Sunday, April 5, 2020

"Stay Here" (v. 2) (Palm Sunday 2020-04-12)

2020-04-05  – Palm Sunday __
Gospel Passion of Matthew   Title: Stay Here !

Introduction: “Meet up

           As we consider this most unusual of Holy Weeks, I invite you to consider a verse from the Gospel of Luke – and a most unusual “meet up”

           ”Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over”. (Luke 24)

          In this gospel, the 2 disciples of this Gospel passage have had a most unusual day or series of days, most unsettling and disturbing because their Savior and Lord – Jesus – had been taken from them. They had seen him put to death.

          And, in this Gospel passage we read of the 2 disciples – on the Road to Emmaus -  to whom a mysterious “unknown” 3rd traveler appears to them on the road. They do not know who it is – this person does not identify himself explicitly with a birth certificate or nametag. (Spoiler alert: the 3rd traveler is Jesus, risen from the dead).
         
          But at first the 3rd traveler is seen only as a stranger whom they are gradually coming to know.

          And, the 2 disciples are very attentive to this stranger. At first, they find him out of touch and uninformed.   The mysterious 3rd traveler said to them, “what were you talking about as you walked along?”

          So, imagine if someone called you up right now and said to …. “hey, buddy, hey pal, what’s happening… what’s happening in the world….  What are you talking about…what are you thinking about ?”

          You would say to such a person:  “What planet are you from? Did you just crawl out from under a rock? Don’t you know what’s going on in the world? ”

          So, these 2 travelers heard a question, “What are you talking about?”

          And, they said to the stranger, “Well are you the only person who does not know what is going on? .” And, they remind him that Jesus of Nazareth – mighty in word and deed has died.

          Nevertheless, the 2 disciples welcome this 3rd person, talk with him and share the events of the day with him.   And, this person does connect with them – this unidentified person – this stranger shares with them their sorrow, their grief at the death of Jesus and then this 3rd traveler starts to explain the scriptures and prophecies to them.

          It is a reminder to us that God is – Jesus is – reaching out to us even when we do not explicitly acknowledge His presence.

          Also, God hears us – in this COVID-19 crisis and in other crises when we cry out saying… Lord, we need help, don’t you know what is going on here?

          We also need each other for help.

This Holy Week, we gather to pray and remember our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection but do so in light of the COVID-19 crisis and mandatory sheltering in place at home.  Our mobility, physically, is minimized.
All of us, on some level, may feel lost or frustrated after several weeks without mobility, free travel, and our regular routine.  This feeling of loss and frustration is magnified right now for anyone in sorrow or mourning, anyone who has lost a loved one recently.
It also magnified for those who cannot, for example, visit with each other or go the cemetery to pray and honor our loved ones.
          A government order about safety and public health has been imposed on us.  We did not ask for this…
I’d like to reflect on this with a few thoughts, they all begin with the letter M,
First .. that Jesus wants to “meet up with us” and this continues in what is happening right now in terms of…
MEDICINE ….MEDITATION ….METHOD … MERCY…MOVEMENT

1st . MEDICINE OF THE TIME…   /   PRAYER REQUEST
          We need and fear that we may not have enough medicine, enough healing or quickly enough.  Yet, let’s remember especially to pray for those who the difficult job of caring for us when we are sick… physicians, nurses police, fire, EMS, first responders of West Orange and everywhere who know what to do and carry it out. Please pray for them!

2nd MEDITATION OF THE TIME
          Meanwhile, what are we called to do? Both the NY/NJ/CT Governors and Jesus seem to be in lockstep agreement about “MEDITATION”.
Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel of the Passion of Palm Sunday: “watch and pray.” (Matthew 26:36) Meanwhile, Jesus went some distance away to a different part of the Garden of Gethsmane.
          But, at the same time, we might recall that Jesus’ MEDITATION was not “social distancing”. He went away – to pray – so as to do something spiritually decisive in their favor, something for them.
          A mother or father – in sacrificing each day for a child – does not “go away” for distancing as much as the parent is deciding also to lay down his or her life each day for a child.  
          We may – even in a time of crisis with more time on our hands struggle with prayer, not sure how to pray. These are some ideas..
Source: (https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/prayer/personal-prayer-life/different-ways-to-pray/work-and-prayer-in-the-style-of-st-benedict)
Instead of wondering how to squeeze prayer into the busy schedule of our work days … adopt a new vision in which all that we do is the work of prayer.    Even as we go about our other business, we can bring our awareness to the spirit of the hour:  (these could be petitions for each time of day)
·        DAWN: Praise, gratitude, joy
·        MID-MORNING: Blessing + communion w/ Holy Spirit
·        NOON: Fervor, commitment, and a longing for peace at noon
·        MID-AFTERNOON: sense of impermanence + willingness to forgive
·        DUSK / EVENING: Serenity and healing
·        NIGHT: Opening to the darkness

