Monday, December 28, 2009

Feast of the Holy Family

My parish celebrated its feast day this weekend, unfortunately it is hard to make a parish celebration of it when it falls a few days after Christmas.  The other disappointing thing for this new pastor was that the deacons were scheduled to preach.  So I did not even get to preach on the parish feast day.  So I thought I would share one thought that would have been a building block for a homily.

Last week I brought communion to a homebound parishioner.  She could not get over the idea that the PASTOR came to her home.  She was so honored to have the PASTOR visit her.  I felt unworthly of such adulation but was uplifted by it.  That evening my associate told me that a parish teen told him that he did not like when I preached, because I was too long.  I have never been told that before but perhaps that is the grace given to pastors -- long preaching.  Talk about being exaulted only to be humbled.

These two experiences got me thinking about the role of the family in the human experience.  Families should build us up and validate us.  Families also keep us honest and challenge us when we miss the mark.  As a pastor, I pray that I may receive both the validation and the correction that will help me to serve this family well.  And as the father of this family I hope I will be granted to wisdom and courage to validate and correct with love.

Happy Feast Day Holy Family

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

Not too long ago, I saw a headline for a story online that grabbed my attention. I cannot remember the specific wording but the headline called attention to an article about an atheist who was promoting the telling of the Christmas story in public schools. This intrigued me so I clinked on the link to the article and found that the woman’s premise for teaching the Christmas story was that children should be taught the fables of various cultures so that they might have a deeper appreciation of literature. I thought to myself, “No thank you.” The Christmas story does not begin, once upon a time, in a land far, far away. The Christmas story as it is presented in the scriptures is presented within the framework of human history. Matthew’s Gospel begins with the genealogy of Joseph’s family relating it to the various epochs of the Jewish people. Luke’s gospel sets the scene by noting the political and social milieu of the Roman world. There is also the tradition of chanting the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ, which sets the birth of the Lord in both its political and religious context. These historical references not only make the birth of Christ more tangible but help us to understand that real events change the course of history. With the birth of Jesus we acknowledge that something has changed, it was not always this way.

We have been telling this story for some two thousand years. We have grown up with these events already incorporated into the human experience, but it wasn’t always this way, something changed. It was not always this way for the Jewish people. The people of the covenant, throughout their history, were seekers. The searched and longed for the opportunity to be reconciled with God, through infidelity, war, failed kingdoms and exile. What changed is that the searchers have been found by the God who humbled himself rather than those who were subject to him. What has changed is that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light as Isaiah prophesized. Because of the newborn savior, there is eternal hope.
Just as something changed in the life of this people of faith, something changed in the life of a people who had no faith. The shepherds, who are drawn to the manger, had no faith and no relationship with God. The Magi who will come had not expectation of a savior. Something has changed; it was not always this way for them. Something changed in the personal history of Mary and Joseph; two real human persons who were called to live a life beyond their expectations. Through their encounter with the Son of God, they gain an essential role in salvation history.

As we celebrate this Christmas we are encouraged to recognize that an encounter with Christ means a change in our lives as well. Our annual celebration of Christmas is very much about keeping traditions. Some of us are even charged with being the standard bearer of our family traditions. However, the faith experience of Christmas is something more than an unaffected routine. We do not celebrate this Eucharist, simply because attending Christmas mass is a tradition. This is an encounter with Christ in our current historical context and it changes us. Every event of our personal history changes us and makes us something we were not before. The people we encounter, the joyful and sorrowful experiences, as well as our successes and failures change us and we must acknowledge that we were not always this way, this than is true for our encounter with Christ this Christmas. In an examination of our lives we know that encounters with Christ have changed us. It may be through our faith journey, our personal prayer, the presence of Christ in others, moments of reconciliation or the overcoming of addictions but something does change, we cannot say it was always this way, when we have an encounter with Christ.

Christmas then is neither “Once upon a time,” nor an empty tradition. It is about accepting the possibility of change. At this moment in history, Christmas 2009, God is with us in a new way. None of us have always been this way; we are different this Christmas because of what we have encountered in the past year. May each of us discover the real true presence of Christ, at the celebration of the Eucharist and in the historical moments of our lives.

My brothers and sisters, it has not always been this way, God is with us, yesterday, today and forever. Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Prepare the way of the Lord, Advent begins.

Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent

Ten years ago, perhaps fueled by the Y2K hysteria, the book “The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Guide was published. Some of its chapters were, How to Escape Quicksand, How to Fend Off a Shark, How to Jump from a Car, How to Perform an Emergency Tracheotomy and How to Land a Plane. While some of these topics pique my interest, I do not see myself informing myself so as to be prepared for these situations. Being vigilant at all times is not one of my innate qualities. In my creativity I find I am more spontaneous. I am also not one that thinks in terms of being prepared for, “the worst case ” being a hopeful person, doomsday scenarios just don’t appeal to me. That being said, Advent, and its call to vigilance and preparation, is a favorite time of year for me.

The cycle of celebrating salvation history begins anew this week with the advent of the church year. The four Sundays of preparation for the Christmas feast mirror our lives, in which the preparation is not just for a single day on the calendar, but for the coming of the Lord at the end of time. Advent not only looks back at the events leading to the birth of Christ, it looks forward to the final fulfillment of God’s plan and increases our awareness of his presence today. We know not when the Lord will appear in glory but we do know that God will fulfill his promises. We know that we are in God’s presence here and now, Advent challenges us to awaken ourselves to that presence here and now and in the days to come.

In the Gospel today Jesus calls us to not only be vigilant but to pray for the strength we need to face the tribulations of our lives. Our faith is tested by the challenges of life. It becomes harder to believe in God’s providence when we endure pain and experience events that cause us to doubt. Advent is a new time of prayer. We pray not only that God’s Kingdom will come but that we might have the strength we need to be persistent in our faith and in our quest to know Jesus Christ.

My prayer for all of us is that we dedicate ourselves to these days of Advent and not get caught up in the holiday preparation hysteria. Let us find time for necessary peace and quiet, a peaceful quiet that will assist us in our vigilance and in our trust. The days of Advent are not days to prepare for a worst-case scenario, they are days to prepare for the best scenario that we could imagine. We prepare ourselves to recognize our God who comes to save us and invite us to share in the building of his Kingdom.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Almost Famous

It was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who sent him.

We find these words in this Sunday’s second reading from the letter to the Hebrews. As I read those words I could not help but think of this past week’s “Balloon Boy” saga. It seems now that this event was part of a larger attempt to gain fame through the creation of yet another “reality” television program. As the story unraveled this week, I overheard someone say, “They should have just put the kid in the balloon and hoped for the best.” The statement was, of course, said tongue-in-cheek, but it does reveal a through line of thought that exists in today’s common culture. Seek fame at all costs; fame that has the potential to bring about financial gain.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we choose a different path for ourselves. We seek glory not through self promotion but through service. Admittedly we do not know the full story of the family behind what now appears to be a hoax. What we do know is that a husband and wife were blessed three times over with the greatest gift they could ever receive, a child. There is no glory or fame greater than that of the love and affection that comes from a child to his or her parents. There is no one more proud then a parent who watches a son or daughter mature into an adult. There is no greater reward than the words, “Thank you Mom and Dad.” In many ways this story is tragic because children may have been exploited for cultural fame. The sight of a little boy getting sick on two different morning news shows, while his parents perpetuated a hoax, is not only a new low for the news media, but a tragic revelation of disoriented parental priorities.

There is no greater glory than that which comes from protecting, defending, guiding and loving a child. This story reveals that we have drifted from Jesus’ reminder that whomever receives a child, receives him. During this Respect Life month, we continue to commit ourselves to protecting, defending, and loving all human life, from conception, to childhood, through adulthood and natural death. We seek an eternal glory that is modeled on Christ, who laid down his life in obedience to the Father, and in service to those whom he was sent.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Homily for Sunday, October 18, 2009

