Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Other Side: St. Patrick's Parade Mass (2018-03-18, Lent)

SUNDAY 18 March 2018,5th Sunday Lent
•• Jeremiah 31:31-34 •• Psalm 51  •• Hebrews 5:7-9 •• + John 12:20-33 ••
Title:  “The Other Side / St. Patrick’s Parade Mass.”

[__01__]   Welcome to Our Lady of Lourdes, to our Parade Committee,  Grand Marshal Donald Shauger, Deputy Grand Marshal Robert Lynch, Deputy Grand Marshal Sean McGinley, Deputy Grand Marshal Brad Squires and their families.

            To you, our family, and thank you for your prayers as we begin this solemn and joyful celebration. We are grateful to all those who went to great lengths to make sure our parade happened this year, we are grateful to the many workers and officials in our township who made possible this special event moving it from last week to this week. Thank you for your prayers and effort and for being here.
            We have waited. We have waited for this day.

 [* * * pause * * *]

[__02__  And, there are disciples and future disciples who are waiting in this Gospel reading, waiting in the wings.
          They are visitors from Greece who have come from the other side of their known world, from the Mediterranean (Greece) to the Middle East (Galilee) to see Jesus.
          And, they, so to say,  forward a message to Jesus.  The visitors forward a message to Philip who forwarded it to Andrew who forwarded it to John who forwarded it to Jesus.
          And, Jesus got back to them …
          He got back to the Greece-visitors because he understands they want to see him. However, Jesus was telling them that -- if they were to wait just a little while longer --  they will see him after his death and resurrection even more clearly.  This is in anticipation of next Sunday – Palm Sunday and Holy Week – and Jesus being put death and rising from the dead.
          Jesus compared his current life to being to a seed or grain of wheat, saying:  Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains but a single grain, but if it dies it brings forth much fruit.” (John 12:24)

[__03_]      The paradox is that Jesus said that they would know him, experience him fully after he has disappeared physically, after he has died.
          Do we believe this?
          I think we do…
          Here is an analogy. After we receive a message – whether this message is a text, photo, email – do we not observe that the message has an effect on us long after the message, maybe even after it is deleted.
          Or, perhaps I have lost the message and cannot find it in any search or scan. Yet, I know what the message is. The message remains.
          I can recall certain lessons I was told about, say, how to drive a car … even though I am no longer in driver’s education. I not only recall what I should be doing but also who told me and why they told me and when they told me.

[__04_]     Is not a similar thing happening in our relationships?
          In these examples, we are going from “this side” of what is very earthly and immediate and temporary to the “other side” of what is permanent and spiritual and eternal.
         And, the visitors are going from this side of Greece to the other side of Galilee.
          And, we are going each day from this side of life to eternal life. That is our goal, to reach heaven and eternal life.
          A similar thing is happening in our relationships.
          That is, we know certain things – trust certain things – about other people not because they were written down … but simply because a seed was planted, the seed died within is … bore fruit and now we have this knowledge, this connection to another person, even not everything is written down and not everything is spoken out loud.

[__04__]    Jesus wants us to know him, in a similar way, to pass to the other side by following his ways by what we do in secrecy and silence for him and for each other.  In the Lenten 40 days, for example, we are doing things that help us to pass from this side of the earthly life to the other side, to our eternal life.
          >> DESERT: by accepting hunger or inconvenience during our Lenten fasts, we share his life of 40 days in the desert.
          >> GETHSEMANE by accepting that prayer is not always easy, but a struggle, we share his time in the Garden of Gethsemane.
          >> CALVARY-Good Friday by accepting that we may endure rejection, dislike, even dislike of ourselves at times, or the desertion of our friends, we share his rejection on Good Friday.

          But, we also share his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

          Doing these things, we accept that – in our little sacrifices each day – we allow Jesus to be impressed upon us, so that we can go to the other side, even before we have died.         

[__07__]   One day, many years ago, I asked my grandmother about her journey to New York and to the U.S., her desire to come to this country from Ireland [EIRE], from the auld sod, from the other side.

