Return to Purple Tier; Indoor Masses Suspended as of Tuesday November 17

Due to a marked increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Santa Clara County has returned to the most restrictive Purple Tier.  Under the California Blueprint Tier framework regarding COVID-19, indoor worship is no longer allowed in the Purple Tier in support of the common good. Under the County’s Updated Mandatory Directive for Gathering, outdoor gatherings may be held with up to 200 people, as long as the outdoor space allows people to easily maintain at least six feet of physical distance from one another at all times.

Effective Tuesday, November 17th, all indoor Masses and worship services will be moved outdoors with appropriate social distancing, cleaning protocols, and face coverings required.  Parishes may also hold drive-in Masses, following current guidelines. Many parishes will continue to livestream Masses daily through their websites or social media, giving the faithful another option to stay connected to their faith communities. The universal dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass continues throughout the Diocese.

Though indoor Masses are temporarily suspended, our parishes continue to serve our Catholic community. They are offering faith-sharing groups, bible studies, catechetical classes, and other parish ministries via teleconferencing platforms. The Diocese’s Catholic schools remain open for in-person and distance learning.

Suffering, Memory, and Hope

Suffering, Memory, and Hope

By Fr. Mark Neary
The Valley Catholic – April 14, 2020

During this time of the new Coronavirus—a global illness to which you and I may lose family and friends,  I have found comfort in a saying of St. John Chrysostom:

They whom we love and lose
are no longer where they were before.
They are now wherever we are.

Along the journey of these past twenty-one years I have lost family and friends.  I have lost a good deal. I do not have the life of priestly ministry and I do not have the public life that brought many good friendships my way, so I reframed my life and I live like a monk. The ability to adapt and reframe my day, as well as my understanding of myself living the day I have, has gone a long way in the self-help work that makes me feel life as I know it is worth it.

How did it begin?

I fell! All I did was fall down. I was presiding at a wedding, something that as a priest I did on many Saturdays in church, and I fell.   

Twenty-one years ago, I suffered a spinal cord brain injury, and everything about my life changed forever. From the moment I hit the floor of the sanctuary, I was immediately in pain, and even now I remain in a condition of ongoing debilitating physical pain. After surgery and hospital stay, I was moved to a nursing home. I have been in and out of many hospitals and nursing homes since.

After the fall, I was not able to celebrate the Eucharist; I could not pray the prayer that had become an everyday part of my life.  So what did I do when I could not celebrate the Eucharist? I discovered my memory, which gave me not only the prayer of the Eucharist, but also my body’s memory of aligned motion encouraged by muscle memory.  Gradually, with the coaching of professional physical therapist, that memory gave me the movements of rolling over, crawling, standing and walking.  I can do it most days and, yes, there have been setbacks and some of the losses, but the overall experience is one of progress and the slow return of physical abilities.

Now, during this time of social distancing, you and I cannot go to Church to pray, to celebrate the Mass.

The Eucharist, following the command of Jesus, is a prayer of memory: “Do this in memory of me!” I am almost 70 years old, so I remember when I was in grammar school that the Mass was prayed in Latin. The opening lines of the Mass were, “Introibo ad altare Dei.  Ad Deum qui laetifcat iuventutem meam.”  The English translation is, “I will go unto the altar of God, to God who gives joy to my youth.”  Now that I am older and I find life in an injured body, I look back on the person that I was – who existed before the injury, and I try to bring what was then to the present now, so that I can have it back, knowing that my life will not ever be as it was, but that with the Lord I can make it better than it is. The Eucharist brings the good and the grace of the past to the present and becomes a prayer of hope – hope that right now and then every moment after, we might have the same experience of Jesus that his disciples had, the possibility of making the present moment and the future better.

My work of physical recovery and my work to have a felt sense of the experience of the presence of God in my life has been enabled by my imagination. I do not mean make-believe, rather, the creative act of having in my mind’s eye an image of what I hope the next moment will be and then, with God’s grace, working myself to make it happen. If I can imagine a physical movement, I can work myself to the ability of performing it. If I can see my right leg and foot making the forward motion that will give me my next step in my mind’s eye, then I can get my right leg and foot to make the motion. I have done it. It works well. I trust that God is love and, in praying, I find myself moving toward God and God moving toward me, even if I cannot feel it happening.  It does happen – in a sense we are all in the same boat on a sea larger than the Sea of Galilee.

