Sunday, February 23, 2014

Love Thine Enemy (2014-02-23)

This is my homily for Feb. 23, 2014, 7th Sunday  (year A).

Readings are: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 | Psalm 103 | 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 |  Matthew 5:38-48

[__01__]  In the Gospel this Sunday, our Lord Jesus speaks about “enemies” and “love of enemies”.

One scholar/commentator[1] observes that that, in some languages, the same word would be used to refer to –
  • Stranger
  • Foreigner
  • Adversary
  • Enemy

Of course, depending on the context, the word would have different meanings. But, it would be the same word.

In the context of St. Matthew’s Gospel, the “enemy” is the person by whom we feel – or are - persecuted.

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)

We have experiences of sorrow and persecution  in our lives … these can teach us about both the possibilities and the promises of love.

[__02__] For example …

[__02.01__]  TRUTHFULNESS – telling someone the truth about his or her actions, that his or her actions may cause harm.

This may lead to a backlash, a persecution for the sake of righteousness.

[__02.02__] GENEROSITY – giving time, resources, money to another person.  Sometimes, others will take advantage of our kindness.  They might, so to say, “press our buttons”.

Being generous, we could be persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

[__02.03__]  We could also be – or feel – persecuted if we were to take a Christian-Catholic stand for or against certain issues.

Today, we might fear persecution,  speaking up for the historic traditions marriage between a man and a woman.

We might fear persecution, speaking up about certain medical advances, scientific procedures in stem-cell research, the use of human embryos in the laboratories of government or private enterprise.

These and other stances may reduce our approval rating, our popularity.  Persecution.

[__04__]    By whom are we being persecuted? Is our persecutor in hiding somewhere, on a CIA watch list?

Is the person we regard as “persecutor” or adversary only identifiable by NSA phone tapping or by a Pentagon/Department of Defense drone?

If this were the case, we should definitely turn off all electronic devices and bow our heads … not just in church for Mass but everywhere.

In fact, our “persecutor” is not necessarily a stranger or a foreigner or in another hemisphere or time zone.

Persecution is often a local  - not an international – incident.

[__05__] At times, we may feel persecuted even in our own circle.

The Good News of the Gospel is challenging.

For what is the natural and logical reaction to persecution or affliction?

Initially, the reaction is ___ bitterness ____ distaste __ anger.

Feeling persecuted, we may also feel exploited, cheated. We may want to end a relationship or relocate far, far away.

Yet, I am called – you are called – in this gospel to “love your enemy” … to love the one by whom we are persecuted.

The biblical message – in both the Books of Matthew and Leviticus – are challenging.

  • To love those from whom we receive no recompense, no return.
  • In Leviticus, we read, “cherish no grudge, take no revenge.” (Leviticus 19:18)

Avoiding grudges, avoiding revenge is not simply a matter of avoiding certain people. Rather, this is a call to imitate God – as Father,  Son, Holy Spirit

We imitate our heavenly Father who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)

Of course, our affections and emotions are involved in love. These emotions or affections may inhibit – or prevent – me in certain behaviors. For example, I may not

  • Send greeting cards
  • Talk/text/email just to say I Love you.

But, while emotion is important, does it fully inhibit my freedom …my freedom to love in other ways?

[__06__]  Freedom and love go together. No one can make me love…or make me not love.

Nevertheless, sometimes we – like the Pentagon or the President  -- will define our freedom only by what an “enemy” or adversary or persecutor is doing or not doing.

But, the Gospel challenge again for our local relationships.

We would be mistaken if were to let our freedom be undermined – taken away – by those who persecute us.
St. Francis de Sales writes that our devotion, our love, our freedom, can be undermined – inhibited. This is true, for example, in our attitude toward those with whom we lack natural affection or emotional love…

For example, St. Francis de Sales writes that…

  • A person may say many prayers … but remain angry, proud, slanderous toward family or associates.

  • A person may give generously but does not open his heart to forgive his enemies.

  • A person may [EVEN] forgive enemies or forgive debts…but does so only because he or she feels forced / compelled.

The beauty of the Good News is both love and freedom.

God – as Father, Son, Holy Spirit – loves us even we sin, when we oppose him and that he patiently awaits our return.

