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Fr. Romanus' Letter of April 22nd

 

Dear Parishioners,

Sunday Reflection:

This Sunday’s gospel from John strikes a familiar tone with the narrative of Jesus as the good shepherd. In John’s gospel, Jesus revealed his identity through the “I am” utterances. There are seven of these utterances. Namely: “I am the Bread of Life” (Jn. 6:35); “I am the Light of the world” (Jn. 8:12); “I am the Gate” (Jn. 10:9); “I am the Good Shepherd” (Jn. 10:14); “I am the Resurrection and Life” (Jn. 11:25); “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn. 14:6); “I am the True Vine” (Jn. 15:1).

     These sayings reveal the varied ways in which God provides for and safeguards his people. After experiencing the Holy Week and Triduum celebrations, it is not difficult to understand the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd. These celebrations highlight God’s unconditional love revealed through his son. They go to show how far God was willing to go for human redemption.

     In today’s gospel, Jesus compares the Good Shepherd with a hired hand. When wild beasts threaten, the Good Shepherd stands his ground to protect his flock. This often involves putting himself in harm’s way, even to the point of sacrificing his life for the flock. On the other hand, a hired hand who has no investment in the flock abandons it and runs away when he senses danger. For him, the flock is not worth sacrificing his life.

     The books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel contain condemnations of the bad shepherds of Israel – “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture” (Jer. 23:1). Under the leadership of bad shepherds, the sheep scatter and become prey to wild beasts. Rather than care for the flock, bad shepherds fatten themselves at the expense of the flock. Due to the inability of the bad shepherds of Israel to care for the flock, God Himself took over the shepherding of his people (Ezek. 34:7-11).

     As the Good Shepherd, Jesus laid down his life for his flock, as evident in our Good Friday service. Jesus reminds us that he laid down his life willingly, that is, without coercion. He laid it down that he might take it up again. Hence, the dying and rising of Christ manifest the supreme power of God, and reveal a God who is always in control of human destiny. One of the hallmarks of the Good Shepherd is the close bond he has with the flock. The Church helps to nourish that bond through the administration of the sacraments. A flock’s survival is also dependent on its willingness to cooperate with the shepherd and follow where the shepherd leads. A flock that follows its own designs will hardly survive.

     In the gospel, Jesus refers to other sheep that also depend on him for leadership and guidance. This recognition is important in establishing common grounds for Christian unity and inter-religious dialogue. The recognition that Catholicism is not the only path to salvation was one of the major accomplishments of the Second Vatican Council. Ultimately, the goal is to have one flock and one shepherd. Hence, the importance of continuous prayer for Christian unity.

     As the Good Shepherd, Jesus is the model of Christian leadership. We exercise leadership roles as parents, guardians, teachers, catechists, ministers, sponsors, et cetera. As Christian leaders, we have a responsibility to protect those entrusted to us. This is especially true in relation to the children entrusted to our care. We have to do everything to ensure their protection from abuse and danger. As we know, April is child protection month, when the Church places extra emphasis on the protection of children from abuse. Are we doing enough to ensure that those under our protection are safe?

 

Have a great week!

 

Fr. Romanus' Letter of April 15th

 

Dear Parishioners,

Sunday Reflection:

The narrative about the empty tomb on Easter Sunday hinted that Jesus did not abandon his body when he rose from the dead. Moreover, his body did not loose its human qualities, but remained a fusion of his two natures – humanity and divinity - in sync with the incarnation. The Church refers to Jesus’ risen body as the “glorious” or “glorified” body (Catechism of the Catholic Church, art. 999). Having no human limitations means Jesus could appear and disappear at will.

     Last Sunday, Jesus appeared to his apostles, although the doors were locked (John 20:19). When Thomas who was absent during the appearance refused to believe, Jesus did not take offence. Instead, he visited a second time and invited Thomas to touch his body and feel the marks of his wounds (vs. 27-28). Thomas was overwhelmed after confirming that it was indeed Jesus and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (vs. 28). Jesus cautioned him not to persist in doubt, but to believe.

     This Sunday’s gospel narrative follows on the heels of Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. After taking them on a Scripture discourse, they recognized him in the breaking of bread. Then, he vanished from their presence. The two disciples turned around and headed back to Jerusalem where they narrated their experience of the risen Christ to the eleven apostles. As they were discussing the matter, Jesus appeared to them again. That is where this Sunday’s gospel picks it up.

     As with last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus greeted them with peace, and asked why they were still troubled and skeptical. As with his proof to Thomas, Jesus invited them to touch his body and know that it is really him, not a ghost. He reasoned with them and reassured them since ghosts do not have flesh and bones. He proceeded to show them his hands and feet marked with the wounds of the cross. Upon realizing it was Jesus, they were overwhelmed with joy and their fears melted away.

     To further eliminate any remaining doubt, Jesus asked for anything to eat. They gave him a piece of fish, and he ate it in their presence. It goes to show how far Jesus would go to carry us along and ensure that no one is left behind when the salvation train takes off. To question Jesus’ resurrection is to question the veracity of the gospels. Though the resurrection narratives differ slightly, they contain overwhelming evidence of its reality. Of course, this will be the last Sunday gospel proof of the resurrection immediately following Easter Sunday. If the resurrection were not a big deal, Jesus would not have spent so much time convincing his disciples that he was alive. The process of convincing the skeptical also meant exercising so much patience with human skepticism.

    The resurrection of Christ says a lot about our future with God. As people of faith, we have a vision that transcends life on earth. While some in society believe that nothing follows after we are done with earthly life, as people of faith, we believe that real life begins after life on earth. The resurrection will mean an end to all impediments to happiness. It will mean an end to pain, suffering, and all the imperfections that besiege our earthly life. No wonder St. Paul postulated that if Christ had not risen, we would have been the most pitiful of all people.

 

Have a great week!

 

Fr. Romanus' Letter of April 8th

 

Dear Parishioners,

In this Sunday’s gospel, we read about the risen Christ appearing to his petrified disciples. As we know, fear leads to anxiety, restlessness, and intimidation. Hence, as a testimony to his abiding love, Jesus showers them with peace. “Peace be with you,” he said to them over and over. To help conquer their fears, he gave them the awesome gift of the Holy Spirit. He also gave them power to forgive sins, thereby entrusting them with the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation.

    One of the hallmarks of this encounter was the incredulity of Thomas who was absent during the visit. He simply refused to believe that the crucified Lord had actually risen and had appeared to his comrades. We should not be quick to judge him since it was unheard of (except in the case of Lazarus) that a dead person would come back to life after three days in the tomb. However, given their master’s predictions of rising on the third day and the raising of Lazarus, Thomas’ skepticism seems unwarranted.

    Drawing from our gospel passage and parallel passages, the term ‘doubting Thomas’ is often used to describe one who refuses to believe something without direct, personal evidence. As a concept, skepticism is an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity about particular things or things in general. Today’s world boasts a lot of skeptics, especially in the area of religion. These skeptics doubt everything dealing with faith: the crucifixion, resurrection, creation, angels, heaven, hell, purgatory, etc. Unfortunately, some of these committed skeptics are baptized but non-practicing Catholics. Even some practicing Catholics find it hard resisting the strong lure of skepticism.

     Scientific skepticism is certainly understandable given its emphasis on the empirical method. The empirical method questions the reliability of certain claims until they have been subjected to systematic investigation involving observation, verification, and analysis. Considering the rigors of the scientific method, science itself could reasonably be referred to as an organized form of skepticism.

     As if anticipating a case of scientific skepticism, Jesus showed Thomas the nail marks on his hands and urged him to put his finger into his side where he was pierced. Then, he lovingly said to Thomas, “… do not be unbelieving, but believe.” That was the kind of evidence Thomas needed. Having satisfied his curiosity, Thomas proclaimed unequivocal faith in the risen Lord, stating, “My Lord and my God.” The good news is that Thomas’ doubt presented an opportunity for Jesus to bless present and future generations of believers who do not have to see to believe. That blessing extends to all of us whose faith is not based on science.

     Liken the gospel, the first reading reminds us that to be Catholic or Christian is to belong to a community of believers. We are told that the early community of believers was of one heart and mind and had everything in common, sharing of their possessions. Those in religious orders seem to exemplify this way of life. For the rest of us, it is a call to take care of the church and one another, ensuring that no one is left in need. Obviously, we are doing a lot in this regard as evident in our social justice ministries and human concern efforts. However, there is always more to be done. We can choose to magnify our efforts through increased commitment to parish financial support and support of the Catholic Stewardship Appeal, helping to sustain the institutions that keep us united.

 

Have a great week!

Fr. Romanus' Letter for Easter Sunday

 

Dear Parishioners,

The Lord Is Risen, Alleluia!

This has been a busy week with several intense liturgical experiences. Palm Sunday, the celebration of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, coupled with the proclamation of the passion narrative, set the tone for the rest of Holy Week.

     Holy Week has a long history that dates back to the early church. You will find the earliest mention of Holy Week observances in early church documents like The Apostolic Constitutions, the Canonical Epistle of Dionysius of Alexandria, and the Pilgrimage of Egeria. Though some things have changed over the years, Holy Week remains a time of intense prayerful devotion and celebration of God’s sacrificial love.

    The celebration of the Passover meal on Holy Thursday marked the institution of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is at the center of the Church’s liturgical life. It is the ‘source and summit of the Christian life’ (LG, no. 11). While instituting the Eucharist, Jesus also instituted the Priesthood. The two go hand-in-hand since we cannot have one without the other. Priesthood in the Church has its origin in Jesus Christ, our Most High Priest. Another remarkable event of Holy Thursday was the washing of feet. This existed as a separate rite from 1570 until 1955 when Pope Pius XII inserted it into the rite for Holy Thursday. By washing the apostles’ feet, Jesus underscored his teaching on leadership as service.

    On Good Friday, we celebrated Jesus’ redemptive suffering by venerating the cross. The passion narrative reminded us of the intense suffering, public humiliation, and death of Jesus for our salvation. The solemn celebration on Good Friday began with the priest and assisting ministers prostrating before the altar as a sign of humility before God. Of course, there was no Mass on Good Friday and during the day on Holy Saturday because the Church can only pray effectively through the “living” Christ. Hence, like famished and petrified children, the Church prayerfully awaited the Lord’s resurrection with solemn anticipation.

    Easter Vigil is a breath of new life as the Church proclaims with uttermost gusto that the Lord has risen, and the universal Church echoes glorious songs of victory. The service of light, which includes the blessing of fire and lighting of the Easter candle, marks the transition from darkness into light. The renunciation of sin and renewal of baptismal promises captured the sense of re-birth. This year’s celebration includes the welcoming of our new member, Harry, candidate in the RCIA program, who receives the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist.

    Easter Sunday is the oldest and most important feast of the Church’s liturgical calendar. Pope Leo the first referred to it as the feast of all feasts - festum festorum (Latin). Jesus’ resurrection is the light at the end of the tunnel and overshadows the preceding events of Holy Week. The resurrection gives us tremendous hope that when we are done with this life, God will raise us to a new life in Christ. The thought of sharing in the resurrection experience emboldens us when faced with death or the prospect of dying. St. Paul stated that if our hope in Christ was limited to this life, we would have been the most pitiable of all people (1Cor. 15:19). However, to rise with Christ, one must also learn to die with Christ.

     As we gather with family and friends for Easter, let us not forget the reason for the celebrations, that is, the resurrection of Christ. We believe that if we die with him, we will also rise with him. I pray that God will fill you with the light of the resurrection and banish all fear, anxiety and despair.

 

Wishing everyone a glorious Easter!

Fr. Romanus' Letter of March 25th

 

Dear Parishioners,

This weekend, we join Catholic and Christian communities all over the world in celebrating Palm Sunday. It recalls the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem where the events of the Paschal Mystery would unfold in rapid succession. Before entering Jerusalem, Jesus spent some time in Bethany visiting with friends, doing last minute miracles, and teaching the people. In Jerusalem, we will see the fulfilment of the prophecies about “the suffering servant” in Jesus’ experience of the paschal mystery.

    Knowing what Jesus knew about his fate in Jerusalem, many of us would have dreaded going there. As a man on a mission, Jesus was undeterred by the challenges and adversities that lay ahead. With renewed anticipation, albeit trepidation, we are invited to accompany Jesus on this triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

    Palm Sunday is one of those monumental events in Jesus’ life recorded by all four canonical gospels (Mark 11:1-10; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; and John 12:12-16). One of these four gospels is proclaimed at the beginning of the entrance procession, separate from the passion narrative. This year’s passion narrative from Mark’s gospel sets the tone for Holy Week and the Triduum. The narrative invites a deeper appreciation of God’s unconditional love revealed in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

    Before the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the celebration of Passion Sunday was on the fifth Sunday of Lent. The Sunday that followed was designated the Second Sunday of the Passion. Now, we celebrate Palm Sunday on the Sunday following the Fifth Sunday of Lent. We got rid of the Second Sunday of the Passion.

     In this Sunday’s entrance gospel, Jesus sends two of his disciples to fetch the colt he would ride on for the big entry into Jerusalem. Jesus is fully in control of the events, with no room for negotiation, not even with the colt’s owner. All that the colt owner needs to know is that the Master has need of it and will send it back when he is done. One may wonder why Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt/donkey rather than a horse. Well, in ancient times, colts or donkeys were peaceful animals, while horses were associated with wars and battles. Certainly, those who were expecting a political messiah would have preferred Jesus charging into Jerusalem on a white horse like a conquering emperor.

    The crowd’s response to Jesus’ triumphant entry was deafening as they underscored the acceptance of Jesus’ Messianic identity. They strew leafy branches on his path, not to impede his entry but as a sign of honor and admiration. John’s gospel is the only gospel that mentions ‘palm fronds’ while the synoptic gospels speak of ‘leafy branches.’ That detail is important for John since the palm branch is a special symbol of triumph and victory in Jewish tradition. The enthusiastic crowd welcomed Jesus as King, proclaiming in unison, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! …. Hosanna in the highest!”

    Of course, the irony is not lost on us, that is, the fact that some in the crowd would be among those screaming for his crucifixion in the passion narrative. With friends like these, who needs an enemy? I guess the lesson is that those who put their faith in humans rather than God are bound to be disappointed.

 

Wishing you a blessed Holy Week!

 

Fr. Romanus' Letter of March 11th

 

Dear Blessed Savior Parish Members:

As I mentioned in a recent Sunday Reflection, Lent presents excellent opportunities to re-examine our faith and strengthen our friendships in God. Similarly, we have an excellent opportunity for Blessed Savior that will help strengthen our schools and most importantly, improve the lives of our students. I have been working with the Pastoral and Finance Council to initiate a new strategic vision for success at Blessed Savior Catholic Schools, and that success begins with our partnership with the Seton Catholic Schools Network. As many of you may know, we have been working with Seton Catholic Schools for the last 7 months. I am writing to inform you that in accordance with Archdiocesan directives, we will be fully joining the network of Seton Catholic Schools for the 2018-19 school year.

Through this partnership, Blessed Savior Catholic Schools will have new resources to improve academic performance and strengthen enrollment, continue to provide a strong Catholic educational presence for the neighborhoods we serve, ensure that none of our students and families are left behind, and create long-term sustainability for our students, staff, and schools.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Seton Catholic Schools, let me share some background. Seton Catholic Schools focuses on producing positive outcomes for students and enabling Catholic schools to be sustainable. Some of the benefits they bring include enriched teacher support and coaching, improved academics, progressive leadership development, centralized staffing and management efficiencies and school facilities improvements. Seton Catholic Schools will be offering positions to all Blessed Savior principals, teachers and school staff in good standing and who wish to stay. Together with Seton Catholic Schools, we can give our students and families additional support, such as guidance counseling and social worker support that we have not been able to provide enough of, so that they can be even more successful.

Seton Catholic Schools currently has 12 schools.  In the first year, reading and math scores on the state of Wisconsin test are growing twice as fast.  That is what we what for our school!