Time set aside for prayer can be a great blessing, but we can turn all of our daily tasks into prayer when we bring to them the awareness of ourselves in relationship with our ever-present God.  (Source: URL above for Loyola Press)
          At this time of “shelter in place”, I encourage you and need to remind myself to adopt these principles to order and structure the day and night to give each part of the day a different petition.
          That’s the meditation for “shelter in place”

3rd METHOD FOR THE TIME – “STAY HERE”
          Nevertheless, as children, we often did not like it when our parents said “stay here”…while they went off to do something without us physically present.
          “Stay here”: that is a prayer request of Jesus Himself, to shelter in place in a Christian spiritual way so that he can talk to us exactly where we are.
It is also challenging to “stay here” and “stay home” when we consider the beauty of Mass and worship in our churches… at Our Lady of Lourdes
          We feel – naturally and logically – relative to God – more in “comfort”, more in “communion” and more in “contemplation” when we are in church. That is the METHOD we know…..       And, in church, we can focus in prayer in a way that is more challenging at home.
PRAYING AT HOME
Yet, Jesus also dwells in your home. He is with you now and wants to pray, to talk with you.
          Yes, it is true we are searching for God but God has already found us.
          This is also amplified and signified in Jesus’ own prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane:
          “Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not as I will but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:42)
  
4th MERCY FOR OUR TIME – WHY WE PRAY.
We might make the same prayer for our own everyday experience:
-         For the person who cuts us off in line in the supermarket or in traffic.
-         For the person who frustrates us with a demand
-         For the realization that my sins, my selfishness is causing difficulty for me or someone else.
“Not my will, but thy will.”  (Matthew 26:42) Praying in this way, we don’t have to find God, he has found us.
          And, there is then a little more of God’s presence in our own home and heart.
5th MOVEMENT FOR OUR TIME
I encourage you in this time of sheltering at home, to find a way to make a prayer space, a table or part of a table, or a corner of a room where you can reflect and be reminded that God with you in your garden always.
At this time, maybe that space or table could include – if nothing else the names of your loved ones, living and deceased, the words of a prayer, the words … “not my will but thy will…” on paper for you to see in your method of prayer in your prayer space.
It could also include a list of things –you are grateful for .
Your home is not just a “staging area”  where you park your car which takes you to a parking lot or parking space where you can enter church. Jesus is with you at home and asking – “what are you talking about?”
Remember this extension of your family and also your church beyond your own walls.  The family of the church also extends into your home, your table, your thoughts … especially when you can also say to Jesus… “Stay with us for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” Jesus wishes to both meet up and move in with you.
          Jesus has searched for you. He has found you.  Go to Him, always. 




GRATITUDE, THANK YOU !
This year, 2020, a special thank you to all the volunteers, all who make Our Lady of Lourdes liturgy and Mass beautiful in our house of worship – every musician and choir member, every lector who proclaims God’s Word, every altar server, every extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, every usher of hospitality and welcome.  You all help to make ours a house of contemplation and community. So many of our volunteers are unsung heroes. This is not only true on Sunday but throughout the week in ministries of prayer, service, and religious education for our parish family, children, and young people.
            We are grateful – I am grateful – also at both Christmas and Holy Week to our Art and Environment team who decorate our church. While we will not decorate the church for Easter Sunday April 12, we will decorate with flowers at some point in the future.  For now, I just ask you – remind you – that Jesus does not simply say “stay here” while He goes away to pray. Rather, He says “stay here” so that we can be with him and realize that he prays for us even when he seems far from us.
            I encourage you to prepare both your heart and your home this Holy Week and Easter for his Passion, Death, and Resurrection by the way you arrange your table, your time, and everything you treasure.  May God’s peace be with you.
            Blessed Holy Week and Happy Easter to you!
In Christ’s Peace,

