Program inspired by Scripture brings people together
By Dan Russo
WAVERLY — Peter was warming his hands by a fire when he denied Jesus three times. Later, he met Christ after the Resurrection by another fire where the Savior gave the apostle the chance to redeem himself. (John 18: 15-18, 25-27; 21, 15-19)
“He called (Peter) back in this past weekend’s Gospel reading and tells him to ‘Feed my Sheep,’” explained Father David Schatz, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Waverly.
Using these Scripture passages as a foundation, the parishioners at St. Mary’s have been engaging in a unique act of devotion for the last two years to prepare for Easter. Father Schatz was inspired to start the “St. Peter’s Fire” program in 2015 after reflecting on the Gospel story describing Peter’s encounter with the risen Jesus on a beach by a charcoal fire. The pastor asked the parish to build a fire outside after the Good Friday Stations of the Cross, and then keep it going until the Easter Vigil Mass the following night at 8 p.m.
“I wanted people to take time – an hour to visit the fire,” said Father Schatz.
The hour-long shifts all day and night were based on Jesus’ statement in the Garden of Gethsemane the night he was arrested. He asked his disciples to keep watch with him while he prayed. When he returned to find everyone asleep, he told Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matthew26: 36-40) As volunteers show up to tend the fire, they reflect on Scripture and one of the nearby classrooms is set up as an altar of repose of the Blessed Sacrament so visitors can engage in eucharistic adoration. This year, a Holy Week retreat was also added to the parish activities. The Triduum liturgies were part of that, as was St. Peter’s Fire.
The fire has had a positive impact on many who participate, including parishioner Gerri Dix. She described her experiences in a column in the parish’s April 10 bulletin.
“I got to see families with children tending the fire and learning about how we dispose of last year’s sacred oils by burning them in the fire,” wrote Dix. “I witnessed the joy and friendship of a group of sophomore and junior confirmation students. I saw a grandmother with her daughter and grandchildren take their turn keeping the flames going during the midnight hour.”
At all times during the day and night, Dix described her encounters with people at different points in their lives.
“I met a widower who has been gone from the church and is finding his way back,” she wrote. “I was followed by a couple who brought their guitar and was going to sing songs of worship for their hour. Then there was me, a busy mom who just needed to spend time with Christ.”
Father Schatz hopes the fire helped all people to draw closer to God. He explained that the flames from St. Peter’s Fire are used to light the fire and candles used during the Easter Vigil Mass. Peter’s story reminded Dix of the chance we all have for redemption through Jesus.
“It struck me in crossing paths with so many different people around St. Peter’s Fire, we are all at a different place in life, dealing with our own personal challenges,” wrote Dix. “And Jesus is right there with us, calling us to him. Do we love him? Let’s feed his sheep.”
Photo: Volunteers tend the flames during the 2016 St. Peter’s Fire program at St. Mary Parish in Waverly. The program is now in its second year. (Contributed photo)