In loving those who do not return our affection or charity – even an enemy – we go and do likewise. 


[1] Matthew 5:44 commentary in Jerome Biblical Commentary

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Forward (2014-02-16) 6th Sunday (A)

Readings: Sirach 15:15-20 | Psalm 119 |  1 Corinthians 2:6-10 |  Matthew 5:17-37

6th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year A.

[__01]   RED. YELLOW. GREEN.

The traffic light, across the street, at Eagle Rock and Main – and the traffic light at every intersection – will  display as RED, YELLOW, GREEN.

The color is the law – to STOP, MOVE WITH CAUTION, Or GO.

The law of the traffic light tells us when to move.

[__02]     There are other – in person - law enforcers telling us about movement.  The New Jersey State Trooper or West Orange Police Officer may say “proceed” or “pull over”

On the basketball court, soccer or football field, the referee can either stop the players/action by a whistle or restart the play with the same sound.

The referee is the law enforcer in the boundaries of the playing surface.

?? The rules are black and white ..and so is the referee’s uniform. ??

[__03]    In the Gospel this Sunday, our Lord and Savior, Jesus, speaks about the fulfillment of the law.

Jesus says, “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Then, the Lord gives us examples of what he expects of us, his followers, his disciples.
I think we are aware of how the law, the commandments invite us to

  • STOP (on RED) or

This is true in the 10 commandments.

It is also true according to other rule books ….  breaking certain rules, speed limits will  get us a warning or a mandatory court appearance and ticket.

But, is the law always a RED light? A RED card … or a stop on the shoulder of the Garden State Parkway or 280?

[__04]    We read today from the Gospel of Matthew, a continuation of the Sermon the Mount which we are reading on Sundays at this time of year.

Through this sermon, Jesus wants us to be aware of the way in which the law is also about GO ..the green light, the way forward.

[__05]    For example, the GREEN LIGHT of RECONCILIATION and FORGIVENESS..

In the Gospel, Jesus asks us about the spiritual roadblock that might exist between you and another person or between me and another person.

Jesus gives the example of “[bringing our ] gift to the altar and there recalling that a brother [or sister … or family member or friend] has something against us.”

With such a roadblock, we might imagine that the broken relationship, broken promise, or hurt feelings are a reason to STOP, to GIVE UP.

Jesus reminds us to GO with the GREEN LIGHT, and be reconciled.

Our experience of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation is not only about being reconciled to God but also to each other.

This is also an endeavor to bring peace to others and to ourselves.

As we read in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for the will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

[__06]    There is also the GREEN LIGHT of HUMILITY and COMMUNITY.  That is, our observance of rules, of order, of organization is not only good for me – keeping me out of trouble – but also for others.

In the classroom at school (or at work), the teacher expects us to obey certain rules about talking, walking, running, homework.

But, are these rules only RED LIGHTS? Only warnings about the impending doom of detention or summer school?

Jesus invites us to see the prohibitions and the boundaries in our lives as GREEN LIGHTS.  That is, by obeying the rules, I help everyone to go forward.

[_07]    There is also the GREEN LIGHT of purity ..and of chastity.

Sometimes, we see this only as a RED LIGHT..or about what we should not do.

Jesus gives a caution to all of us about the eyes, about the way we might be tempted to visualize with intense longing, with lust. Jesus calls this, “committing adultery in one’s heart.”
Is this commandment only a RED LIGHT?

This commandment and others remind us to turn our eyes first toward those we love, to turn eyes to God in prayer and repentance, so that he might guide us to still waters, to green pastures … to go forward.




Lights /Sochi Olympics (2014-02-09) 5th Sunday, A

Readings: Isaiah 58:7-10 | Psalm 112 |  1 Corinthians 2:1-5 |  Matthew 5:13-16

[__01]  In the Gospel this Sunday, we read the Good News about the bright lamp, the bright light on a lampstand.

We are reminded …. “[we do not] light a lamp and place it under a bushel basket, [the light / the bright light] is set  on a lampstand where it gives light to all in the house.” 

Being on the stand, being visible … for everyone to see – this is Good News.