“Teacher, we want you to do something for us.” Does that sound like an odd statement, a student asking a teacher to do something for them? Is not the master, the teacher, the superior supposed to expect that the student will serve his teacher? That may sound like the ideal, but the lived reality is that a teacher is one who serves.
• From the basic necessities of the elementary student
• To the time taken to tutor before an exam
• To being a lifetime resource that the student, now adult continues to call upon
Jesus is the master teacher of the disciples and we recognize his teaching in what he says, in the signs he performs and the actions he takes. When these very bold disciples in today’s Gospel ask him to do something for them, it should come as no surprise. What he does here and in spoken word and through action is the surprise. The life lesson of Jesus the Master teacher is that leadership is sacrifice and service. Leadership is not exhibited through sitting in places of honor or the lauding of authority but the laying down of one’s life in sacrifice and service. This suffering sacrifice and service is salvific. What the teacher does, for these disciples, is gives his life, so that all might be saved.
There is more to the lesson; however, it is not simply about what the teacher does for the students. Jesus’ disciples began to recognize him as more than another rabbi or philosophical teacher. They began to identify him with the identity of the long awaited messiah, the political leader who will bring liberty to the occupied and oppressed Jewish people. James and John are envisioning the victory that will be won by the
messiah/teacher and wish to claim their spot on his right and his left. We want to share in your victory; we want to be a part of your holy entourage. Jesus wants this much for his disciples AND MORE. The disciples will share in the victory but not as the entourage, staff or hangers on, but as co-heirs. James and John set their sights lower than what was available to them. They were called to sit at the left and the right of the master but not as subordinates; as slaves but as those who share in the victory because they share in the sacrifice.
In our culture we have many examples of people who have achieved power and authority not from their own efforts but through the achievement of others. Politicians, celebrities, professional athletes, business executives, Bishops (not pastors) may by necessity have a staff to accomplish professional tasks, but some who serve a leader and others who are simply associated to the leader, often seek to share in the power, of a victory won by a sacrifice that was not there’s. Their power and rewards are fleeting and subject to the generosity of the leader. What Jesus teaches is something radically different. The rewards of the victory are ours, not as underlings, but as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. The transformative suffering of Jesus on the Cross, opens the way for all who believe to share in that victory.
This Sunday will celebrate World Mission Sunday and are mindful of those who have shared in the sacrifice of service to the church as missionaries. The notion of missionary ministry often connotes work that is far off from the everyday reality of our lives. The reality is, however, work of missionary sacrifice is not far from us.
• North American Martyrs – Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of Saint Isaac Jogues and his companions who are known as the North American Martyrs. These Jesuit missionaries from France came to North America to bear witness to the faith in North America. In 1646, Jogues was martyred by the Mohawks near the present day Auriesville, New York. The service of sacrifice here in our state, in the not too distant past
• Ita Ford was a woman born in Brooklyn in 1940 who joined the Maryknoll order and was sent to Latin America. She served in Bolivia, Chile and El Salvador where she provide food, shelter, transportation...and faith in a country torn by conflict and war. In December of 1980, along with Sisters Maura Clarke and Dorothy Kazel, and a lay woman named Jean Donovan taken by the Salvadoran National Guard to an isolated spot, where they were tortured, and raped, and killed. A U.N. commission later found that the men were acting on orders from the Salvadoran military. They are modern martyrs and missionaries. A servant of sacrifice, from Brooklyn born less than 70 years ago
• Fr. Matt Cassidy SJ stood here at this pulpit last week. A kid from Hicksville, a graduate of Holy Family School spoke to us about his missionary work in Ghana. Fr. Matt has not been called to sacrifice his physical life like the other two examples but he has sacrificed the comforts and the familiarity of the life he knew growing up here in Hicksville.

These sacrificial servants, with whom we can identify have the opportunity to share in the victory of eternal life, to sit at the right and left of Jesus, not as members of an entourage but adopted sons and daughters who share in the victory won by their sacrifice united with Christ.
• All of us share in the sacrifice of mission. We are sent every week from this sacrifice, this Eucharist, not simply to coexist with the world but to serve; to share in the sacrifice and ultimately the victory of eternal life
o In the work place or school – standing up for injustice
o Within the community – serving rather than tearing down
o Sacrifices of family life that focus not on the pursuit of material possession and luxuries but on creating safe, nurturing and loving homes
o Sacrifice of moral choices – not following the temptations of greed, addictions and the abuse of another person or ourselves
o Sacrifice of illness – When we are burden with illness or tragedy we are tempted to say everything happens for a reason but then struggle to find a reason. Instead we finding meaning in our suffering. For the terminal the suffering process creates a longing for the eternal life that awaits us. For others the suffering of illness often deepens appreciation and love for the true gifts of life and assists in reprioritizing what is important.
We leave this Eucharist each week with the desire that Jesus do something for us, that is lead us to the victory of new life here and the eternal life yet to come. We are called to share in that victory not as servants but as ones who have sacrificed in faith.
Sr. Ita Ford wrote this: “I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you. Something worth living for - maybe even worth dying for - something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can't tell you what it might be - that's for you to find, to choose, to love. I encourage you to start looking, and support you in your search.
With the master teacher we share in the service of sacrifice, the mission that shares in the building of God’s Kingdom.

*** Thanks to Deacon Greg at the Deacon's Bench for a little inspiration.

Installed as Pastor

Encouraged by some and with a desire to focus myself on my new mission as pastor, I will attempted to be faithful to this blog.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

You oceans...Bless the Lord

We are so blessed on Long Island because the Ocean and beautiful beaches are literally our front yard. Even in still chilly Spring temperatures, folks find themselves contemplating the waves and are soothed by their consistent pattern. And yet God is greater. Not even these crashing waves and its life giving waters can fully present God's power, creativity and love. Let's Bless the Lord for the beauty and awesome power he places at our feet!

