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Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent Readings: Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 or 13:41C-62 Psalms 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6 John 8:1-11

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ST. BERNADETTE-The more I am crucified

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent The more I am crucified, the more I rejoice. — ST. BERNADETTE

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Pencil Preaching for Monday, March 30, 2020

Pope Francis prays for those who weep from coronavirus loneliness or loss

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- In his Sunday homily, Pope Francis said it is a grace to weep with those who weep as many people suffer from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many cry today. And we, from this altar, from this sacrifice of Jesus -- of Jesus who was not ashamed to cry -- ask for the grace to cry. May today be for everyone like a Sunday of tears,” Pope Francis said in his homily on March 29.

Before offering Mass in the chapel of his Vatican City residence, Casa Santa Marta, the pope said that he was praying for people who are weeping because of coronavirus loneliness, loss, or economic hardship.

“I think of so many people crying: isolated people in quarantine, lonely elderly people, hospitalized people, people in therapy, parents who see that since there is no salary they will not be able to feed their children,” he said.

“Many people cry. We too, from our hearts, accompany them. And it won't hurt us to cry a little with the Lord's weeping for all of his people,” he added.

Pope Francis focused his homily on one line from the Gospel of John’s account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus: “And Jesus wept.”

“How tenderly Jesus weeps!” Pope Francis said. “He cries from the heart, cries with love, cries with his [people] who cry.”

“The cry of Jesus. Perhaps, he wept at other times in his life - we do not know -- certainly in the Garden of Olives. But Jesus cries for love, always,” he added.

The pope said that Jesus cannot help but to look upon people with compassion:“How many times have we heard in the Gospel this emotion of Jesus, with a phrase that is repeated: 'Seeing, he had compassion.’”

“Today, facing a world that suffers so much, in which so many people suffer the consequences of this pandemic, I ask myself: ‘Am I capable of crying as … Jesus is now? Does my heart resemble that of Jesus?'” he said.

In his livestreamed Angelus address, Pope Francis reflected again on the Gospel account of the death of Lazarus.

“Jesus could have avoided the death of his friend Lazarus, but he wanted to make our pain for the death of loved ones his own, and above all he wanted to show God's dominion over death,” the pope said.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days, Francis explained. Lazarus’ sister Martha runs to meet Jesus and says to him: "If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

“Jesus replies: ‘Your brother will rise’ and adds: ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.' Jesus shows himself as the Lord of life, the One who is capable of giving life even to the dead,” the pope said after quoting the Gospel.

“Have faith! In the midst of crying, you continue to have faith, even if death seems to have won,” he said. “Let the Word of God bring life back to where there is death.”

Pope Francis said: “God's answer to the problem of death is Jesus.”

The pope called on each person  to remove “everything that tastes of death” from their lives, including hypocrisy, criticism of others, slander, and the marginalization of the poor.

“Christ lives, and whoever welcomes him and adheres to him comes into contact with life,” Francis said.

“May the Virgin Mary help us to be compassionate like her Son Jesus, who made our pain his own. Each of us is close to those who are in affliction, become for them a reflection of the love and tenderness of God, who frees us from death and makes life victorious,” Pope Francis said.

'COVID-19 knows no borders': Pope Francis calls for global ceasefire

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appealed for a global ceasefire on Sunday as countries work to defend their populations from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The current emergency of COVID-19 … knows no borders,” Pope Francis said March 29 in his Angelus broadcast.

The pope urged nations in conflict to respond to an appeal made by the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on March 23 for an “immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world” to “focus together on the true fight of our lives,” the “battle” against the coronavirus.

The pope said: “I invite everyone to follow up by stopping all forms of war hostility, promoting the creation of corridors for humanitarian aid, openness to diplomacy, attention to those in a situation of greater vulnerability.”

“Conflicts are not resolved through war,” he added. “It is necessary to overcome antagonism and differences through dialogue and a constructive search for peace.”

After first appearing in Wuhan, China in December 2019, the coronavirus has now spread to more than 180 countries.

The UN Secretary General said that a global ceasefire would “help create corridors for life-saving aid” and “bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.” He pointed out that refugee camps and people with existing health conditions are most at risk of suffering “devastating losses.”

Guterres appealed in particular to those fighting in Yemen to end hostilities, as UN humanitarian advocates fear the potentially devastating consequences of a Yemeni COVID-19 outbreak because the country already faces a significant humanitarian crisis.

Both the Saudi-led forces and Iran-aligned Houthi movement fighting in Yemen both responded to the UN appeal for a ceasefire on March 25, according to Reuters.

“The joint commitment against the pandemic can lead everyone to recognize our need to strengthen fraternal bonds as members of a single family,” Pope Francis said.

The pope also appealed for government authorities to be sensitive to the vulnerability of prisoners during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I read an official memo from the Human Rights Commission that talks about the problem of overcrowded prisons, which could become a tragedy,” he said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a warning on March 25 about the potentially devastating effects COVID-19 could have in overcrowded prisons and immigrant detention centers around the world.

“In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so. People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” Bachelet said.

“With outbreaks of the disease, and an increasing number of deaths, already reported in prisons and other institutions in an expanding number of countries, authorities should act now to prevent further loss of life among detainees and staff,” she said.

The High Commissioner also appealed for governments to release political prisoners and to implement health measures in other facilities where people are confined together, such as mental health facilities, nursing homes, and orphanages.

“At this moment my thoughts go in a special way to all people who suffer the vulnerability of being forced to live in a group,” Pope Francis said.

“I ask the authorities to be sensitive to this serious problem and to take the necessary measures to avoid future tragedies," he said.

‘So much of this is out of our control’: Pregnancy amid a pandemic

Denver, Colo., Mar 29, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Sarah Sefranek, a Catholic wife and mother living in Parker, Colorado, is 37 weeks pregnant with her fourth child.

While she normally homeschools her other children even when there’s not a global pandemic on, coronavirus restrictions have changed what normal life looks like for everyone.

“It’s not regular homeschooling” right now, she said. “Regular homeschooling means you go out, you see your friends, you do exciting things.”

Sefranek and her family have been doing their best to stay home and maintain social distancing in order to avoid getting the coronavirus, especially so close to her due date. They’ve stopped going to the library, they’ve stopped playdates and book club meetings. Sefranek told CNA her husband leaves the house only to get groceries or other essentials.

But, like most pregnant women, even if Sefranek remains healthy, labor, delivery and postpartum recovery will likely look very different for her than they would have without pandemic restrictions.

“I know the things that were helpful to me when my (other babies) came, like having a meal train and having my mom come over. Now I can't have playdates for my big kids while I'm recovering. I don't even know where people are going to get the meat to make me meal for a meal train. So it is strange,” Sefranek said.

Things “suddenly felt a lot more serious” for Sefranek when her doctor offered to do a telemedicine visit for her 38 week appointment instead of an in-clinic appointment. Normally, at this point in pregnancy, Sefranek would be going in for weekly visits until she delivers. But her doctor told her this time, unless she had serious concerns that something was wrong, it would be best to do the visit over a video call.

Looming large among Sefranek’s worries - what happens if she, or her baby, get coronavirus?

“Recommendations are changing all the time, but right now, if I tested positive, they would want to separate the baby from me at birth, which is pretty scary to me,” she said.

There is also a shortage of coronavirus tests in most places in the U.S. Sefranek wonders what would happen if she showed up to the hospital to deliver, and had a cough or a fever, but could not get tested.

“I feel a little bit like I have to hide in even more of a bubble, because I feel I can't catch anything at all. In a way, I feel I'm more scared of being separated from baby than I am of the virus itself,” Sefranek added, which she admits is “maybe not rational.”

 

A dearth of research on coronavirus and pregnancy

 

Information about pregnancy and coronavirus is scant, as the disease is so new and there has not been enough time for extensive research. 

While pregnant women are not considered immunocompromised in the classic sense of the term, their immune systems are considered “suppressed,” meaning they are more susceptible to illnesses like the flu or coronavirus, and may suffer more severe symptoms and complications than they normally would have, were they not pregnant.

“With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness. It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses,” the CDC website states.

The CDC notes that it is still unknown whether mothers infected with coronavirus could pass the illness on to their babies, though it says that so far, no infants born to COVID-19 positive mothers have also tested positive for COVID-19. The virus has also thus far not been found in the amniotic fluid or breast milk of mothers who have tested positive.

There have been a small number of reported complications in pregnancy or delivery in mothers who are COVID-19 positive, though the CDC notes that it is unclear if the complications were related to the infection. Women of childbearing age are also in age categories where coronavirus death rates are not as high as older populations.

Jennifer Murphy is the medical director of the Pregnancy Support Center of Carroll County in Maryland. The pregnancy center helps women in crisis pregnancies or with low incomes with material assistance such as diapers, with medical care such as pregnancy tests or sonograms, and by connecting them with additional resources.

Murphy told CNA that so far, her center has not had any of their clients test positive for coronavirus. As a precaution, they have moved most of their operations to the parking lot, and only bring women into their facility if necessary, and once they have been screened for symptoms.

“You always worry that pregnant women are more susceptible to things than other people. So far, the data doesn't seem to show that,” Murphy said.

“I'm not making light of it, but there's so much in the news that's horrifying, but most people will actually come through this just fine, and there's not so far any evidence that pregnant women do worse than anyone else,” she added.

Murphy said she has been telling her clients to remain calm, to practice good hygiene and quarantine protocols, and to be in close contact with their doctors if they do suspect symptoms of coronavirus.

“It's a lot of quelling of anxiety, a lot of folks who are just very afraid, and understandably,” Murphy said. “But anxiety isn't good for you when you're pregnant either, so we're trying to emphasize positive things they can do quarantine-wise, and keeping their environment clean and calm as much as possible, and trying not to think too far ahead about bad things.”

“Pregnancy is a time of anxiety anyway, especially first time moms,” Murphy added. “And it's hard not to have this add a great burden, but just to try to stay focused on a few good things and taking care of your baby. So just (focus on) keeping yourself safe, and probably not even overexposing yourself to media, because I think that just makes it worse,” she said.

“Be informed, but don't make yourself crazy.”

 

Disrupting birth plans

 

The lack of information on pregnancy and coronavirus worries Anna H., a Catholic in Long Island, New York, where the pandemic has hit the hardest in the U.S. thus far. She is 22 weeks pregnant with her first child.

“It's just the unknown,” Anna told CNA.

“There isn't enough research on how it affects pregnant women, how it affects babies. I know there's a lot of research that says that it probably isn't too bad for the babies, but I also have asthma,” she adds, an underlying condition that could worsen the effects of coronavirus, a respiratory disease.

Anna, who teaches high school theology, said her school has been closed since March 12. She’s been teaching online, which is easier on her body, and she’s less worried about exposure now that she and her husband are working from home. She said she’s also grateful for the stay-at-home order in her state, and hopes the aggressive approach will slow the spread of the virus and relieve some of the pressure on hospitals and doctors.

Already in New York, some overwhelmed hospitals are not allowing pregnant women to bring any support people with them - no spouses, parents, children, friends or doulas.

“I'm pretty nervous about that,” Anna said. She and her husband joke that they would schedule a home birth with a midwife if it came down to him not being allowed at the birth - and Anna knows a Catholic mom in the area who has delivered all five of her children at home.

But she’s hoping it doesn’t have to come to that, and that things will calm down by the time she needs to deliver.

“Right now I feel like we don't need to worry about that too much. We can put it in God's hands for now,” she said.

Baylyn Wagner, who is 28 weeks along and due on June 19th with her third child, has already decided to change her labor and delivery plans in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Initially I thought, ‘Oh, it'll for sure be over and done with by June and we won't have to worry about delivery,’” Wagner, who lives in Minnesota, told CNA.

But then she started hearing reports of hospitals restricting support people for pregnant women to one person, or to no one. Her own hospital emailed her and told her that they would only allow one support person, even though Wagner had been planning on her husband, doula, and birth photographer attending her labor and delivery.

Wagner said her doctor tried to reassure her. Wagner had a late loss in her second pregnancy - she miscarried a little after 21 weeks - and in light of that, Wagner’s doctor said she would do her best to advocate for the hospital to make an exception for Wagner’s husband to be present for the birth of their third child.

“But she said if it gets to ‘full crisis mode,’ those were her words, they absolutely could limit it down because their priority is keeping their staff healthy. I know hospitals are doing what they can, but for us...with the anxiety we already had with this pregnancy, we chose to look into midwives to do a home birth option,” she said.

After talking with four different midwives, Wagner said it sounded to her like a lot of couples were making the same changes.

Wagner said they’ve also changed their contract with their birth photographer to a more tentative plan, that accounts for whether the photographer is sick and cannot come to the birth.

Wagner lives with her grandparents, so she said they will watch her son while she gives birth at home. Her grandfather is also a Catholic deacon, and she said she is considering asking him to baptize her child soon after the birth, in the event that churches are not yet open.

“There's really no way to know right now what things will look like by June, if things will be better, if we'll able to have Masses again by that point, or what the world will look like,” Wagner said.

 

Keeping calm, trusting God


Claire Le, who lives in Littleton, Colorado, is expecting her first child with her husband Huy. The Le’s said they stocked up on food as they saw the pandemic worsening, and since then they have been staying home as much as possible to avoid any exposure.

“My main fear is if I contract the virus, then I would have been in ICU and then my husband can't be there during the delivery,” Claire said. “And then also, if hospital protocols get even worse, there may even be a chance he may not be there. So, right now we're trying to control what we can, and trying to both stay healthy.”

“I think we just constantly remind ourselves that this is not in our control,” Huy added. “I mean, we can pray for a good May 1st due date where everything's just back to normal, but things like that are not really under our control.”

Thinking about postpartum recovery is what makes Claire a little sad, she said. Her family is out in California, and they were planning to come see the baby and help out after the birth. But now, they’re not sure when a visit will be possible.

Huy and Claire are also wondering about the baptism, and if it will be performed privately.

Claire said she has found peace in prayer and offering up the situation to God.

“I know God's been with us from the very beginning, from conception, and he's been with us the whole way. I know we'll be okay,” she said.

Huy said staying connected with loved ones, watching daily Mass on YouTube, and praying together as a couple has been helping them stay calm at this time.

“We went to a chapel which was relatively quiet, that gives us a little bit of a release where we can just go there and with God for a while,” he said.

Anna said she has been trying to balance her worries and anxieties by also counting her blessings.

“I always try to think about what blessings I have at this time: more time with my husband, more time prepare for the baby, more time to rest,” she said. “The fact that I'm not on my feet all the time is really helpful...teaching is physically demanding because you're on your feet so much.”

The time at home has also afforded her more time to pray, Anna said.

“I did a novena to St. Gerard (a patron saint of pregnancy) when we first got pregnant and I just started the other day to do another novena to St. Gerard,” Anna said. “(I’m also) able to live stream daily mass, where normally when I'm a teaching I don't have time for that.”

Wagner said she and her husband have been trying to say a daily rosary in order to stay calm at this time.

“(We’re) especially meditating on what Mary and Joseph went through and their pregnancy and their birth with Jesus, and uniting our own uncertainty to what they experienced,” she said.

She’s also been using Hallow, a Catholic prayer app that leads users through guided meditations similar to the popular Calm app, but based on Scripture readings.

“They've had a whole series of little guided meditations on different ways to cope with isolation and stress through all of this, so that's been a nice tool and prayer as well,” she said.

Sefranek said the pandemic has made her identify more closely with women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, and helped her realize how much of life is out of her control.

“I planned this pregnancy nine months ago,” Sefranek said. “I didn't plan to have a baby in the middle of pandemic...maybe every pregnancy, every birth, in a way, is unplanned.”

“I don't want to diminish the pain and the difficulty of a real crisis pregnancy,” she added. “It just is reminding me of that…(because) so much of this outside of my control.”

Sefranek said she’s been saying a lot of “midnight rosaries” when she wakes up from pregnancy discomfort, and that’s been helping her to feel at peace, though she deeply misses the sacraments. She said she’s also been connecting with loved ones virtually to help ease her anxieties.

She is also paying attention to the small blessings in her life. For example, she said, the other day she found out that she had two extra boxes of sticks for her fertility monitor that she will need to track her cycle once the baby is born. She had previously been worried - panic buying has caused the sticks to be scarce online.

“(It was) a small thing, but maybe God had a plan for me and he used my absent mindedness to give me this small thing right now that could increase my peace,” she said.

“So that was a nice reminder that God can work through the things that feel really frustrating in the moment.”

 

St. Joseph of Arimathea

St. Joseph of Arimathea is a disciple of Jesus Christ who is mentioned in each account of the Passion narrative. After the Passion of the Lord, Joseph, a member of the Jewish council went to Pilate and asked for possession of the body of Jesus. After receiving this permission, Joseph had Jesus laid in a nearby tomb.The Gospels tell us that Joseph was a just and devout man waiting for the kingdom of God. He followed Jesus' public ministry but feared the repercussions from the other members of the Jewish council.

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Pencil Preaching for Sunday, March 29, 2020

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Fifth Sunday of Lent Readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14 Psalms 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 Romans 8:8-11 John 11:1-45 or John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45

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ST. BENEDICT-We must know that God

Fifth Sunday of Lent We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words. — ST. BENEDICT

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