[__02]     In another version – interpretation – we could say that being on the stand – or on the podium – and visible is also the best / good news for a competitor at the Winter Olympics, in Sochi, in Russia.

What enables a competitor / athlete to stand on the winner’s podium?

The speed skaters and ski jumpers of the United States, Russia, and other countries compete, aspire, and dream of making it to the stand, while hearing their national anthem played and national flag raised.

[__03]    Who is victorious – who will win --  the GOLD, SILVER, or BRONZE medals ?

According the Olympic ideal – Olympic “gospel truth” ? – the medal is worn by the hardest working[1], the most prepared, the most committed.

And, in this regard, sometimes those with the most “talent” or the most promise “on paper” or the most qualifications (historically) or the best statistics … may be defeated by the one who works harder.

Such is the ideal that we can watch on the NBC network from our own homes. Check your local listings.

[__04]    Jesus gives us examples of those who overcome great odds to become the light on a lampstand.

In the famous parable of the Prodigal Son, the Prodigal Son makes a race to the finish line. The “judges”, meanwhile, would not have expected him to persevere. He had, after all, wasted his inheritance, lots of money … and possible lots of time.

Yet, the Prodigal Son had the same spirit, the same will to survive, to live. Yet, he also seemed to lack the qualifications.

The Prodigal Son himself did not believe that he deserved to win [gain] his father’s favor or forgiveness, but he was willing to risk everything he could to reach home.

He put aside the bushel basket of darkness, to reach the lampstand of brightness, the “podium” of home. There is pleasant music and song there also.

For the Prodigal Son – and for all of us – faith – confidence in God – is manifested in his actions, in his efforts.

[__05]    In the Book of Isaiah, this weekend, we read about the connection between our faith and our actions.

  1. Share your bread with the hungry
  2. Shelter the oppressed
  3. Clothe the naked …
  4. Do not turn your back on your own.

Traditionally, in Catholic teaching, these are the corporal works of mercy.

In these actions, our light shines…

And, for these actions, we are also judged.

Is this similar to Olympic judging ???

Well, on the one hand, NO… it’s not a mathematical score of ZERO (0) to SIX (6).

Nevertheless, we are also striving each day … and accepting that “success” is not something we gain immediately.. but may take a lot of hard work…

Hard work … to.

  1. Share your bread with the hungry
  2. Shelter the oppressed
  3. Clothe the naked …
  4. Do not turn your back on your own.

By our Christian life, we can show that our concern – our love – is a matter not of immediate success but rather effort to seek God’s help and be his light.. on the lampstand the world.

[__06]    This Sunday, we also observe World Marriage Sunday with a special prayer for all husbands and wives in matrimony.

In this sacrament, husbands and wives are also called to works of mercy…

•Admonish the sinner
•Instruct the ignorant
•Counsel the doubtful
•Comfort the sorrowful
•Bear wrongs patiently
•Forgive all injuries
•Pray for the living and the dead

Marriage and family life invites us to do all of the above, giving and receving, and with compassion.

These works of mercy require effort on our party so that our light will shine in our lives and in our families ..

[1] (1 Corinthians 9:24-25) “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate [disciplined] in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown”

Presentation Feast (2014-02-02)

[__01]  This Sunday is the Feast of the Presentation – the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.

Being present – to be present … isn’t this one of the first things we learn in school? … one of the first things on which we are graded / evaluated / observed?

And, this “presence” or “absence” or attendance grade remains on our “report card” throughout our lives.

That is, you and I can be physically present sometimes… but not spiritually present.

Being present – physically and spiritually – we are able to love / forgive / speak / listen … and gather at table.  (?? Gather in classrooms wherever they are….??)

[__02]    This Sunday, we read about Jesus – the 1-month old child – being presented at the Jerusalem Temple

At this moment – 1 month … or to be exact 40 days since Christmas (his birth) – Jesus relies on Mary and Joseph to make him present.  
[__03]   The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord reminds us that Jesus is known, loved, recognized long before he can speak for himself…or show up to the Temple/school on time.

You and I also have intrinsic value in God’s eyes. This is true of every human life, every person regardless of your ability – or my abiltity to –

  • earn
  • produce
  • work
  • or show up on time…

Our value is measured – and given – by the love which God pours out to each of us.

