways. One little boy, when asked to explain about Father’s Day, said, “It’s just like Mother’s Day, only you don’t spend as much on the present.” Yes, maybe we’re not quite as sentimental about Father’s Day, but it does not make this day any less significant than Mother’s Day.

This Father’s Day has a very difficult connotation for me as it is my second Father’s Day without a father. For forty-six years I had one, and he was one of the best. But now he is no longer here. It seems strange that he is not around. In my family, he is never gone.  We feel that he is still close by, always present, always available, just the way he used to be, because his words, his faith, and his way of life continue to shape our own. I am convinced by copious signs that seem to confirm my dad’s abiding presence.  I am blessed by all the memories of him that I will cherish forever, including some very tender, precious, and invaluable moments in my life.  Like a warm fireplace in a large house, my dad was a source of comfort. Like a sturdy swing on the porch or a big shady tree in the backyard, he could always be found and leaned upon.  His strong faith and passion for the Church inspired me, despite so much suffering he and my mother endured during the years after the Vietnam War, and through the early years of our resettlement in the United States as refugees.

I could say that all my life, my father was always a reassuring presence.  He was the glue that held our large family together. Because he was there, life went smoothly for all of us. Everything in the house worked like a well-oiled machine; all the bills got paid on time, the lawn stayed mowed, and the garden was cultivated. Because he was there, our laughter was fresh, and our future was secure.  Because he was there, I could concentrate on my vocation as a priest without needless worry about my family. This was particularly true throughout all my long years of serving the Church away from home.  Because my dad was there, we never missed an important feast day, a family celebration, someone’s birthday, baptism, marriage, anniversary… All those were the things on Dad’s calendar. He made the decisions, broke up the fights, played with the grandkids, read the newspapers every morning, worked in the gardens, helped my mother with house chores, presided at night prayer, and made sure that the whole family go to Mass on Sundays. He didn’t do anything unusual. He only did what dads are supposed to do – be there for their family.

My dad’s life was a beautiful expression of what it means to be a man after Christ’s own heart. He comes to my mind each day because I see his imprints everywhere in my own thinking and behavior.  He taught me how to shave and how to pray. He showed me by his examples how to be a father figure and a spiritual father to others. On occasions, when I hear a good joke, I could hear him chuckle. A good sense of humor is the one thing that I still need to learn from him.

I realize that mine is a unique experience of fatherhood that not everybody has. Some of you may not have had a father figure’s presence in your life. But today, on this solemn Feast of Corpus Christi, when we praise, adore, and give thanks to Christ, who is the perfect model for all fathers, I believe that it’s worth celebrating all that fatherhood stands for: love, responsibility, dedication, sacrifice, and most importantly, abiding presence.  More than ever, we need fathers who will rise up and be the abiding presence to his children and family the way Christ is to the world through His Holy Body and Blood.

Happy Father’s Day and a Blessed Corpus Christi Feast to you all!

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

 

 

 

June 12, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Each year the Church celebrates the month of June as the Month of the Sacred Heart. We honor the Heart of Jesus through the liturgy, prayers, devotions, acts of consecration and reparation. The Sacred Heart of Jesus draws us into God’s infinite love and urges us to make that same love present in our world. Indeed, a world weary by the ongoing pandemic, wounded by violence, broken by individualism and battered by challenges to the faith such as ours today, is in desperate need of a devotion like this, which encourages people to look outward and show true love to one another.

Beyond being an important visual sign of the love of Christ, the heart, both in Scripture and in literature throughout human history, represents the innermost sanctuary of our human self. The heart is a natural sign of love: it is hidden, steady, and reliable. As it constantly beats, it keeps us alive and well. Thus, for the Christian faithful, the love signified by the Sacred Heart is the steady, reliable, faithful, life-giving love of God.  It represents true love, not a passing emotion, a sentiment that deceives or a sentimentality that changes over time.

The image of the Sacred Heart is rich with symbolism. The heart of Jesus is always portrayed along with the symbol of the cross which signifies the sacrificial love for others; the flames which represent the glory of that love, shining in a world darkened by sin and needs to be set ablaze by the fire of the Holy Spirit; and the crown of thorns which surrounds the bleeding, wounded heart. This reminds us of a scriptural reference to heart of Jesus being pierced on the cross (John 19:34). It also reminds us of the doubting Thomas being invited to put his hands into the Risen Lord’s wounds (John 20:24-29), and of the image of the victorious Lamb who was slain (Revelation 5:6). All of these features are meant to show us that the love of Christ is not some theoretical love, but a real, faithful, totally committed love that is willing to suffer for the beloved. At the same time, they are meant to remind us in a powerful way that each of us was commissioned to make present that kind of love in the world when we were baptized into Christ.

In his pastoral letter last year, “Heart Speaks to Heart,” Cardinal Thomas Collin, the Archbishop of Toronto, comments on this point: “If we only act in order to attract applause, and shift our principles to guarantee that approval, we will never truly live or love at all, and we will lose our very self. Real love is inseparable from integrity, and may well include a crown of thorns, which reminds us of the cost of discipleship. It also reminds us that whenever people are mocked, marginalized, bullied or rejected in any way, the disciple of Jesus must be with them to care for them with the compassion of Christ.” Devotion to the Sacred Heart thus leads us to ponder the sacred humanity of Jesus, God with us. Using the universally accepted symbol of the heart as the sign of the center of who we are, this devotion focuses on Jesus as the man for others, who shows human beings how to love as God loves.

How does one practice devotion to the Sacred Heart? Through adoration of the Eucharistic Lord, especially on Friday, the day of the crucifixion when the love of Christ is fully revealed. It is no coincidence that each year the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart occurs on the Friday following the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

Many elements of the Sacred Heart devotion come from the mystical visions of Jesus which Saint Margaret Mary experienced between 1673 and 1675, in which the Lord spoke to her about the mysteries of His Sacred Heart. As a parish with a strong connection to St. Margaret Mary, it is fitting that we foster this devotion. I highly recommend making time for a few moments of adoration before the Eucharist; mediating on the Gospel reading daily; participating in the Holy Mass whenever possible; and honoring an image of the Sacred Heart in your home. In our parish, it has been a long custom to have exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on every first Friday of the month, which takes place right after the 8:00AM Mass and concludes with Solemn Benediction before the start of the 12 Noon Mass. In addition, we also have a sung Holy Hour at 6:30PM and a Holy Mass in Spanish at 7:30PM on every first Friday of the month.

Let us devote this month of June to foster a greater devotion to the Sacred Heart and deepen our commitment to imitate His love, a love that reaches out to the lonely, to the isolated, to the sick and to all those who are rejected. Meditating on the divine love represented by the Sacred Heart will lead each of us to become not a superficial Christian, but a devoted and intentional Christian, on fire for the Lord and for His mission in the world.

With Christ’s choicest blessings,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham