Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Increase is Good News [Christmas 2014] (2014-12-25)

[__Christmas 2014__]  

[__01_]   The increase is Good News.

An increase is good news.

We have just read from the second chapter of the  Gospel Book of Luke, the account of the census – by the Roman Emperor, at the time at which our Blessed Mother Mary  and St. Joseph were expecting the birth of Jesus.

Our Lord and Savior, as one member of 3-person household with its genealogical and geographical origin in the little town of Bethlehem of Judea, was counted in this census.

The increase in the population was – and is – good news.

[___01.01__]   In our country, in the United States, our government takes a census every decade – 1990, 2000, 2010  and there would be one scheduled for 2020.

Is the census always good news?

In any case, it is news, newsworthy.  And,  certainly, senators and state governors of the can find numbers – statistics – to celebrate ; others, to lament.

From a socioeconomic or political standpoint, the statistics of the census could be perceived – or presented - as either good news or bad news.

[__02__]  In the Gospel, the census is good news.

In a reflection and Christmas sermon, St.  Ambrose of Milan viewed the census as an example of the division between

  • Heaven and Earth
  • God and Caesar

That is, we are called to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and to God,  the things which are God’s.

[__03__]  In the first census, Caesar appears to display and command all authority. Joseph and Mary, at an inconvenient time, are forced to relocate for this population headcount.

[__04__]  However, is there not a second spiritual census takeing place. The shepherds are being counted, well after  dark – after  the “official” counters have gone home – and their increase, each of them being counted …not just a head being counted, but a whole body and soul …their presence is Good News.

[__05__]  In the census or  the gathering – the communion – of believers, Jesus is  counting us and  also challenging us as individuals.

Was this not true of the shepherds – perhaps a small minority– whom Caesar might have missed.

God is also inviting us to be counted and, at times, to be part of the courageous, the brave, one or two or three to go ahead to Bethlehem, as the shepherds did, to go and adore him.

How can we participate in this  journey and census enrollment?

Are there not some similarities between Caesar’s census and God’s census?

[__06-messengers__]    I think we’ve all heard of episodes and groups of people unable or unwilling to respond to the U.S.  Census counters.

The census workers are ignored, their  paperwork discarded.

And, indeed, we may feel threatened or  inconvenienced by a census, by a request for information about our backgrounds, history, countries of origin.

Even though we may answer anonymously, we also provide information to someone whom we do not know.

The census requires trust, confidence in a messenger, a delegate….

However,  God also sends his messages, his word to us also through delegates.  Shall we speak to them? Listen? Let them in the door? YES.  In this way, we would encounter the Lord reflected in the image of others.

Yes, it is important that we speak to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit directly – directly through our own adoration [nocturnal and/or daytime] of Jesus – in the Holy Communion – whether  in Eucharistic Adoration, in prayer in church before or after Mass, or at home.  We are called to speak with – and  listen to – him directly.

However, we are also called to listen to his word brought to us through our family, our loved ones …which may not come through the voice of an angel,  but nevertheless be a call manifesting God’s love.

We can be counted by these delegates, by the people sent into our lives by God.  Our count, our inclusion in the final statistics, our presence in the census, is Good  news.


The census relies on honesty. We can only hope that the government would take our honest census answers and, thus, implement honest solutions, honest infrastructure, honest taxation and other programs.

The Lord’s census also asks for our honest repentance, our truthfulness. Just as he gave honest answers even to those who would ignore  him – even crucify him – we are called to  honesty, integrity and to avoid sinfulness.

In this we are enrolled, counted.

The increase is good news. 


Does a census count – or population statistic – bring us together  or   drive us  apart?

Certainly, the ideal calls for unity. This is true even in a material and earthly and  political sense.

The census – with all its pie charts and  statistics and numbers, percentages and  percentiles -  is also endeavoring to communicate that we are still one country, even  with many differences.

Certainly in 2014, we see the importance of unity and solidarity, community and family.

