Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Aware and Engaged - Easter Homily

The Pascal Candle is lit from the new and blessed fire at Holy Family Hicksville
Throughout this past week we have been witnesses of a drama.  From the entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, to the institution of the Eucharist and servant leadership at the Last Supper, to the betrayal, denial, torture and execution of the Jesus on the cross to unexpected resurrection encounter – the drama of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus has unfolded before us.  Observers though we are, are we truly aware of what has gone, beyond our observance?
Kelli O'Hara quick changes at the 2015 Tony Awards
screenshot via Tony Awards Backstage Youtube
My friend Fran is a professional costumer and dresser for Broadway actors.  One of her most important tasks is to assist the actor with quick costume changes.  Not too long ago she was working with the actress who played Anna in the musical the King and I. If you recall the show, you know that Anna is always dressed in very, very large hoop skirts, in watching the show, you are too busy watching the actors on stage to think about how Anna gets in an out of those skirts so quickly.  But during a performance at the Tony awards that year, the online audience got to see how it all occurs a camera with backstage capturing Fran, much to her chagrin, and her team changing the actress out of one skirt and top and into another in less than 40 seconds.  The attention of those watching on TV or in the theatre only saw what happened on stage and were unaware of what was happening behind the scenes; all they saw was the amazing result.
Throughout this week of the Lord’s Passion our attention has been on the actions of those around Jesus.  Many of the readings from sacred scripture we listened to focused on the human actions of Moses, Abraham, and the words of the prophets Isaiah, Baruch and Ezekiel.  Furthermore, in the first reading, which tells the story of creation, and the Gospel account of the resurrection we hear something so familiar that we may take for granted what has happened.  It is fitting then that the reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans begins questioning our awareness.  St. Paul is not simply asking us if we are aware of what we have studied, had preached to us or learned in a religion class.  He is not asking us if we know the stories of creation, the exodus and the resurrection.  He is asking if we are of what God has done behind the scenes throughout salvation history that leads to the Resurrection of Jesus.  More so he is asking if we are aware what has been done to us and for us without us paying attention to what is going on beyond our awareness.
Specifically, St. Paul asks, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Is this part of your awareness?  I know that this truth is not foremost on my mind.  Yet this truth is the foundation for our hope.  Because of our baptism we are united to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Because of our baptism we have profound hope that the worst thing that can happen to us, death is not the last word.  We do not just observe the drama of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by baptism we experience it.  St. Paul concludes that “raised from the dead, (Christ) dies no more; death no longer has power over him.” So too must we be aware that death has no power over us.
The era in which we live easily distracts us.  Our political atmosphere is horrible. The moral struggles presented to our children are overwhelming.  Financial realities, racial tensions, and an ever-present media are what grabs our attention and therefore, the cosmic and spiritual realities of the Resurrection recede to the background.  We function as if we have no awareness of the God who both created and redeemed the world. 
As we listened to St. Matthews gospel proclaimed we are treated to some dramatic imagery.
·       And behold, there was a great earthquake;
·       for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
·       rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
·       His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow.
·       The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.
The Angel of the Lord  Announcing the Resurrection
Benjamin West  1805 Brooklyn Museum
These are events so dramatic in detail that they are meant to engage us and awaken us to not a happy ending of what was thought to be a tragedy but to empower our faith life.  Furthermore, with their encounter with the risen Jesus himself, the women experience a transformation and a commissioning.
In repeating and enhancing the message of the angel the risen Lord, Jesus commissions the women to be the first missionaries of the Resurrection.  He also gives them a specific task.  He tells them to inform his brothers that he will meet them in Galilee.  Why is this important.  The angel tells the women to give this message to Jesus’ disciples, Jesus calls them his brothers.  The change is important.  These disciples are the ones who betrayed, denied and abandoned him.  Hearing that he had been raised from the dead might rightly strike a fear of vengeance in their hearts.   He calls them brothers and in so doing extends reconciliation.  He does not abandon them but raises them from disciples to the dignity of brothers.  The women, therefore become the first agents of resurrection reconciliation.
Bishop of Rockville Centre, John Barres baptizes a woman
during the Easter Vigil at St. Agnes Cathedral.
Photo Credit: Ed Casey
At our Easter Vigil and most Catholic Churches we have the opportunity to witness a baptism.  The baptism of an adult in our midst is followed by the renewal of our own baptismal promises.  We all get wet from the waters of baptism today.  Shocked with the sprinkling of these waters we are made aware of the dramatic thing God has done in history and continues in us.  Like the newly baptized and the witness of the resurrection we are sent into the world to be missionaries of the resurrection and agents of reconciliation. 
This drama, this resurrection is not simply what we see but the often-unseen drama of God’s saving action.  Newly aware of what has been done we go fearful yet overjoyed and share in the building of God’s Kingdom.
Easter Sanctuary Holy Family Hicksville