The physical process of healing my body and the role that memory played in the work of recovery is similar to the experience of being at prayer. Both require the cultivation of an intention. Although today, I cannot go to Church to celebrate the Eucharist, I can pray.

Long before I was injured, I introduced gatherings with the following personal phrase, which became my prayer. When I suffered my life-changing fall and injuries, I often prayed it:

Remember! Whenever you are remembering you are praying
And whenever you are praying
You are not alone!

So, perhaps like me, when you are remembering, you are praying. And when you are praying, you are not alone. I am not alone, for everyone I have lost is always with me, and in the moment of prayer, God is with me.  We can’t go to Mass together these days, we may not have anyone to be right next to us as we are praying at home, and yet we are not alone.


Fr. Mark Neary was pastor of St. Cyprian Parish, Sunnyvale (1996-2000) before his retirement.

Bishop Cantú’s Easter Message

Bishop Cantú’s Easter Message

By Bishop Oscar Cantú 
The Valley Catholic – April 9, 2020

Today, we are seeing extensive suffering. And in these stories of suffering, we are witnessing faith and hope and love that sustain sacrifices. From those who were confined to their sleeping quarters aboard ships to those who have lost loved ones to the deadly Coronavirus, to the courageous and heroic medical professionals who risk their lives to care for others – people are suffering. Each of us is making sacrifices. Some make great sacrifices, like our medical personnel, who because of their exposure in caring for the ill, don’t get to go home to be with family. Others, like most of us, make the daily sacrifice of staying at and working from home. And an unprecedented number of people are losing jobs, income, a sense of security, and more.

As we begin our Easter celebration, I invite us to reflect on the mosaic of the “Tree of Life” at the Basilica of St. Clement in Rome. It presents a profound understanding of the meaning of redemptive suffering, stemming from the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

The mosaic depicts Jesus on the Cross, with Mary and St. John at the foot of the Cross. From the base of the Cross springs a large vine with extensive branches which fill the rest of the mosaic, reminiscent of Jesus’ description of himself as the Vine (cf. Jn 15:5). Just below the root of the vine is a spring of water flowing outward (cf. Jn 4:7-15; 7:37-39 Jesus gives “living water”). Deer are depicted drinking from the stream. Sheep and other animals are refreshed by the flowing waters, as well (cf. Ps. 23:2)

Thus the Cross is presented as the new “Tree of Life,” as it brings life to all who are connected to it through the branches of the vine. The various figures depicted along the branches are people from various walks of life: clerks, scholars, farmers, and shepherds. In spite of their different states in life, their wealth or poverty, education or skill, they are all connected to life through the vine. They derive their life and meaning from the Cross of Jesus.

As we now celebrate the Paschal Mystery (the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus), we contemplate the key turning point in human history, when Jesus transformed the meaning of suffering. He made it redemptive. With Jesus, suffering became sacrificial (literally, “to make sacred”). Sacrifice can be deeply meaningful, when offered with faith, hope, and love.

In spite of the sacrifices, great and small, we are witnessing in these days, and perhaps because of these sacrifices, there seems to be in the air a sense of solidarity. As Pope Francis recently noted, “we’re all in the same boat.” At Eastertime, and in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, Christians are reminded of the one, Jesus Christ, who made suffering not only meaningful, but redemptive, contributing to the good and eternal salvation of our souls.

In the Tree of Life mosaic at St. Clement, while life flourishes and swirls around the branches of the vine, they all are connected to the source of their life and meaning – Jesus victorious on the Cross.

Now more than ever in these trying times, we are invited to quench our spiritual thirst from the living waters, Jesus himself. Perhaps the psalmist best described the yearning of our hearts, “As the deer longs for running streams, so my soul longs for you, my God” (Ps. 42:1).

It is in this context of faith and hope that I wish you all a Blessed Easter.

Bishop Oscar Cantú

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Easter and Fullness of Time

Easter and Fullness of Time

A pastor’s message during the sheltering mandate
The Valley Catholic – April 9, 2020

There’s an interesting contrast between the gifts exchanged at Christmas and those for children at Easter.

Christmas gifts are conspicuously displayed under a tree. At Easter, the eggs are hidden, and it takes effort for children to find them. The Easter egg is seen as a symbol of the tomb and new life that breaks out of it.

