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52 Masses: What it Means

Welcome to 52 Masses. Thanks for joining me.

My name is Daniel Markham. I’m a lifelong practicing Catholic who worships at Nativity of Our Savior Parish in Portage, Indiana. I have also been writing professionally for almost 30 years. In 2021, those two traits will collide.

That year, I plan to attend Sunday Mass in each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. At each parish I visit, I’ll be writing about something going on there, a short profile of the many interesting and inspiring people and endeavors in the Catholic Church in the United States. Upon completion of my year-long trip, the journey will be chronicled in the book, 52 Masses.

Between now and taking off in 2021, I will solicit suggestions from all over the country about fitting candidates to profile and parishes to visit. Not just from priests and parish staff, but also from parishioners. Perhaps your parish priest has an interesting history or works in a unique ministry. Or a lay person is spearheading an important effort to help your city’s less fortunate. Maybe your church has a strong connection with its community. I want to hear about them, either here through the comments or by emailing me at 52Masses@gmail.com.

These don’t have to be groundbreaking types of stories – merely interesting ones. There are hundreds of these types of compelling individuals and inspiring efforts taking place in our Church every day, and I plan to tell 52 of them. The hope is that through this collection of smaller stories, I can paint a broader picture of life in the Catholic Church in 2021.

Here, I’ll update the progress of the book over the next two years, then chronicle highlights of the trip as it takes place. I welcome any and all to join me, with thoughts, comments and suggestions. I hope to have many of you accompany me on this journey, at least in the digital sense.

At the Movies (No kidding)

A movie review from a guy who doesn’t go to the movies.

On Monday night, my colleagues from Nativity of Our Savior’s St. Vincent de Paul Conference eschewed our normal meeting (held the first and third Mondays at 6:30 p.m. in the Cana Room – new members are encouraged to join us) for a field trip. We were heading to the Portage movie theater, which is definitely not its real name.

We were there to watch a special showing of Love and Mercy: Faustina. The movie from Fathom Events tells the story of Saint Faustina Kowalska, the Polish-born nun whose visions of Jesus ultimately led to the creation of the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy.

The film is a blend of acting, with primarily Polish performers recreating the significant events in the history of Divine Mercy, interspersed with documentary-style interviews with Catholic theologians and historians in Poland, Lithuania and the U.S.

It was a fascinating tale, well told in my very amateur opinion. The reluctance from church figures to accept Sister Faustina’s visions and the Divine Mercy (leading to some humorous moments in the dramatic portion of the presentation) created tension, as did the natural backdrop of the rise of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, World War II and the Cold War portions of the story were set against.   

Sister Faustina, who died at age 33, was ultimately canonized, quite fittingly, by her countryman Pope John Paul II in 2000. He also designated the Sunday after Easter as the Feast of the Divine Mercy

It was also the pope, then the archbishop of Krakow, who began the process of reversing the Vatican’s opposition to the Divine Mercy devotion and the censure of Sister Faustina’s confessor, Father Michael Sopoćko.

Eight years after Sister Faustina became Saint Faustina, Father Sopoćko was canonized by Pope Benedict.

While my thumbs are ordinarily not particularly useful digits when it comes to cinematic expression, I’m still going to point them skyward here. I thoroughly enjoyed Love and Mercy: Faustina, and suspect you will, too.

Worlds Collide

Before my 2021 trip begins (and even during it), I have a day job as editor-in-chief of Metal Center News magazine. You’re forgiven for never having heard of it; you won’t find it on your local newsstand. MCN, as we shorten it without creativity, is a trade publication devoted to metal service centers.

Again, you’re excused for not knowing what a metal service center is. A metal service center is a distribution company that buys metal, such as steel, aluminum and copper, from the companies that make the metal (known as mills, including companies such as U.S. Steel, which you probably have heard of) and distribute it to smaller customers. They’re something like a wholesaler, though they often perform some work on the metal before shipping it to end users.

This, of course, is at least 32 more words than just about any reader cares to know about the metal distribution industry, so I’ll stop explaining the business and start explaining why I’m writing about it here. Well, for the first time since I started this project, my day job and my venture are coming into contact.

This week, I received a news release from my good friends at Petersen Aluminum Co., a distributor and manufacturer of aluminum products for the metal construction industry. Petersen was calling attention to the most recent project where its metal roofing products were used: St. Patrick’s Church in Galveston, Texas.

As you might know, sitting in Galveston leaves St. Patrick’s vulnerable to the storms that rise up from the Gulf of Mexico. The first church building was lost in 1871, just one year after construction, then its rebuilt church lost a spire in the Great Hurricane of 1900.

In 1905, the church heeded the call of the city of Galveston that every building should be raised to prevent future flood damage, and the five inches it was boosted almost certainly saved it during the devastation of Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Thus, when it was time to replace its roof, the church opted for the metal roofing panels used by Petersen, on display below.

I don’t know when, or if, my two worlds will collide again, so I thought I’d take advantage of this chance to share it here. Best of luck with your new roof, St. Pat’s.

Speaking for Saint Vincent de Paul

Sunday’s Mass at Nativity of Our Savior took me somewhere I’d never been before: to the lectern, to speak to my fellow parishioners.

I was tasked with speaking on behalf of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the group I joined last year. At each of our three Masses, one of us was asked to address the parish about St. Vincent de Paul and the upcoming Walk for the Poor on Sept. 28. Unfortunately, only two of us got to deliver our remarks, as the visiting priest for Saturday’s Mass got his signals crossed and didn’t call up my SVDP colleague Michelle to deliver her remarks.

It was a nice opportunity, and my remarks seemed to be well received. I hope my strong belief in the mission of SVDP was conveyed to the Nativity parishioners, and what a wonderful opportunity it is to serve in this ministry. I know I speak for my fellow members that we’d love to see a few more participants.

I also encourage anyone reading this to consider getting involved in your parish’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Or, consider starting one if you belong to one of the many parishes that don’t currently have one. It can be a life-changing experience, for you and the community members you serve.

Until then, please consider supporting your local Friends of the Poor Walk, scheduled nationwide on Sept. 28.

Here are my remarks to the parish:

Hello. My name is Dan Markham. I’m a parishioner here at Nativity. I come to you today as a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a group whose sole purpose is to serve the poor.

I joined St. Vincent de Paul a little more than a year ago, and it has been one of the most transformative events of my life. I serve as one of the members of the Home Visit team, sitting down with our clients to discuss their situations, and how we can help them.

Serving with St. Vincent de Paul quickly quashes any misconceptions one has about poverty. The people we help are not lazy individuals just looking to live off the hard work of others. These are people who have been hit with a health crisis that knocks them out of work. Or people whose life is turned upside down by a death that eliminates a care provider or employer. Or a single mom whose paycheck is mostly consumed by child-care costs. These are the working poor. They are our neighbors. And they are in need.

And we are helping them. Our annual giving ranks second among all parishes in Northwest Indiana, and no parish provides more rental assistance than we do.

These numbers are a testament to two things: first, the support of you, the parishioners of Nativity, as well as the tremendous commitment from Father Kevin. He truly believes in our mission and our ministry, and will keep it front and center. Sadly, it also tells of the tremendous need in our community.

There are many ways you can help. You can contribute financially, whenever possible, through the envelopes you receive each month, or at our table in the foyer. Our capacity to help our neighbors is entirely dependent on how much we have available at a given moment. And those of us on the Home Visit team like nothing more than to see our balance at the highest level, knowing we can provide the maximum assistance to our clients.

Second, we would love you to join our ranks at SVDP. We’re a small group that meets the first and third Mondays of the month at 6:30 p.m. in the Cana room. We can absolutely use more volunteers, and I can promise it’s a fulfilling experience. Sitting down with a client in need is not the easiest thing you can do, but helping a family stay in its home, or keep the lights on, or ensure a child does not go hungry, is absolutely one of the most rewarding.

Finally, we invite you to participate, in some way, in the national Friends of the Poor Walk, scheduled from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. Sept. 28 at Gabbis Arboretum, formerly Taltree. More information is at our table.

There are few things clearer in the Bible than Christ’s commitment to the poor, the hungry, the infirm:

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’  

We don’t ask you sell everything you own. But we implore you to look into your hearts and give what you can to aid us in our mission.

Thank you.

Painful Reminders

Visitors to Nativity of Our Savior, my home parish in Portage, Ind., were greeted with an unusual sight last weekend. The steps to the altar were lined with white crosses, similar to what you’d find in military graveyards.

Closer inspection showed each of the crosses bore the name of a city that had been the victim of mass shootings. Two additional crosses were there for nearby Gary and Chicago, which has avoided mass shootings but suffer gun-related homicides with all-too-much frequency.

It was a powerful image, and a sobering reminder of the pain that’s inflicted on communities almost daily, whether that’s in a single-shooter event, or those lives lost just one at a time.

I don’t know the answer to the scourge of gun violence. Nor do I imagine that Father Kevin McCarthy does either. But it is a subject that demands our attention, and hopefully that vigilant attention and concern can help in the pursuit of a solution.

The steps to the altar at Nativity of Our Savior Parish in Portage.

A cross identifying the 11 killed at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, one of several mass shootings to occur in places of worship.

Christ, You Have Spoken to Us of Children

Saturday brought my wife and to Hamilton, Ohio, as we once engaged in our regular game of “Where are we going to live next year? The city of 62,000 sits north of Cincinnati on the Whitewater River.

After driving around town, and somewhat limited in our ability to traipse by foot, we found ourselves with time to kill. Thus, it was quite lucky to discover Mass was about to begin at St. Julie Billiart, located just across the street from the unfortunately spelled Marcum Park. St. Julie’s was a gorgeous facility, but it was the opening song that made the biggest impression on me.

The song was a Polish carol titled Zlobie Lezy, or Infant Holy, Infant Lowly. But it wasn’t that version sung on Saturday. This version went like this:

Christ you spoke to us of children: “Let the children come to me
Do not stop them, for the kingdom is for little ones like these
God we grieve now as our nation falls its moral obligation to receive the refugees

I looked down, and sure enough, the lyrics were written in 2019, by Caroly Winfrey Gillette. This was not a song that just happened to match our world today, but was clearly written in response to the ongoing situation on the border.

