Unfortunate Event

At times, in all the churches I have been assigned to in the eighteen years since my ordination to the priesthood, unfortunate events happened that caused parish property to be damaged.
During the afternoon or early evening of Sunday, August 18, the votive candle stand in the vestibule was damaged by an unknown person or persons wanting to steal the contents of the offering box.

They did not get much from their attempt as the contents are emptied regularly, but the damage to the front offering slot will necessitate a repair to get rid of the sharp edges from the torn metal and to make the offerings and donations made more secure once inserted.

With that in mind, the votive candles will be unavailable for a short time. Thanks in advance for your patience in this matter, and please pray for the person or persons responsible for the theft and damage.
Sincerely in Christ,
Father Perez

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

People who change the world aren’t always who you expect. They are housewives, repairmen, teachers, and the military to name a few. Ordinary people who believe in a better world.
Readers’ Digest magazine recently chose what they called “15 people who changed history.” Among them were Rosa Parks, who wouldn’t give up her seat on a Montgomery Alabama bus on December 1, 1955. Todd Beamer and the passengers on Flight 93 who fought back against the 9/11 terrorists and crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA instead of slamming into our nation’s capital. And then there was Candy Lightner, who stood up against drunk driving after her 13 year old daughter was killed by a repeat DWI offender. She founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in her home on March 7, 1980.

Yes, such people aren’t always who you expect. Such of course is the case of God’s only Son, that most extraordinary Person of all, who made Himself ordinary when He came to visit this planet in person some twenty plus centuries ago. He did that to save all of us from being forever locked out of His high heaven. Jesus was a handsome man for sure, a bit taller than the males of His time if the Shroud of Turin is authentic. Attractive to all whom He met in His travels not only by His appearance but also by His demeanor, which sprang from His hidden divinity. He demanded that people change their way of living. He wanted them to shun sin.

People of every age are much the same, and sin can be such an attractive proposition at times even for the best of us. So because of His demands about avoiding sin, Jesus was never universally popular. He even puzzled His closest friends. But He knew, and tried to get them to know also, that if their human weakness held them down, His strength would lift them up. If asked, they would agree that He was truly a “man on fire.” We agree, do we not?

We His present day followers would also have to admit that Jesus was not what we would expect of a Divine Redeemer. He really was the prophet’s “sign of contradiction.” He began His public life as a young man amid a culture that thought wisdom was only in the old. His enemies mocked Him with saying “Thou art not yet fifty years old…” He was uneducated in the formal sense, having had only the usual synagogue syllabus. “Where did He get all this? Is He not the carpenter’s son?” His was born into poverty when only the rich were greatly esteemed. “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He hailed from a dusty nearly forgotten village named Nazareth when the sophisticated people only came from
the great cities. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Despite this, Jesus was also magnetic and majestic in His preaching and example. An unusually confident Person, only angry when He had to be, especially when He clashed with those in authority. “You hypocrites! He shouted.” But in the end, He suffered the usual fate of the prophets like Jeremiah. “’Crucify Him!’ they shouted.”

There are some conclusions we can draw from this brief recall, if we want to be authentic followers of the Nazarene. First of all, we have to remember our general ordinariness. This despite the fact that in God’s eyes each of us is special.

We also must recognize that belief in Jesus always implies a call to action. And then, in this society of ours, with it’s warped sense of priorities and its tendency to discount God’s very existence, we must realize that we will remain unpopular for our beliefs. Mocked sometimes by our own families. But we can lean on that great consolation we have that God is always with us, no matter what. That’s how we know for sure that we each have the power to change the world.

Not by putting it down, but by lifting it up.

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

On Thursday, August 15, Holy Mother Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Holy Day of Obligation. Approaching the solemn day from another perspective, each of us have an opportunity to be recharged through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by the Word of God in the readings of Sacred Scripture and Our Lord, Jesus Christ in His Real Presence in the Most Holy Eucharist.