After hearing from Mary Magdala the shocking news of the missing body of their crucified Master, Peter and the “other disciple whom Jesus loved” ran to His tomb (John 20:1-10).  They thought they lost His dead body, and, except for the beloved disciple, it took them time to finally discover that the Lord had risen from the dead.

We are not much different from the disciples in their confusion.  We can understand suffering and death; resurrection is beyond our human experience.  Yet, even in suffering and death, life is not absent. 

During the darkness of this dreadful pandemic, like a resilient heart, life still throbs in the “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” as our beloved Santa Clara Valley was once known.  Life still exudes energy around the clock in hospitals, in the community-organized distribution of food to the hungry and in care for the homeless, in impromptu neighborhood grocery deliveries, in the virtual, but comforting connection to relatives and friends and communities of faith.

The disciples of Jesus were confused, although he had given them lessons about dying and rising in nature.  He taught them, “I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit (John 12:24).”  His death and His tomb were merely the threshold leading to new life.  His disciples were looking for a “dead grain,” but He was already blossoming into a “fruit-bearing plant.”

Death can lead to new life, just as Good Friday led to Easter.  Unlike his friend Lazarus, who came out of his tomb, but then would reenter the tomb years later, Jesus was raised from the dead and entered into the fullness of new life.  Lazarus’ rising from the dead was more like a resuscitation; Jesus’ was resurrection, from the Latin verb, “resurgere,” which means “rise up,” or the “anastasis,” a Greek word, which means “up-rising.”

The image of Jesus’ resurrection, found in the First Letter to the Corinthians, is even more lively.  The letter referred to the resurrected Lord as a “First Fruit”: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).”  This view is significant, as the letter was written in the early 50s A.D., decades before the gospel accounts. 

We know suffering and pain, although we do not like them. On the other hand, we delight in Easter joy and glory, even as we do not comprehend them.  However, despite being puzzled by the mystery of the Resurrection, we still long for our resurrection to fulfill our deepest dreams and hopes.  

The solemn feast of the Resurrection is a call to fullness of life from God. Our life-giving God does not want to offer us an easy life with cheap gratification. God desires to lead us to a true life, true fulfilment with an everlasting future. 

The way to this life requires us to make the leap of faith, despite our doubts, to place our hope in God, despite fears, to love without counting the cost. This way of living makes our lives strong, hopeful, and meaningful, no matter what happens around us; and we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body (2 Corinthians 2:10).”

Jesus, the center of this great season of Anastasis/Resurrection, was Himself the outcast, the crucified One. But He totally trusted His Father, completely believed in His mission, and loved his disciples to the end. His resurrection is an affirmation of that way of life, a vindication of a love that is truly stronger than death.

As Christians, we are called to be part of the company of witnesses who believed in the Risen Lord, even though they had not seen him.  Easter is more than a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. It is also an invitation to each of us to take our place in the long line of those witnesses, to the Christian way of living. That is why the first community of believers were known as people “who belonged to the Way” (Acts 9:2).

Christ’s Resurrection is the beginning of a new era, a new life.  Is that not why we only start a new Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil with the numeral of the current year?  Nature seems to agree, as Easter more or less coincides with springtime (in the northern hemisphere), when creation enters into a new cycle of bursting life, with blossoming flowers and roaring waterfalls.

However, despite the significance of Easter, we will quickly return to the daily demands or routine of our lives. What should continue every day is gratitude for a share in the new life, new energy from the Risen Lord that we have received in Baptism, and a willingness to bring that life to others by our kindness and care for them. When this characterizes our daily living (366 days this year), then our whole life is a living Alleluia, and act of praise of God.

This year, we will all miss celebrating Easter in our parish churches.  But Easter is too great an occasion to celebrate in one day; indeed, it is like a festival celebrated for eight days (octave), and the incredible joy of Easter is extended throughout a season of 50 days.  And every Sunday is a little Easter, the “Lord’s Day,” yes, the day He rose! 

These few weeks (so far) away from the communal joy we experience in the presence of the Risen Lord and one another is like an eternity.  We miss you and we hope to see you soon, very soon.

Have a Blessed “Anastasis” (Up-rising) Season!

Holy Week and Tapestry of Life

Holy Week and Tapestry of Life

A pastor’s message during the sheltering mandate
The Valley Catholic – April 7, 2020

“Teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart”
 – Psalm 90:12

Recently someone sent me a poem associated with #PrayforyourPastor:

Your Pastor has never pastored a church through a pandemic before.
When he opens (his church), people are going to say he should have closed.
When he closes, people are going to say he should have opened.
When he does not shake hands, people are going to say he needs faith.
When he shakes hands, people are going to say he’s foolish.
He’s going to make some difficult decisions to protect the flock
considering everything from your spiritual growth to legal liabilities
that you aren’t even thinking about…  – Author unknown.

Pastors are not the only ones facing the incredible challenges during this Coronavirus pandemic.  Virtually every person, family, community, city, nation, and the entire world, is affected on different levels. Doctors, nurses, first responders continue their mission while even they themselves are especially vulnerable to the viral infection.

A post on Instagram on March 23 is touching: “The sad thing for suspected COVID-19 patients is they have to die alone, catching their last breath alone.” This is because their families are not allowed to be near their deathbed. Priests likewise are kept at a distance and can only pray for them outside their isolation.

This stealth virus can even affect babies who are not yet born. Many pregnant women now have to give birth alone, as hospitals restrict visitors during the pandemic. Others chose to give birth at their own homes, as they are anxious about the impact of the virus.

Christ Jesus Himself endured excruciating pain, abject humiliation, and violent death. In the Gospels according to Mark and Matthew, Jesus suffered alone. The crowd turned against Him. His close friends betrayed or abandoned Him. Everything was out of control. The world turned upside down. On the Cross, in the eerie darkness of nature, He even cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

His cry on the Cross shows us that Jesus, the Son of God, is also the Son of Man, truly human.  “God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering (St. Augustine).” It reflects the anguished cry of many people whose faith is tested in their suffering.  It reflects the collective cry of humanity in crises, disasters, wars, violence, pandemics.

It was a culmination of His entire life spent in solidarity with other suffering human beings.  He Himself took risks in entering this uncertain world, dared to welcome the marginalized, reached out to the untouchable.

Among the untouchable were lepers; according to the Law of Moses, healthy persons were rendered ritually unclean and excluded from the community for touching a leper.  The purpose of this law was to quarantine the unclean person.  When they had to go out from their isolated place, lepers were required to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn others to keep a distance (similar to today’s “social – or physical – distancing”).

Yet Jesus healed a leper by touching him, although His touch was unnecessary (Matthew 8:2-4).  He healed the leper, and more importantly, showed him that he was not alone, even in isolation and marginalization. His physical outreach, even without the physical healing, already healed the leper on the emotional and deeper level.

What Jesus painfully uttered on the Cross was the beginning of Psalm 22.  It’s one of more than 50 psalms under the lamentation category in the Book of Psalms, a Jewish national repertoire of 150 hymns.  Psalm 22 first cries out to God, then laments for the suffering, speaks of enemies who mocked the psalmist for his fidelity to God, but concludes in praising God, who heard and responded to the cry of the afflicted. This psalm is a hymn expressing both helplessness and trust in God and in his plan.

In the dark valley of life, it helps to see the big picture and to take the long view. Maria von Trapp (1905-1987), the real-life person whose story inspired the popular musical, “The Sound of Music,” wrote: “It will be very interesting one day to follow the pattern of our life as it is spread out like a beautiful tapestry… In looking back we can discover how a red thread goes through the pattern of our life: the Will of God.”

The tapestry of Jesus’ life was not finished on the Cross or the Tomb on Good Friday. It culminated in his Resurrection, when he passed over to the fullness of life on Easter morning. In the Gospel according to Saint John, Jesus does not pray to be spared of suffering and death, but sees it as the very purpose for His coming into the world: “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”

The Gospel of John views both the Death and Resurrection of Jesus as His Hour of Glorification. That is why at every Mass we celebrate both the Lord’s Death and His Resurrection: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.”

In this Week of Our Salvation (the Eastern Church’s term for Holy Week), let us reflect on Jesus’ tapestry of life, the tapestry of our own individual lives, and the tapestry of the history of humanity.  May we see the red thread that goes through the tapestry of life and history: God’s loving care for us, God’s closeness to us, most especially when we feel alone.

Illustrated image: Jesus is alone in the Last Supper sculpture at the Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, TX