Friday, April 14, 2017

Failure is the ONLY Option - Good Friday reflection

Crucifixion of Jesus by Marco Palmezzano
(Uffizi, 
Florence), painting c. 1490
The 8th graders who in level 2 of the parish confirmation program are given the opportunity to write reflections on the stations of the cross.  Their statements are incorporated into a parish celebration of the Stations of the Cross at noon on Good Friday.  After the last station I offered this reflection the confirmation candidates and parishioners.
In our prayer, today we have not only recounted a story but through the reflections you offered, we engaged ourselves in that story.  In doing so, each of you attempted to experience Jesus in a way that is real or more tangible to you.  Through this meditation of the Stations of the Cross, on this Good Friday afternoon we have had an opportunity to know the pain of our Lord in a profound way.  But some of us may ask, “What is the point?  We have our own pain and none of it seems to make any sense.”  So, as a way of bringing this experience to a close and in an attempt to “make sense,” of it for you, I offer you to points to take with you.  First, Failure is not only an option, it’s the only option.  Second, the only cross we are asked to bear is our own – and Jesus carries it with us.
We have heard the phrase, “Failure is not an option.”  This statement originated as a line from the movie, Apollo 13 and it was uttered by the character of the flight director, whose responsibility it was to bring the astronauts of the disabled spacecraft home safely.  The truth is the real person, in the actual situation, never said those words.  They are the words of a Hollywood scriptwriter.  The reality was that failure had already happened.  That particular mission to the moon failed because an explosion had disabled the ship.  Because of that failure, however, the minds of many had to come together to figure out a way to get these men home and through the failure they learned what they never could have and achieved something they never would have believed possible.
Michelangelo's Pieta
St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican
From the human perspective, Jesus’ mission appears to be failure.  After being followed by throngs of people he was abandoned to die alone on a cross.  Two of his apostles fail him in the acts of betrayal and denial.  He is mocked, tortured and killed, what a failure.  We stand here today calling this Good Friday because we know that the mission does not fail.  We know about the resurrection and therefore we can see and anticipate the success.  But this reality was not yet known on that Friday afternoon.  The religious leaders, the Romans, the crowds and Jesus disciples only saw failure.  It was only after the resurrection that the apostles, other disciples and future believers came to understand how failure was in fact the only option.  Jesus had to be abandoned, betrayed, denied, tortured and killed.  The worse had to happen so that the greatness of God could truly be known.  St. Paul says that death has no power over us.  We only know this to be true because the failure of death happened first.
Holy Family School's 7th Grade
Living Stations 2017 
In our lives, we have daily reminders of failures; academically, athletically, artistically and socially.  We can even perceive our bodies as failures.  People around us might readily point out our flaws and some never seem to let us forget them.  We ask ourselves, “Why did I have to fail?  Why can’t I just get it right?”  The answer is failure is the only option.  We learn from our failures, and learn very little from that which we accidentally get right.  So too we learn from our sin, the very sins that led Jesus to the cross.  Our sins and our failures are the gateway to God’s mercy.  Through them we come to know the power of Jesus’ love and mercy for each of us.
It’s hard to know this amid failure however and so we must trust in what we cannot see.  We trust in the wisdom of others and we trust in the wisdom of faith.  Let me share with you a post resurrection story that illustrates this point.  In one of his appearances after the resurrection, Jesus meets his apostles on the sea shore.  They have breakfast together and after they finish eating Jesus says to Peter
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep. Jn 21:15-19
Do you see what was happening here?  Peter who denied Jesus three times is given an opportunity to express his love for Jesus three times.  This must have been such an awesome revelation for Peter.  How much stronger and apostle and leader he was because he failed first.  The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus teaches us that failure is the only option.
Confirmation Candidates and Parishioners
venerate the Cross following
Stations of the Cross on Good Friday
Lastly, I offer you this.  Before they knew what would eventually happen, Jesus told his apostles that if they wished to follow him they must take up their cross daily.  He did not tell them to carry his cross, nor did he tell them to carry the cross of others.  Jesus does not need for us or want us to suffer needlessly.  He does not expect us to take on the burdens of the world.  He asks us to make the sacrifices of our lives, to accept the burdens of love and bearing with our own personal failures.  He also tells us that our burden is light because he is carrying it with us.  While it is true that the Lord may use us, to be his hands and feet to help another person, he does not command us or want us to assume the burdens of other on ourselves.  Many years ago, I heard a mother tell her son she wished she could take away a pain he was experiencing, and he told her he didn’t want her to, because the pain was his and he needed to be healed from it, not have another take it from him.  In dying to the cross, Jesus alone takes on the burdens of the world, we who follow are to accept our burdens and trust that he will transform them.  Any even though he may call upon us to be his presence for another, we do not have the capacity, the ability or the right to make another’s pain our own.  That is for Jesus.

