Dear Brothers and Sisters of St. Andrew the Apostle,

Blessed New Year to all of you. This Sunday is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and on Monday we enter into Ordinary Time. We will take down most of the Christmas decorations after the 12:30 PM Mass on Sunday. Those who would like to pick up red poinsettias after the Mass are invited to line up in the main aisle where volunteers will distribute them. This is to keep parishioners from walking into and through the sanctuary after Mass, something we are trying to avoid that we might maintain a reverent atmosphere in the church. 

To abruptly change the subject, many of us have heard of the Virginia Department of Education's proposed transgender policies, which are currently open for public comments. You may find more information on the Virginia Catholic Conference's website.  I strongly urge each of you to read this website and comment through the link provided. As the article warns, "If VDOE approves the draft policies, they would undercut parents’ involvement in the life of their children at school, and endanger the bodily privacy and safety of all students." As Catholics, we need to stand for the dignity of each person, who our Creator made in His image, male and female. We also stand for the right and role of the parents to teach the truth to their children, and the right of children to speak the truth without persecution. The deadline for public comments on these policies is February 3, 2021. Please join the Virginia Catholic Conference's Advocacy network for email alerts and updates for policies of special interest to Catholics in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Another issue receiving international attention revolves around the morality of the currently available COVID19 vaccines, all three of which included a line of an embryonic stem cell taken from an aborted child as part of their development or testing. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) prepared a statement addressing the vaccines based on the teaching of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAL).

In its conclusion, the U.S. Bishops state, "Given the urgency of this crisis, the lack of available alternative vaccines, and the fact that the connection between an abortion that occurred decades ago and receiving a vaccine produced today is remote, inoculation with the new COVID-19 vaccines in these circumstances can be morally justified." 

However, the Bishops also urge us to avoid complacency concerning using cell lines of aborted children. If we choose to get the vaccine, we cannot allow ourselves to minimize the grave evil of abortion in ourselves or others. "For our part, ... all Catholics and men and women of good will must continue to do what we can to ... help change what has become the standard practice in much medical research, a practice in which certain morally compromised cell lines are routinely used as a matter of course, with no consideration of the moral question concerning the origins of those cell lines." Therefore, we must continue to speak the truth about the horror of abortion and demand that our medical research is done without the use of cell lines obtained from children whose lives were taken by this tragic evil.

The U.S. Bishops' letter was referencing the teaching of the CDF's Instruction, Dignitas Personae - in particular section 35. This document was approved by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, well before our current crisis. A link to this document can be found here. We can argue about the gravity of the danger of the virus, but in doing so we must be rational and respectful, weighing the seriousness of the threat to those who are most vulnerable and not solely to ourselves and our immediate family.

One final note on the riots at the U.S. Capitol this Wednesday. In the past 12 months, we have been beset by riots in this country. Statues have been torn down, public and private property has been defaced, many people have been harmed by violence. One can only assume that for those with an authentic reason for protesting, their hearts are filled with anger at injustice, whether it be racism or political corruption or whatever enrages us. Over and over again, we have seen the worst of what happens when we act in that anger. The result is violence, disunity, and destruction. Even on a personal level, we understand this, because each of us has times in our lives when our anger spills out in an outburst against another. 

Anger is the proper response to injustice. In his anger, our Lord cleansed the Temple for he saw the action of the money changers and vendors as an injustice against the sanctity of the Temple area. Yet our Lord's judgment is perfect; ours is not. We cannot read souls or minds. We can mistake what we see as right and just for what truly is. We can be misled by falsehood paraded as truths. 

We must always pray for the wisdom to know what is right and just and the prudence to know how to correct it. We must also listen to the teaching of Jesus Christ who tells us that as his disciples we must be known by our love for others, and this love is to encompass all people, even our enemies. We are to love this way because this is how God loves us, and we are made in his image. We are to love this way because anything short of that is not allowed in heaven and will lead to our purification. We must love this way because it leads to the unity that we must all share in Jesus Christ.

We will always be disappointed and angered at the sin of this world. Until Christ comes again in glory, sin and suffering will surround us, and we will partake in it. We are the people who hung Christ on a cross. This world will always reject God.

However, our response to the sin of the world must never be more sin. Instead, it must be charity for our neighbor and faith in Jesus Christ. Charity because this is what is commanded of us by Christ. Faith because this is the source of our charity. It is not possible to overcome the anger of injustice without the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. 

I know that this is already a long newsletter, and I thank you for bearing with me. I have one more item to add. Thursday was the memorial of St. Raymond of Penyafort, a 13th Dominican priest who helped to aid Christian captives during the crusades and to organize the code of church law for Pope Gregory IX. He is the patron saint of lawyers. A man of great spiritual depth, he wrote a letter to a friend that included the following passage about the sin and suffering that surrounds us and how it is meant for our salvation. This letter is part of the Divine Office that priests are required to pray each day, but as it came the day after the unrest at the Capital, it seemed providential for its wisdom. He also references our patron, St. Andrew the Apostle. Thus, I share it with you:

"The preacher of God’s truth has told us that all who want to live righteously in Christ will suffer persecution. If he spoke the truth and did not lie, the only exception to this general statement is, I think, the person who either neglects, or does not know how, to live temperately, justly, and righteously in this world.

May you never be numbered among those whose house is peaceful, quiet, and free from care; those on whom the Lord’s chastisement does not descend; those who live out their days in prosperity, and in the twinkling of an eye will go down to hell.

Your purity of life, your devotion, deserve and call for a reward; because you are acceptable and pleasing to God, your purity of life must be made purer still, by frequent buffetings, until you attain perfect sincerity of heart. If from time to time you feel the sword falling on you with double or treble force, this also should be seen as sheer joy and the mark of love.

The two-edged sword consists of conflict without, fears within. It falls with double or treble force within when the cunning spirit troubles the depths of your heart with guile and enticements. You have learned enough already about these kinds of warfare, or you would not have been able to enjoy peace and interior tranquility in all its beauty.

The sword falls with double and treble force externally when, without cause being given, there breaks out from within the Church persecution in spiritual matters, where wounds are more serious, especially when inflicted by friends.

This is that enviable and blessed cross of Christ, which Andrew, that manly saint, received with joyful heart: the cross in which alone we must make our boast, as Paul, God’s chosen instrument, has told us.

Look then on Jesus, the author and preserver of faith: in complete sinlessness he suffered, and at the hands of those who were his own, and was numbered among the wicked. As you drink the cup of the Lord Jesus (how glorious it is!), give thanks to the Lord, the giver of all blessings.

May the God of love and peace set your hearts at rest and speed you on your journey; may he meanwhile shelter you from disturbance by others in the hidden recesses of his love, until he brings you at last into that place of complete plenitude where you will repose forever in the vision of peace, in the security of trust, and in the restful enjoyment of his riches."

Amen.

I will pray for you. Please pray for me and for each other. May the Lord strengthen us with His grace, and transform us in His divine love. 


In Christ,
Fr. Wagner