Father Jim Ferry


Friday, March 27, 2020

Greatly Exaggerated? (2020-03-29, Lent, Sunday-05)

5th Sunday of Lent, Year A.       HOMILY ...2020 march 29
John, Chapter 11, Raising of Lazarus
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[__01__]  Mark Twain. Mark Twain was an American author/writer, famous for "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", "Tom Sawyer" and other novels.

He was known also for a famous saying or quotation, when he heard that there rumors/news circulating about his health and well-being.

The time was the late 1800's. The year was 1897.  Mark Twain had been traveling outside the U.S. He was in London at the time. While he was in London, he ended up in the news. Reporters - some at least - were saying he was not "well". He was not well either "financially" or "physically", that he was both poor and sick.

At the time, one of relatives was in London, got sick and this made the news media as well.
All of this snowballed into a rumor that Mark Twain had died, but he was very much alive. To all of this Mark Twain made the famous statement: "the news of my death has been greatly exaggerated."
It was good news - especially to Mark Twain - that he had not, in fact, died.

[__02__] In the Gospel this Sunday (5th Sunday of Lent, Year A), of the Gospel According to St. John, chapter 11, we read about the raising of Lazarus from the tomb.
The raising of Lazarus is very connected to the resurrection of Jesus Himself, in that, before - during - and after the raising or Resurrection, the faith of the disciples is both being decided and being displayed.
Before and after death - or the dying of someone we know and love - our own faith is being decided and displayed.
Is it because the news of death is greatly exaggerated?

[__03__] Is it because the news of your death - or my death - is greatly exaggerated?
We live in a time of great fear about our health, well being, death, sickness. Is that greatly exaggerated? I'm not saying it is greatly exaggerated. It is life and death right now.
Is it not somewhat commonplace for all of us to imagine - to picture - what life would be like after our own deaths, after we pass from this world?
We might wonder who would show up at our funeral? Who would mourn? Who will not be there?
These are not purely morbid, depressing fascinations or fantasies but a recognition that your life - my life - has meaning to others.
The significance of one person's life to others is proclaimed when a famous person dies.(But life is not important to others just 'cause you're famous..but I use this an example.)
A few months ago, there was a public fascination with Los Angeles helicopter crash that took the lives of 8 passengers and the pilot. 9 people died.  Among them was a 12-year-old girl whose father happened to be Kobe Bryant, (retired) L.A. Lakers NBA basketball star.
The news of the death of Kobe Bryant - especially - was widely reported all over the news for weeks, but mention was also made repeatedly that the life of every person on the helicopter had value including - in a special way - Kobe's daughter, Gianna.
Kobe Bryant died. Everyone of us is going to die. That's not an exaggeration.

[__04__] What does it mean to say that a person's life has meaning, has value?
The philosopher, Josef Pieper who has written much about St. Thomas Aquinas, expressed it this way: "to love another person means that we can say of him or her.... 'it is good that you exist'. "    "it is good that you exist."

And, we can say that the opposite or absence of love can be defined by the opposite of that statement. When we are in some odious confrontation or adversarial conflict with some person, we might wish the other person did not exist.  I'm not saying you or I should "go there" and wish that others did not exist. But, sometimes, we find ourselves in that place ... and we need love to get out of it.  Jesus says, "love thine enemy and pray for those who persecute you."

Love means... It's good that you exist.
To love yourself, it means that you can say..."it is good that I exist."
For me to love myself, I am called to say, "it is good that I exist"
Your life matters. My life matters.
I'd like to connect with to the Gospel with these ideas that the Gospel According to St. John, chapter 11, brings out:

__ DENIAL .....  __ DELAY ..... __DISAPPOINTMENT...

[__05__]  1st DENIAL.   Does dying and death not spark in us feelings of denial or rejection or running away?
In the beginning of the Gospel, we see something of the "denial" of the disciples.
It seems, at this point, that all but one of them want to "deny"  or avoid the fact that Jesus Himself is one day going to suffer and die.