          As a young person – age 14 – she left her home and parents in Donegal and came to stay with an uncle in New York. She arrived with her sister with whom she was best friends for her entire life. 

          She immediately took menial jobs, cooking, cleaning houses.  After all, my grandmother had little of what we call … EXPERIENCE.

          To our family, hers was an fascinating autobiography and life-experience.   To her, her life was more than an experience and narrative she kept updating to define and explain herself to others. It was an experiment that lasted 82 more years after landfall in New York.

          Asking her about this once, about what it was like before she left home, arriving in New York, my grandmother reminded me – you know, if I had not come, you would not be here.

          Her life was not just a series of experiences but of experiments and risks.

          Yes, her life was an experiment – days and nights which began on a transatlantic ship sometime around 1920. The U.S. / America was certainly no experiment for which she could fudge the results in the lab or go to summer school if it didn’t work out or update her "profile."  She wanted to impress this on me.

          We pray today in a special way for all those who have helped to build our community, for those who come to country anew, new immigrants as well, and those who unite our township and make Saint Patrick’s Day a reminder of not only of our age but also our youth, a reminder of not only our limited length of our lives, but also the hope we have of being born again each day in faith, a reminder of our distinct identity and our common hope to reach the other side, the Promised Land of Heaven, a reminder of not only our wisdom but also our need for God’s help.
          St. Patrick, Pray for Us.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Nicodemus: Undetected. Unfettered. Unrecognized (2018-03-11, Lent)

SUNDAY 11 March 2018, 4th Sunday Lent
•• 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23 •• Psalm 137  •• Ephesians 2:4-10 •• + John 3:14-21 ••

Title:  “Nicodemus: Undetected. Unfettered. Unrecognized.”

[__01__]   Once upon an I-95/Turnpike time, years ago, my grandparents and my aunt and uncle drove from here in the northeast to Florida to visit friends from their neighborhood.
          Arriving at their destination, they found out that the friends were in the Bronx. (Awkward). I am not aware how much longer my grandparents stayed on.
          They could have called first.
          The many communications devices  at our disposal enable us to avoid such pitfalls, such disconnections.

[__02__]     In the Gospel this Sunday, we read from the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, about a conversation between Nicodemus the Pharisee who has traveled some distance – though perhaps not a geographical distance in kilometers or miles – but rather across to a new spiritual ecosystem /climate-zone to see our Lord and Savior.

[__03__]     I’d like to touch on the example of Nicodemus as an aspiring disciple and the dynamics of what he experience – and we can experience – in our prayers and meditations.
          That is Nicodemus is [UNDETECTED],  [UNFETTERED], [UNRECOGNIZED].

[__04__]     1st . [UNDETECTED]       Being undetected can be hazardous or inefficient if were to drive 18 ½ hours – Manhattan to Miami – and we arrive at our destination and the host knows not of our arrival. Not good news.
          There is a down side to being undetected.
          But, there is also an up side, good news.
          There’s a special delight and pleasure taken in being undetected in our loving relationships. For example, do we not delight at the times we can surprise someone or please someone who did not expect a special favor.
          Girls and boys – my young brothers and sisters – you can bring great joy to your mothers and fathers by doing what they ask -- [UNDETECTED], unreminded …
          Nicodemus also gives us an example of being [UNDETECTED]. Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, is a partisan and party-member very much on the opposite side of the aisle from Jesus.
          (JBC Jerome Biblical Commentary 68:2 àIn view of the official opposition to Jesus, already suggested by John and borne out repeatedly throughout the Gospel, a prominent leader such as Nicodemus could only have come to see Jesus secretly [at night].”)
          It was a risk Nicodemus was willing to take.
          Nicodemus comes to Christ undetected. And you/I come ot pray sometimes [UNDETECTED], by others about what our deepest desires, hopes, or joys might be.
          God alone knows.
          Also [UNDETECTED], we rely on God to meet needs we may not even be aware of…

[__05__]     2nd, [UNFETTERED].  Nicodemus is unfettered, unburdened  in his encounter with Christ.  Nicodemus is unfettered.
          A “fetter” is something that burdens us, perhaps, as a constraint or even as a capability.
What is Nicodemus’ fetter, his prized possession?
          It is his education, learning, intellect.
          Earlier, Jesus had observed that Nicodemus is the “teacher of Israel.” (John 3:10)
          However, now, Nicodemus is in the dark, after regular-business hours and face-to-face with our Savior.  In John 3:1, we read that Nicodemus had come to see Jesus at night. This is Nicodemus unfettered, out of the spotlight, Nick@Nite.
          Our intelligence, our intellect are great gifts. But, do they, at times, not also become burdens as we might second-guess our choices or unfairly judge others.
          Nicodemus goes before Jesus to learn. He is unfettered, a reminder to ask God for help regardless of what we may have figured out.
          To be [UNFETTERED] is a virtue.
[_06_]   3rd.  [UNRECOGNIZED].
          Nicodemus is unrecognized. We might assume that Nicodemus, the Pharisee, returns to his partisan ways, to his party, to his profession, to his career.
          And, maybe, at first, his connection to Jesus is not recognized or appreciated.
          Was it because Nicodemus did not call first? Did not call ahead?

[_07_]    Sure, Nicodemus did not call first. But, then again, who among us, calls the Christ, Son of God first?
          Rather Christ calls us.
          Nicodemus was called; you were called; I was called.
          Nicodemus received and perceived a calling and went out, went out of his way, out of his comfort zone to learn about Christ.
          This was a risk, a risk to go [UNDETECTED],  [UNFETTERED], [UNRECOGNIZED].
          In our own prayers and meditations, we may have to do the same – to be undetected, unfettered, unrecognized.
          However, over time, in our conversation with God, we can come to know Him, to learn His presence and to recognize Christ in our lives and know that he is detecting, he is watching over us each day … for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that all who believe in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  (John 3:16) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of the Lord.    [__fin__]   

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Severe or Sincere. (2018-03-04, Lent)

4 March 2018  3rd Sunday Lent (B)
Exodus 20:1-17   Psalm 19  ● 1 Corinthians 1:22-25  ●  + John 2:13-25

Title:  “Severe or Sincere”

[__01__]    Rarely did I witness my father and mother so SEVERE – so ANGRY – as they were after an episode in which a baseball coach left his team unsupervised for several hours and caused a risk and dangerous condition. My brother was on the team.
          Or, should I say – as a result – my brother was no longer on the team, because he was immediately withdrawn from the team despite the fact that he was their star pitcher and player.
          Severe.  He knew better than to complain about the result.
[* * * pause * * *]

[__02__]     In the Gospel episode of this 2nd chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus is SEVERE in his reaction.
          I touch on the fact that he gives us a model of how to be – in the Christian and charitable sense – SEVERE, AUSTERE, and SINCERE.
[* * * pause * * *]

[__03__]     First. SEVERE.
          Jesus, our Lord and Savior, packs a punch in this episode, though there are no actual fisticuffs or hand-to-hand (mano a mano) combat.
          Where,  to whom, and at when  (what season or time) was our Lord taking this severe action?
          Where? The place / setting is the Jerusalem Temple. The time is the season of Passover when when observant, devout Jews – individuals and families – would go from their hometown, with some of their money to the Temple.
          There were money changers and merchants outside the Temple.
          What Jesus objects to is the extent to which these sacrifices are measured only in material or monetary terms.
          In Psalm 51, we are reminded similarly: “in sacrifice, God, you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse, a humbled contrite heart you will not spurn.”
          The SEVERITY and severe reaction of Jesus are made because he detects in the buying and the selling only money, not meditation.
[__04__]      You have probably heard a story like this, or learned this lesson yourself.  After my good friend, Robert, got engaged and later married, his wife told him that he all she wanted for her birthday was a “card with words”.
          A card with words. So, he went to the store, bought some Hallmark product, signed his name, Love, Robert put it an envelope.
          She was not pleased and reminded – I did not want a card with Hallmark’s words… but your words.
          Jesus is reminding the people that the Lord desires their repentance first, not their remuneration.

[__05__]    SEVERITY is Good News, when it is combined with love and tenderness.  Severity can coexist with love and becomes SINCERITY and purpose.       Consider the discipline we might apply to a technique on the court, on the playing field, to a visual or musical art, or to our own homes.
          In this Our Lady of Lourdes – God’s house – so many of you care for our altar, altar furnishings, decorations, with great zeal, vigilance, enthusiasm, precision.
[__06__]    SEVERITY might seem to be the message of the 10 Commandments in the Book of Exodus today. 7 of the 10 Commandments start with “thou shalt not…”  Yes, these  are clear lins that we are told not to cross.
          However, do we not also recognize that within the boundaries of the Commandments, as in the boundaries of a marriage, or of a family, the Lord is also trying to give us peace, tranquility in following his ways. [__fin__]  

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Good That We Are Here. (2018-02-25, Lent)

25 February 2018  2nd Sunday Lent (B)
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13,15-18  ●  Psalm 116  ● ● Romans 8:31b-34  ●
●  + Mark 9:2-10

[Title: Good that we are here.]

[__01__]   It’s good that we are here. The recent and ongoing winter Olympics in PyeongChang [South Korea], is a celebration of everyone who is good.
            In fact, EXCELLENT, in his or her sport, on the ice, snow, in the air and on the ground.
            Good, in the terms of NBC and the Olympic TV broadcast, is often a relative measure, a comparative and competitive evaluation. Yes, it’s good; and it’s also true that Gold is better (>) than Silver  …. > Bronze … Bronze > Nothing.
            The goal, nevertheless, of the Olympics is not only an endeavor to evaluate and separate but also to unite and join all those who strive to be the best and to recognize sportsmanship and perseverance is not only a virtue for those with the decoration of precious metal around their necks but also those who struggled regardless of the result.
            It’s good just to be there.

[__02__On the mountain of the Transfiguration, Peter announced to Jesus, our Lord and Savior: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.” (Mark 9:5)
            Peter, James, John were enthusiastic about their front row, skybox, view for the Transfiguration. This was good.

[__03__]    This good event was also an experience of community and connection.
            Consider the motivations and motives that lead us to gather for a major event – a baptism/christening, anniversary or a wedding, First Holy Communion or Confirmation.
            While I was studying to be a priest, I will admit it took me a while to understand and appreciate what would be asked of me – in the celebration of the cathedral, Holy Orders, the Mass of Ordination. I had never been to such a celebration, prior to the seminary.
            But, I could not help but notice all the aerobic and non-aerobic effort, physical and spiritual exercises surrounding ordination day.
            Good that we are here?

          [__03.01__]    It reminds that about a year after my studies as a priest,  a year after I started my assignment here – at Our Lady of Lourdes – I saw a hometown friend who had attended that day. And, he was very glad to have been there, recalling people he’d seen. He brought his mom to my 1st Mass of Thanksgiving. And, then recalled all these details but then said to me… what was that called, what was the word… I was not sure what he was talking about.  He meant the word “ordination”.
          Most important, my friend was that you were there. Good that you were there.

[__04__]     Leading up to all of this, a friend of mine gave me some advice about this special day of ordination as a priest  – it does not matter what color or type of vestment you wear, or what music you select, or what you serve/cater for the party afterwards, or what church the Mass is in. It does not matter anything you say.
          Because your family and friends are simply excited to be part of this, shall we day, Transfiguration-like event, that none of that matters.
          And, he was right, the community experience, the goodness of being together  outweighed any logistical detail that I might have fretted over.

[__05__]   Jesus gives us his disciples this experience of the Transfiguration to sustain them, nourish them, encourage them.    That is, it is good that they were there to see Jesus’ divinity, his power, because at the Passion and Death and arrest, this is an experience that do not do not experience as “Good Friday” the first time around. 
          And, it was a time of division not community. Good that we are here? Not so much.
          For the first few days after the Passion and Death, there was no good, and certainly no “we”.

[__06__]   The Transfiguration is a high point of an ongoing journey for Peter, James, John, the disciples, for us.
          At this high point – elevated on the mountain, the feel, perceive they are very close to God’s power, love, mercy, blessing.
          On the day of a sacred event, a family reunion, anniversary, wedding, baptism, an ordination, we may feel this same closeness to God and to each other, such affiliation, affection, acknowledgement.
          But, the Lord continues to draw us close to him, not only at these sacred well defined moments, but all the time.

          We remember that we are always in God’s presence, that it’s good that we are here, that his Beloved Son came to say, “this is my body, given up for you”.  He is crucified and risen. It is good that we are here, listen to him. [__fin__]

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Conflicted. Conversant. Concealed (2018-02-18, Lent)

18 February 2018  1st Sunday Lent (B)
Genesis 9:8-15  ●  Psalm 25  ●  1 Peter 3:18-22  ● + Mark 1:12-15

[__01__]   Are you CONFLICTED? Conflicted?
          The  40 days of Lent have just started, reminding us of our traditional Christian disciplines of FASTING, PRAYER, ALMSGIVING.
          I’d like to touch on your calling – my calling – to ask these 3 questions about FASTING, about PRAYER, and about ALMSGIVING.
          Am I conflicted?
          Am I conversant?
          Am I concealed?

[__02__]   1st. Conflicted. You and I experience conflict, friction, resistance in many ways. And, fasting – intentional fasting and self-sacrifice exposes us – full contact and full-court press -- to CONFLICT.
          Perhaps, in Lent, we make a daily vow about renewal (or increased) of prayer time, or spiritual reading. Perhaps, my vow is about something dietary, nutritional.
          There are many ways to fast including, e.g., the choice to eat at regular meal times rather than at the time chosen by the random number generating app in my head/brain.
          Choosing when, how, with whom to eat is a fast. It may cause CONFLICT.  Conflict with our regular routine.
          In other words, the conflict is, often, not with the food or with the clock. The conflict is with myself.         
          Jesus was fasting for 40 days and nights in the desert. As John Henry Newman points out, Jesus was not tempted AFTER he became hungry. The hunger is the cause of the conflict, not the food.
Jesus offers up – gives up – the hunger.
          Similarly, I may have a hunger – desire – for recognition or for popularity or to be the top scorer, whatever it is. Am I willing to admit that the conflict is not because I was not recognized or praised. The conflict is because of my hunger inside not because of something that happened outside or what someone else did or did not do.  Can I fast from this desire, can I offer this up ?
          Am I conflicted? If yes, then, I am fasting.
[__03__]    2nd. Conversant. Am I conversant – experiencing our Savior’s word– each day in my prayer, to talk to and listen to God’s word.
          Through our 9 nights of prayer and reflection of the St. Joseph Novena /retreat, we gather to be encouraged, to experiencing and to be conversant in God’s ways.
          Sometimes, God speaks a different language and this requires extra effort in our prayer.
          Are we willing to make the extra effort?
          Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about his international travels and his goal to learn a few basic sentences in every language.  He enjoyed telling me how he was in Beijing and learned the Mandarin Chinese question that he would use over and over again, “do you speak English?”
          A phrase he can still repeat with proper fluency and tones.
          And, he also memorized and repeated something important to him,  “do you take credit cards? ”
          God wants to converse, talk with us and he is talking to us about the payments, the costs, the sacrifices that we are making each day.
          Are you – & I - conversant?
[__04__]   3rd. Concealed. Am I concealed? It’s true that you and I do many loving and charitable things that do not generate, LIKES, FRIENDS, NEWS, TRAFFIC.
          Am I concealed?
          In the Gospel of Ash Wednesday, Jesus invites us to make our almsgiving – charitable giving – secret or concealed.  “Do not let your left hand know what your right is doing.” (Matthew 6:3)
           And, isn’t it true that in family or marriage or friendship, many acts of mercy and love are performed without full acknowledgement or recognition.

