Sunday, September 11, 2016

After 15 years...a time to be found

These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong...

President George W. Bush, September 11, 2001

The memories of we have of lost loved ones are truly a blessing for us, however, they are never enough. As much as we come to value the blessing of memories, the pride we feel for the heroes of that day and the consolation that has assisted us these fifteen years -- we still long for what we lost. We know that we will never regain what we have lost. The lives as well as physical and mental health remain a loss for us; but what about the many other losses? In these 15 years we have lost security, trust, unity, civility and hope. Fifteen years later, the words of President Bush no longer seem to be true; our nation has been frightened into chaos and retreat. In the days, weeks and months following the terrorist attacks, despite its horrific impact.  I felt a unity like I had never known before. Now, fifteen years later, I feel a division and hostility that I never experienced before. As disturbing as it is to watch television footage of those days and the aftermath, I strangely find a sense of tranquility in the resilience, fortitude and unity they depict.

At Sunday Mass today, the Gospel reading included the parable known as the Prodigal Son.  Jesus offers the parable as means of understanding God the Father's insatiable quest for the lost.  The father of the parable rejoices that his scandalous son has returned as he joyfully proclaims that his son who was "lost" has been "found." The Greek work (in the original text) for the word "lost," apolōlōs, means to utterly destroy. And the Greek word translated as "found," heurethē, is also used to announce the pregnancy of the Blessed Mother; "Mary was found to be with child."  We might say then, that which is utterly destroyed is found alive only through God.

Memories are a blessing not simply because they help us to remember what we had, their blessedness is greatest when we realize what still remains. The resilience, fortitude and unity that I remember has not been lost, because they were signs of the Lord's presence. We remain in the abiding and loving presence of God but we feel lost.  We are like the lost sheep who knows it is lost but does not know how to be found.

On this 15th anniversary I pray for our nation that we may be found and that we may by the grace of God recover the security, trust, unity, civility and hope.  Many of those who have lead our country have caused chaos and a retreat from the communion we once knew.  And unfortunately there are those on the leadership horizon who seem to be setting a course deeper into the darkness.  It is therefore up to people of faith, to let God be God.  We seek to be found so that we can share in the recovery of what was lost. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

College and the Big Kids

This week, like many others her age, my niece and only godchild heads off to college.  It is hard to believe this time has come.  As the saying goes, “they grow up too fast.”  I remember her informing me on her first day of kindergarten that the “big” kids on the bus said “bad words.”  Needless to say I was disturbed by this contamination of her five year-old innocence.  As she begins her college career I have some of the same feelings, although now it seems more appropriate to be concerned with the new outside influences she faces.  Her parents, like most, have raised an exceptional young woman in whom I have a great deal of confidence.  Yet as a protective godfather and a priest, I worry about the  encounter with new “big kids,” in her life.
As a spiritual father to many others who are at this same new beginning in their lives, I thought I would offer an open letter to my niece and all her fellow college students.
Dear College Student:
Congratulations!  With mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety you are about to begin the most important years of your life thus far.  You are in my prayers and I wish that you may be blessed with wisdom, fortitude and happiness.
Like all adults in your life, I have concerns about the  road ahead.  The world you will now encounter may not always support and validate what you have been taught  by your parents, role models and your faith. While it is important for us to be challenged on the path to greater wisdom - it is also important to recognize and respect the wisdom we have already been given.  So I offer you the following counsel .
Respect your freedom - You will now have a new found independence and with it comes responsibility.  You have the freedom to be faithful to your studies or to ignore them in the name of fun.  You have the freedom to experience new things as well as the freedom to make destructive decisions in the process.  You have the freedom to grow and evolve into an adult, but you also have the freedom to remain childish and irresponsible
Respect your body - You have heard that you have been created in the image and likeness of God and that your body is the temple of the Spirit.  These teachings are the truth and not just pithy sayings.  Respecting the body that God has blessed you with is a means of recognizing your own human dignity and a way to show others how you expect to be treated.  Respecting your body means being mindful of what you eat, getting the sleep you need, and being physically fit.  It also means that you must make good decisions with your use of alcohol and drugs (including those prescribed by a doctor.)  Respect for your body includes attentiveness to your sexuality.  Taking advantage of the body of another or allowing another to take advantage of yours for the sake of personal fulfillment is a disrespect of your body and what it is made for.
Respect your faith -  Practicing your faith and growing in it is an important part of your college years.  Now facing the challenges of an adult life you ought not to abandon the practice of faith but perhaps even increase it.  Be faithful to Sunday mass.  Many college campuses meet the needs of a college student by offering mass on Sunday evening.  Spend time with others who not only share your faith tradition but are also facing the same challenges and struggles which you are.  Cultivate a habit of prayer: pray the rosary, read the scriptures and talk to God daily.
Beloved college student, your families, your communities and your church wish you well and will keep you in our prayers.  In the words of Jesus, we hope that you will always strive  to “enter through the narrow gate,” [Lk13:24] and not take the easy way out.  Respect the person God has made you and your parents formed you to be.  GOD BLESS YOU!