Monday, April 13, 2009

No place like home?

Well it's the home opener at Shea Stadium -- uh Citi Field. I am hoping for two things today. First a Met win, with some offense. So far they are still looking like the same old team, no offense and surprisingly still some bullpen issues. The second thing is that Citi Field starts to feel more like a home to the Mets. I was there for exhibition game against Boston. Its a great park and it will be a fun place to watch a game. But it did not feel like the Mets' home. Not enough Met history or branding. And even worse -- all those exclusive restaurants and bars. I felt like my old friend moved to a new house, in a new neighborhood, got cooler friends and I feel left out.

But in any case -- LET'S GO METS!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bishop Bob

Ordination of Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, Charleston SC.  I am pictured with the Bishop and other priests of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting.

Easter Sunday Homily

Click here for Easter Sunday readings
Remember those without hope, who do not know that you have risen

I recently came across these words in the intercessory prayers of Holy Saturday evening prayer. These words got me thinking about who it is that does not know the story of the resurrection. Certainly none of those who come to Easter Mass are surprised by the story.Those who do not share our Christian faith have certainly heard what it is that we are celebrating today. And while it is true that there are still places in our world that have not heard the Gospel, I have a feeling that someone more than them is implied.I believe that this prayer acknowledges a universal truth -- many have heard of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but many do not know, the resurrection. We may know the facts but have yet to experience, through faith, what resurrection is. The prayer speaks for those who may have heard the facts but are yet to know the transformative power of Christ resurrection and are still without hope.

In this morning’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear Peter delivering a speech in the house of Cornelius, a faithful Roman centurion. Peter gives them brief history of what he has witnessed in the public ministry of Jesus Christ and his resurrection.The people to whom he speaks know the facts that Peter is sharing with them, as the story has already been told for ten years. Peter speaks not to just give them facts but to encourage them to believe, to seek Christ and to receive his merciful love as he has. In the same way, Saint Paul, in his letter to the Colossians written approximately 30 years after the events of the resurrection, tells the people to seek what is above, to look with eyes of faith for the risen Christ and not simply be focused on the earthly things around us. Paul writes these words from prison sharing with others the hope that sustains him.

Knowing resurrection is an active pursuit, even as it is revealed in the Gospel today. Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb and finds the stone removed from the tomb, she runs to Peter and the other disciple, and they run to the tomb.There is much confusion and as the Gospel says they had yet to understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. There is much confusion and much running around and still the Gospel tells us that in the midst of that chaotic pursuit the one disciple saw and believed. He did not have facts; he had not yet seen the resurrected Christ but he believed and was among the first to know he had risen, he was among the first to have hope.

We see ourselves in this morning’s Gospel account. Our lives are filled with moments of running here and there. Our obligations are great and so are our longings. We seek and we search and sometimes we give up. We know lots of things and yet we still struggle to know the one thing that truly gives us hope – that death has no power over us. You may have seen the cover of Newsweek last week which proclaimed the decline and fall of the Christian America. That was followed by a statement made by the President in which he said that one of the greatest strengths of the United States is that we do not consider ourselves a Christian, Jewish or Muslim nation but, “a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” The Newsweek issue and the president’s statement reflect a truth about the culture in which we live; in many ways the pursuit of faith is secondary to other ideals. We don’t know the resurrection because sometimes we stop seeking it. This is not to say that we are bad people or that we are deliberately opposing God in our lives. It is simply because of the nature of human life that we sometimes stop looking.

Sometimes we stop looking because for the moment we are satisfied. It is so easy for us to find comfort in the things we buy, the company we keep, achievement at work and at school and the leisure activities we enjoy. We know that none of these are bad in themselves and can in fact be understood as blessings. We must also know, however, that they are temporary. When we do not listen to the encouragement of St. Paul and focus simply on the earthly things and not what is above, we can not know resurrection, we can not know hope. When our satisfaction is found only in the here and now and not in an eternal life in heaven awaiting us -- we stop looking for the resurrection and we can not therefore know it.

Sometimes we stop looking because we meet Good Friday. Tragedy, sorrow, disappointment and betrayal are devastating. We can not make sense of these things. Suffering is unbearable and confusing. Moving beyond Good Friday, pain and all its sorrow comes with grace. Each one of us moves at our own pace, and sometimes we need to linger at the cross or the tomb. Ironically, though, Good Friday is necessary in order for us to know resurrection. We can not know resurrection without first knowing suffering and death. Good Friday is a stumbling block to knowing resurrection and it is also a necessary stepping stone. We pray for the grace to move when we are ready, to seek the resurrected Christ beyond our sorrow.

