Well this is the week of the total eclipse of the sun. Along with President Trump’s latest tweets, North Korean threats, and unrelenting human violence (foreign and domestic), it has been one of the drumbeat stories of the last week. As a kid I was caught up in astronomy, had by age seven memorized the planets and in order with their distances from the sun, and was thrilled to discover that if you wrote NASA every few months and said you were a child interested in space, they would send you maps of the moon and articles on the latest manned and unmanned space probes … for FREE (thank you, tax payers of the 1960’s).
The eclipse story is such a big deal that a priest of our Diocese (Fr. James Kurzynski of Menomonie) has written an article that got picked up by the Catholic News Service, aiming to reassure people that just because the sun will be blacked out in some areas of the country by the covering face of the moon, it doesn’t mean “the end of the world.” Now Fr. James is a pretty level-headed guy, so if he feels the need to write a story like that (and there are news services wanting to reprint it), there must be a frightening number of people out there who have let their selective Bible reading and scientific ignorance run away with them. An awful lot of people must have cut grade school science class on the day when the dynamics of the sun and moon were explained, and we learned that total eclipses of the sun happened somewhere on the earth’s surface almost every year.
Last summer, when I first caught wind of the coming eclipse my first thought was to try and arrange my schedule so I could take my vacation this week and head south and a bit west to reach the strip of “totality”—the area across the country where the moon will totally block the sun’s light and bring total darkness for a few minutes (places like St. Louis, MO; Carbondale, IL; and Paducah, KY). But then two things happened: (1) I was granted a sabbatical by the Diocese, and (2) I became your pastor.
“Sabbatical” comes from the Hebrew word shabat (or Sabbath), that time of weekly rest Jewish people keep on Saturdays, used more broadly for a period given academics (and some lucky others) a break from their regular chores for special study. I was approved for thirteen weeks of study in Rome beginning on Labor Day. Then came the call from the Bishop and my reassignment to Wausau. Hmm, coming to a new parish, putting in two months, and then disappearing for three, didn’t seem to me to be the best way to start my time with you.
So with some thought, a little prayer, and discussion with both our Parish Pastoral and Finance Councils, I have decided to take most, but not all, that sabbatical opportunity (that is from September 4 until October 20 … six Sundays, just under seven weeks). It means putting some things “on hold,” passing other tasks on innocent bystanders … and a little more disruption for you. I hope you will forgive me. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me, and I can guarantee you I will be so happy to see you again when I get back … which is a side benefit of being gone. I will stay in touch here in the bulletin column, sharing what I am learning … and the odd things that always happen when I travel.
To hold down the fort, Deacons Peter and Michael and the parish staff will be getting assistance from Fr. Bill Grevatch and Fr. James Schaefer (who will step up to help on weekends) along with Fr. Sandhiagu Baskaran, an international priest who will be living in the rectory and take the lead on daily Mass, sacramental calls, and day-to-day priestly ministry, as he gets adapted to church life in the US. So you will be his teachers while I am gone. You will start seeing him with us this week already.
So with all of that going on, there will be no total eclipse for Fr. Mark this year. But I am OK with that. I mean, there will be another one cutting through the middle United States already in April 2024. It will be here before you know it.