Certainly, the danger exists that we could – at times – separate out the “healthy” versus the “sick” in an infectious disease crisis, in our country or in another country. In fact, we are one BODY. Each of us, being counted, and following Christ’s way of compassion, strengthens the one body.

Certainly, the danger exists that we would separate out the “law enforcer” from the “law abiding citizen” …. But this would cause a breakdown of public trust. We are all called to keep justice alive in our hearts, to protect one another …and also to support those who protect us. Each of us, being counted, and following God’s justice, strengthens the one body.

Certainly, the danger exists that we would separate ourselves by various ideologies. But it was as true on the Gettysburg battlefield as it is today in our country, our church, and our family that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Jesus used this phrase to predict that evil would not triumph because, evil and injustice and dishonesty are – each of them – divided. Goodness will triumph, because choosing the good – even though painful or inconvenient – brings us closer, brings us life.

Each of us being counted – and choosing good over evil – strengthens the one body of Christ.

And, God’s spiritual census is also about our unity as one body, one communion.

And,  cannot our spiritual examination – our examination of conscience – help us to grow in unity, solidarity, compassion, love for others so that we can recognize our responsibility to build up the  one and only one  Body of Christ,  thus to avoid sinfulness, find salvation, help others to be counted there as well by our example in word and action and thus to be counted in God’s census.

The increase is good news.    [__fin__]

Curious? (Advent) (2014-12-21)

21 December 2014    Sunday of 4th week Advent

Title: Curious ?

[__01__]  This is the Gospel episode of the Annunciation, the Birth of the Messiah, the Birth of  our Savior, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to the world.

What would our disposition – our attitude be toward announcements [annunciations] – or questions – which we had not anticipated or expected?

[__02__]     CURIOSITY?

Our first reaction might be curiosity. We curious regarding the behavior of certain people or curious regarding the turn or consequences of certain events, for the better or for the worse.

Curiosity is a neutral state, a neutral gear in which we neither RESIST nor OPPOSE  new idea, person, or plan.

We are simply curious.

[__03__]    In this first chapter of Luke, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named and Joseph ….

…and Mary is greatly troubled, yet manfests, FIRST, her curiosity which, at this point, is also an act of FIDELITY and HOPE.

“How can this be?”

Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, is curious.

[__04__]    We have, at times, been warned about excesses in curiosity, or inquisitiveness. Sometimes, we could bother another person with many questions.

Curiosity, or “care” according to Shakespeare and one of his contemporaries, is the great pitfall for a animal with an otherwise promising career of nine lives. Curiosity could be fatal.[1]

Indeed, curiosity may not be a downfall as much as a distraction or hindrance.

Under certain circumstances, curiosity is a danger.

[__05__]  Does my curiosity lead to fear – or to faith?

Does my curiosity enable me to follow God’s commands, to follow the commands of my parents, my teachers, my coaches, especially when I do not comprehend them… or does my curiosity become an obstacle?

[__06__]   I recall this encounter with a player on one of my teams….he was truly one of our best, most talented, most gifted, strongest, tallest, most intelligent…and, possibly, also the most curious.

No one could figure him out.

Many times, the coach would correct him, ask him to work harder and he would resist, fight back.   He would not accept the coach’s direction.

When asked about his attitude –and his bitterness -- he concluded that he had figured the coach out… he had figured out the coach that the coach wanted to make him angry so that he would play harder.

No, the coach does not want you to play harder because he’s angry at you …or because he wants you to be angry… he wants you to play harder because he knows you are capable of doing so.

This player could not figure out what question to ask. Fortunately, he turned around… but it took several months.

[__08__]  God does not want to take our curiosity from us…any more than he would take our free will from us.

It is curiosity which enables the Blessed Mother to question and to believe.

Also, it is curiosity that enables her to receive the idea that God – infinitely powerful – could create a Savior among us, both human and divine, both all powerful and vulnerable. 

A Savior who imitates our physical appearance so that we would imitate his divine love, his mercy.

This is the Incarnation, so that we would be ever curious, ever closer to an understanding of his knowledge,and love  using all of our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength. (cf. Mark 12:30)

[__08__]   Curious.

