February 6, 2022

Dear parishioners and friends of our parish,

I trust you are doing well and staying healthy in these challenging times.

As you know, our Church has faced tremendous challenges over the past two years as we have done our best to navigate the pandemic. Undoubtedly, all the decisions we’ve made have not been perfect, but we have tried to seek the mind of God and His wisdom.

These days, as Covid cases continue to plummet and fewer fully vaccinated people are hospitalized, many have expressed the hope that life can come back to some level of “normalcy”. Even in our parish, many more parishioners have returned to worship together. We’ve tried to do so with a sense of care. Like me, I am sure that you can’t wait to “get back to normal.”

During the last two years, many churches including our own have seen drops in both attendance as well as financial contributions. However, I believe God has helped us through these challenges. I have witnessed personally so much goodness and generosity on the part of many loyal parishioners who have continued to make our parish a priority on their support list. They give not only their time, talent but also their hard-earned resources. I consider them God’s special gift to me and our priests who serve here because they not only motivate us but give us hope. We are grateful.

Speaking of motivation, our visiting bishops and priests have constantly told me how impressed they are by your welcoming spirit and generosity. My goal as Pastor is to continue to encourage this positive atmosphere where people are welcomed, acknowledged, and accepted as members of one family.

I know a lot of you read the bulletin every week virtually as well as watching all our live-streaming Masses faithfully. However, I do want you to come back in person because it means so much more when you actively participate in our liturgies. Be assured that we are following all the Covid-19 protocols mandated by our Diocese and State. Do not be afraid, therefore, to come and celebrate as a community with us. For now, as long as we all attend church with a face covering, we can be assured of the safety of all. I don’t believe God’s long-term answer for us is to live online. Coming together in-person to encounter the Lord and receive Him through his Word and Sacrament is essential to our identity as Catholics.

If you are out and about doing other things such as shopping, dining out, etc., why not consider joining us for worship as well! We want to see our church family! We are strongest that way because, truly, we are meant to be on this journey together, as the theme of the upcoming World Synod of Bishops reflects.

Hoping to see more of you and your families on Sunday, I remain.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

January 30, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Tuesday, February 1, 2022, marks the Lunar New Year, a time of joy, thanksgiving, and family reunion for millions of Asians throughout the world, including the Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and other oriental communities. It is my pleasure to offer warm greetings and best wishes for a Happy New Year to all Asian brothers and sisters of our parish as well as those who will join them in celebrating the Year of the Tiger. Father Joe Pham, Father Hung Tran, and I will concelebrate a Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving for our Vietnamese community this Sunday, January 30, 2022, at 3 PM in the Lower Church. You are all cordially invited to attend this joyful celebration of faith and culture, which will include various generations of Vietnamese from young children to the elders serving in different roles. Our worship space will be adorned with blooming cherry blossoms and splendid spring flowers reminiscent of South East Asia. Come to experience with us some of the most beautiful Vietnamese Catholic traditions including the Remembrance of Ancestors and Deceased Loved Ones,  the distribution of New Year Blessing Parchments that contain randomly picked Scriptural quotes to be used as “words to live by” or personal mottos for the year, and the giving of Red Envelopes with a “Lucky Dollar” gift to the children and teens as a way of wishing them abundant blessings.

Normally, on the Lunar New Year, our Asian brothers and sisters would gather at their parents’ homes to celebrate with a sumptuous feast. They would participate in traditional ceremonies to pay homage to their ancestors and living elders. Children and grandchildren would present their parents and grandparents with personalized wishes for their happiness, longevity, and prosperity, and receive from the latter blessings and gifts in return. Extended family members would travel long distances to visit one another. It is always a time of family and reunion. This year, however, many still find it hard to celebrate or gather, when those closest to them are no longer with them. My mother, my siblings and I are going through this feeling as we mark the First Anniversary of my father’s passing. In this context, we are reminded that the greatest blessings in life are not material things. What matters most is not money, food, properties, or the latest gadgets, but relationships with those we love. All too often we forget this, neglecting relationships in the pursuit of money, career, fame, and success. Many Asians, for example, tend to think that the best way to love our children is to give them a good education and money to get ahead in life. We also tend to think that the best way to love our parents is to pursue great achievements that will make them proud. Thus, it can become all too easy for us to focus on stuff instead of relationships. And sadly, we often only realize our mistake when it’s too late to put things right.

If relationships are what true blessing is about, our faith tells us that the greatest blessing of all is the relationship with God. It is He who created us and blessed us with everything we enjoy. Our health and safety, our family and friends, our opportunities and hopes, and this beautiful world in which we live, are all blessings given by the God who loves us. Too often in pursuing these blessings, however, we fail to pursue the God who gave them. We are like children who receive their parents’ blessings at the beginning of the new year, but fail to love them in return throughout the rest of the year. As the Lunar New Year offers our Asian brothers and sisters the opportunity to renew relationships in their lives, let it also motivate us to seek a fresh start in our relationship with God and with one another.

In the East, tigers are often associated with being strong, resilient, independent, fearless, and loyal. People who are born in the Year of the Tiger are believed to be persistent, determined, and strong in the face of adversity. They never back down from a challenge, but always know how to turn it into an opportunity. May the celebration of the Year of the Tiger inspire each of you to remain steadfast, courageous, and spiritually strong in these challenging times.

Commending you and the Asian members of our parish to the divine protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and assuring you all a special remembrance at the Altar on this Lunar New Year, I wish to send every family my personal blessings and best wishes.

Happy New Year / “Chuc Mung Nam Moi”,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

January 23, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

During the pandemic, the phrase “we are all in it together” stands out among many others that are frequently employed. As I have discussed in my previous letter, Pope Francis has asked our entire Church to embark on a journey together, one that involves active listening to one another and ultimately to the voice of the Holy Spirit. This journey begins with a consultative process at the grassroots level, namely, the parish and the diocese, and will culminate with the Synod of Bishops in 2023, to be held in Rome. The theme for that Synod is “Toward a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” The emphasis on the fact that we are all in it together, or at least, that we are all on the same road together, underlies the importance of unity in this ecclesial endeavor. Through listening and discernment rooted in the Holy Spirit, the entire Church will deepen her understanding of mission and how best to carry out that mission in the future.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, together with all the parishes throughout the world, is currently participating in this synodal journey called for by the Holy Father. Last Saturday, we have convoked an extraordinary meeting during which members of our clergy, parish leaders, and parishioners from various ministries, ethnic groups, and walks of life came together for a morning of prayer, conversation, and small group discussions. All participants had the opportunity to share their experience of faith, raise issues that they believed were vital for the parish, and articulate their concerns, hopes, and dreams for the future of the Church. Everyone was appreciative of the fact that their voice was heard in a formal way. Many of them expressed the desire to see more such events in our parish. To me, the experience of listening prayerfully to one another and discerning God’s will together has been the best expression of who we are as a parish. In the words of Pope Francis, such an experience reflects a “synodal Church, a Church which listens, which realizes that listening is more than simply hearing. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. By their listening to each other, and by all of them listening to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, they will come to know what the Lord wants for His Church”.

What came out of our parish’s listening session last Saturday was quite inspiring and thought-provoking. Participants were divided into four different discussion groups, three in English and one in Spanish. Together, they considered the following questions as suggested by the Diocesan Synod Commission:
1. How is the “journeying together” to announce the Gospel happening today in our parish?
2. Who else do we need to reach out to, listen to, and learn from? What voices are not being heard? Who is absent?
3. What can each of us do to make our parish better?
4. “Synodality,” asks us to be enthusiastic ambassadors of our faith. How do you see yourself involved in making others more aware of what the Church has to offer?
5. What are the areas for change in our Church and what steps can be taken to allow the Holy Spirit to work?

Remarkably, all four groups have come up with highly similar themes in their responses to those questions. It was enlightening for me to know about the areas of church life that people are passionate about. For example, participants universally expressed the desire to be educated more about the meaning of the Holy Mass. They also wanted to be more informed about the various activities that take place within the ethnic groups of the parish. They felt that the Church needs to welcome and engage more actively with those who remain on the margin due to language or cultural barriers, marriage irregularities, or personal lifestyles. In addition, they saw the critical need for the Church to reach out more to youth and their parents through catechesis, engaging liturgy, and effective use of modern social media. In listening to these insights, I discovered that there is a tremendous passion in our people about the faith, and how much they long to make that faith even more attractive and compelling in our parish.

As your pastor, I am convinced that this synodal encounter has a lot to offer to our parish right at this moment. Building on the strong momentum that it has created, I will begin to do some concrete planning with the priests, deacons, and lay leaders of our parish in order to integrate and implement some actionable insights in the liturgical, educational, and pastoral practices of our parish. The success and fruits of these undertakings will depend upon everyone’s cooperation and collaboration, and ultimately, upon our openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The enduring results of this “journeying together” will, of course, take time to emerge. It is my strong hope that, together, we will succeed in making our parish a truly vibrant family in which everyone is on fire for the Lord!

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

January 16, 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As we begin Ordinary Time in the Church’s liturgical calendar, I thought it would be worthwhile to call your attention to a few commonsense items regarding our liturgical celebrations for the sake of your own comfort and reverence in the House of God:

– PLEASE COME ON TIME! – If you are consistently late to Mass, you are missing out on the very important Introductory Rites and the Liturgy of the Word. If you come late enough, you don’t even fulfill your Sunday Mass obligation! Barring unforeseen emergencies, coming to Mass late on a regular basis is simply an indication of poor planning. In this New Year, I invite everyone to consider making it a goal to come early so that you may have adequate time to recollect yourself and prepare prayerfully for the beginning of the Mass. By avoiding the distraction caused by needless movement and traffic in the assembly, especially the constant opening and closing of church doors, you will add to the prayerfulness of the Mass and help everyone to be more focused on their encounter with the Lord.

– PLEASE WEAR PROPER ATTIRE! – Meeting the Lord himself in His House is not like going to a grocery store or to the park. I invite you earnestly to dress up for Mass, giving God the respect that He deserves. It doesn’t mean having to wear expensive clothes. It simply means wearing our “Sunday best” whatever that may be for each person. And, of course, please always come in modest attire. This is especially important for those who serve as liturgical ministers, i.e. Lectors, Altar Servers, Sacristans, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Musicians, Ushers, etc., since they are the first representatives of the Church and the parish that people would see.

– PLEASE DO NOT BRING FOOD OR DRINK! – The only eating and drinking that should take place in church are that of the reception of Holy Communion. Other than that, the church is simply not a place to eat and drink. The chewing of gums, of course, is always inappropriate in church. In our parish, many people have had the good habit of bringing canned food and/or used clothing and toys to share with the poor. This was good when we had an active Food Pantry at St. Margaret Mary Chapel. Now that the Chapel and its Food Pantry has been closed, please do not bring such items to church as we do not have enough personnel or volunteers to dispose of them. If you have good clothing to donate, please contact St. Mary’s Church Clothing Drive at (718) 529–6070 or visit their website at https://stmarysclothingdrive.com to schedule a free pickup at your home.

– PLEASE OBSERVE HOLY SILENCE! – Since the church is a place of prayer, silence should always be observed. The greeting of our friends and neighbors is appropriate for after Mass outside of the church or in the vestibule so as not to disturb the prayer of others. This is particularly true in the transition time between our Masses on Sunday.

– PLEASE SHOW THE GREATEST REVERENCE! – The church is the House of God, where His family gathers to praise, worship, and give thanks to Him. As such, we must always maintain a spirit of reverence and respect. As we enter the vestibule, we should bless ourselves with making the sign of the Cross. Then as we enter the church, we should make either a genuflection or a profound bow toward Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle prior to taking a seat. I encourage everyone to keep the church clean, by picking up any piece of trash when you see one and dropping it into the trash bin located in the Ushers’ Room at the far-right end of the church. This will ease the burden of our volunteers who give so much of their time and energy to keep our church sanitized and in optimal condition every week.
Overall, when someone asks me to address some of these important issues in some way, I always respond by saying that while I do see many such distractions in church every day, I think of them as steppingstones toward holiness. Whether it’s a couple of noisy children, the strong scent of a fellow parishioner, the long homily of the priest or deacon, the off-key singing of someone behind you, or the lack of courtesy on the part of someone who blocks your entrance to the pew, or the nuisance caused by a piece of trash left behind by someone, let it all pass. Patience, tolerance, politeness, and good manners always work. If you find yourself to be one of the sources of these distractions, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just try to improve these things next time.

Grateful for the good etiquettes that so many of you have already been showing in our church, and commending you to the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, our Patroness, I assure you of my constant remembrance at the Altar.

Devotedly yours in Christ,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

January 9, 2022

Dear parish family and friends,

As you may be aware, Pope Francis has asked the entire Church over the world to begin a journey of listening attentively to the Holy Spirit and to each other in order to deepen our understanding of what it means to live together as disciples of Christ, called to announce His Gospel in the world today. This journey, in which dialogue and consultation with all members of the Church will play a key role, will culminate in a special encounter called a Synod of Bishops, to be held in Rome in 2023. The theme of that Synod will be “Toward a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”.

The word Synod comes from two Greek words which mean “journeying forward on the way together”. Essentially, the Holy Father is calling us to reflect on our experience of being part of the Church and how, together, we can better preach the Good News in the contexts of today’s world. In other words, what does it mean for us to belong to Christ and be in relationship with His Church? What does it mean for us to be engaged and involved with Christ in His Church? What does it mean for us to be sent out, to proclaim, and to serve, by Christ and His Church? We are being asked to rediscover together what it means to be a Church at the service of humanity, modeled after Christ who came “not to be served, but to serve (Mk. 10:45).

Participating in the Synod process at the grassroots level–the parish–is an opportunity for every baptized Catholic to be involved in shaping our Church for the future. In our own Diocese of Brooklyn, Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio and our new Bishop Robert Brennan have asked every parish to participate in it. To help guide the process, the Diocesan Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis has provided us with some questions for group reflection and discussion together. The result of this will feed into the national Synod document which will be forwarded to the Holy Father by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In a real sense, the collective input of the entire People of God will help the Pope and the Bishops of the world to shape their pastoral vision and planning into the future. It will serve the Church in her renewal to be more open to the voice of the Spirit (Pope Francis, Address for the Opening of the Synod, 9
October 2021).

I encourage everyone in our parish to take part in the Synod by participating in the Listening and Discerning Session which will take place on Saturday, January 15, from 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM in the Parish Institute, following the 8 AM Mass in the Lower Church, during which we will pray especially for the Lord’s blessing upon our parish’s Synod encounter. Mindful of the challenges still presented by Covid 19, I ask that all participants wear masks and observe the health protocols when you arrive for the session. It would be ideal to have a good representation of people from all ethnic backgrounds and from each group and organization within our parish.

At that meeting, we will share our experiences of Church, and dialogue about how we can enrich and grow the Church in the current cultural and societal contexts. Participants will be asked to form small groups according to the languages spoken; each group will have a facilitator and note-taker to assist in the process. All will have an opportunity to speak, and all inputs will be summarized and submitted to Bishop Brennan, who will, in turn, submit the summarized results to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to be forwarded to Rome.

As you can see from this consultative process, the Church values each member’s experience and wants to know what you think. This is active participation at its best. I especially look forward to listening to you, as your inputs for the universal Church will also help shape my own pastoral vision and planning for the future growth of our own parish. Please pray for our Holy Father and the Synodal process in our Diocese and worldwide, that the Holy Spirit will draw us more closely together and enable us to be a light to the nations. May God bless you and our parish family as we begin this journey together, confident that our united efforts will bear fruit in a more fervent experience of faith.

Yours devotedly in Christ,
Msgr. Cuong Pham

January 2, 2022

Dear parish family and friends,

HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and all your loved ones! As we embark upon a New Year, once again, we find that we are still dealing with this pandemic, especially in our own city. But, as you know, the entire world is going through much of the same.

I don’t know about you, but perhaps there was a sense of hope last year at this time that as we turned the page on 2020, this would all be behind us within a few months. But that’s not the case despite man’s best efforts of masks, vaccines, and mandates!

While humanity can only do what we can in our strength, I want to remind you today that God is still on the Throne regardless of where we have been or where we are going! That means that He is still in control.

There is a wonderful verse of Scripture which serves as a reminder of who God is: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last”. (Revelation 22:13).

While we cannot possibly know what the future holds, we know who holds the future! We are not even gifted enough to know what tomorrow will bring to us, but as Christian Catholics, we need to rest assured that God does! puts my mind at ease about His plans and purposes. This New Year will unfold as God has planned it to happen. Not one thing will take place that does not first sift through the loving hands of an Almighty God.

There are many times I don’t understand the ways of God, but that’s really not something we should concern ourselves with. We must only trust Him! Ultimately, I believe that God can write straight on crooked lines. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

No matter what it looks like right now, God is still on the throne. He reigns today, the King of Kings. He is sovereign over all things. Nothing happens outside the scope of His power and authority. When it comes to our future, remember that God already has been there! There is absolutely nothing that will come up in the days, weeks, and months ahead that will be a surprise to Him!

Moving forward into this New Year, I encourage you to live with anticipation for the wonderful things God wants to accomplish through you! Some people will be looking for hope, and we have that hope, and His Name is Jesus! Be ready to show him to the world, and do so with boldness, confidence and without fear, because God is on the Throne!