When we speak of Mary’s Assumption into the glorious Kingdom of Heaven, we’re talking about a dogma of our Christian faith which comes from our Sacred Tradition and has been celebrated in the Universal Church’s liturgy throughout the centuries from ancient times even before its solemn definition by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950. Throughout the centuries, devoted Christians have always believed and understood that Our Lady, at the completion of her earthly life, was given a special privilege when she was assumed into heaven. Taken body and soul together in order that she would share in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection.

Mary’s complete personhood was taken up into the glorious kingdom. And from that moment on, Our Lady shares in her only Son’s victory as the power of Jesus’ Resurrection is immediately played out when her earthly life was completed. The Lord God spared Mary’s body from corruption and decay when she was assumed into Heaven just as he spared her from original sin and its effects at the beginning of her life through her Immaculate Conception.
The Most Blessed Virgin Mary is the first recipient of what will be granted to us at the end of time when the dead will be resurrected.

Our bodies will be reunited with our immortal souls. It will be an eternal gift that we will look forward to, living forever in Heavenly paradise, body and soul praising our Heavenly Father for all eternity.

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

The unknown wag first said it, likely hoping to appeal to a wide audience. This is what he said: “Money isn’t everything but it’s way ahead of whatever is in second place.”

You can certainly smile at that, and I suppose many of us feel that way at certain times, especially when we face a pile of bills just after learning about the latest “Power Ball” winner.

Today we meet up again with our old friend Qoheleth, whose name means something like “wisdom gatherer.” He wrote about a century and a half before Christ, and he gave us his famous commentary on life: “Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity.” Not very uplifting when you sum up all the good things in your life.
Clearly, that anonymous cynic I just quoted accurately describes the popular wisdom in our culture on the subject of money. But just as clearly does Qoheleth give us another way to look at earthly wealth. St. Paul in his letter joins in with his warning that “greed is idolatry.”

And oh! Does Jesus not run right into one of the most contentious times in family life concerning money: the reading of the deceased member’s will and the whole matter of who gets what. Over the years I have listened to the woes in many families that have split apart over somebody’s will.
As so often happens in the gospels, Jesus weighs in on an issue with one of His inimitable parables that shows Him living up to His acquired title of “the Master.” This story involves a rich man thinking of building bigger storage barns. That notion fits right in with the current decision lots of people make these days to rent a storage unit. I read an article earlier this summer about how to meet this craze in an urban setting minus the acres available for such in the suburbs and rural areas. The solution: build upward! So now we have huge multi-story buildings, with now windows looking like giant boxes going up in Philadelphia and other cities just for storage. The late comedian George Carlin would insist on building these things because people need places to “store their “stuff.” What does God say to the rich man in the story? “You fool!”

So where does all this leave you and me on this summer Sunday? I would guess somewhere in that elusive middle where they tell us “virtue lies.” We know our basic needs. We just have to resist this stubborn desire for more “stuff.” Be grateful for what we already have and cut down on what more we want. Resist the clever sales person whose goal has nothing to do with your spirituality. In all fairness, the seller is not the problem here.

There’s a consequence to our consumer mindset that you might not experience. That is never to think of our death. I’ve been told that some of us avert our eyes when we see a hearse on the street because it jars our reverie. I’ll never forget the imagery of a typical Saturday shopping scene with a Costco in the background as other drivers were forced to stop and let a funeral procession pass with the hearse as the first car in line. Worthy of a photo to accompany this Gospel. We know what the Lord says, but we’d rather not think about it. That hearse you might call a “cautionary Cadillac!”

Remembering that our loving God really does have our best interests at heart. Much like the good parent who just has to say “No!” to his/her child once in a while to make him accommodate to real life. In the Bible, God often has to shock us into reality, as He does here, to announce boldly that “one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Jesus should know this first of all because He said “I am the Life,” and secondly because all He ever owned were the clothes on His back. And Roman soldiers stripped Him of those while He was dying on the cross above them.
So we have to keep on trying for a sense of balance on this matter of how much “stuff” we really need. To stay balanced, may I suggest that we also keep on laughing at ourselves for getting it wrong. For instance, look how funny it is that a dollar can look so big when you take it to church but so small when you take it to the supermarket.

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

We all remember—perhaps fondly—those multiple-choice tests we had to take from time to time during our school days. If we knew our subject, we could whiz through the test and finish well below the allotted time. If we were not so knowledgeable, there was always the chance we took with an educated guess. Those educated gambles came with many a mark we ultimately made with our number two pencil. As a many years veteran of high school teaching and a few more in colleges, my job entailed the composition of such tests. While they were easy to grade they were hard to create. The “almost but not quite correct” answers were particularly challenging to devise. My “Track one” grade-hungry bright kids often made good arguments for their answers as opposed to the preferred one. Of course, most of the time they lost their appeal.

One lesson those tests taught was the power of good decision-making. As their elder, I knew my students would inevitably have to face heftier decisions in life beyond the classroom. They would relearn that decisions have consequences. So much of life precludes having multiple choices. Many times there is only one. A person does not have to delve too deeply into the pages of the gospels to learn that Jesus always wanted His disciples to be decisive. Today’s passage from Luke is a case in point. Jesus has, so to speak, “put all His cards on the table.”

And He does so for three “wannabes” among the crowd. He tells these three persons in turn that following Him will make, in the first case, what foxes and birds have for homes will look luxurious by comparison with any of the roadside camps He will be using. He also tells two other people that His work will have to take priority even over family obligations. The latter is still true today. All of this captures the meaning of what is meant by “living by the Spirit” that St. Paul writes about to his Galatians. Discipleship calls one to be quite decisive when opportunity comes knocking. We read this weekend about Elijah the prophet making his decision. He obeys the Lord when he throws his cloak over Elisha, making the matter of his successor closed.

Obviously then, there is no place for “fence sitting” in this matter of living our lives with Jesus at the center. The old Harvey Cox quote “Not to decide is to decide” is perennial in this case as well as so many others. Of course, not all our decisions in other areas will be wise or even welcome. Take the case of “Harry the Hunter.” Some friends who went deer hunting separated into pairs for the day. And that night one hunter returned alone, staggering under an eight-point buck. “Where’s Harry?” asked another hunter. “Oh, he fainted a couple of miles up on the trail,” Harry’s partner answered. “And you left him lying there all alone and carried the deer back?” “Yes, it was a tough call,” said the hunting partner, “but I figure no one’s going to steal Harry.”

Many Thanks . .

Many thanks to you for the warm welcome in my first couple of weeks here at Our Lady of the Valley since my arrival on June 27. Your kindness and hospitality are most appreciated.
As I get to serve all of you, there will be many graced moments as I strive to bring you closer in relationship to the Lord through the sacraments and other opportunities in service to
the Lord and you. I look forward to many years as the instrument that will lead you to Christ the Good Shepherd. After all, our lives must have Christ as the center so that we may grow with Him
who laid down His life for us and gives of Himself to us especially in the Most Blessed Eucharist.

In the next few months, we will get to know each other, and we will grow together through, with, and in Our Lord.

Just a heads-up, next Sunday on July 21 at the 11:15 AM Mass, Bishop Burbidge will be the celebrant of a special Mass for the Installation of a Pastor followed by a reception. And so, we
look forward to the shepherd of the Diocese of Arlington coming to the Shenandoah Valley to visit our parish.

Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Perez

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

In October 1961, a Broadway musical premiered called “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Six years later came a film version of the show, followed in 1995 by a revival; another revival in 2011; and a short run in 2014 in Philadelphia. The story follows the fortunes of a certain J. Pierrepont Finch, a young window-cleaner in New York City, who reads the book of the same title, and is profoundly affected. This leads him to approach the World Wide Wicket Co. in search of a job. He is hired at once, and his career weaves in and out with improbable complications until our hero succeeds to the top position in the firm. Along the way, the audience enjoys the inbred humor and hears several apt tunes that enhance the plot.

It struck me as I thought about this classic show that in real life there certainly is a book that can have a profound effect on us that could be subtitled “How to Succeed in Life by Really Trying.” I refer to the Bible of course. For there in its pages is our spiritual story as a Christian people destined for eternal life. We know from personal experience that our lives often feature all sort of complications -some of them humorous no doubt- but all of them eventually yielding to our loving Father’s plan for us. He alone knows the best path for us to take to get to our true home in
heaven. Then we will enjoy the sweet success of completing our mission.

Whether we admit it or not, each of us is “wired” for success. Not the material kind that the world holds up as the goal of life. But the spiritual kind that Jesus Christ holds up as a treasure that will not fade or rust. Now this pull of the world is like a tug of war. Not as a fun game but as a powerful challenge to all that Jesus stands for in opposition. You might say that our wiring can get “frayed” under the pressure of this visible challenge. The so-called “Big Three”, namely “Wealth, Power and Fame,” are always in the ring ready for a fight against our good intentions. We get hoodwinked into the belief that this trio is far more important than the Trinity we call “Blessed.”

I believe that Jesus tempered the enthusiasm of His first missionaries, when they came back to Him from their missions, so excited to hand in their reports of success, to have them realize that there were even more important things in life than success. At least of the kind that is measurable by the world’s standards. What keeps our focus set on the right goal of our lives is our strong connection with Christ, a bond forged by prayer and the Sacraments of the Church. After all, He instituted them to help us stay connected. Of these seven, the Eucharist is prime because it is He Himself as our very food and drink. It has all the right “nutrients,” principally the “protein” we need to resist the infection all around us. The other six sacraments cover all the other times in our life’s journey. They help us stay on track to reach our ultimate goal: life forever lived free of pain and full of joy with the eternal vision of God.

Conclusion and Beginning

As I conclude my time as pastor, I would like to thank everyone for the prayerfulness, hospitality, creativity and support for the last three and a half years. Being in a small rural parish is very encouraging, for the people here are very prayerful, and energetic.

As with other rural parishes, people here know each other well and a large portion are engaged in the parish. As I was reviewing the parish listing for Father Perez, I noticed that about half of the families here not only attend Mass regularly, but are also involved in the parish in other ways, such as the Ladies Council, the Knights, the music, lectors and ushers for Mass, the sacristans, the catechists, and parish events and upkeep. All of the children in religious education regularly attend Mass (which all Catholics should) and most of them are involved in the youth group and/or youth choir.

Furthermore, the people here greet both guests and new parishioners, inviting them to parish events. The website launched three years ago, new bulletin design and Flocknotes are also very helpful in both promoting the faith and the parish and keeping everyone informed about events. Father Perez will have a solid ground to build upon.

As Father Perez comes here, it would be helpful to review some of the initiatives that have begun and how to build upon them. Recent physical renovations have included the new floors, the landscaping, refinished pews, the Stations Walk, a new organ, and new air conditioning. These renovations have been leading up to the largest project, the new church hall, which should be finished early next year.

With the new hall, this parish will be able to hold more events, which could include regular brunches and refreshments between Masses for the parishioners, especially the parents of religious education students. The hall is also planned to have more spacious rooms, which will help with religious education classes and other meetings. On that front, I encourage all parents to take advantage of these classes, and all parishioners to consider roles as catechists or catechist assistants, which could make high school classes a possibility.

Furthermore, the music ministry and youth ministry here are very active, including the youth choir singing at one Mass a month, and the youth ministry meeting two Wednesdays a month all year; there is also a music camp planned for the summer. For adults in addition to the Ladies Council and the Knights, who arrange most of our parish events and take care of the church and the grounds, there is a new women’s prayer group called Blessed is She and a new Marian devotional group, which gathers for prayer and reflection. There has been consideration of a men’s Bible study as well, an idea well worth pursuing.

I am confident that Father Perez will be interested in hearing of other ideas to make this parish radiate more and more the light of heaven in Page County and throughout the world.


The parish honored Father Horkan at a Farewell Dinner on June 25 at the Mimslyn Inn. We wish him all the best for success in his studies and God Bless.

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

We all remember—perhaps fondly—those multiple-choice tests we had to take from time to time during our school days. If we knew our subject, we could whiz through the test and finish well below the allotted time. If we were not so knowledgeable, there was always the chance we took with an educated guess.