While developing our vision for the future, another opportunity arose for Blessed Savior Catholic Schools. Rocketship, a national network of public charter schools with one location in Milwaukee, following inquiries at the Archdiocese, approached Blessed Savior asking to purchase the north campus located at 5501 N. 68th Street, Milwaukee. After conferring with Seton, parish leadership determined that this would help further sustain and strengthen both the Parish and Blessed Savior Catholic Schools. Proceeds from this sale will be used to sustain the parish and improve the other school campuses as determined necessary. The plan is to keep our Blessed Savior North campus open through the end of this school year (2017-18). However, the north campus will not be opening for the 2018-19 school year.

Steps are already being taken to work directly with our students and families to ensure that all our students can continue to be a part of our family at Blessed Savior Catholic Schools at the West (8545 W Villard Ave.), East (5140 N 55th St.), and South (4059 N 64th St.) campuses. These three campuses will remain open and are within one to three miles of the north campus. Blessed Savior has more than enough capacity to grow at all three campus locations. Our hope is to keep as many students, teachers and staff at Blessed Savior Catholic Schools as possible.

As our new vision for Blessed Savior Catholic Schools begins, I am excited to announce that Karen Earle, who many of you have already had the opportunity to meet, will continue to lead all Blessed Savior Schools as the Head of Schools. Karen is a longtime member of St. Sebastian Parish in Milwaukee. She was teacher and administrator at Pius XI Catholic High School.  As a career Catholic school educator, Karen is a firm believer in Catholic education. Her children are all products of Catholic schooling. Having raised her own children in the city of Milwaukee, she is also committed to this city and to the children who live here. In addition, having spent time in the high school arena, Karen has a solid sense of what is necessary to be prepared for high school. Karen’s goal is to support children so they are competitive and able to find success in high quality high schools leading to limitless possibilities for success beyond high school. Karen brings new energy to our schools and we are grateful for her interest in serving at Blessed Savior.

We are excited for the growth and additional opportunities that this new vision will bring to our Blessed Savior students, families and our community. We are working to make this as smooth a transition as possible for everyone. To that end, Blessed Savior will be hosting a number of informational meetings for parents, to help answer any questions. If you have questions, please call the parish office at (414) 464-5033 and ask to speak with me. In addition, a separate phone number has been established to further answer questions that our Blessed Savior School parents, staff, parishioners and others may have, (414) 831-8453.  I also invite you to talk to our pastoral council and finance council members to gain their perspective.

Sincerely,

                            

Rev. Romanus N. Nwaru

Pastor                

Fr. Romanus' Letter of March 4th

Dear Parishioners,

Sunday Gospel Reflection:

This Sunday’s gospel is the familiar story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman – the woman at the well. The encounter took place after Jesus left the region of Galilee in the north and was heading to Jerusalem in the south. Samaria, a Gentile city, happened to be located midway between the north and the south. In Jesus’ time, Jewish travelers on pilgrimage to Jerusalem went to great lengths to bypass Samaria through an alternative route in other to avoid contact with Gentiles. Jesus’ decision to pass through this Gentile city was a lesson for his followers. That decision set the context for the fascinating exchange between him and this Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

That this conversation even took place was simply amazing given that Jews and Gentiles went to great lengths to avoid each other. Even more surprising is the fact that the conversation was between a Jewish man and a Gentile woman. However, it is not surprising that Jesus initiated the conversation by asking for a drink after a long and tiring journey. We know that part of his Messianic mission was to break down barriers. He was not going to pass up this opportunity to teach us about the importance of reaching out to those we consider different. As Christians, we should strive to break down those artificial barriers based on gender, race, religion, age, culture, education, politics, economic status, et cetera.

After overcoming her shock about a Jewish man asked her for a drink, Jesus masterfully drew her to an understanding of God’s graciousness. He told her if she knew the gift of God and who was asking her for a drink, she would be the one asking for the living water. It is a reminder that God often comes to us in disguise - as a homeless person, a destitute, someone in dire need, etc. How we respond to God in those situations could make the difference between salvation and condemnation. Fortunately, the Samaritan woman overcame her initial cultural resistance and embraced utter dependence on God. She turned the table on Jesus by asking him to give her the water that wells up to eternal life.

Realizing that Jesus was a Jewish prophet, she courageously engaged him in theological debate about the proper place to worship God. Whereas her ancestors worshipped God on “this mountain,” that is, Mt. Gerizim, she accused the Jews of insisting that Jerusalem is the place to worship God. Jesus points to a time in the future when true worshippers would worship God neither on Mt. Gerizim nor in Jerusalem, but in spirit and truth. It is another way of saying that what matters most is not where we worship God, but the spirit with which we worship. This strikes me as a call to sincerity and genuineness in our practice of faith. Are we genuine Christians or pretenders?

In the course of their theological debate, the woman expressed hope in the coming Messiah, the Christ, who “will tell us everything.” Then, Jesus revealed himself as the expected Messiah, stating, “I am he, the one speaking with you.” The woman’s response is remarkable. She left her water jar by the well and hurried back to the town to announced the good news that she had found the Messiah. Now that she had found the water of life, she no longer needed the temporary water from Jacob’s well. At first, the Samaritans believed in Christ based on the woman’s testimony. However, after welcoming and listening to Jesus, many came to believe not because of her testimony, based on their personal experience of the Messiah.

Have a great week!

Fr. Romanus' Letter of February 25th

Sunday Reflection:

     This Sunday’s readings remind us of the importance of faith in our relationship with God. In the first reading, God tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Though the thought of sacrificing his son was both frightening and unsettling, Abraham trusted that everything would be fine.  Sure enough, God came to the rescue and provided a more fitting victim for the sacrifice. For his unwavering faith and trust, God swore to fulfill his promises of unmatched blessings to Abraham and his posterity. It shows that faith is a necessary condition (conditio sine qua non - Latin) in one’s relationship with God.

    Lent presents excellent opportunities to re-examine our faith, and strengthen our friendship with God. Like Abraham, we have to trust that God would fulfill his promises. Sin distorts our Christian identity and threatens our friendship with God, making it difficult to trust. The major challenge for us in Lent is to take advantage of the Lenten mantra of repentance. Of course, we must guard against possible spiritual boredom orchestrated by the constant call for conversion during Lent. God’s promise to us during the Lenten journey is not unlike that made to Abram, that is, the enormous blessings that await those who are faithful.

     In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that when God is with us, it does not matter who is against us. When God is on your team, you need not worry about who is on the opposing team. St. Paul also reminds us that in the quest for justice, only God has the power to indict and to acquit.

     The gospel presents us with Mark’s version of the transfiguration of Jesus. The transfiguration narrative is found in all three synoptic gospels (Matt 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; and Luke 9:28-36). Mark states that Jesus took three of his apostles, Peter, James and John to a high mountain to pray (the mountain is understood to be Mount Tabor). Note that Jesus is hinting on the necessity of prayer. That prayer session with the apostles quickly turned into something otherworldly as he transfigured in their presence.

    The presence of Moses and Elijah points to Jesus’ connection with Israel’s past. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, represented by Moses, and the prophets, represented by Elijah. Ludovico Carracci, an Italian early Baroque painter of the 17th century, and founder and director of the Eclectic Academy of Painting had a beautiful painting of the transfiguration depicting the characters in dynamic poses.

     Saint Thomas Aquinas considered Jesus’ transfiguration as the greatest miracle because it complimented his baptism and showed the perfection of life in heaven. The transfiguration was an awesome moment of revelation as the Father introduced his Son to the world. What a privilege it must have been for the apostles to witness their master interacting with Moses and Elijah as well as witnessing the presence of the Trinity. Note that the Holy Spirit was present in the form of the cloud from where the Father’s voice came.

     Though frightening, the transfiguration experience strengthened the faith of the apostles. In fact, Jesus’ transfiguration was so important that Pope John Paul II, in 2002, included it as one of the newly established “Luminous Mysteries” of the Church. Spending quality time in prayer this Lent will make it a transforming experience for us.    

 

Have a great week!