I was surprised, and impressed. Regardless where one stands on immigration, there should be no dispute among Catholics about the treatment of the children in our care by our government. Jesus’s teachings on the subject of how we as Christians should treat the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, are unmistakable. I was glad to see St. Julie Billiart and Father Robert Muhelenkamp unafraid to affirm that.

A few hours before we gathered for Mass, 20 people in El Paso were killed in one of the deadliest shootings in American history. By all appearances, the killer was motivated by anti-immigrant views.

As a country, we have to be better. And as Catholics following the words of Christ, we ought to lead the way.

American Heroes

As noted here a few weeks back, late May took me to Baltimore to see my oldest son’s graduation from college. Though I flew in, I made the 10-plus hour drive home in his car.

Since I started traveling to Charm City back in 2014, I’ve long wanted to stop at one of the most notable places along the way – the Flight 93 Memorial in Central Pennsylvania. This was my last chance, and I wasn’t going to pass it up.

The Memorial marks the spot on Sept. 11, 2001, where the last of four hijacked commercial airlines plunged into the ground, killing all aboard. It was the final tragedy on the most horrific morning most of us will ever experience.

I share my visit in this space because I think the passengers on Flight 93 acted in about the most Christ-like fashion of any people I can recall. We often talk about those who put their lives on the line for us – police officers, firefighters and military personnel, among them. And those individuals deserve our full respect. But most of them fully expect, or at least hope, to come home safely at day’s end.

That wasn’t an option for the passengers on Flight 93. By choosing to rush the cockpit and challenge the hijackers, they saved a great many lines at the absolute expense of their own. They died for us.

Today seems like a fitting day to salute them.

The 1/4 mile walkway marks the edge of the debris field.
The 17-ton boulder represents the approximate location of the point of impact.
The Wall of Names. Though individual slabs, they appear to be a solid wall, reflecting the unified teamwork of the passengers and crew onboard.

Catholic Baltimore

For the final time, at least until my trip in 2021, I visited Baltimore last week. The occasion was my oldest child’s graduation from Johns Hopkins University. Needless to say, I’m a little proud of the young man, even if my role in his acceptance into and degree from one of the country’s finest institutions was quite limited.

I spent three days in the city, allowing me to do a little more sightseeing than most of my quick drop-offs/pickups over the last 5 years. And for a Catholic, there are many, many worse places to find yourself in than Charm City.

In many ways, Baltimore is the country’s original Catholic city (with apologies to St. Augustine, Fla.), given its importance in Maryland, a place where Catholics found a home in the overwhelmingly Protestant fellow 12 colonies. The colony was founded by Catholic convert George Calvert, who sought to create an area where people could be free to worship as they pleased.

Catholicism has flourished in Baltimore, and continues to do so.

My first stop, shortly after reconnecting with my son at his current place of work, was the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is America’s first Cathedral, built by famed architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and home to America’s first bishop, John Carroll. It was the funeral site for Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. Most of the early bishops were consecrated here. Few churches in this country match its place in Catholic history.

The Ascension of Our Lord depicted on the East Saucer Dome at the Basilica.
The altar at the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This painting was given to the archdiocese by French King Louis XVIII.
A look at the Basilica from the corner of Cathedral and Wilson streets.

Sitting one block up and one block east of the Cathedral is the Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden, a tiny spot of green to commemorate his visit to the city in 1995. The garden contains a lovely statue of the pope and two small children,  based on a photo taken when the pope arrived at BWI Airport. It also features a quote from his visit highlighting the importance of religious freedom, harkening back to the colony’s founding. It’s a lovely tranquil place in an otherwise busy neighborhood.

The Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden.

By happy coincidence, the hotel my wife chose to stay in, a few blocks northeast of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, was also just across the street from the National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori. On Graduation Day, I woke up early to attend Mass at the beautiful church, once home to St. John Neumann. It was my first Latin Mass, though it’s possible I attended some when I was a very small child.

A look at the church from my hotel window. And if it looks surprisingly clear, that’s because my hotel window surprisingly opened.
There were about a dozen of us worshiping at the 7 a.m., Tridentine Mass. This was taken after Mass had ended.
The Gothic Revival style church was absolutely stunning, particularly when the lights were dimmed.

Finally, as we were making our final preparations before the four-hour commencement exercise at Royal Farms Arena, I sneaked off to the St. Jude Shrine. The “Forgotten Saint” or the patron saint of lost causes, Judas Thaddeus has been celebrated here since 1917, when the Nationwide Center of St. Jude Devotions was founded by the Pallottines. As with the Basilica, there was a steady stream of guests dropping in to pray that afternoon.

Two perpetual Novena services are held every Wednesday, three are conducted on Sundays and the Shrine hosts three Solemn Novena services annually.
The Shrine, founded in 1917, originally attracted just local folks, but now requests for intercessions from St. Jude come from all over the world.