If you were to sit down around with Joe, Joseph, Monsignor Joe, at the end of a long day, perhaps, a difficult day, this would be a word that he would use.

Rather than telling you or me who frustrated or annoyed he was at a person’s behavior or a turn of events, he would often say…

Well, it was curious what the person said or why the person acted this way.

Monsingor Joe/Father Joe favored this word to describe human nature, human failing. 

Also, instead of demeaning someone’s behavior or actions – even someone’s outrageous action – he would find them … well .. CURIOUS.

It was curious. He was curious.

[__08__]   And, this was also Monsignor’s patient, prayerful attitude, hoping for more information before he would make any final determination.

è à insert humorous phone call example.... Ash Wednesday…”what time was your last Mass, i.e., the one I just missed?” ….”when is the next bus to NY, to the Port Authority?”

Also, in his ministry, priesthood, in his role as Personnel Director, in his calling as a school teacher and school Principal Monsignor trusted that he was doing God’s work … and that he was not meant to know everything now.

Curiosity is a key to our lives, curiosity enables the Blessed Virgin Mary to say yes, in complete freedom, love, even though questions would have remained.

Curiosity enables you and me to answer the call of God, just as it enabled Monsignor Joe to serve us here at Our Lady of Lourdes for many years, as pastor, priest, father, and brother.


[1] Much Ado About Nothing (1599) à “ What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Life Begins in Water (2014-12-14)

3rd Sunday of Advent, 14 December 2014

● Isaiah 61:1-2a ● Psalm / Luke 1:46 ● 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 ● John 1:6-8, 19-28

[__01]     This Sunday, in the Gospel, we read that John the Baptist was conducting his ritual in the wilderness, in the wild, at the River Jordan.

John is asked why he was baptizing. Pharisees, priests, Levites had gone off road to the wilderness themselves and were asking – “why do you baptize if you are not the Christ, or Elijah or the Prophet?”(John 1:25)

John responded that his baptism is a ritual which prepared his followers – and also prepares you and me – for a later baptism and for a personal encounter with our Savior.

John was proclaiming that the journey to our Savior began then – and would begin now – with the baptism of repentance …with a baptism in water.

Life begins in water. 

[__02]        Life begins in water.

We know this scientifically and physically also.

In many settings and in many crises, water would not be a resource to be squandered or taken for granted.

Deprived of water, we would not survive very long, though we might have other forms of nourishment.

When NASA and other space agencies launch their probes and orbiters and satellites into space and land on other planets, they are searching for – among other things – signs of water, ice, glaciers … for there is water, there is life.

However, it’s also true that living things –marine life and you and me – require more than water to survive. Life begins in water, but does not end in water.

[__03]        The experience of forgiveness begins with this baptism of repentance on the bank of the Jordan. This was John the Baptist’s message.

However, this is not the end of the message or the end of the journey to forgiveness and salvation.

There is a difference between the baptism of repentance and the baptism of forgiveness. And, I think we have experienced – or seen in others – the first without the second …or the journey of the first baptism to the second baptism.

An example given by Jesus would be the parable of the Prodigal Son.  This prodigal son – the younger son – in the parable traveled – ran away -- to a far country, spent all his father’s money, became destitute.

At this low point – emotionally, spiritually, not to mention FINANCIALLY in his bank account – he repents. This is the baptism of repentance.

The prodigal son returned home, declaring to his father, “I have sinned against heaven and against you and I no longer deserve to be called your son.” (Luke 15:21)

Life begins with the the water of repentance.

Should it end there? Would his new life end there?

At times, I think you and I have experienced this baptism of repentance only.

[__04]      What is this repentance, to us?

Consider the times we have experienced the –

  • Cold shoulder
  • Silent treatment
  • A “time out”
  • On the playing field, the penalty box, the yellow card, the red card, the foul, something that would relocate a player to the sideline temporarily or permanently during a competition.

And, play resumes after the penalty period starts.

For example, if were to offend someone and this person were to stop talking to us or were to put some wall literally or figuratively, we would probably the get the message. There would be a new boundary due to some major fault or minor fault.

Could life continue after the fault, after the sin? Yes, if someone were to show his or her sorrow,  his or her repentance. Life continues, begins in water.

Would not this have been the path for the Prodigal Son?

He was even willing to accept the BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE, to accept this and ask nothing more, saying, “treat me as you would one of your hired workers” (Luke 15:19)

This baptism of repentance was several steps higher– socioeconomically and spiritually – from his destitution and despair.  His father’s hired workers had more to eat.
Life began with repentance. However, the Good News is that God would not stop with repentance. Life continued after repentance.

We know that the Prodigal Son is welcomed home, he is forgiven.

[__05]        The Good News is that life begins in water. From the water, we are also invited to come up, to ascend for air, for God’s grace.

The people of this Gospel reading had gone into the wilderness, exited from their regular routine, to repent. The life of salvation began at the River Jordan, in water.

This, however, was leading to a greater baptism and a greater reconciliation.

And … for the sacramental life of conversion – and our personal encounter with our Savior, Jesus – this is also true. It is a journey from repentance to forgiveness.

In this journey, we are not meant simply abandoned in lamentation over the past.   We are not simply being convinced, or persuaded to regret the past, to regret  history.

Yes, we are called to sorrow, to contrition for our sins. Life begins with this repentance. Life begins in water.

However, life also continues on dry land and in our regular lives and beyond the wilderness.

Life continues in the reconciliation and in the peace of the sacraments of the Church.

[__06]       We read in the Gospel of John that …[CCC 1470]…. In converting to Christ through penance and faith – i..e, through repentance, you and I – pass from death to life and “do not come into judgement”. (John 5:24, CCC 1470)

That is, when we confess our sins, we are encountering again the grace of our baptism, the grace of renewal and of reconciliation with God and with others.

We celebrate this every week here at Lourdes. We celebrate this on request as priests of the parish and this coming Wednesday December 17th, 7:30 pm at St. Joseph’s Church in our Advent Penance Service.

This grace is not only a deletion of the past but an encouragement for the future that we are made whole and that we are invited to cooperate with God’s grace.

[__07]       This sacramental forgiveness – this baptism of forgiveness -- through God’s grace – practically which we ourselves would not be able to complete.

Consider – if we have offended 1 person in a private setting, it is certainly possible – under certain circumstances – that we could go and admit our fault aloud and be reconciled to our spouse, co-worker, brother or sister, friend, to another person.

However, there many other times and circumstances in which it would not be possible – or would not be prudent – to admit our faults to every person we have offended.

The sacrament of penance and reconciliation gives us access – with God’s help – to both the baptism of repentance and the baptism of forgiveness. We can confess our sins aloud – through a priest – to begin this healing process.

Life, which begins in the water of repentance, continues in forgiveness and reconciliation.

Pope John Paul II -- St. John Paul II – wrote[1] – “this reconciliation with God leads to other reconciliations which repair the breaches [brokenness]  caused by sin [sinfulness] / [fault]” …

[As a forgiven person, you I are reconciled with our inmost being, our inner sense of truth. Moreover, don’t we also realize – through forgiveness that we still possesses our freedom and goodness, also given by God. [We are] reconciled with our brothers and sisters. [We are] reconciled with the Church. ]  (CCC 1469)

And, our journey from the privacy of the wilderness, and the waters of the river and back to the city, in the words of John Paul II, “we are reconciled with all of creation.”  (CCC 1469)


[1] CCC 1469 (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Make Straight His Paths (2014-12-07, Advent)

Advent, 2nd Sunday -- 7 December 2014

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 ● Psalm 85 ● 2 Peter 3:8-14 ● Mark 1:1-8

[__01]      On this second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist speaks about the path, the highway for Jesus our Savior.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” (Mark 1:2)

In this regard, John the Baptist is inviting us to build a path for someone else.

This is a path which we are building for someone else, not only for own personal access and right of way.

Have we ever been involved in such a construction, such paving, such roadwork?

Also, is there a benefit to the construction of a road, a path, to be used by someone else?

Yes, I think we have built such roads. And, the Good News is that there is such a benefit.

[__02]      FOR EXAMPLE –

As younger individuals – and sometimes we are grown ups too – we are often building a road, a path, defined by someone else.

As children, did we not learn – or do we not learn – to carry out commands at the will, at the order of another person?

For example, a child learns to follow certain paths or roads because of instructions not because of intelligence.

For example, a child may know nothing about electrical wiring, natural gas, or flammable materials, yet – unless the child were Stephen Hawking of Cambridge – the child will be told to be careful around – or to stay away from – electricity, natural gas, flammable items.

He or she may not know why. Yet, the child does so because the parent/teacher/loved one said so…

[__03]     We learn to make straight paths, to follow a path which others establish in our lives.

“Honor thy father and thy mother.” (Exodus 20:12). This is one way of making this path straight.

Later, with greater awareness and conscience, we can make more of our own decisions.

Yet, there is benefit to our acceptance, our willing service to make straight the paths of someone else.

[__04]     We also make straight the Lord’s path by our willingness to put our frustrations, our uncertainty, our fear, before God.

This part of our Advent journey is not only to consider the road with its attributes of smoothness or speed limit.

We are also called to consider the direction and destination we are heading.

[__05]     Consider that we may encounter people in our lives toward whom we act in very predictable ways.

For example, toward one person… I tend to …

  • WITHDRAW OR AVOID HONESTY – that is, I do not want to talk or communicate

  • EXPERIENCE FRUSTRATION / ANGER – I lack sufficient patience

  • FEEL GREAT JOY – I seek this person out … I enjoy his or her attention or presence.

All of these are paths which we follow. The question is …are they the straight path on which God Himself is also present…or are they the well-worn path that is straight and direct only because we have walked down it with frequency and regularity?

[__06]      The traffic many travelers – or many pedestrians or vehicles – will define a path a trail over which we can walk or ride.

There are trails at Eagle Rock Reservation, South Mountain Reservation and other forested areas which exist not only because they have been marked by park rangers but also because they have been traveled over, walked over, by many visitors.

[__07]      Thus, it is difficult, challenging to choose a new path, a new road when the familiar one may be so well known or recognized.

[__08]      To believe in God’s commands and guidance for us, we would  be invited each day to consider that we are at a crossroads.

We are also at a crossroads in things we are asked to vote for in the election booth/ballot box, to pay for, to select…

Are we not challenged each day to consider what technologies, what ethical choices are going to make our lives better..and which ones may actually take away or reduce our quality of life?

For example, currently, a bill – a potential new law – is in the New Jersey State Legislature under consideration which would give a physician much greater permission – with the patient’s consent – to take the life of a terminally ill person.

What I am referring to is a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide. Here, I am not referring to the administration of pain relief or palliative care which could – as a secondary consequence – bring a person’s life to an end.
What I am referring to is a measure that would permit the physician and patient to choose when life would end… even against the straight path of natural causes and God’s plan.

As Catholics and Christians, we believe our lives are in God’s hands. We make the path straight by entrusting our lives to him. We make the path straight by protection of life at all stages.

Thus, we might ask –

  • Am I making a straight path; or ..
  • Am I going down the path that is popular, well worn by others…?

We are also called to ask – do I live by God’s justice or by my own?

Am I living by God’s justice or by my own?

Am I making his path straight …or only my own vehicle faster and my ride smoother?

At times of uncertainty or change, we might ask if our decisions are guided by God’s prudence, God’s wisdom?

Or, am I only doing what makes me the driver more comfortable?

And, at times of distress or fear,  we might ask if we acting compulsively (running the other direction …or simply stopping on the side of the road) …or are we acting courageously to continue to the destination to which God is calling us.

Advent is our call to continue a journey with his help to make straight his paths by our own construction and renovation of the road.