Those educated gambles came with many a mark we ultimately made with our number two pencil. As a many years veteran of high school teaching and a few more in colleges, my job entailed the composition of such tests. While they were easy to grade they were hard to create.

The “almost but not quite correct” answers were particularly challenging to devise. My “Track one” grade-hungry bright kids often made good arguments for their answers as opposed to the preferred one. Of course, most of the time they lost their appeal. One lesson those tests taught was the power of good decision-making. As their elder, I knew my students would inevitably have to face heftier decisions in life beyond the classroom. They would relearn that decisions have consequences.

So much of life precludes having multiple choices. Many times there is only one. A person does not have to delve too deeply into the pages of the gospels to learn that Jesus always wanted His disciples to be decisive. Today’s passage from Luke is a case in point. Jesus has, so to speak, “put all His cards on the table.” And He does so for three “wannabes” among the crowd. He tells these three persons in turn that following Him will make, in the first case, what foxes and birds have for homes will look luxurious by comparison with any of the roadside camps He will be using. He also tells two other people that His work will have to take priority even over family obligations. The latter is still true today. All of this captures the meaning of what is meant by “living by the Spirit” that St. Paul writes about to his Galatians.

Discipleship calls one to be quite decisive when opportunity comes knocking. We read this weekend about Elijah the prophet making his decision. He obeys the Lord when he throws his cloak over Elisha, making the matter of his successor closed. Obviously then, there is no place for “fence sitting” in this matter of living our lives with Jesus at the center. The old Harvey Cox quote “Not to decide is to decide” is perennial in this case as well as so many others.

Of course, not all our decisions in other areas will be wise or even welcome. Take the case of “Harry the Hunter.” Some friends who went deer hunting separated into pairs for the day. And that night one hunter returned alone, staggering under an eight-point buck. “Where’s Harry?” asked another hunter. “Oh, he fainted a couple of miles up on the trail,” Harry’s partner answered. “And you left him lying there all alone and carried the deer back?” “Yes, it was a tough call,” said the hunting partner, “but I figure no one’s going to steal Harry.”

The Universal Church and The Glory of Each Land

On the last two Saturdays, Bishop Burbidge ordained three new deacons and four new priests for this Diocese, which reminded me of my own ordination to the diocesan priesthood 16 years ago, also on the day before Pentecost.

And the celebration of these ordinations and of Pentecost brings together two great themes of the Catholic faith, her universality throughout time and space, and yet also her consecration of the unique goodness of every specific locality and nation. For, on Pentecost, the one Gospel was heard in each individual language of people all over the known world. Likewise, the Church proclaims the same faith, provides the same sacraments, promotes the universal call to holiness, and unites all nations together.

But, as the one sun and the common rain bring forth different crops in every land, these universal means of salvation bring forth a unique harvest of grace in every people, age, nation and language. A diocesan priest connects this universal faith to each locality.

For a diocesan priest is ordained both for the universal Church and for a specific diocese, an area of the Church. There is both an order of priests throughout the world, and in fact throughout time and space, but also a unique brotherhood of priests in every diocese.

In my case, and in the case of these newly ordained priests and transitional deacons (who are on schedule to be priests next year), we received training in the universal faith and practice of the Church. And yet we are sent forth to a specific area, namely the northern third of Virginia. And most diocesan priests are primarily in parish ministry, and are thus called to a deep knowledge and love of the specific locality in which the serve.

This local patriotism tries to make of every town and place a new Bethlehem, a new Nazareth, in which Christ and His people are welcomed and the light of heaven shines upon earth. Over a century ago, the great Catholic writer and commentator G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem celebrating his home area of Kensington in London; in that poem he said, “For every tiny town or place, God made the stars especially . . . Yea, Heaven is everywhere at home.”

I have been at this parish for three and a half years, and have certainly learned how it is that the light of heaven shines forth upon this rural and hospitable locality, with its fresh green fields, ancient but life-filled mountains, and unique homes, civic groups and businesses. I think that we have, through common prayer, charitable works, learning, celebration and good company helped bring the light of Christ here to this area. And I am confident that Fr. Perez will likewise both learn and contribute to making Page County and this parish a place where heaven is at home.