Let’s make this year a year of victory! With God’s grace!

Blessings in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

December 26, 2021

Dear parishioners and friends,

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

This Sunday, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family. The Holy Family is the name given to the earthly family of Jesus: the Christ Child himself, his mother Mary, and his foster-father Joseph. We know very little about the life of the Holy Family through the Scriptures, which only speak of the early years of the Holy Family, including the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the flight into Egypt, and the finding of Jesus in the temple. However, that limited information about the Holy Family can still teach us many important things about our faith and how we are to live our faith in the context of our individual family, human and spiritual.

Thus, today’s Feast is not just about the Holy Family, but about our own families too. The main purpose of the Feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. Our family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes. This is why each Christian family is called the “domestic Church.” St. John Chrysostom urged all Christians to make each home a “family church,” and in doing so, we sanctify the family unit. As the breakdown of the family unit becomes more prevalent today, this seems to be more urgent than ever.

Just how does one live out the Church in the family? The best way is by making Christ and his Church the center of family and individual life. Ways to do this include reading the Word of God regularly, praying daily, attending Mass at least on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, imitating the virtues of the Holy Family, and so forth, all done together as a family unit.

In addition to cultivating positive actions, the Church understands that various actions and behaviors are contrary to God’s divine plan for the family, and these should be avoided. These include abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, polygamy, divorce, spousal abuse, child abuse, and cohabitation. Our Catholic faith teaches that a marriage must be open to children. anything artificial that prevents this is therefore contrary to divine law. Also, poverty, lack of health care, and other social justice concerns must be addressed by faithful Christians because of the negative effect these conditions have on the family unit.

The Holy Family Feast is a good time to remember the family unit and pray for our human and spiritual families. Let us take this opportunity to reflect on the value and sanctity of the family unit, and to evaluate our own family life. What ways may it be improved? What would Jesus, Mary, and Joseph do in our particular family circumstance? How are we promoting a culture that supports the family within our own parish, neighborhood, and community?

As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we are, in a real sense, members of the Holy Family. St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians tells us how to live amidst the bonds of family. He encourages us to put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” in dealing with one another. By living in this way, we will strengthen our individual families and, ultimately, our common spiritual family that is the Church.

I am often inspired by the families of our parish that come together for worship and other communal activities. Whenever a Family Mass is held, the church is always packed with people, young and old, adults and children, youths and young adults. The visual image of such a celebration is quite powerful as it shows our parish family at its best. For that reason, I always appreciate deeply the programs and ministries that bring families together, such as our Religious Education Program, the Children’s Choir, the Mariachi Youth Band, the Youth Mass, the Vocation Groups, as well as the Baptism and Marriage Preparation Programs. It is very encouraging to know that while many other places have had to curtail most of these opportunities due to the pandemic, our parish remains a clear exception in that they are all thriving with extraordinary vitality and growth. I am grateful for the willingness and generosity of our parish leaders who work very hard to make our parish family more united and stronger each day, despite many ongoing hardships and challenges in these areas.

As we come to the end of this year, let us place our parish family before the Infant Lord, knowing that he, who “came so that we might have life, and have it abundantly”, will continue to bless us with greater holiness, love and strength in our effort to model our lives after that of his Holy Family.

Yours devotedly,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

December 19, 2021

“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways. In these last days,
He has spoken to us through the Son.” — Hebrews 1:1-2

Dear parish family and friends,

Christ came on earth to reveal an extraordinary message, a message of love, hope, joy and peace. He taught us to love one another, to be reconciled to one another and in so doing, experience God’s reconciling love for each one of us. During this Advent Season, it has been my prayer that all in our parish family would find opportunities to reflect on our current relationship with the Lord Jesus and respond to His constant call to conversion. No matter what it is that our hearts and souls desire, whether we realize it or not, our ultimate longing is for God Himself. For this reason, we are filled with joy and consolation at Christmas knowing that all that we hope for has been fulfilled in the mystery of Christ’s incarnation.

“As the darkness grows, the light grows stronger”. While the world is still living in turmoil, with so much suffering from the ongoing pandemic, the bright light of Jesus Christ has been clearly shining through the chaos. These past few months, as more and more people felt more comfortable to return to Church and participate in parish activities, I have witnessed firsthand what kind of people we are and what kind of community we have built in this parish. The daily examples of generosity, patience, love and care that edified me have proven beyond a doubt that our parishioners do possess the light of Christ and are eager to bring it to the world. I feel joy that I am here to see and be part of it!

Once I’ve seen a beautiful Christmas card with this message on the outside: “This Christmas, I wish you Jesus.” On the inside it reads: “Isn’t nice to have everything?” In the midst of these trying times, God the Father once again manifests His love to us in the wonderful gift of His Son, Jesus. As the angels sang on that first Christmas Eve, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth,” we believe that true peace on earth flows from our own recognition and praise of God in our lives. I never cease to be amazed by the ways in which many of you have witnessed to this incredible conviction.

To the priests, deacons, parish staff, group leaders, volunteers and faithful members who so faithfully take part in the life and prayer of the parish throughout the year, and all those who have contributed their time, talent and material resources which enable the mission of Christ to continue among our most needy brothers and sisters, I want to extend a sincere gratitude and appreciation for your goodness. To the parishioners from various ethnic groups of our parish who collaborated with our priests and staff in the work of decorating the churches and our church spaces for Christmas, I want to say a big THANK YOU. It is your generosity that makes the spirit of the season come alive in this parish.

Christmas, as many of you can attest to, has a way of bringing to Church individuals and families who, for various reasons, have not been to Mass or the Sacraments for months or years. What a wonderful and grace-filled opportunity to begin anew the right relationship with the Lord and His Church community. I extend an open and grateful heart of welcome to all our guests and friends who are returning to be with us during this holy season. Know that you will always have a place now and throughout the year at this Mother Church of Queens County.

Dear brothers and sisters, let the joy of Christmas penetrate our hearts and souls, so we may become the face of God to all whom we encounter these days. With gratitude for all the blessings that this sacred time brings to our parish family, I hold you each in my heart and in my prayer this Christmas season. May the Infant Child be born once again within you, and may Mary and St. Joseph watch over you and your loved ones always.

A Blessed and Merry Christmas to All!
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

December 12, 2021

Dear parishioners and friends of our parish,

The Sunday of the Third Week of Advent this year is also the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For many Catholics, especially Mexican and Mexican-Americans, this day is one of the most significant celebrations of the year. “La Morenita,” or the Brown Virgin, as Our Lady of Guadalupe is called affectionately, is the Patron of the Americas and undoubtedly our hemisphere’s most beloved manifestation of Mary, the Mother of God.

The feast commemorates the Blessed Mother’s four appearances in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, an indigenous peasant whose own tilma or cloak bore—and continues to bear—the miraculous imprint of her image. What’s most significant about this image is that it depicts Mary as a mestiza, a person of both European and American ancestry, a divinely fashioned mixture of cultures. Clothed with the sun and wearing the cinta, the maternity band signifying that she is pregnant with Christ, Mary stands upon the moon, with head bowed and hands folded in prayer. She is born aloft by an angel of the Lord. The stars that adorn her cloak signify the coming of a new age, and the sunrays emanating from behind her symbolize the fact that she is the bearer greater than the sun itself. Altogether, the image offers a message of hope and liberation to the people undergoing conquest as well as to the Spanish invaders who were supposed to evangelize them. While the Virgin of Guadalupe has become identified with the faith and culture of our Mexican brothers and sisters, she is venerated universally by the Church as Patroness of the Americas.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a preeminent figure in the Advent season because she proclaims to us the Gospel, the Good News of our salvation in Christ. To the Aztec people who were oppressed at that time, and to all of us in our contemporary time, Our Lady of Guadalupe offers hope. She shows the nearness of God who listens to the cry of the poor and responds to their pains and sufferings. She proclaims powerfully the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, mestiza “Church” that came to be incarnated as the result of the sixteenth-century cultural confrontation between Spain and Mexico, and we might also say, she functions as a typus ecclesiae—a “type,” or “image,” or “model” of the Church in our days. Indeed, the image of Our Lady being pregnant with Christ, the Incarnate Word, surely mirrors what the Church herself is, and what we ourselves are called to be: similarly “pregnant” with the Incarnate Word for the life and salvation of the world today. This, to me, is the most significant dimension of the image, and one of the most profound gifts that Mexican and Mexican-American spirituality offers to the whole Church today. More than ever, the Church is being called to be clearly multi-cultural and mestiza in form. To gaze contemplatively upon the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, then, is to gaze at what the Church is called to become.