As we conclude I invite you to venerate the cross, to come forward and in gesture show that because of the suffering and death of Jesus we know that we can take up our cross daily because we believe he bears it with us and we know that failure is the only option that will lead us to new life.
Pilgrims touch the stone beneath the altar at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What happens in the Upper Room DOESN'T stay in the Upper Room - Holy Thursday Homily

The events recounted in tonight’s gospel took place in an upper room of a building in 1st century Jerusalem. The Upper Room, or the Cenacle as it is known, might well be the most important room in all of Christianity.   It was in that upper room that the Last Supper took place, and the Holy Eucharist was instituted.  It was in that same room on that same night that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, inaugurating a ministry of loving service.  By tradition this is the same room where the apostles hid after the crucifixion and where the risen Lord first appeared to them; showing them his hands and his side.  It was here that he bestowed upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit and later in the presence of the Blessed Mother, tongues of fire rested upon them; and thus in this place, the Church was born. Finally it was from this Upper Room that the apostles went forth to proclaim the Good News.  Today we rejoice because nothing that happened in that Upper Room stayed in that Upper Room.
Today in the southwest part of the Old City of Jerusalem, a fourteenth century building occupies the spot traditionally believed to be the place where the building with that Upper Room once stood.  Naturally it is a place that Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land seek out.  The building, however, also has spiritual significance to Jews and Muslims.  The first floor houses a place revered as the tomb of King David and a centuries old mosque is located there as well.  For this reason, the Cenacle has been a place of religious and political controversy and only visits are permitted there, Christians are only permitted to celebrate mass there with the permission of the Israeli government and only on special occasions.  When I first visited the Cenacle 23 years ago, these controversies surrounding the Upper Room, disturbed me.  I did not understand how it was that anyone or any authority could prohibit a celebration of what happened here first.  Since that time both Pope Frances and Pope St. John Paul II did receive permission to celebrate mass there and Pope Benedict did lead prayer there during his visit.  Just this past fall, with our parish pilgrimage group, I had the chance to visit the room again.  For some reason, I felt differently during this visit – the rules were the same but they were presented to me with a different perspective.  We were told that it was here in this room that peace is protected and all 3 faiths respected.  I thought to myself – maybe the rarity of the celebration of the Eucharist in that place, is for a reason.  Maybe it stands as a reminder that nothing that happened in the Upper Room was meant to stay in the Upper Room.  And so, it does throughout the world in every church, the servant leadership of priests, the lived encounter with the Risen Christ and his Holy Spirit, the reconciliation of doubt and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ is received daily, not in the Upper Room but in the Cenacle that is the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