So, their "denial" is demonstrated by their desire to put "social distance" (of 2 meters, 6 feet...or much more !) between Jesus and those who would cause him to suffer and die.

Lord, you don't really want to go to Judea. They tried to stone  you there, to put you to death. So, the disciples deny - at least at this point - the fact of Jesus' own Passion, Death, Resurrection.
These denials only increase and famously so with Peter's triple "hat trick" of 3 denials on the night before Good Friday.

But the denial of Peter and of other disciples was only one step in a journey. Peter was caught and caught up in these denials, but he was not destroyed by them. The news of Peter's death may be greatly exaggerated.

We can make a comeback - as Peter makes a comeback - from denial.
So, the Gospel this Sunday kicks off with denials.
And, a question for myself -- do I [sometimes or more often] deny the reality of suffering and my need for God's help in my suffering? Do I deny - or avoid the reality - of someone else's suffering? Do I pray for them? Make sacrifices for them in prayer, in fasting, in almsgiving?
That's the DENIAL section.

[__06__] 2nd. There is DELAY.
Jesus delays, postpones "shoving off" and going to Bethany. This delay proves fatal for Lazarus. Lazarus dies in the interim. But is the period of waitng a miscalcuation or mistake by Jesus?   Not really...it is a way for Jesus to engender and plant the seeds of faith in the disciples.
Where are those seeds of of faith, the seed of God's word for you and me right now? in this season of delays.

There are delays on many fronts.

There are delays at the supermarket, there are delays standing in line, there are "delays" going on line or trying to use technology of online learning, studying at home, talking on video conferencing, delay on Google hang outs, delay on going back to school, delay on going back to work.

So - where does this delay come from? Well, it's because everyone is trying to do everything from home.  Why is everyone at home? Because are supposed to "social-distance" and "shelter-in-place".

Why do ... "Social-distance" and "shelter in place" ?
Because there is coronavirus. Why is there coronavirus?

That's the puzzle we want solved. But, it's not a puzzle with a piece or 2 missing. It is a mystery. And, it is part of the mystery of evil and suffering in the world that this could all happen at once, simultaneously to so many people in so many places.

It is not because God does not love us that he permits this evil - and other evils - in the world.  But it
is part of God's will.
In a letter about suffering, Pope John Paul II reminded us of the suffering and theme of redemption in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan is not good because he solves all the pain immediately..but is present to the one suffering:

_____The parable of the Good Samaritan belongs to the Gospel of suffering. For it indicates what the relationship of each of us must be towards our suffering neighbour. We are not allowed to "pass by on the other side" indifferently; we must "stop" beside him. Everyone who stops beside the suffering of another person, whatever form it may take, is a Good Samaritan. This stopping does not mean curiosity but availability. It is like the opening of a certain interior disposition of the heart, which also has an emotional expression of its own. The name "Good Samaritan" fits every individual who is sensitive to the sufferings of others, who "is moved" by the misfortune of another. If Christ, who knows the interior of man, emphasizes this compassion, this means that it is important for our whole attitude to others' suffering. Therefore one must cultivate this sensitivity of heart, which bears witness to compassion towards a suffering person. Some times this compassion remains the only or principal expression of our love for and solidarity with the sufferer.  ___ (John Paul II, Salvific Doloris (1984), n. 28)

Suffering is something we often experience as a delay and in a time of delay we can realize what is important, how is important.

The "delay" in this coronavirus crisis reminds me that ...NOT ONLY are my agenda-items and to-do list going to take longer than I might like.....  BUT ALSO that there are others to help and accompany.
And..that there may be others willing to be a Good Samaritan or Simon of Cyrene to me.
God is present not only in the effectiveness and efficiency of life. God is in the details of the delays.

