You are hereFr. Abraham's Series on Healing Our Parish (Dec.16 - Jan.20)

Fr. Abraham's Series on Healing Our Parish (Dec.16 - Jan.20)


Sunday, December 16, 2018 – Healing Our Parish - Part 1 (of 7): Recourse to God

Dear Friends,

Why does the Church name today as “Gaudete” Sunday, asking us to rejoice? The prayers and readings invite us to be joyful. What is surprising is that this invitation to celebrate is in the midst of gloomy times! Thus, we see in today’s first reading, the prophet Zephaniah saying, "Shout for joy, O Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel.” Zephaniah made this prophetic proclamation at the height of the Jewish exile when things appeared hopeless and unbearable. St. Paul echoes the same message of joy in the second reading, taken from his letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice... The Lord is in your midst… Fear not… be not discouraged... The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all…” Will you believe that Paul was imprisoned when he made this appeal for rejoicing?!!

This is something we need to reflect on. We, as a Parish Community, find ourselves in a sad situation. The dark clouds surrounding our parish can make us pessimistic. The hurt, anger and other feelings in the aftermath of those sad revelations are real for all of us. We need healing. Emotional wounds, unlike physical wounds, take much longer to heal. A quote from a social scientist is relevant here: “Memory without the emotional charge is wisdom.” When we reach a place where memory of what happened to our parish is no longer emotionally charged, we realize that we are healed.

But how do we do that? There are many steps. Today I wish to speak about the first one: Recourse to God. When we look at our parish situation, it is easy to be tempted to say, “This is a human failure and so deal with it in a human way.” True, we need to rectify the situation in a human way. But, we realize that we are a faith community whose head is Jesus Christ who is the true healer. We need to approach Him first for help. That’s why I believe that recourse to God’s Word at this time is the crucial first step. The Bible acknowledges our pain when the Psalmist cries out: “My heart is wounded within me…” (Ps 109). Only God can heal us. That’s why
Jeremiah prayed: “Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” (Jer 17:14)

Turning to God, praying and listening to God’s Word, will go a long way in helping us experience the healing we all need. May the remaining days of Advent help us in this first step. Yes God gives us reasons to be joyful and hopeful on this Gaudete Sunday!

Your brother in Christ,

Fr. Abraham Orapankal
abraham@stmatthias.net

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Sunday, December 23, 2018 – Healing Our Parish - Part 2 (of 7): Emotional Consequences

Dear Friends,

Last week I wrote about prayer as the first step in our process of healing. Today I wish to dwell on understanding one of the three kinds of damage to our Community — emotional, spiritual and financial. I was happily surprised to learn that this past September, Fr. Doug had initiated a parish-wide conversation on “The Church in Crisis,” in the context of the many scandals that have rocked the Church in general. I read the meeting’s summary which included very practical conclusions and meaningful suggestions that the Parish Pastoral Council submitted to our Bishop. This is a wonderful testimony of a parish community that loves Jesus Christ and His Church. Little did we know that we, ourselves, would have to deal with a crisis closer to home, soon after that exercise!

Our parish crisis has brought with it emotional, spiritual and financial consequences. Let me touch on the Emotional part today. What is the emotional damage and how do we deal with it? I must commend the Diocesan leadership for taking the right steps in communicating the situation to the Parish Community through Msgr. John Fell and Fr. Tim Christy. Immediately following this, we had a great opportunity to gather together when Bishop Checchio, himself, came and explained the situation and took time to listen to our emotions, as well as to answer our questions. As I speak with the staff, the Pastoral Council and many parishioners, I sense a plethora of feelings: shock, anger, sadness, shame, a sense of betrayal of trust, frustration and compassion. All of these feelings are natural, and they are to be acknowledged as normal. We can’t ignore them nor sweep them under the carpet. We need to face them and talk about them, as part of our healing process. As I said last week, only when we reach a place where the memory of this is not accompanied by the emotional charge, will we be healed.

But that is going to take some time. Why? For two reasons: first, emotional wounds take much longer to heal than physical wounds; second, these wounds may be re-opened, as our Bishop had mentioned, when the full scope of the situation is known, when we receive the report of the on-going audit, which will hopefully be soon.

Hence what I am proposing is this: We do not and cannot “get it over with;” instead we should try to “get on with it.” We need to realize that while we continue to feel the pain of what happened, we need to move on, holding on to the mission of St. Matthias which we have embraced willingly for so many years. Our Mission statement is an expression of the mission Jesus Christ has given to us, to live as His disciples in this community and to bring others to discipleship. In effect, we are becoming “wounded healers” – in the famous phrase of Henry Nouwen, the great spiritual writer. Only a wounded healer can appreciate the cross that Jesus carried.
God bless us in this effort.
Your brother in Christ,

Fr. Abraham Orapankal
abraham@stmatthias.net
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Sunday, December 30, 2018 – Healing Our Parish - Part 3 (of 7): Spiritual Consequences

Dear Friends,

My reflection today on our parish crisis is on the spiritual consequences and on how to deal with them. An unexpected mistake by any spiritual leader can bring about a spiritual crisis in the congregation. Generally, many react in one of three ways: i) questioning the integrity of the leader, but deciding to stay and to take steps to prevent similar events in the future; ii) leaving the particular congregation for another church; iii) giving up on one’s faith/religion totally.

How did the Community of St. Matthias react to our current spiritual problem? My own observation and listening during this past month and a half, give me a great appreciation of the people of St. Matthias who have chosen the first option. No one approves of what happened to us. Faith may have been shaken for many, but as St. Paul said “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9). I thank God for your strong faith and rejoice that, because of Christ, we are not crushed, despairing, forsaken, or destroyed.

But, one question some parents have asked me is: “Fr. Doug was very well loved and respected; how do I explain this situation to my children when they ask about it?” I think even teachers may be struggling to answer students who ask this same question. This is a very natural part of the spiritual confusion. We need to address this question squarely with our kids. We cannot hide it nor wish it away. My suggestion is to tell the kids to imagine what they would feel if someone in the family made a big mistake or committed a crime. There would be an investigation, and there may be a court case and possibly penalties. But the mistake of one person does not make the whole family bad. We still love that person who is part of our family, even though we do not approve of the mistake that person made. Similarly, we love and pray for Fr. Doug, even though we do not approve nor condone his particular action that affected this parish negatively. I think the kids will understand the situation and they will only appreciate your honesty.

In this context, an important truth about our faith is to be kept in mind: it is not dependent on any human leader but on the divine leader Jesus Christ. To quote St. Paul again, we are truly “rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, which are based on human tradition and the spiritual forces of the world rather than on Christ.…”(Colossians 2:7-8). The strength of the Community of St. Matthias is precisely this rootedness in the faith of Jesus Christ.

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Joseph and Mary had every reason to have a spiritual crisis. The promises of God did not match their experiences of poverty, confusion, insecurity and the need to flee with Baby Jesus to escape the wrath of the King. But they did not lose heart; they kept trusting in a God who called them to a particular mission. May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph guide us, for we are the family of God here at St. Matthias. May the Christmas Blessings stay with you and your dear ones for the whole of 2019!

Your brother in Christ,

Fr. Abraham Orapankal
abraham@stmatthias.net

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Sunday, January 6, 2019 -- Healing Our Parish – Part 4 (of 7): Financial Consequences

Dear Friends,

Having reflected on the emotional and spiritual consequences of our parish crisis, today I wish to focus on the financial consequences. It is not an exaggeration to say that the financial discrepancy has shocked and baffled us all. The revelations of what we know so far has brought us sadness, frustration and anger. What do we do about it? How can we make sure that it will never happen again? This is where accountability, communication and transparency are of utmost importance.

The first step in this area is the creation of the Parish Finance Council (PFC). The Canon Law of the Church makes a Finance Council mandatory in every parish (#537). The PFC is a consultative body that assists the pastor who is accountable to the diocesan bishop for the administration and stewardship of the temporal goods of the parish. Even though St. Matthias had a Finance Council years ago, I understand that it has not been active for some years. Hence I wish to establish a new Finance Council following due process. Obviously such a Council must have parishioners who have professional experience in finance-related matters such as business, law, accounting, banking, investing, engineering, construction, maintenance, and purchasing. Since we have a school, we will also have a parish member who will be the liaison from the School Finance Council. I am sure our Parish has good and faith-filled parishioners in these fields. I am happy that some have already communicated their interest. Hence I invite such individuals to pray and reflect to see if God is calling you to the ministry of Finance Council. If so, please email me at abraham@stmatthias.net by January 31, so that I can give sufficient consideration to the choice for this important council. I consider it extremely important to share information about the financial situation of the parish with the parishioners who have a right to know. The PFC will aid me in a very significant way for this purpose.

Once the audit and the ongoing investigation are complete, the Diocese will let us know the exact details of our financial status. But from what we already know, it is not a pretty picture. Hence, it is only prudent that we take steps to manage our financial shortfall. We need to control some of the expenses that are not essential and tighten our belt in general. We gratefully acknowledge the role of the many wonderful priests who have been the lifelines for our sacramental and other spiritual needs on a regular basis. In the future, we will now continue to invite them to minister with us as needed. In my previous parish, parishioners took turns in providing me a meal three times a week, and that reduced the expenses for the pastor’s upkeep! I am very grateful to those of you who have already signed up for a similar meal program for me that will bring significant savings for our parish. There are other areas where financial prudence will be practiced. The financial health of the parish can be restored together with trust, accountability, communication and transparency, thus making the financial management of the Community of St. Matthias something we all can be happy about and proud of. May 2019 be a new beginning for us as a parish community with abundant blessings from our loving God-with-us: Emmanuel.

Your brother in Christ,

Fr. Abraham Orapankal
abraham@stmatthias.net

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Sunday, January 13, 2019 -- Healing Our Parish – Part 5 (of 7): Forgiveness

Dear Friends,

When feelings of hurt and anger run high, it is difficult to forgive. Now that we have already reflected on the emotional, spiritual and financial damages or consequences and on how to deal with them, I think we are ready to look at the need for forgiveness. Authentic forgiveness means having a deep faith that even though we are wronged, we don’t have to spend our emotional energy trying to have that debt paid back to us. This requires some conscious effort on our part.

According to me, the first step is to correct a faulty thinking that forgiveness means the sins or mistakes are washed away, or that it means approval of the wrong actions! No. It is the natural law that every act – good or bad – has its own consequences. Forgiveness does not take away the negative effects of a wrong act and even its legal consequences if the wrong act has broken any law of the land. Forgiveness means I no longer hold a grudge or revengeful attitude; instead, I pray for and love the other with the love of God.

The second step is to realize that such true forgiveness is not possible without the grace of God, and that means having recourse to the Word of God. Begin by reading Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15: “If you forgive people their wrong doing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.”

The questions we need to ask ourselves are: Who do I need to forgive in the context of our parish crisis? The Church leadership? Parish leadership? Diocesan leadership? Or some bishops and cardinals in general? Anyone else?

Some of you have communicated to me that you have already forgiven those responsible for our parish crisis. One parishioner wrote: “Personally, I (and my family) have already forgiven Doug and pray for his healing, and once he has completed his treatment - he will need to deal with the legal and emotional consequences of his actions.” Another parishioner, commenting on Bishop Checchio’s meeting with the parishioners, wrote that after expressions of anger, shock and disbelief, the great majority of the crowd “expressed concern for our pastor’s well-being, praised his many years of service, and expressed gratitude… the great majority conveyed love, mercy and forgiveness.” It is truly edifying to hear such responses.

And yet, some may not have reached that place of forgiveness. If someone tells me, “why should I forgive for his wrongdoings?” my answer is simply that forgiving will help YOU! Psychologists tell us that resentment is the unhealthiest emotion there is. It always hurts us more than others. Offering forgiveness brings us freedom; we are no longer shackled by our own anger or unforgiveness. That in itself is a good enough reason to forgive the wrong that we are dealt with as a community. Besides, it is a spiritual law that we experience what we intend for others. That is what Jesus taught us in the Our Father, “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” Our expectation of receiving forgiveness becomes much easier when we are willing to offer forgiveness to those who angered or hurt us.

Ultimately, only the grace of Christ can help us to offer forgiveness and experience the deepest healing. St. Paul had a problem with the Corinthian Church where there were false teachers and selfish leaders bickering about the Lord’s Supper and questioning spiritual gifts and even the resurrection. That church was in disarray and yet Paul loved that church and he wrote to them: “My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 16:24). I can see and sense your love for this Church community of St. Matthias. May God continue to help us increase that love and enable us to rebuild our community.

Your brother in Christ,

Fr. Abraham Orapankal
abraham@stmatthias.net
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Sunday, January 20, 2019 -- Healing Our Parish – Part 6 (of 7): Gift

Dear Friends,

We have already reflected on various aspects of our parish crisis. Today I am putting before us a very difficult question for our prayerful consideration: What is the gift in this crisis? I mean it: Do you see any good coming out of this unfortunate and sad situation? You might retort: what a crazy question! How can there be any good in such a tragic event? Well, let me explain.

The Holy Bible has many stories about the people of Israel and their leaders pledging to serve the Lord. We know that disciples, like Peter, vowed never to forsake their Master Jesus. But almost all of them failed the Lord. And what was the Lord’s response? God was always faithful. That is also our experience. Like the Biblical figures, we know some of our leaders have fulfilled their God-given mission but they also have failed the Lord and the people they are called to serve. We have seen their names in the headlines. We also saw the leadership’s success and failure in our own experience of Fr. Doug. But if we are really honest, we will realize that we, too, have failed in many of the promises we have made to God and to one another.

Yet God has been keeping his promises. When the Israelites showed infidelity, God put rainbows in the sky. When they grumbled against God and Moses, God rained manna from heaven. When Peter denied Jesus three times, the Risen Lord reinstated him to shepherd the Church. We sin, and God forgives us repeatedly. “On the night he was betrayed…” we hear at every Mass, “Jesus took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, this is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” On the night he was betrayed, Jesus did something good for us. And he gave us a command to “do this in memory of me.” We can do that in His memory only if we identify the good in the tragedy.

As we experience a sense of betrayal of trust, as we work our way through the healing we need in our hearts, as we make efforts to rebuild our beloved parish community of St. Matthias, can we identify some good from what has happened? Are there some gifts happening to us individually and as a community as a result of this painful revelation?

• Have we become more conscious of our identity as “the People of God?”
• Do we see ourselves more as “the Church?”
• Do we feel more united as a parish family?
• Do we experience more tangibly the Bishop’s care as our chief shepherd?
• Do we see accountability, transparency and communication as our right?
• Have we come closer to God and to one another?
• Do we see the mysterious hand of God bringing good and growth in all these?
• Can we take a moment of silence right now to see if we can name other gifts out of this situation?

If you still think it is impossible to envisage any good being produced, then humility demands that our faith must believe God’s promise: “All things work together for good of those who love God” (Rom. 8:28). In the Old Testament we have the sad story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his own brothers! But the hand of God was with Joseph who ended up becoming one of the most powerful men in the history of the nation of Egypt. His brothers were terrified at the prospect of revenge, but Joseph told them: “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
(Genesis 50:18-20)

My humble request to all of us is this: Can we keep our emotions aside, and ask the Holy Spirit to show us the good that has happened as a result of this shocking scenario? Let us prayerfully reflect over this.

Your brother in Christ,

Fr. Abraham Orapankal
abraham@stmatthias.net