How appropriate, then, that we celebrate Mary of Guadalupe in Advent! Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds us that her Son desires always to be born anew in us. Like St. John the Baptist, she also comes as God’s messenger, inviting us to give him a home in which to be born again in our life. As the “woman clothed with the sun,” Our Lady of Guadalupe also reflects the overall eschatological focus of Advent as well, the longing of humanity for the glorious return of the Lord at the end of time.

Since my arrival to our parish, I have come to appreciate more deeply the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe that exists here. I am moved by the simple ways in which people revere her. I am struck by the stories of so many people who have experienced God’s mercy through her intercessions. Deep within, I can sense the people’s longing for a God who is close to them, who identifies with them, and who has compassion for them.

This weekend, the rose candle will be lit in our Advent wreath in church, and priests will be wearing rose colored vestments as a sign of joy, signifying that the Lord’s coming is near. There’s also St. Juan Diego with all those roses in his tilma or cloak. What better way to experience that special joy than to celebrate it with Our Lady, Bearer of the Incarnate Word?

Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

December 5, 2021

Dear parish family and friends,

Advent is a beautiful liturgical season. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word for an “arrival” or a “coming”. The season of Advent thus reminds us that the Lord is coming. Jesus Christ, our Savior is about to arrive. However, Advent tells us that He comes in different ways. First, He came to us at a specific point in history at Bethlehem more than two millennia ago. Second, He will come to judge the living and the dead in the Second Coming at the end of the world. Third, He comes to us in grace. He speaks to us in our consciences; He comes to us in the Eucharist and in the Word of God proclaimed; he arrives in the person of the beggar, the needy, the immigrant, the suffering, the abused, and the defenseless. We must be ready to receive and welcome Him whenever He comes and however He comes.

Advent is a time of joy tinged with penance. Joy, because we can imagine nothing sweeter than the Baby Jesus and His Mother Mary’s bliss at the thought of His coming to light. Penance, because we strive to be properly disposed to receive so great a Gift from God. In the historical tradition of the Church, the faithful have always performed penance before great feasts. Christmas and Easter, hence, have their penitential seasons in anticipation, which are Advent and Lent respectively. The liturgical color used at Mass during both Advent and Lent is therefore purple–a sign of penance. The Church also emphasizes the penitential dimension of the season by directing the use of sparse ornaments in churches and by legislating that instrumental music should not be used excessively, except to sustain congregational singing. This is a liturgical fast that makes the celebration of the feast all the more powerful by the contrast of a muted season before it.
In our parish church, the Advent wreath is the central teaching symbol of the season, the focal point for drawing the assembly into the beginning of the story of redemption that will unfold throughout the Church Year. For this reason, we light the Advent Candles and proclaim the appropriate Scriptures each Sunday. I was deeply touched these days by families who brought their Advent wreaths or Advent candles to church to be blessed. Indeed, these simple gestures can become quite powerful as Advent is one of the few Christian festivals that can be observed in the home as well as at church. With its association with Christmas, Advent is a natural time to involve children in activities at home that directly connect with the liturgy at church.

In the home, an Advent wreath is often placed on the dining table and lighted at meals, with Scripture readings preceding the lighting of the candles, especially on Sunday. A new candle is lighted each Sunday during the four weeks, and then the same candles are lighted each meal during the week. In this context, it provides the opportunity for family devotion and prayer together, and helps teach the faith to children, especially if they are involved in preparing the wreath itself, lighting the candle, and reading the daily Scriptures. Some families also decorate the house for Advent using purple color table cloths, or bake special cookies or treats, or simply pray an Advent prayer before meals. An Advent Calendar is a way to keep children involved in the entire season. There are a wide variety of Advent calendars, but usually they are simply a card or poster with windows that can be opened, one each day of Advent, to reveal some symbol or picture associated with the Old Testament story leading up to the birth of Jesus. All of these provide opportunities to teach children the significance of this sacred time, and to remind ourselves of it as well.
We Catholics have such a rich and priceless heritage. If we make the effort to keep our traditions in line with the liturgical year, our families will be blessed and enriched. Saint John Paul II challenged us, “Families, become what you are!” We must live what we are despite societal pressure to do otherwise. Setting time aside from our busy holiday schedules to observe some Advent traditions is a great way for us to “become who we really are,” an advent people, eagerly longing for the coming of Our Lord.

Will your Advent this year be different from any other year?
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham