Letter from Fr. Abraham: Christmas Message

Christmas Message – December 2020

Dear Friends,

Merry Christmas! Even when the usual celebrations of this happy season are marred by the pandemic, we all want to have some good feeling. I heard reports that there is a great shortage of Christmas Trees because, unlike other years, more people decided to buy trees to create a good feeling. We here at St. Matthias are blessed to have the initiative of “Spread the Light” with some 270 Christmas trees memorialized and lit for this whole season – thanks to Msgr. Curry.  It is wonderful to see so many people walking by the trees to bask in the light in the darkness!

But the source of this good feeling is Baby Jesus who is the reason for the season! Unless we give due importance to Him over all other external signs of celebrations like the Christmas trees, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus, the Grinch, elves, and a long list of celebrated fictional characters that the media and companies present to us, there can be no genuine and lasting good feeling. Hence let me suggest three easy ways to go to the source – Jesus Christ – to experience lasting good feeling:

  1.    Take seriously the good news announced by the Angels: “Fear not, for behold, I announce to you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people” (Luke 2:10). We all know how fear can cripple us and take away our joy and peace. With all our intellect and innovations, we have not made our world safe and secure for ourselves and for our children. But we can destroy this fear and live joyfully if only we can take the message of Christmas seriously by believing in the Prince of Peace.
  2.    Give Baby Jesus one very special gift. Let this gift be something personal so that you don’t need to reveal it to anyone. What gift will please Jesus? Maybe the gift to forgive someone you’ve wanted to for a long time. If you do that, you will have the happy surprise of finding out that you were the one who really got the gift, because as Lewis B. Smedes wrote in his book, Forgive and Forget, “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.”
  3.    Read the Christmas story with your family this week, as I had suggested two weeks ago. Matthew and Luke are the Evangelists who we can depend on for the birth and infancy narratives of Jesus. The first two chapters from each of these gospels are ideal for this purpose. Read at least one chapter each day starting from today.

May your Christmas be filled with the wonder of “Emmanuel” (Mt.1:23: God-with-us). May His peace and joy illumine your hearts and your homes.

Merry Christmas!

Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Abraham Orapankal

____________________________________________

Thanksgiving Message – November 2020

Dear Friends,

Thanksgiving usually brings lots of joy and fun with good family fellowship. Except that this year it won’t be Thanksgiving as usual! Most people, I hear, are opting for the most heartbreaking decision: a nuclear Thanksgiving! Celebration with just the immediate family. A wise decision to protect ourselves, our family and friends and the larger community from Covid-19. Yet the spirit of Thanksgiving will not be dead even with a subdued celebration. This year the pandemic makes us conscious of the importance of gratitude to two realities:

  1. Thanking God for the gift of each day. Often we take it for granted. Covid-19 teaches us that tomorrow is not guaranteed; all we have is today. Live the present moment fully and be alive with a grateful heart and joyful spirit.
  2. Thanking our immediate family. The lockdown can be seen as a blessing in disguise for so many families to grow closer and to appreciate each other better.

Why not begin the Day of Thanksgiving by attending the 8 am Mass in our Church either in person or online? That will set the right tone for the rest of the day. When we consider the unbelievable loss of life in every family in the first year of the arrival of the early settlers, no one would have blamed them for setting aside a day of mourning, instead of a day of Thanksgiving. But they chose to commemorate their time in the new world with a day of Thanksgiving despite the grief, poverty and illness. It is also good to remember that President Lincoln’s declaration of a national day of Thanksgiving happened in the midst of a devastating Civil War. Today, faced with the threat of a tiny but deadly virus, let us spend this day with a greater sense of gratitude to God and to one another.

Today’s Feast of the Solemnity of Christ the King is the signal that the Church’s calendar year is coming to an end and that we are about to start the new year! Thus, the First Sunday of the New Year in the Liturgical Calendar is next Sunday as we begin the season of Advent! It is good for us to know that today’s feast was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as an antidote to secularism, a way of life which leaves God out of our thinking and living, and organizes life as if God did not exist. The feast is meant to proclaim, in a striking and effective manner, Christ’s royalty over individuals, families, society, governments, and nations. May we all recognize this truth and continue our efforts to honor Jesus by living his values.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Your brother in Christ,

Fr. Abraham Orapankal

 


“Another Bigger Pandemic?”

Dear Friends,

I have heard some experts say that we need to be ready for a bigger pandemic than coronavirus: the mental health problem. We are all shocked that all areas of our lives are suddenly disrupted. Change in our work schedule, keeping social distancing, living in isolation, dealing with family, and facing financial uncertainties are just some of the factors that can cause stress leading to depression. Dr. Robert Leahy, an attending psychologist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, the author of The Worry Cure and Keeping Your Head After Losing Your Job, and a national expert in cognitive therapy, says: “This is the perfect storm for depression and anxiety. We are facing a national trauma, whether it’s the fear of being infected or infecting someone else, or the economic downturn, and many people are isolated.” Yes, fear is a big factor that we need to face in order to reduce anxiety. Overcoming fear will increase our hope and joy so that we can be stronger during this pandemic. There are many tips out there given by various experts. But here are five of my personal suggestions:

Listen to God’s reassurance “Do not fear!”: This is in today’s Gospel. Did you know that similar promises, not to fear or not be anxious, are mentioned 365 times in the Bible? This reminds us that God wants us to be living without fear each day of the year. Hence believe that God’s protection is with us daily.

Count the blessings and practice gratitude: it is so easy to focus on what we miss during this pandemic. True, we miss our freedom to travel where we want, meet who we want, eat where we want, etc. Focusing on these will certainly make us moody, irritable, and sad. Instead, look at the blessings that we still can enjoy: blessings of life, family, easy availability of food, connectivity with people, etc. and thank God for these daily.

Follow a schedule: When we have unstructured time, we can become lazy or lethargic. We tend to procrastinate. Instead, following a regular schedule will keep us in good shape physically, mentally and spiritually. This will make us feel good about ourselves.

Use every opportunity for personal spiritual enrichment: This is an excellent way to fortify ourselves against depression. Our parish offers daily Mass (in person and online) and Gospel sharing on Wednesdays of summer via zoom. Other means — personal meditations, intentionally choosing books or shows that are uplifting, etc. — are healthy.

Make family prayer a daily habit: Praying together as a family can be a challenge. To pray together daily can be a bigger challenge. But can each family decide some common time and day/days of the week to pray together? Read a Bible passage and reflect together or pray the rosary, or express what we are grateful for today. Make it a daily habit.

Each day can be positive or negative. It all depends on our attitude. The choice is ours to keep ourselves happy. I believe this is why St. Paul was able to say: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

God bless us all.

Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Abraham Orapankal