The Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Sunday)

OLD THINGS MADE NEW

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

Today (Easter Sunday) marks the defining moment of our faith, our Church, our parish and our lives. Nothing is the same after the resurrection. Christ’s triumph is what separates Christianity from all other religions. Look closely at any religion and you will find great teachers and teachings; martyrs and ideas that better humanity, but only one man rose from the dead. The world would never be the same after the first Easter Sunday.

Everything we believe and practice hinges on the resurrection, and so it is fitting that we give this celebration everything we have. Here at St. Basil’s, I have joked with several parishioners that as soon as we finishing celebrating the risen Christ, I am going to fall with exhaustion like the stone he rolled away!

Good celebrations take a lot of work, and they are certainly a team effort – not just the ministers and volunteers – but all of us. If you are at our parish this weekend, then you played a part in the celebration, so let me take this moment to thank you for helping us celebrate!

That said, some folks deserve more gratitude than others. There are many that put in a great many hours to prepare long before we opened the doors on Saturday night. In fact even before the liturgies began, some came out to help us clean the church so that it would shine with all the glory our Savior deserves.

Those of you who know me, know that I like a clean church and have spent a lot of time cleaning the place since I arrived last July. Part of my cleaning before Holy Week including repairing parts of the bell tower and finally cleaning the windows. I must admit that I was amazed how well they cleaned up, and it made me think of how often we through things out because they are not new, when really they just need a little love. . . or elbow grease.

This great old church is a good example of how beautiful old things and traditions can be – kind of like Mass on Easter Sunday. If you are a visitor to our parish, my hope is that we will see you again – that you will come back to see just how much more there is to see and experience. Perhaps you can help us to do a few new things with some of the old things? Perhaps this can be your resurrection moment? Perhaps you will look back years from now and say things really weren’t quite the same after this Easter?

And if you already call this parish home. . . well. . . I have the same hope for you too. May we all work together to celebrate the resurrection every day we are together!

Happy Easter,

Fr. Chris

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

THIS WEEK IS UNLIKE ANY OTHER

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

Holy Week has begun. Everything is now set in motion: Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem precedes his arrest, which is followed by his trial, which precedes his sentence, which is followed by his torture and death. Everything is connected.

There is a reason we read the Passion in such a dramatic fashion, with several lectors reading the various parts of each character: only when we see the big picture do we begin to feel and see the drama of the tragedy which is highlighted by characters of the story. The innocent Jesus next to the revolutionary Barabbas; the Jewish authorities who mock alongside the Roman solider who respects; the weeping women in the midst of the chaotic crowd; and so on.

Each character read in a different voice allows us to participate in a more profound manner; to ask ourselves how we would react to the events unfolding before us? Sure, we hold palms thinking how wonderful it would have been to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem, but it is more likely that we would have been like the Apostles who fled or even Peter who denied? Or might we have been like the Pharisees who condemn? When we look back at our own life, which character in the Passion are we most closely compared to?

All I ask is that you take time this week to consider such questions, for this week is not like any other. It is a week, when we are changed and defined – perhaps even redefined; but only if we take time to allow ourselves to enter the story.

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A LENTEN PSALMODY 

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

This Wednesday, we once again begin our sacred season of Lent.  As a parish, I am asking each of us to journey with the Psalms, for they voice our dialogue with God and speak of the intimacy between God’s creation and its Creator.

Over the last few months, we have begun to quietly reintroduce ourselves to the Liturgy of the Hours, which centers around the Psalms.  They are shouts of gladness, cries of lamentation, offerings of praise, prayers for our community, invitations to repentance and so much more.  The Psalms are unlike the rest of the Bible, for they do not advance the story of our salvation; rather they offer the people a chance to respond to all that God has done.  They give us permission to have a voice.

St. Basil writes, “A psalm implies serenity of soul; it is the author of peace, which calms bewildering and seething thoughts. For, it softens the wrath of the soul, and what is unbridled it chastens. A psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. Who, indeed, can still consider as an enemy him with whom he has uttered the same prayer to God?

So that psalmody, bringing about choral singing, a bond, as it were, toward unity, and joining the people into a harmonious union of one choir, produces also the greatest of blessings, charity. A psalm is a city of refuge from the demons, a means of inducing help from the angels, a weapon in fears by night, a rest from toils by day, a safeguard for infants, an adornment for those at the height of their vigor, a consolation for the elders, a most fitting ornament for women.

It peoples the solitudes; it rids the market place of excesses; it is the elementary exposition of beginners, the improvement of those advancing, the solid support of the perfect, the voice of the Church. It brightens the feast days; it creates a sorrow which is in accordance with God.

For, a psalm is the work of angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense.”

So as we begin this Lenten season, let us begin by uniting our voice with the voices of others; let us begin with the Psalms.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

RELATING TO JOHN

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

I have always appreciated the character of John the Baptist, who we hear about in this week’s Gospel.  He is a bold, prophetic, almost larger-than-life personality, and somehow manages to cut straight to the heart of things with simplicity and humility.

He has this profound sense that he is part of something bigger than himself.  The Baptist clearly understands that he is great, not just because of his own actions, but because of what, and who, he represents.

Last week you received a letter from me concerning what has occurred in this parish since I was appointed your Pastor.  I have received a lot of gratitude, which is wonderful; and indeed, I have worked hard, so I do welcome the appreciation.  However, I am also mindful of what my father drilled into me, “to whom much has been given, much is expected.”  In his mind, service and sacrifice are the dues we pay for the privilege of living

Like John, I am a reflection of someone else (actually many someones. . .) This is true of each of us.  We each have people who have come before us, and it is quite humbling for me, especially when I think of the great Pastors that have come before me.

But real humility is not lowering our head and pointing to another in attempt to throw credit or attention away from ourselves.  I think it is more like what we find in John the Baptist:  a bold voice that says I am here, but recognize that I am part of something much bigger.  As the adage goes, “Real humility is not thinking of yourself less; rather, less about yourself.”

So let us answer the call to serve and be willing to sacrifice; but let us do it like John:  with our heads held high, confident that it is never just about us, but about being a part of something (and someone) greater.

3rd Sunday of Advent

A NEW YEAR BEGINS. . .

We are now halfway between two New Year celebrations:  December 1 as the beginning of the Church year and January 1 as the beginning of the calendar year.  Thus, it seems a fitting time to share to provide an update on the parish as part of our ongoing stewardship conversation. 

As you know, under my direction, Michael Rayfield presented a financial update to the parish, as the chair of the Finance Committee, in late September.  During that presentation, he spoke of the “opportunity” the parish has to define what sort of parish it would like to be.  He asked you to make your wishes known through your contributions and desire to participate in ministry.

The response has been positive.  Though there is always more we can do, parishioners have responded well with time, talents and monies as well as many comments to me.  Based on what I have heard from you, I am happy to inform you of two exciting developments that are now being implemented:

The first is the addition of a new full-time Social and Community Coordinator position.  The focus of this position is to do a better job at following through with everyone who comes through our doors with a particular focus on those in the surrounding condos and the people who come for marriage, RCIA and other sacraments.  This is a response to what I have heard since I arrived:  St. Basil’s is wonderful about hospitality, but like all parishes, we have struggled with the follow through.  Especially now that I am the only full-time priest at the parish, it is necessary to have help with this aspect of parish life. 

The second development is the installation of a new sound system.  I have heard a frequent and regular litany of complaints about the sound in the church.  Consultants have confirmed these difficulties, and so we are installing a completely new system.  After all, our role is to proclaim, which we cannot do very well if we don’t have the right tools to do so.

So let me express my gratitude since both of these improvements are a direct response to your voice and deed.  I ask that you continue your support knowing that we strive to be active and careful stewards of the gifts you give.  Please continue to share your concerns with me, knowing that I will do all I can to respond.  Lastly, please continue to pray for me as I certainly do for each of you. 

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

TRANSFORMATIVE COMMUNITY

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

Our readings this week remind us that who we are now, is not who we will be.  The present age is as difficult for us as it was for our ancestors.  And though persecution is not what it used to be (some could argue it is worse), the resurrection – the idea that we are transformed – is eternal.

Over the past few weeks, many people have commented that they feel a new energy at St. Basil’s.  Of course, I am happy to hear this, but the temptation is to associate the change with my arrival.  While I appreciate the credit, it is really a group effort.

One of the books I frequently recommend (especially to those in leadership positions) is Community by David Block.  Among other things, David writes about “transforming communities.”  In order for a community to be such, he argues, people (1) should focus on the structure of how we gather and the context in which our gatherings take place; (2) work hard at getting the questions right; (3) choose depth over speed and relatedness over scale.

Traditionally, Block continues, the dominant belief is that better and more leadership, programs, funding, expertise, studies, training and master plans are the way to build community.  They are a path to improvement, but not transformation.

So what does a path to transformation look like?  In a word:   curiosity.

Think for a moment about your own reaction to things and people that make you curious.  Now think about your understanding of the Church. . . about your faith. . . about this parish. . . what are we curious about?

Is this the right question?  Does it give us permission to doubt in a safe context?  Does it give us permission to learn?   To ask a question?

On my Twitter account, I quote the line from David Block, “Questions themselves are an art form worthy of a lifetime of study.”  He elaborates, “Questions that trigger argument, analysis, explanation, and defense have little power.  They may be interesting, but that is different from being powerful.  Rather, A great question has three qualities:  it is ambiguous, personal, and evokes anxiety.

May we have the courage to ask such questions . . . questions that evoke a deeper curiosity and lead to transformation.

Feast of St. Michael the Archangel

How Do You Know Me?

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

It is not often that a Feast day is celebrated in place of the regular Sunday liturgy; however, that is precisely what Cardinal Collins has called for this Sunday.  Since St. Michael is the patron of the archdiocese and we are soon to conclude the Year of Faith, Cardinal Collins has given us all a great gift in the elevated celebration of this Feast.

For all of us at St. Basil’s, it is also significant as we celebrate my installation as Pastor of St. Basil’s, the Collegiate Church of St. Michael’s.

The liturgy for this feast includes Jesus encounter with Nathanael in the Gospel of John.  Nathanael is confused because Jesus seems to know who he is, and yet, Nathanael does not recall meeting Jesus.

I must confess that I feel a bit like Nathanael this weekend as Jesus (and the Council of the Basilian Fathers) saw something in me before I ever saw it in myself – a Priest and Pastor.  Never in my wildest imagination would I imagine that I would be asked to Pastor a parish, and yet I find myself overjoyed and humbled by the confidence you have all put in me.

As I am formally installed this weekend, I hope are reminded that you are also capable of much more than you may have once thought.  I hope you will be inspired by the liturgy, and allow yourself to be seen by others as a “true child” of God.

Most of all, I hope that you pray for me, that I may allow myself to be seen by Jesus and by you for who I am – a man who is better than I was because you have accepted me.  Know that I pray for each of you, that you may be inspired by teachers like St. Basil and by the courage of St. Michael to go out and boldly proclaim the Good News to all you meet.