In that room, last November, two of our pilgrims presented me with a chalice which depicts the Last Supper.  I will use that chalice tonight and those pilgrims are among the people whose feet I will wash tonight.  For tonight, the chalice and my fellow pilgrims help us to remember in a most profound way, that what happened in the Upper Room did not stay in the Upper Room.  Furthermore, I pray tonight that our parish community will recognize in a new way that our church is our upper room, a Cenacle, itself.  Where all that happened in the first upper room happens here.  And like that upper room, what happens here should not, cannot and must not stay here.
During his public ministry, our Lord, continually preached and sent disciples forth.  When they returned to him, he continued his preaching and teaching sending them out each time.  His words had significant power, but in the end, they are not enough.  On that night amidst the celebration of the Passover, tension is building.  Uncertainty abounds, his betrayer dines with him and the one he has called the rock will deny him.  So, on the night before his death on the cross, Jesus went beyond words.  With his hands, he washed their feet and with his hands He gave us them the Eucharist. 
Throughout human history, physical contact between persons has always said more than words ever could.  A gentle touch of a hand, a warm embrace and a kiss of affection move us deeply and significantly and they remain with us longer.  In the washing of his disciple’s feet Jesus preaches the profound truth of the Eucharist.  This sacrament is his flesh touching ours.  He embraces us as we literally consume Him within us.  With His physical and divine embrace Jesus gave his apostles and us what we need to take what happens in the Upper Room out to a world that needs this encounter with him.  Thankfully what happened in the Upper Room did not stay there, had it remained a private party for a select few, we would not know Christ. 
Because we have been privileged to know and experience what happens in the Upper Room we are called to be evangelists and missionaries.  We are called, as Bishop Barres has continually said to us, to share in the dramatic missionary growth of the church.  We may be uncomfortable with this mandate, feeling we are not gifted in eloquent speech, do not posses sufficient knowledge of the faith or are inhibited by our sinful imperfection.  Yet what the Lord gives us and teaches us in the Upper Room is all we need.
The other ten people whose feet I wash tonight have shown me through their service that they understand that what happens in the Upper Room, should not, cannot and must not stay in the Upper Room.  Two of them serve Fr. Daniel and I here in our home at the rectory.  Two give service to the liturgies of the Lord's house here in our church.  Four are members of a family who have made service a part of their family’s life, in scouting, in showing care for those who serve us in the military and through the time they spent helping to rebuild communities on the south shore after Hurricane Sandy.  Lastly, two of them are parents who serve by giving their son to the church so that he may be formed to serve as a servant leader in priestly ministry.  It is in these many ways that you and I can and should be a part of making sure that what happened in the Upper Room and what happens in this Upper Room, our Holy Family church, will not stay here.