Friday, December 25, 2015

The journey -- HOW DID YOU GET HERE?

For whatever reason, as a child, I remember adults often asking each other at social gatherings a question that I thought was strange.  Shortly after arrival, coats now off and initial greetings expressed someone could be heard asking, “How did you get here?

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


The Catholic Church has begun a universal celebration of an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. This is more than an a marketing theme or a catchy slogan put forth by the church.  The Jubilee is a year which celebrates the remission of sins and the alleviation of suffering that comes from sin. It is a time of reconciliation and of conversion through sacramental penance. It is a year dedicated to solidarity, hope, justice and serving God in the spirit of joy and peace with everyone. Above all, the Jubilee Year is a year of Christ, the giver of life and of grace to humanity. It is called a “Holy Year” because it is celebrated with sacred rites and its mission is the holiness of human life.  A Jubilee year is referred to as "Ordinary," if it falls after a set period of years (generally 50 or 25 years); and extraordinary if it is declared as a celebration of an event of outstanding importance.  Pope Francis has declared an Extraordinary Jubilee Year dedicated to the theme of mercy, "as a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective." Misericordiae Vultus 3 I very much agree with the Holy Father, we are in a time when mercy is most needed.  The world needs Good News and the act of mercy is authentic preaching of that Good News.

I found it sadly ironic, however, that on the day Pope Francis marked the beginning of this jubilee year by the opening the Holy Doors of St. Peter's Basilica, the most merciless of statements was made by a front running candidate for the presidency of the United States, calling for the barring of all Muslims from entering the United States (immigrants and visitors alike.)  This declaration follows a more recent one, which sought a mandatory registry of all Muslims living in the United States. This candidate calls himself a Christian, but no man or woman of any faith can hold these positions.  

Long before Pope Francis, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote an encyclical on mercy.  One significant point he made was that the human thirst for dominance has left no room for mercy.
The present-day mentality...seems opposed to a God of mercy...The word and the concept of "mercy" seem to cause uneasiness in man, who, thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, never before known in history, has become the master of the earth and has subdued and dominated it. This dominion over the earth, sometimes understood in a one-sided and superficial way, seems to have no room for mercy. Dives in Misericordia 2:3

Saint John Paul goes on to say that this desire for domination, as opposed to mercy, leads to a false sense of justice.
Often programs which start from the idea of practice suffer from distortions. Although they continue to appeal to the idea of justice...other negative forces have gained the upper hand over justice, such as spite, hatred and even cruelty...The desire to annihilate the enemy, limit his freedom, or even force him into total dependence, becomes the fundamental motive for action; and this contrasts with the essence of justice, which by its nature tends to establish equality and harmony between the parties in conflict. Dives in Misericordia 12:3
Exclusion from society because of one's religious identification can not be accept as a just response to violence and terror.  Such a perspective is not only unjust to the persons to which this is applied, but it also accelerates intolerance, which will ultimately lead to the justification for persecution of any and all faiths.  One only needs to remember the famous poem First They Came by Rev. Martin Niemoller to be awakened to the dangers of a ideological bigotry.  If we can not show mercy, we can not expect that it will be shown to us.

Mercy is relational, not ideological. The deep wounds of our world are the result of merciless acts of those who do not know God.  May this year of mercy bear fruit for those who share our faith and our culture as well as in the lives of those we fear. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Saint Paul prays for the Christian congregation in the city of Thessalonica with these words. 

"Brothers and sisters: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you." [1 Thes 3:1]

As we hear him pray for an abundance of love among fellow believers it is important for us to understand the context in which his prayer is offered is one of "Advent" spirit. St. Paul prays that there might be an abundant love among them, as an expression of faith in the anticipation of the return of Christ. May you love one another, not simply because it is a nice thing to do, but love because of your faith that Christ has come and will come again because of his love for us. 

The sense of “advent” was very real to even the earliest of the Christian communities. They lived their lives not assuming that the reunion with Christ was far off, but imminent. They also did not anticipate that coming in fear, but with a joyful expectation. For them and for us, that coming of Christ is something we long for; in history and in our own passing from this life. 

How do we prepare for that reunion? Do we anticipate meeting the Lord and offering him all the times we fought against something or will we be able to show him all the times our actions show what we were for? Will we present to him the times and places in which we acted with love, or we only be able to offer him the occasions of our righteous anger?  We he only see our lamentations of suffering or our works of mercy? 

Advent is a season of anticipation which leads us to celebrating the Christ in Jesus of Nazareth. It begins, however, as a time to anticipate the ultimate and final coming of Christ. We are called therefore to spend time, during this season, reflecting on the implications of that reality. The birth of Jesus is the Father’s response to humanity and so we prepare by reflecting on the forgiveness of God, God’s compassion, and God’s love. We look forward by looking back at where we have seen God in our lives and where we long for him in our future. 

I pray that as we begin this advent season that we actively anticipate the birth of Christ by reflecting, praying and loving. What is your prayer this Advent?

Friday, November 20, 2015


I thank all who have been a prayerful support and have shared my sabbatical with me.  Enjoy this farewell video.


Relic of the chains which bound St. Peter during his captivity in Rome
The final week of my sabbatical program here in Rome was a retreat given to us by the theologian of the Papal Household, Fr. Wojciech Giertych, O.P.  Fr. Giertych's led us in examining the discipleship of Peter, as seen from the perspective of Mark's gospel. It has long been a tradition in scripture scholarship that the author of Mark's gospel is a companion of Peter, who writes for the Christian community in 1st century Rome.  For the purpose of the retreat, Father asked us to read this gospel as Peter remembering his time with Jesus.  From this lens, we were seeing the gospel's perspective not as one of triumph but also a reflection of Peter's regrets and failure's along the way. Peter is harsh on himself and the other disciples and therefore tells the story of the Good News, from one who was weak, sometimes failed and maybe perhaps wished he could go back and re-do what he had missed.  As Peter approaches death, he remembers what he has done and what he has failed to do.
Fr. Wojciech Giertych, O.P.

We were blessed with many insights during the talks, but the overall theme stuck with me.  As I leave Rome, part of my sadness is that I look back on the 7 weeks and reevaluate what I could have taken better advantage of.  I know that in my life too, I can get stuck on past failures and missed opportunities. Our meditation on Mark's Gospel, as Peter's reflection on his past, brought us to a closer realization and acceptance of the fact that it is not about our accomplishments and satisfaction.  "Thy will be done," we pray.  The Father's will is done, not through me but through Christ who chooses me as he chose Peter, with human weakness clearly evident. I may never feel completely accomplished, but the real measure is what has God accomplished through me. 

I don't think in offering us these insights we were being encouraged to not worry about our shortcomings, but rather to recognize the love of Christ for me, who fails, and because he loves me, he asks me as he asked Peter, "Do you love me?....Feed my sheep."

Celebrating Mass at the nearby church dedicated to St. Onafrio.
The rector of the church is the brother of a Holy Family parishioner

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Fr. Gerard Gentleman with Diocese of Rockville Centre Seminarians
Alexander Turpin, Michael Bissex and Leo Song
after celebrating Mass together at St. Peter's Basilica
"I will give you shepherds after my own heart" (Jer. 3:15).
In these words from the prophet Jeremiah, God promises his people that he will never leave them without shepherds to gather them together and guide them: