Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hide and Seek (2014-04-27, Easter Octave Sunday)

[__01__]      Hide and seek.

The season of the resurrection for the first disciples was a time of both hiding and seeking.  (The first Easter Season was a time of both hiding and seeking for the first disciples).

At times, Peter, James, John and the apostles/disciples escaped from their rivals, from the authorities, the Jerusalem “police” by locking the doors.

They had hidden themselves in the Gospel we have just read.

[__02__]     At other times, they were seeking…

At other times, they moved at great speed.  On Easter Sunday, they were on the run, weren’t they? Running full speed ahead to the tomb where Jesus had been buried.

[__03__]      What I’d like to reflect on is the spiritual benefit, the spiritual grace of both hiding and of seeking.

I’m suggesting we practice our faith in both ways. And, in their own small community, even the locked-up disciples were not completely lost… at least, they had stuck together in prayer during their crisis.

We also can hear and live the Gospel both by the ways we hid and by the ways we seek.

[__04__]     For example, do we not believe that even in hiding, even on our escape routes, God can touch us.

In fact, we need times of hiding, privacy, and prayer to open ourselves to God’s grace.

We read in the Gospel of Matthew, “when you pray, close the door, go to your room, pray to your Father in secret and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6:6)

[__05__]     In this Sunday’s Gospel, the disciples are locked up in hiding together. Jesus arrived to speak about God’s mercy, his divine mercy which forgives our sins … in their community.

In community, we also learn about forgiveness … not only in knowing that Jesus died for everyone.  We learn about forgiveness – in community – by admitting our faults out loud – in confession or to another person.

We learn about forgiveness by acknowledging – with compassion – that we are all sinners.

Forgiveness does not simply come through a locked door in a private encounter…. It is a gift shared by all.

Forgiveness / mercy is the grace which also opens the locked door and teaches us to avoid judgment about the motives and malice of others.

We read in the letter of St. James,
let [everyone] be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”  (James 1:19)

Our Savior spoke first about forgiveness in the secure – safe house – location of the Upper Room. 

Receiving this grace – first in hiding or in a small community setting such as our own family – we then discover God’s mercy and presence outside our locked doors.

[__06__]     In the Gospel this Sunday, we read that Thomas the Apostle had not been physically present at the hideout of the Upper Room.

Thus, he missed appearance of the Risen Lord, he denied the fact – at least temporarily of the Resurrection.

Traditionally, we  would say that Thomas doubted… but to express doubt .. would mean that I would accept the possibility that what you were telling me is true.

This is doubt…. To doubt is to vacillate.. to go back and forth between Yes and No.

Thomas is not, exactly, doubting…Thomas was, for the moment, highly skeptical … and thus denying what he heard is possible.

Or… to be exact..he says that it is only possible if he himself also sees what they saw. He will not accept another person’s word for something so important.

Denial and skepticism can be helpful to us… if they were to help us reveal the truth to open a new door.

However, at times, denial and skepticism only keep us locked up. For Thomas was, for a while, locked up only in his own denial.

For example, an element of “denial” or skepticism is present in the endeavors to avoid deception… to avoid a lie …or to uncover something untruthful.  In other words, show me the money.

In Major League Baseball in the United States this past week, we read about the suspension of a New York Yankees’ pitcher, Michael PiƱeda whom the umpire caught breaking the rules.

What happened?   The opposing team and umpires were skeptical watching his pitching motion, his pitches and his preparation to throw. He had been using pine tar to gain a tighter grip, but this is not permitted as it makes the pitches more difficult for opponents.

His opponent – the Boston Red Sox – simply refused to accept that what he was doing was legal.  Their denial led to an investigation.

Skepticism can help us to find the truth … or end up in a 10-game suspension in the regular season.

[__07__]    On the other and, sometimes, skepticism causes us to avoid the truth or to ignore the truth …or to deny the truth.

[__08__]    For example, I may deny or refuse to accept advice that I receive.

This advice might mean I have to do something difficult, uncomfortable, unpleasant.

Or, I would only be willing to undertake this task – or change – if I were to have some guarantee. That’s all Thomas wanted… a guarantee.

To accept advice and help which is given to us lovingly, sometimes we are called to do more than seek physical evidence or material guarantees.

Blessed are we when we can accept God’s word …when we also who have not seen … can trust… can believe.

Then, we also – in prayer – can hide ourselves, immerse ourselves in God’s will and also … in action, as we read in the book of Isaiah the prophet … we can seek the Lord while he may be found and call upon him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6)


Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Stone Foundation (2014-04-20, Easter)

[__01__]     In this Easter Sunday Gospel, the stone or the rock in front of the tomb is moved out of the way.

This is the Resurrection. The stone is moved. But, where is this stone ultimately placed?

We could also say that the Temple authorities and Pharisees also want to move Jesus out of the way. They only want to place him in the tomb, behind a boulder. They want to get him out the way. They don’t know where to place the Savior in their lives.

We also may struggle, at times, about the location of the Lord or the Gospel in our lives.

[__02__]     In the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Jewish people received the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments.

Moses carries them down from Mount Sinai, he lifts them, they carry them.

But the task is not only to move the tablets but also to place them, to cherish them, and place them in the Temple, to build with them and to build their lives upon these commandments.

It’s not just about lifting the commandments but also putting them into place.

[__03__]     About 5 years ago, I visited my brother and his family in Los Angeles for a week.

Arriving there, he told me of a project – a patio – he was building and he asked if I could help.

Truly I wanted to help, but I also wondered what choice did I really have in the matter.

I woke up the next day to the sound of the truck and forklift delivering to the driveway about 15 4-foot-square pavers weighing about 30 pounds each.

The construction had already started.

But, the easy part was …
  • Getting the stone delivered
  • The easy part was carrying the stone from the driveway to the backyard.

The challenging part was leveling the ground with the sand and finding a place for each stone, finding the proper horizontal setting for each stone in this patio.

[__04__]     Living our faith is not only a one-time placement of stone, brick, mortar, steel at One Eagle Rock Avenue 50 years ago in this church building or 100 years ago as a parish in West Orange.

But also of continuously building with spiritual virtues of faith, hope and love… (1 Corinthians 13) and with the fruits of the Holy Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

These virtues make the building stronger.

[__05__]    Thus, the house and family are stronger against elements of selfishness or injustice, and against storms of bitterness and resentment that could break through the walls or roof.

Our lives are stronger against storms of injustice.

Our lives are more aligned – structurally and spiritually – to care for a very young person, a child… to care for an older person or one with special needs, to show affection to those from whom we do not receive affection.

The Gospel Good News and our Savior’s life is this stone foundation.

[__06__]    St. Paul summarizes this as a paradox, that the cross of Jesus is the stone that some will trip over…

St. Paul writes, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God … we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block…” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23)

St. Paul goes on to say that Jesus – crucified, died, risen from the dead – is a stumbling block for both his own people of Israel and those outside Israel.

As we read the prophecy of Psalm 118, he is the stone rejected by the builders (Psalm 118:22)

The people of the Lord’s day – even his closest disciples – were not sure where to place him as a stone, or how to build on his foundation.

This was also true for our brothers and fathers in faith, the Jewish people, receiving the Commandments, going through the desert with these tablets.

They had, at times, no spiritual or personal home for these stone tablets. They may have just wanted to unload them at the Temple or somewhere else. We may also wish to do so.

The people of the desert, with Moses, behave in ways that you and I also have done, regarding the stone tablets of the 10 commandments:

  • Keep holy the things of God … does anyone notice?

  • Honor thy father and mother … too difficult?

  • Protect the lives of others even if it means risking my own … to dangerous?

  • Protect another person’s reputation by avoiding the appearance of wrongdoing … that’s no fun !!

These are a few of the stones rejected by you and me, the builders.

The Good News is that when we strive to do these things we are building up the Church of God, the Body of Christ …and following God’s blueprint and architecture.

[__07__]    We are called to lift stones, carry them, and place them. We may need to smooth and level the area beforehand.

This would also involve using our gifts and talents, even if we were not inclined to do so.

For example, do we not have people in our lives from whom we learn God’s ways, from we learn to overcome our own laziness (at times), or our own complacency? This happens in school…..    

The voice of God will speak to us via our true friends, through a mother or a father, a family member, a teacher, a coach.

They push us to keep up our responsibilities, to invest and build with our talents rather than burying them in the ground.  (cf. Matthew 25:18)

Burying what we have only keeps Jesus underground, out of sight and our light under a bushel basket.

Easter Sunday reminds us to accept the Lord so that we can build with the talents and stone he has given us.

[__08__]   Easter Sunday also reminds us to come before the Lord with the stones of our obstacles, as Mary Magdalene does at the tomb.

These obstacles may be stones or barriers, partly of our own design or sub-contracting strategy.

We may find ourselves with some spiritual difficulty due to the past sinfulness by ourselves or by someone else.

In either case, we beg for God’s grace and forgiveness.

At such times, we are called to pray for God’s movement. There is movement on the first Sunday morning.

The stone rolls away due to an earthquake and seismic activity which shook the stone at the Lord’s tomb.

Consider that the Lord only had to move that stone a foot or two for Jesus to walk right out.

We also pray that his grace and mercy can move difficult stones of sorrow and grief. Maybe… just a little bit. And, thus that we can keep his commands not only as stones to be placed on shelf but as desires to be written in our heart.

On Easter Sunday, we recall that Jesus is this foundation, this stone … whom we may at times turn away from, but who also welcomes us back.

He is the stone … rejected by the builders … which has become the cornerstone. By the Lord has this been done,  it is wonderful in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:22-24)


Friday, April 18, 2014

Guilt is Good (2014-04-18, Good Friday)

Good Friday April 18, 2014

[__01__]    In the legal system – whether fictional or real – we observe prosecutors and lawyers competing for a victory in the final decision or verdict. 

The legal venue – also with hardwood and raised seating and “uniforms” and raised voices – is a court with wins and losses, the “timeouts” of objections, victories and defeats. The court of the courtroom is a competitive place, albeit without a scoreboard.

[__02__]   Why was Jesus the Nazarene on trial in this courtroom on Good Friday? He was on trial for what he said and did.

What I’d like to reflect on here is why this guilty verdict is a victory …not in a legal sense for Pontius Pilate, not for the Pharisees, but in a spiritual sense for you and me.

[__03__]    In the reading from the Prophet Isaiah for Good Friday, we read the charge, the indictment of Jesus as the suffering servant, that it was

“our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, by his stripes we were healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

During this Holy Week and Passion Week, we remember our Lord’s willingness to die for our sins, his willing acceptance of responsibility for our faults, our trespasses.

When you and I confess our sins, we acknowledge our part in this Good Friday trial.

Were you there…?  Yes, you were there, I was there, my sins and your sins were part of the indictment, also nailed to the cross. Our sins were put to death also. In this sense, the verdict is favorable to us… you and I did not have to stand in this particular trial as defendants.

[__04__]   And, while we were there at his trial… we believe that the Lord is also present and understands something of our trials, our difficulties due to sin and sinfulness – due to our own faults or those of others.

We were there. And, he is here.

[__05__]   From the Gospel, we can draw out some of the difficulties of the Lord’s trial, difficulties that we also experience in our own times of being indicted …  and accused.

[__05.01__]    One aspect of the trial is that … the judge and jury are biased.

Pilate asks a basic – and intelligent – question to the accusers, “What charge do you bring against this man [Jesus]?” (John 18:29)

The response is biased, and includes no “charge” only a prejudiced condemnation, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” (John 18:30)
Do we not encounter individuals with biased and prejudiced views against us?

We may offer them the truth, the truth of our Catholic faith, worship, morals, but we encounter people for whom the truth is meaningless.

Pilate says, “What is truth?”(John 18:38)  The crowd says, “We have no king but Caesar.”  (John 19:15_)

The Good Friday trial reminds us to persevere, to search our consciences even if we experience such bias from the so-called judges and juries.

Guilt can be a victory.

[__05.02__]    Another aspect of this trial is the unreliability of the witnesses.

Jesus himself is a witness, a witness in his own defense, saying, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the Temple area … Ask them. They know what I said.”  (John 18:20-21)

But this evidence did not satisfy the judge or jury And, the testimony was was not made by any one but Jesus. Meanwhile, the star student – Peter – was trying to cut a deal or go into the witness protection program.

In our struggle, we may also feel alone or isolated without sufficient evidence or witnesses on our side.

At such times, we put ourselves before the Cross, to embrace, to touch, to kiss his struggle for our sin.

Our Lord’s acceptance of guilt for our sins becomes our forgiveness, our release from punishment.

His guilt is good news. His guilt is our victory.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stay Awake (Palm Sunday, 2014-04-13)

Sunday April 13, 2014 /    Palm Sunday  Title: Stay Awake

[__01__]   Stay awake. Three times we read that the disciples fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane in the Gospel Book of Matthew, chapter 26.   Our Savior had told Peter, James, and John and the Twelve,

“My soul is sorrowful even until death. Remain here and keep watch with me. ” (Matthew 26:38)

Then we read Jesus’s alarm and interruption of their dreams,

  • “found them asleep” (Matthew 26:40)
  • “once more he found them asleep” (Matthew 26:43)
  • “are you still sleeping” (Matthew 26:45)

[__02__]    Starting our Holy Week, this Palm Sunday, we make an effort toward wakefulness, alertness … including our worship and liturgies here in Our Lady of Lourdes Church –

  • Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7:30 pm

  • Good Friday, reading of the Passion at 3:00 pm and Good Friday evening Stations of the Cross at 7:30 pm

  • Also on Good Friday, the Living Stations of the Cross will be presented at St. Joseph’s Church by our combined Lourdes/St. Joseph youth group, Friday at 7:30 pm.

  • Our Saturday Easter Vigil at 7:30 pm invites us to keep watch as we welcome 3 newly initiated members of our church and parish … and we continue with Easter Sunday Mass at 7:30, 9:30, 11:30 am.

  • REMINDER – there will be no Saturday 5:30 pm Mass next Saturday.

[__03__]   “Stay awake” is the  Lord’s call to us.  Can we respond?

Yes, we can respond… yet, this wakefulness and strength also requires us to REST, to RETREAT, to step away …

This journey into the Garden of Gethsemane for the disciples was such a retreat. Unfortunately, they were not sufficiently rested.

To undertake an serious or strenuous activity – mental or physical – requires rest.

Yet, do we not also require SPIRITUAL rest … spiritual retreat?

“Rest” or “retreat” is not merely relaxation or entertainment. It may include, but is not limited to, sleep.

This rest gives us the energy necessary to stay awake.
And, for 40 days of Lent, we have been endeavoring to gain this spiritual rest, this rest and peace in our hearts and souls.

(This is also a rest and practice that benefits us all year long).

[__04__]    We have been resting and retreating by our – PRAYER.

In prayer, we examine our lives in silence. We listen for God’s word and inspiration.  This coming Holy Thursday night, after Mass, we can sit before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle to pray. 

This is a place of rest every day and also during our First Friday Nocturnal Adoration in the chapel.

Prayer gives us the time to open the door to God’s grace and courage to face difficult challenges and persevere in our steps on the walk and way walk of the cross.

[__05__]   We have been resting and retreating by our – FASTING …and by our sacrifice of material things

“Fasting” and/or abstaining from meat on Fridays of Lent are two traditional ways – regular ways – that we say NO to something that may seem inconsequential….
We learn to say NO to something small and material… so that we can learn to YES and NO in larger commitments.

And, we learn to focus on spiritual gifts of love, peace, joy…
we read in the letter to the Hebrews, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Hebrews 13:5)

Moreover, we simply stay more “awake” to what we have rather than trying to gain more.
Messages of pleasure and convenience are attractive and attention-grabbing… but do they really wake us up? Or put us to sleep?

By our practice of fasting, we are also resting from material convenience, and keeping our heads up on the way of the cross.

 [__06__]   We have been resting and retreating by our – ALMSGIVING or CHARITABLE GIVING.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we read this reminder to be generous as Jesus was in his ministry, and in handing over his life..

“In all things, I have shown you that by so toiling [or working] one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35)

Here in our parish family, we are grateful for the efforts of many to keep both our faith and faithful charitable works alive.   This is in our monthly food collection for St. John’s in Newark, our visits to our local soup kitchen, the generous contributions you make to our seminary, to Deacon Pedro Repollet’s formation here and to all of the deacons whom we have known here.  

You have given generously. These gifts help us all to stay aware and stay balanced on the way of the cross.

[__07__]    This Holy Week, we are also called to keep watch, to pray for God’s protection through our prayer, fasting, almsgiving, whether our yes or open or closed, day or night.

I invite you to reflect on this prayer, traditionally a night-time prayer, a reminder that we are always in the garden, always on retreat …and always – continuing our journey with our Savior –

“Protect us, Lord as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep that awake we may keep watch with Christ and asleep, rest in his peace. AMEN.”  [__fin__]   

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Value of a Life (2014-04-06, Lent)

Sunday April 6, 2014 /    Lent, 5th Sunday of Lent      Title:  The Value of a Life

[__01__]   We read this Sunday the Gospel Book of John, Chapter 11, the raising of Lazarus from the tomb.

What is the value of a life? What is the value of a life?

[__02__]   This is a question asked – either aloud or silently – at the time of a person’s death.

It was, perhaps, also asked in Bethany outside the tomb or in the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.

What is the value of a life?

At the person’s funeral Mass, or wake, or in conversation, we recount the achievements, of a dear friend or family member, a spouse, a parent, a child.

We did this for our dear friend and pastor, Monsignor Joe, Father Joe Petrillo … since December.

We tell of his sense of humor, his love for laughter, his telling of stories, his prayer.

[__03__]    And, we tell these stories and measure a life based on a history, a shared journey with the deceased person.

There is a value to life … something that is not material, a value which endures even if the person is no longer with us.

[__04__]    In the Gospel, this Sunday, Lazarus of Bethany has died. His sisters, Martha and Mary, are mourning, grieving.

Lazarus has died. Does his life have value?  Jesus, our Savior, encouraged Martha and Mary and everyone that the life of Lazarus has value even in death.

Martha’s viewpoint – Martha’s profession of faith  - is initially incomplete.

What do we hear from Martha?

“I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11: __)

This is correct. However, Lazarus is not simply “valuable” to God or to us because … (a) he used to be alive… or (b) he will one day in the future be in heaven.

When we pray at this Sunday Mass or at any Mass for a deceased person, we are also praying for a person alive before God and we are praying for this living individual person to be judged mercifully before God.

Their life has value now – in the present.

[__05__]      Even if Lazarus had not come out of the tomb, his life would still have had a present and individual value before God.

Raising Lazarus from the tomb, Jesus makes explicit that the even the deceased person has an individual identity, destination …and destiny. Jesus spoke about this individual destinay at the Last Supper --

John 14:1-4 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” 

*** PAUSE ***

[__06__]    What is the value of your life? Of my life?

At times, we may feel buried or locked up in a tomb due to sinfulness, to our faults, due to brokenness.

To acknowledge and know our sinfulness is an experience of humility … and we could say of death.

Also, from the Gospel of John we read, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. ”  (John 12:24)
When we discover our sins, we also recognize that we are – in a sense – buried. But we are not buried alone… we are buried with Christ also at the door of the tomb.

What we may feel is that
  • We are still breathing but the breath has been knocked out of us…
  • We may feel immobilized
  • We may wonder… does my life have value?

Yes, your life – my life – has value.

We are, however, due to sin and brokenness… the buried seed in the ground.

With God’s grace and forgiveness – and absolution of the sacrament of penance – we come out of the ground.

[__07__]   Also ,though buried .. we still have value. The seed has value even before the spring bloom ..

In a similar way, we – as sinners – have value even before we have been forgiven.

Our Lord seeks out the 1 individual lost sheep, lost coin, lost and prodigal daughter and son.

As we read in the Gospel, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Luke 15:7)

Our life has value – now.

We discover this value – ourselves – turning back to God to receive his grace each day, responding the Lord’s call to come out…

“Lazarus, Come out.” (John 11:43)

[__fin __]