Our world needs a dynamic encounter with Jesus Christ.  It needs to know the divine embrace of Jesus.  It longs to experience leadership of servants, ministers of mercy, gifts of the Holy Spirit, certainty in doubt and the real true presence of a savior.  Like the apostles we are privileged to encounter Christ in this our Cenacle, our Upper Room, our church.  Tonight, as we celebrate the institution of what is expressed not in words but in sacrifice, let us recommit ourselves to living lives committed to the assurance that what happens in this upper room will not stay here; but be lived every day and so share in the building of God’s Kingdom.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

CHRISTIAN LIFE...a TEAM sport

Some time today before tonight's 6:30 kickoff two coaches will address their teams one last time before they take the field for Superbowl 51.  Their messages will most likely not be addressed to individuals but the team as a whole.  They will direct their teams' attention to the gifts and talents that they already posses and challenge them to know that those gifts exist for the purpose of bringing their team to victory. Some time later at halftime those teams will be back in their locker rooms and winning or losing at that point their coaches will speak again.  The coaches will point out the successes and the failures of the first and instill in them a hope that using those gifts and talents they will succeed.  And win or lose both of those teams will return to the locker rooms at the end of the game and the coaches will speak once more and even the non victorious team will hear their coach speak perhaps of some individual achievements but will once again acknowledge the universal gifts and talents that brought the team to success that season.  The victories and the losses of life are reflective of the team not one individual.

Today's Gospel continues Jesus' Sermon on the Mount; his address to the team that are his disciples.  He speaks to their gifts, calling them salt and light, and teaches them that these gifts are to be used for a victory that serves others and gives glory to our heavenly Father.  He isn't telling them to conjure up these gifts or intensify them - as a team they are already salt and light, they simply must dedicate themselves to using them.

Salt and light elements that do not exist for themselves, they are made for the other. Salt preserves and brings out flavor.  Light highlights beauty helping us to appreciate it more and it also illuminates what is evil, dark and dangerous.  In commissioning his "team" Jesus is identifying them as gifts that are made for others.  To be salt, bringing forth the flavor, the presence of God and preserving the goodness of his kingdom.  To be the light that helps all to acknowledge the beauty of God's presence and to illuminate the darkness of sin and evil.

So in the midst of the game, how is this team, this church, these disciples doing? Looking over the course of some 2000 years of history, we can see the effects of the salt and light of the church.  In the care for the poor and infirm, the team has responded.  In the education of young and old, we have seen victory.  In laying down lives in sacrifice for those who are treated with injustice, persecution and violence we have known triumph. 

But as a team of disciples we must also be attentive to our
failures.  How did genocide and holocaust take hold in Christian Europe and anciently Christian Russia?  Why did slavery and racism take root in a land founded by Christian pilgrims?  Why does gun violence prevail in the streets of cities with churches on every block?  Why in a country that was born under the Christian premise that all are created equal do we see abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, bigotry and bias being celebrated as a right?  Quite simply these are examples of the team, Christian disciples not being salt and light.

Today we mark the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. We celebrate and give thanks for the professed religious men and women who through their communities have been at the forefront of manifesting the gifts of salt and light and even more so modeled for us the unity of team.  We may mention a particular sister or brother who taught us, but we speak of being educated by the Dominicans, the Jospephites, Sisters of Mercy, Christian Brothers, Franciscans and Marianists. We not only give thanks for what they have done for the mission of Jesus Christ in the church, but pray fervently that consecrated life may continue to grow and flourish.

As we receive the Holy Eucharist, we are reminded of whose
team we are on and through it we are empowered to be salt and light as a team.  We are the team of the universal church. This week we celebrated the installation of our new Bishop, John Barres and from those days one image of team stands out for me.  The seminarians of the diocese were assembled to take a picture with the bishop.  The formed a semi-circle with some standing and some on one knee waiting for the Bishop to slip into his spot.  Before he did that though, the Bishop stood before the group of seminarians and spoke with them for about five minutes.  He looked like a coach speaking to his team.  I expected them to run a play after he was done. As church we can never forget that we are a team united around our bishop who stands before us in the fullness of Christ's priesthood.


Our families are the most basic of our Christian teams, where salt and light are fostered.  Our families are fractured, not necessarily in the sad brokenness that is a reality for many. But by simply having two and sometimes three generations in one household our families can be simply a group of individuals living under the same roof.  We pray for the unity of our families, the first team of Christian life so that they may be salt and life for each other and the world.