[__04]    On December 20, 2013, we – at Our Lady of Lourdes – lost the physical presence in the death of our pastor, Monsignor Joseph Petrillo.

I myself served here at Lourdes from 2006 to 2009 as his assistant, parochial vicar.

Now, coming to Lourdes in a different capacity, to succeed him, I am grateful for your prayers and warm welcome.

I am also grateful for the dedicated and continuous presence of Father Edson Costa and for the administration of Monsignor Don Guenther from St. Joseph’s.

Father Costa and many of you here has helped the ministry and worship of Lourdes to continue.

This helped to make Jesus Christ present on Eagle Rock Avenue, Main Street …and in our homes.

[__05]   The Gospel Good News this Sunday is also that the child, Jesus, grows in wisdom and strength.

Monsignor Petrillo, in his years of ministry as both school high school principal and as pastor and priest… took great joy in children, in all of our children

He himself knew the importance of presentation …and of being present – both physically and spiritually.

[__06]   This Sunday – February 2, 2014 – also brings a kickoff and some special out-of-town visitors. There is also a big screen here…

This is the start of our Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.  Many of you have already received – or will soon receive – the brochure and official invitation about the appeal.

Presence is not only an individual grade on a report card or performance evaluation.

Presence is also a communal effort, an effort by our whole community to reach those – help those whom we could not do so on our own.

From the archbishop’s letter, we read that…

“The Archbishop’s Annual Appeal provides the poor with food, shelter and clothing; makes religious education, spiritual guidance and CYO athletics available for the young; insures the future leadership of the Church with seminarian education and training; and most importantly, brings Christ’s Good News to the people of the counties of Bergen, Hudson, Union and Essex …. ” … at schools, colleges, hospitals, jails/correctional facilities, and charitable ministries for the homeless, the hungry, individuals and families.

Our parish annual appeal goal is $29,800 …

If you have never made a gift to this annual appeal – or if you have not done so in several years – I ask you to consider joining us in this outreach.

The appeal helps us to make the Gospel known in place that we can only reach together… in our participation and presence.   [_fin_]  

St. Peter's River Edge Farewell (2014-01-26)

[__01]   In the Gospel this Sunday, we read about the call of Andrew, Peter, James, John.

They are being called from one state of life to another state of life?

Will there be a deal? An acceptance?

Will they sign on the dotted line?

Will they allow their lives to be transformed, changed by our Lord and Savior?

And, will they see this change …as an interruption ? or as a continuous journey?

[__02]   Of course, the disciples are not being offered a lucrative signing bonus or guaranteed contract.

Their reward – our reward – will be great in heaven.

Yet, they are being asked to entrust their lives to God.

And, at every new stage, new transition, we are also asked to make this same act of trust.

And, we might also say that we are also offered some “publicity”. Our lives – as Christ’s followers – are not the private following of a rule..but the public profession of our faith and love – to God and to each other.

Jesus says to Peter, Andrew, James, and John – and to us – that we are light of the world.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father”. (Matthew 5:14-15)

[__03]   Allowing your individual light – and my individual light – to shine, we are also called to use the natural gifts and talents we already have….

This is the message to the disciples from our Lord.  Peter, Andrew,  James, John already know how to fish…. The Lord is going to use these skills…

They know the land, the water, they know how to survive in rough weather. They know how to sail … they work as a team.

They have to maintain their boat, they have to fix leaks… recognize problems… fix small problems before they become big ones.

They will have to consider that even a few degrees of angle of course correction on the water … can make a big difference in their ultimate destination.

All of these skills will be necessary to them… as they move to their new calling as apostles…

[__04]   What is required of us as we move from one stage of life to another?

Do we not already have skills, knowledge, wisdom that will help us as we move from one stage to another…

Whether we are moving from the “book deal” to the “movie deal” … or from high school to college… or from a career to retirement…

In our prayer, and in our prayer at Sunday Mass, we are seeking this consistency, this guidance so that we can hear God’s voice without interruption…and that our lives at every stage may be continued … and that our light will shine more brightly.