[__07__] 3rd.  There is DISAPPOINTMENT
The sisters, Martha and Mary, at least initially express disappointment in their dear friend, Jesus: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  (John 11: __)
Sometimes, you and I also speak this way, in our distress and disappointment. And, that's part of the journey, to express and be honest about our fears and anxieties.
It's also true that we sometimes - mistakenly - measure God's presence as though the Almigthy Father were similar to a cell-tower or wifi router. That is, it depends on where we are standing and we can get a better signal.
It is true that, these days, we may feel "distanced both socially and spiritually" and disappointed in God and in the Church right now, for we cannot pray and enter the church, to receive Holy Communion ..but we also have a tradition of spiritual Communion. I encourage you to consider this prayer:

____ My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.____ (St. Alphonsus Ligouri)

There is also a popular hymn (St. Louis Jesuits) for reflection:

_____Take, Lord, receive. All my liberty.  My memory, understanding, my entire will! Give me only your LOVE, and your Grace,  That's enough for me! Your love and your grace, are enough for me.   
Take Lord, receive, All I have and posses. You have given unto me, Now I return it. Give me only your love, and your grace, That's enough for me! Your love and your grace, Are enough for me!
Take Lord receive, All is yours now. Dispose of it, Wholly according to your will. Give me only your love, and your grace, That's enough for me! Your love and your grace, Are enough for me!

[__08__] Also, is it not true that we knw that God is not contained or limited to the brick and mortar of Our Lady of Lourdes Chruch. It's a Catholic tradition not only to kneel down or bow or genuflect as we enter church but also to make the sign of the cross as we walk by or drive by a church where the Blessed Sacrament is.

And, I invite you to consider - someday - that you can have a moment of adoration/prayer just by coming into parking lot, stopping for 5, 10, 15 minutes of quiet time. You will not get a ticket. You might get inspired.

We know in the Resurrection appearances that Jesus can pass through walls. So the message to Martha, Mary, Lazarus, all the disciples to you and me is to be healed of our disappointment, not to be defeated by the delays and remember life does not end in denial.

We are called to eternal life. Lazarus - resurrected in this moment of John chapter 11 - will die. His earthly life will come to another step...  as we pray his life is changed not ended, for we all have a hope of life beyond this world.

That's the good news.

Any other news about life and death is greatly exaggerated.   [__FIN__]

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Advantages of Blindness (2020-03-22, Sunday-04)

2020-03-22  – 4th Sunday LENT
__ 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a __ Psalm 23 __  Ephesians 5:8-14 _ + John 9:1-41 _

[_01_]    The blind. A blind person. Have you ever met a blind physician, a blind doctor? I have not, actually, but read an article recently about a medical doctor Dr. Tim Cordes – who is blind – one who has done all the hospital / clinical rotations, including surgery, anesthesia, labor and delivery, and pediatrics, and many more.
          As a blind person, he does require some assistance to get around, both the cane and the “canine”. After one appointment for a small child accompanied by his father for a pediatric appointment, the child asked the father. OK, Dad, but what was the dog in the doctor's office for ?
          The child, more than adults, saw the ability  and was rather blind to the the disability.  Blindness is good news.


[_02_]     We read about the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41). And I would like to use some of the experiences of this particular physician and medical doctor –who is blind – as an example.
          We might say that the Jesus also is “blind” – in  a good way – in the Gospel today.
          That is, Jesus is blind and undeterred by the disdain of the Pharisees. Jesus is reminding the “sighted” that it would be better if they were blind. Thus, the would depend more on their inner senses and on God’s power rather than on that they believe than what they can see and oversee themselves.

[_03_]    On one of his first morning classes of medical school, Dr. Tim Cordes was in the lab, doing what medical students do with cadavers, human corpses and examination of real human anatomy.
          After this first morning of class, he took a break for lunch and a more senior student sat down next to him and said: “Why are you here?”
          Tim Cordes cleverly responded, “Well, this is where I thought you were supposed to eat lunch.”
          That, of course – “why are you here?"  was not a question about the choice of a cafeteria table.
          The question was “why are you in medical school?” …why are you trying to do this? Why don’t you give it up?
         
[_04_]     Jesus is also being asked the same question:  “why are you here?”
          And, he answers it quite succinctly: I am here because… [or]  “I came into the world for judgment so that those who do not see might see and those who see might become blind.”
          There are 2 key ideas here:

JUDGMENT -   and do we not often associate “judgment” with the ability to see? But, do we not also “judge” based on other factors?  For example, we cannot actually see our car engines, but there are many ways we can know whether or not the car is functioning properly. We listen, we feel. 
          We read in the letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
          Sometimes, in order to practice our faith, we are called to become blind. Blindness can be a good thing.