Its half time, the struggle is real.  The gifts have brought successes and our failure to use them have hurt us.  Let us hear Jesus speak to us, recognize the gifts with in us and use them to be salt, light and share in the building of his kingdom


Sunday, January 29, 2017

RISE ABOVE THE CROWD - Learn Happiness



The audio for this homily can be found here January 29, 2017 homily audio

For the last week or so, I think the most popularly used word was, “crowd.”  The crowd at the Inauguration.  The crowds at the Women’s Marches.  The crowd at the March for Life.  We looked at the sizes of the crowds to tell a story.  How many supported the president.  How many opposed him.  What issues have the greatest support?  These are fair topics for discussion.  Those of us who have gone to the March for Life in Washington have long lamented the lack of attention given to the size of the crowd.


Jesus had crowds following him too and by all accounts they were massive given the population and the limited means of communication in 1st century Palestine.  But what was our Lord’s relationship to the crowds?  They were fickle, praising him as he rode into Jerusalem only to call for his crucifixion a few days later. Sometimes their size drove him to escape in a boat or to a secluded place.  While he did he miraculously feed the multitude because he took pity on them, one such occasion he had to flee because after they ate and were satisfied the crowd tried to carry him off and making him king.  The enthusiasm of crowds can be exhilarating and validating but they can lack substance and sometimes be dangerous.


Today’s Gospel passage begins

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 
He began to teach them

As much as the crowds could be understood as a sign of affirmation for Jesus’ mission, it was not within that throng that the real work took place.  Jesus goes “above the crowd” and his disciples come to him to be taught.  A disciple a follower and student of a teacher.  The 12 apostles were among the larger group of learners but not the only ones.  This is a substantive group who are not simply caught up in the fervor, but seek a deeper understanding.  And so they too rise above the crowd and follow Jesus to a place where they can learn with depth and greater understanding.  And Jesus doesn’t simply run up the mountain and hide, but he finds a place and sits down, the position of a teacher in his time.  We think of a teacher who stands in front of a classroom, perhaps behind a podium and lectures, but in Jesus we see a more natural and organic approach.  


Think of young children returning to a classroom after running around outside.  What might be the best way for the teacher to calm this crowd down? Instead of speaking loudly and ordering them to their seats, she might invite them to come join her in sitting on the classroom carpet, speaking softly as she reads to them from a book.  This is Jesus and his disciples sitting at the feet of the master, rising above the crowd and hungering for knowledge.


This is the context of the Beatitudes, which is the bulk of today’s Gospel.  The definition of beatitude is a state of supreme happiness. 

The lesson Jesus teaches is simply but profoundly what it takes to be happy.  The crowd left below might be joyful and exuberant but they are not engaging in what will ultimately make them happy. I remember reading the story of a musician who was touring the country giving concerts.  He said there was nothing greater than the cheers of the crowd.  But those cheers don’t last and there is nothing lonelier or joyless then riding back to the hotel alone in a limousine. That is not happiness.  In the beatitudes Jesus teaches his disciples how to be joyful.

The happiness and joyfulness of the beatitudes is counter intuitive to our worldly wisdom.  Happiness is not found in money, pleasure, power or glory but a single hearted focus on doing the will of God by ministering mercy and peace.  Look at what makes us truly happy in our lives, fulfilling the will of another who loves us; making our parents proud, providing our children with a tender and caring home. Happiness comes to us when we do the will of God who loves us.  And what is God’s will to be merciful and to foster peace.  This is the lesson of the Beatitudes, this is the lesson we learn when we sit at the feet of the master and rise above the crowd which often is about seeking pleasure not happiness, power not peace, glory through submission and not mercy.


So here is the question.  Are you a part of a crowd or are you a disciple? Are you here at this celebration of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist because you hunger and thirst for supreme happiness?  If so, then you are a disciple.  And you are learning through every celebration of word and sacrament that happiness is found perfectly in the heavenly kingdom that awaits us but is obtainable within the human experience as well. We ultimately seek and find happiness not just when we are seeking it for ourselves but for others as well.


We live among the crowd, we hear those voices, we join in their passions and engage in their fights – but we know that none of that makes us happy, so we come up the mountain each and every Sunday to learn who we really are called to be.


Several months ago as we prepared for the presidential election I was asked to read Bishop Murphy’s letter on the preeminence of the right to life.  That letter was an attempt to form us as disciples and help us to rise above the crowd.  I think today it is important for us learn and be formed by other words as well.  Bishop Joe Vásquez chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration


"The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion… including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity…

We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans

This is what happiness means.  This is what it means to rise above the crowd.  But that’s the U.S. Bishops, they should stay out of politics. Right?


Then there is Pope Francis


“It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help. If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.” -  Oct. 13, 2016


But Pope Frances is too liberal.  Right?


Pope Benedict then


Anyone who can kneel before the Eucharist, who receives the Body of the Lord, cannot but be attentive in the ordinary daily routine to situations unworthy of the human being (the hungry, thirsty, naked sick and imprisoned.) – September 11, 2011


But he was old and out of touch.  Correct?


Then there is Saint John Paul II


Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble. For Christians, the migrant is not merely an individual to be respected in accordance with the norms established by law, but a person whose presence challenges them and whose needs become an obligation for their responsibility. – July 25, 1995


Are we going to argue with a saint?


We come up the mountain, we rise above the crowd because the crowds that tell us our happiness will come from isolation and the establishment of enemies. The crowd on the Washington mall, in the presence of the Vice President of the United States, fervently celebrated a new found administrative support for the Right to Life movement, but we who are disciples must find happiness not in slogans or others joining our crowd but in a single hearted desire to do the will of God who is merciful to the vulnerable.  Our joy is found not simply in assuring a right to be born but a right to live with human dignity.


We celebrate Catholic Schools this week not just for those who attend it.  The presence of a school within the mission of the parish serves as a reminder that we are all students, we are all disciples, seeking happiness.  Our parish finds happiness in knowing that we provide an opportunity for learning in the context of faith.  And our school finds happiness in awakening in each of us the necessity of learning; doing what it takes to rise above the crowd and sit at the feet of the master.  You and I are challenged today to remain with the crowd or to be disciples.  To go up the mountain so we may know that mercy and peacemaking are essential to doing God’s will and that mercy and peacemaking are essential to our own pursuit of true supreme, earthly and eternal happiness. And so share in the building of God’s kingdom.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

CHRISTMAS - We Are Made For the Child

So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.

What is it about babies?  Why are we saw drawn to them?  I suppose not everyone is, but it seems that most people are instinctively moved by babies.  In saying this to you, perhaps you might verify these thoughts from your own experience – you have seen how people react to a baby.  This response is not only an adult response; children respond to babies as well.  I recently observed my 2 young nephews interact with another friend’s baby.  All other play came to a halt as they were transfixed by an infant.  Even babies respond to other babies, they are drawn to the face, the smile and the eyes of one who is so similar to them. 

Not too long ago I read an article that researched this question from a scientific perspective.  The article acknowledged that it was Charles Darwin who originally pointed out that there is something about infants which prompts adults to respond to and care for them which allows our species to survive. A zoologist further proposed that it is the specific structure of the infant face, large head, big eyes and cheeks that elicit a parental response. But a study from 8 years ago took this hypothesis a step further, finding a key difference in the brain activity of normal adults when they viewed infant faces compared to adult faces.  Their study showed that a region of the human brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex (I guarantee you – no other Christmas homily is using the phrase "medial orbitofrontal cortex") becomes highly active within a seventh of a second in response to infant faces but not to adult faces.  The study determined that these responses are too fast to be consciously controlled and are therefore perhaps instinctive.  This study gives us the ability to acknowledge that we are biologically made to respond uniquely and positively to a baby.  -- I guess God knew what he was doing.

Is not our celebration of Christmas a faith expression of what may also be a biological reality?  We are made to respond to the child.

In a few moments we will profess our faith.  Together we will say…
He came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day.



As we gather to celebrate the birth of the Lord, we are professing that what we ultimately see on the cross, we see first in the manger. In the cross, the mystery of God’s plan for salvation is fully revealed; by his act of sacrificial love, granting us hope through the power of the resurrection.  In the manger we see a child who engages the instincts of our biology and our faith and from this very moment the world is transformed

The child is mystery.  No matter how much knowledge we have about biology, genetics and reproduction, a newborn child is a profound mystery.  We stare in amazement, because we can’t quite wrap our minds around the full mystery of the birth of a new life.  We need mystery in our lives, making us aware that there is something beyond what we see through eye and mind.  Mystery impels us to continue to seek, to wonder and to be filled with awe in the presence of God.  The child born in mystery sets us on the path of the mystery of our salvation.

The child is Love.  We love babies. We caress them and hold them, expressing the depth of our affections.  But children evoke in us a deeper love, a sacrificial love.  The baby needs the sacrifice of the sleepless nights of parents, who work two jobs to support him.  The sacrifices of time, energy and finances are just some of the ways in which the parent offers loving sacrifice.  The child in the manger needs the sacrificial love of parents and in so doing prepares the way for the sacrificial love that he offers of himself on the cross.

The child is hope.  We have big dreams for our children.  In them we the solution of world problems, joyfulness in the simplest of things, and a passion for knowledge.  A child gives hope to the generations that precede her, trusting that she will provide the care for them as they provided for her.  The child in the manger is the hope that God has not forgotten his people, that all is not lost and that sin and death ultimately have no power over us.


What begins in the manger, is fulfilled in the cross and his lived here on this altar whenever we celebrate the Holy Eucharist.  Through mystery, love and hope, the one born in a manger, the one who is raised from the dead, is the one whom we encounter today and every day in the Holy Eucharist.  We are made to respond to the child, who comes to us.  Let our innate desire for him, awake in us an awareness of his desire for us.  For he longs for us to embrace the mystery, love and hope of his presence, and so share in the building of His Kingdom.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 09, 2016

HOLINESS AND MISSION


Twenty years ago, on December 9, 1996, I received the Sacrament of Holy Orders for the first time when I was ordained a transitional deacon by Bishop John R. McGann, the second Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.  On the day of my ordination I wrote the following, in a journal I was keeping:
Everything is new.  All of life is different now.  God let me enter into this awe and wonder more and more.  Let me let go and experience the mystery of your presence.Thank you. I love you and love what you have done for me.  Thank you for this sacrament, this grace, this love.  Keep me from being jaded, arrogant.  Let me always be the servant that I am called to today.
It was good to read these words again today as I reflected on these twenty years.  They renew me in the fervor that I had and remind me of the mission I understood myself being called to by God. The sixth months between that day and my ordination to priesthood were an opportunity for me to "fall in love," with my identity as clergy - one who is ordained to serve.

It was with particular joy that on this the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the Diaconate, Pope Francis announced his appointment of our new diocesan bishop, Bishop Joseph O. Barres. Bishop Barres episcopal motto is "Holiness and Mission," derived from a phrase from the final section of the encyclical Redemptoris Missio written by Pope Saint John Paul II.  In the document, His Holiness identified the Church’s missionary spirituality as "a journey towards holiness.”  In Bishop Barres appointment today I am reminded that my mission of service to the church is intimately tided to my own journey toward holiness.  

May I ask all who read this blog to pray that I may be faithful to his mission and that our new bishop will lead the church on Long Island to holiness through his own personal journey to holiness.