[__05__]   In your life, my life, we may not know how important the conflict of today is, how it may draw us into conversation with Jesus our Lord and Savior, so that we may be concealed with him in our journeys, so that we may know that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  (Philippians 4:13)    [__fin__]

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Survive. Sustain. Sanctify. (2018-02-11, Sunday-06) / Our Lady of Lourdes

Survive. Sustain. Sanctify.  (2018-02-11,  Sunday-06)  /  Our Lady of Lourdes Day

11 February 2018  6th Sunday (B)

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46 ● Psalm 32 ●        ●1 Corinth 10:31 – 11:1 ● + Mark 1:40-45

[__01__]   SURVIVAL.  1858.  By the time of the events at the LOURDES grotto – 160 years ago --  the family of Bernadette were in a dire financial and social situation. Their  financial and social status had declined to the point where they lived in a one-room basement, formerly used as a jail, called le cachot, "the dungeon".
            Bernadette  had to go out to gather firewood. On February 11, 1858, Bernadette experienced the first vision of the Blessed Mother.
            The details of Bernadette’s SURVIVAL and her status – or lack of status at the time – are significant to the history of the Lourdes apparitions of the Blessed Mother.
[__02__]   This Sunday, we observe the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and the experience of Bernadette Soubirous – Saint Bernadette Soubirous – and experience that starts off the beaten track near her hometown in the Pyrenees – Pyrenee Mountains – of SW France.
          It begins with survival. Bernadette is out gathering firewood when she sees a vision of someone she describes only as a beautiful lady. And, later when she asks for a name, Bernadette is told –  in the vision – “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
          Bernadette starts out as a SURIVIVOR.
[__03__]   Our Christian journey is one that is not only about SURVIVING and SURVIVAL but also about  --
          SUSTAINING ourselves.
          And about..
          SANCTIFICATION, holiness.
[__04__]   First, SURVIVAL. You and I know something about survival and the choices we make under difficult circumstances. In the Gospel of this Sunday, we read about the leper – the man with leprosy – whose survival and existence – up to this point depends on his ability to be obscure, to remain in hiding, to cover himself and thus avoid spreading his disease.
          Survival = pain.  (at times)
          In what ways do you and I survive simply by hiding or withdrawing?
          Suffering from addiction, we may go into the woods, literally or figuratively.
          Suffering from an injury to our self confidence – or suffering from our own pride – we may also hide due to our obsession with the opinion of someone else.  I may hide behind a superficial image of myself.
          Our Christian journey, however, is not only about surviving, but also sustaining – even thriving.
[__05__]   Second, SUSTAINING.
          Our Savior desires that we would be sustained, nourished, fed.        e.g., Prodigal Son;  Woman at well.
          Yes, Jesus sees our sinfulness – our brokenness – and asks us each day if we want to be forgiven. And, we can be forgiven – healed in the repentance of confession, penance, reconciliation.
          Here, we go not to hide but to connect with God and his grace.
          In the ashes of Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge our mortality, our need for God and not simply that we are surviving but also sustained.
[__06__]  Third, SANCTIFIED.
          To  “sanctify” means to make holy, and while we are made good – and made in God’s image – we also are in need of God’s grace in order to turn toward s his grace and way each day.
          Our journey of survival, and sustenance, is meant to allow us not to remain where we are, but to change, to be converted, to increase in holiness each day.
          And, when Jesus heals the man with leprosy, he directs him, asks hims, to go to the Temple – or in our sense, the church --  to show yourself to the priests – to the whole community.
          The church – whether the Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes in France or here – to the west of France – in West Orange on Eagle Rock Avenue – we are restored, reconnected to God as well.
          In other words, Jesus says – you have already shown yourself to me. Now, show yourself to the community, to others, your healing is also for them to see, to celebrate, to observe, and to receive encouragement.
          To taste and see the goodness of God.
          You come to church, so that others can see you, can witness your how we survive, how we are sustained.          So that others can sustain us with their prayers.
          So that you – and I – maybe sanctified, uncovered and connected to God in our covenant of love with God and neighbor.
          Our Lady of Lourdes Pray for Us.  Notre Dame de Lourdes prie pour nous.