Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
As I’m writing this letter the week before Christmas, we just received details for the funeral Mass of Father Tony Borgia, pastor of St. Patrick’s Heatherdowns in Toledo. Father died Saturday evening, without any notice whatsoever, probably of a heart attack. I couldn’t help but think of how difficult it is for a parish abruptly to lose their active, beloved pastor this way. Of course, that led me to remember that parishioners of Divine Mercy were the last ones in our Diocese to lose an active pastor to death. Many of our parishioners experienced that last Christmas before Father Fillman died as a holiday very much taken up with care for him, certainly intense prayer for him, and sadness for his suffering.
As I decorate the rectory for Christmas, I think about Father Fillman, especially because the small Christmas tree I put in the living room, and the Fontanini manger set on the dining room buffet were his. I am pretty sure that the small Christmas tree – unlike the huge, real tree Father Fillman used to have in the living room every year – was a gift from some parishioners, because Father Fillman in his sickness that last Christmas could no longer manage decorating the big tree. Because all of you know what it means to have your pastor die, I am asking you to consider some special prayers for the parishioners of St. Patrick’s Heatherdowns in this season. That will be a fine act of mercy on their behalf.
A death in the Christmas season – heartbreaking as it is – can help us to remember that Christmas is really a holiday aimed towards heaven. In society today, Christmas has often become just a secular holiday, with little to no religious meaning. But the Son of God took on human flesh, took on our nature, so that he could carry us back to His Heavenly Father. Christmas has a heavenly purpose, which we finally experience in its fullness after death. That humanity which the Son of God took on was the instrument, the means, by which he could suffer and die for us on Calvary. The wood of the Manger, with Jesus’ body pressed against it, is connected to the wood of the Cross, with Jesus’ body nailed to it. And the Manger and the Cross exist to open heaven to us.
Christmas is not primarily a season about giving and receiving presents, although gift-giving is certainly a fine thing. Christmas is the start of our salvation. By the Incarnation, the Son of God leaps to earth to begin His mission of salvation. That mission is packed with Love for us, a love willing even to suffer and die, in order to bring us to heaven. That is our SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST in the crib in Bethlehem on the first Christmas! Let’s thank Jesus, the Son of God, for becoming one with us; and let’s worship Him, love Him, and commit ourselves to serve Him more deeply than ever in this Christmas season!
Have a blessed Christmas season and New Year!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,
Father Joseph Poggemeyer