BLINDNESS vs. SEEING             I recall that when I was learning to drive, as a 17-year-old, I was particularly vexed and confused by the fact that I could not see the front of the car from where I was sitting behind the steering wheel. The instructor told  me… you go by “feel” …
          This did not, however, comfort me ! I wanted to see … but later realized, I did not ride a bicycle by staring at the handlebars. I do not walk by looking at my feet.  We move by “feeling”. It’s OK to be blind !

[_05_]     In our prayer, expecially at this time of “social distancing” and “sheltering in place” …and not knowing what is coming next. I suggest we pray not only to see the future but also perceive what and who is already in our midst.
          It can be difficult now that so many of us are thrown together, perhaps with an intense immersion-experience of home life and togetherness.
          We may see things we did not see before.  It’s good to remember that love is patient, kind, bearing all things…not because love is blind but because love (God) can see what our eyes cannot.


[_06_]      In the early 1900’s, there was physician/doctor named Dr. Jacob Bolotin.  He fought his way into and through the Chicago College of Medicine, graduated with honors at age 24, and became the world's 1st totally blind physician fully licensed to practice medicine. He was particularly recognized for his expertise on diseases of the heart and lungs.
          He did all of this without technology, without audiobooks and other technological tools a blind person would use today.
          In Dr. Bolotin's day making a diagnosis depended primarily on talking with the patient, conducting an examination by touch, using the doctor’s sense of smell, and listening to the patient's heart and lungs.
          There were no machines – in some ways, his blindness was an advantage.
          We are blind now, groping our way in the darkness of social distancing, sheltering in place, with – in some cases – more time on our hands and many opportunities to practice forgiveness, patience and detachment from our routines and agenda.       
          Jesus came that we might become blind, so as to connect with Him, in love of God and love of neighbor.  Let’s not miss the opportunity.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Solitude, Not Isolation (2020-03-15, Lent-03)

2020-03-15  – 3rd Sunday LENT
__ Exodus 17:3-7  __ Psalm 95 __  Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 _ + John 4:5-42 _

[_01_]    Following the direction of our Archbishop, Joseph Cardinal Tobin, together with so many other of our sisters and brothers in faith, we are not gathering for liturgy, for Sunday Mass on March 14-15.
          I hope and pray our Lenten fasting, prayer, almsgiving while now taking place in some physical solitude for many of us will, in fact, also unite us and bring us out of the darkness we may feel.
          The parish church of Our Lady of Lourdes (West Orange, NJ) is open for prayer at certain times, based on our Archbishop's instruction. Click this link below for more information.
< Click HERE, LOURDESWESTORANGE info >


Here are the readings for Sunday March 15.
< Click HERE, Sunday 2020-03-15 readings >
[_02_]    On September 11, 2001, many of those who worked in New York City – in and around the World Trade Centers – have personal stories to tell about how we were rescued or how we came to assist in the rescue of others who were stranded and without transportation downtown in New York or in midtown or anywhere in and around New York that day.
          Starting on September 11, 2001 and for every September 11th thereafter, people will also remember heroic firefighters going to the World Trade Center and going up into the towers, knowing perhaps that they would have to give up their lives.
          9/11 remains a moment of tragedy but also a time of great city-wide, regional and national solidarity in the wake of a tragedy.
          So many people wanted to help, wanted to be on board …and so they did. There was a mission.
          I understand many non-New-Yorkers rooted for the Yankees in the baseball MLB World Series 2 months after 9/11, in autumn 2001. And, usually, people from outside N.Y. do not cheer for the Yankees. While the Yankees did not win the baseball World Series in 2001, N.Y.C. “won” + “gained” something much more important than a sports/baseball trophy after 9/11.

[_03_]    After 9/11, there was a charge and a mission to get people together and to stick together.
          We have the same charge and mission now … yet, I fear and perceive that the coronavirus forces us – at least in some practict ways – to maintain health “social distance”.
          We need each other at this time. We need God and faith in God at this time, so that we will not be at a spiritual distance. So, if you have a neighbor or friend who may be alone or scared, visit…and I encourage you also… invite this person – if not immediately now – at some time in the future to Our Lady of Lourdes of West Orange.
          You have a charge, you have a mission. It is a mission of love.
          So, if someone is alone, remind that they can come to Our Lady of Lourdes church…for solitude (yes) …but not for isolation. Isolation is something punishing. Solitude is something peaceful.
          I hope and pray Lourdes church can be a place of peace and solitude rather than isolation.

[_04_]     Josef Pieper – a scholar writing about Thomas Aquinas shared this: “true love makes us realize that the [person we love] cannot simply drop out of reality, and even – this to be sure will be evident only to the believer – the [person we love] will be physically resurrected and live forever – through death and beyond it.” (Josef Pieper, Faith  Hope  Love (Section 2  of “On Love”), San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997, p. 169)
          I invite you to recall as our Orthodox Christian sisters and brothers shared recently:
The Church is the mystical body of Christ. Nothing can affect or change this sacred mystery.   Furthermore, nothing that is done in all reverence, piety, and fear of God in response to this virus
should be construed as anything other than a prudent pastoral and temporary response to a situation that has the possibility of severe consequences. As the body of Christ, we should meet the challenges posed by this virus with the assurance of faith, in oneness of mind, and in imitation of the Great Physician and Healer of souls and bodies, our Lord Jesus Christ. All members of the Church should seek to console the anxious, assist those afflicted, and encourage those working in  medical professions. All faithful should pay special attention to those who might be at risk of more serious complications from this virus: the young, the elderly, and those who already have respiratory or cardiac illnesses. Indeed, no one should be stigmatized or ostracized because they have contracted the virus.”    (Statement of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America on the Corona Virus March 13, 2020)
          We read in the Song of Songs:   “Love is stronger than death.”  (Song of Songs 8:6)
          These may concepts that take us a long time to learn, and we need reminders of, for we are all beginners and starting over with Jesus each day. We also should remember that while our routines may change due to the coronavirus, we have not dropped out of reality !

[_05_]     To our children and young people, I hope and pray you will recognize that God watches over you.
          While some children may rejoice temporarily at the idea of not having to go to school, it also can be a great disruption to be taken away from our friends, from our support group, from our equals …
          Also, learning at home on our own may require you – as a student – to be very disciplined and careful. I ask that you to be patient with your parents and teachers at this time as everyone may be adjusting to a new routine.

We also should remember that while our routines may change due to the coronavirus, we have not dropped out of reality !

[_06_]     In the Gospel this Sunday, we read about the Samaritan woman at the well.
          This woman has a mission …also to bring people to Jesus. She who appears to something of a loner, aloof and separate becomes the person who brings others to our Savior, to bring them to Him as a NEW REALITY and NEW ROUTINE.
          I hope and pray that you and I can do the same for others, to bring others to the new living water of God’s word and love.
          It is our mission to bring and share this Good News.  Our Lady of Lourdes, Pray for Us !  Notre Dame de Lourdes, Priez Pour Nous 

[  _fin_]      

Sunday, March 8, 2020

3.G. + Coronavirus (2020-03-08, Lent-02)

2020-03-08 – 2nd Sunday LENT
__ Genesis 12:1-4a ________ Psalm ____  2 Timothy 1:8b-10 __ +Matthew 17:1-9__

Title:   Guarded, God-Focused, Gospel Proclaiming

[_01_]    I have been blessed to travel a few times between 2009 and 2014 to Port-au-Prince and Haiti with Seton Hall University college students to help out 2 orphanages/clinics. One is run by a Catholic foundation in Richmond (Virginia). The other is run by Mother Teresa’s sisters.
          And, of course, like all travelers, we had to – even back then – take precautions about handwashing and hand-sanitizing.  And, we were trained further “in country” by Mother Teresa’s sisters.
          Now, while Mother Teresa’s clinic / orphanage and refuge for adults appeared to be a lot less modern than a U.S. hospital, it was carefully __ GUARDED …
It was ___ GOD-FOCUSED …
And it was __GOSPEL-PROCLAIMING.
[_02_]    I know it’s hard to imagine life before the coronavirus, but I suggest this is a time for us to be "3-G" ....  i.e., to be "“guarded” and on guard in practical ways and also to be “God-focused” and “Gospel proclaiming”

[_03_]    First, what does it mean to be “guarded”?  It means to take practical steps. You and I can take practical steps – steps we’ve already taken – and taken before during flu season to wash our hands, to avoid large gatherings to stay home from church when we do not feel well. And here at Lourdes, we’ve been following these steps for those who distribute Holy Communion and will continue to do so.
          So, yes, we guard ourselves and our families in practical ways.
          In Haiti, in these orphanage-clinical settings the students and leaders had to be careful. If someone was not feeling well, that person stayed behind and did not go out to the orphanage that day or any day.
          Be guarded…
           

[_04_]    I made 5 trips to Haiti, between 2009 and 2014. By the 5th time, I knew what do, right?
And yet… on the 2nd to last day, of my last / 2014 trip, I caught something, stomach flu, food poisoning. I don’t know what, but it was a bad case of a tummy ache. This is a family program. You get the idea.
Was I “guarded”? No and Yes.  “No” I was not guarded because I caught something, but Yes I was guarded because – on my 2nd to last day … at 3:00 am in the morning, I summoned the courage, wisdom, whatever it was to have someone take me to the emergency room.  I was “guarded” enough to overcome my fear of the hospital at that point and got the help I needed and to ask someone for help.


[_05_]    By the time I got to the E.R., I had lost a lot of fluid and was partially dehydrated. I was not totally dehydrated, because a living person is always somewhat “hydrated”. I got an I.V. intravenous for fluids and recovered in about 24 hours.
          But what brought on my greater and uncomfortable symptoms was not the original “tummy ache” but my lack of hydration.

[_06_]    Right now, one of the coronavirus dangers – for you and for me – is that we will become partially or fully dehydrated not from the virus but from fear, anxiety, stress.
          C.S. Lewis wrote that what God want us to be concerned about is what we can and will do, during a crisis, during any crisis.
          The evil spirit, the devil, on the other hand, wants us to focus on what will happen to us (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, New York: Harper Collins, 1996, Ch. 6, p. 25) In other words, evil spirit wants us to focus on our fears.
          However, fear becomes much easier to comprehend and to to exercise some self-control when we understand what we can and will do, rather than focusing on the fear itself.
          Or as F.D.R., President Roosevelt famously said: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

[_07_]        So, yes,  be guarded but also be God-focused. Or, as the I heard from this recent sermon said, “God is bigger than the coronavirus.” (see above).
          Pray for both international and national leaders, for physicians, nurses, heath care workers, EMS, firefighters, police and first responders.
          Pray for the people of our country and also for the people of hard hit countries: China, Japan, Korea, Iran, Italy.
          Pray for the World Health Organization + Centers for Disease Control and for our V.P. and his team in the U.S.
           
[_08_]     We read in the 4th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, how we are to pray:
          “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, but prayer and petition, with thanksgiving make your requests known to God.”  (Philippians 4:6)
          So, yes, be “God-focused” prayerfully and also “guarded” practically.
         
[_09__]    At this time, we are also called to be “Gospel-proclaimers”
          The clinic run by Mother Teresa’s sisters had many poor, impoverished children and also adults who needed to be taken in.
          I learned, however, something about “proclaiming the Gospel” not just based on what these Missionaries-of-Charity-Sisters did when they were “open” and working.
          And, when they were “open”, there was always a new 911 emergency case.
          I learned by how the “closed” …  during the week, they were open from morning until night except for one day, only for a little while in the morning, then they closed the gate so that the could withdraw for prayer and also for service to those already inside.
          There was this interview with Mother Teresa herself in which she was asked “how long do you and your sisters pray and how does relate to your service work?”
          Mother Teresa: “Normally we pray one hour a day, but when we are very busy, we pray TWO hours a day…”
          In order for us to be Gospel-focused, we also need at times to withdraw, for silence and to recall that God is in charge, perhaps, also to increase our prayer time.
          We may need to turn off the news …to fast from the news once in a while, to withdraw.
          As Saint Paul writes to the Philippians as well:
whatever is true, whatever is…. Honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, think about these things, keep on doing what you have learned and heard and received and seen in me.  Then the God of peace will be with you.”  (Philippians 4:8-9)
          Yes, be guarded, be Gospel-proclaimers, and also be God-focused.  And, the God of peace will be with us. [_fin__]