Lastly we sometimes stop looking for the resurrection when we find emptiness. In the Gospel they find the tomb empty and nothing more but they do not stop at the emptiness. Many, who come to church, who are faithful to the sacraments, who pray on a regular basis and who do good things still profess emptiness in their spiritual life. Their experience is no different than the experience of those we recognize as saints. St. John of the Cross is known famously for his description of the Dark Night of the Soul and more recently we have come to know of the doubt and dryness of spirit experienced by Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Empty tombs and empty souls are realities we encounter in the spiritual journey and in our life of faith. Yet they too are necessary to knowing resurrection. How can one define faith without being able to compare it to doubt? How can one appreciate hope without first knowing empty despair?

Who is this Easter prayer for? It is for each of us. It is for our friends, neighbors and family members, who like us may know facts but have yet to experience resurrection. Our lives are continuation of the paschal mystery. We each experience passion and death and we all seek to know resurrection. We celebrate Easter today not just because we know the fact that Christ is risen, but we seek to know the power of resurrection in our lives. We seek to move past earthly satisfaction, sorrow and emptiness. We seek the hope that is known only when we realize that death does in fact have no power over us. May each of us have hope and know that he is risen.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday Homily

Click here for Good Friday readings
"Father can you bless this crucifix? It’s from my aunt. It was my grandfather’s. It’s for my godson who is being baptized next week. It’s for my daughter who is being deployed overseas, It’s for my friend who has cancer."

Rarely have I been asked to bless a crucifix or any other sacred object that did not have the story of a relationship behind it. More specifically the request to bless a crucifix typically reveals not just an ordinary relationship but a relationship for which one is passionate. Passionate relationships are the most significant ones in our lives. They reflect our deepest love and often the place of our deepest suffering; suffering because we love.

This Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion and the entire journey of Lent itself is one that is marked by relationships, a passionate relationship between God and his people, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd and his flock. It began in the dessert with a passionate relationship with evil and temptation. In the transfiguration, the Father’s passionate love is revealed within the relationship of the law and the prophets, represented by Moses and Elijah. Throughout his public ministry Jesus' passion for his disciples is clear as they struggle to understand who he is. The passionate relationship between Christ and the Scribes and Pharisees is one that challenges the religious leaders to authenticity in faith. Christ’s passion is reveled in the anger displayed to the money changers and merchants as well as the wisdom he shares with Jew, Greek and Roman. He is passionate about the remarkable figures of the woman at the well, the blind man whose sight is restored and Lazarus who is raised from the dead. Through intimate relationships there is passionate for those who fail him in denial and betrayal as well as those who remain at the foot of the cross.

The Passion of Jesus Christ makes no sense without relationship. It is the relationship with the chosen people of the covenant and ultimately the entire human family for which this suffering exists. It is for us who worship today. As the letter to the Hebrews explains, this High Priest could not know sin but chooses to know its effects, suffering, because of his passionate relationship with us.

When we use the word, "passion" the word, "love" is implied and suffering is understood. The greatest suffering in our lives comes about because we love first. Passionate love finds expression in suffering, because it is through the willingness to suffer, that the commitment to love is confirmed. In the passionate suffering of Christ we witness not only his love for us but the challenge to be imitators of that love.

In a reflection on the crucifixion, St. Thomas Aquinas instructs that if one seeks an example of love, there is no greater love than Christ on the cross. If one seeks an example of patience there is no greater example then Christ who patiently suffers what he could have avoided. If one seeks humility we should look on the one who willingly allowed himself to be judged by Pilate. If we see an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the father. If we seek to be detached from earthly things and only to what is everlasting see the one who was stripped, beaten and mocked. The giving of one's whole self, humility, obedience and detachment are examples of passionate love lived out and examples of how to love passionately.

On this Good Friday we offer universal prayers in our General Intercessions. We pray not only for ourselves, for those who share our faith and all people of faith, but we also pray for those who have no faith and even those who oppose faith; because this passionate love of the cross is for all. This passionate love seeks relationship with friend and enemy; believer and non-believer. We venerate the Holy Cross today and not just the corpus on it; because this instrument of death, is an instrument of passionate suffering. We embrace the cross and our suffering; we unite our suffering to his because the two great phrases of this week are, “Do this in memory of me,” and “Love one another as I have loved you.”

When I am asked, “Can you bless this Father?” I can not help but think that it already is because of the passionate love it depicts and so too is the relationship it represents. Today we witness how greatly we are loved and we accept the challenge to passionately love as we have been loved.