Sunday, December 31, 2017

Holy Famly Sunday (2017-12-31)

[Holy Family Sunday, ]
••Sirach 3:2-6 •• Psalm 105  •• Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19 •• + Luke 2:22-40 ••

Title: “Do we get what we deserve? Holy Family Sunday

[__01__]  Walking home from school one afternoon, I was asked this question: why are you walking? Where is your bicycle?
          I had been hoping to avoid this question because the last time I saw my bicycle it was unlocked outside of school.
          You got what you deserved.  You left your bicycle – unlocked ??!!??   There was no hue and cry about crime rates or injustice.
          I simply got what I deserved, logical, like a scientific proof.
          The immediate consequence was that there would be more walking, still some cardio (cardiovascular exercise), but slower from home to school.
          I valued the bicycle and was now missing it.
[__02__]  It is Holy Family Sunday. We read in this Gospel about Simeon and Anna, the prophet and prophetesses of the Temple.  Both of them discover the newborn Messiah, Jesus, whom they see being brought to the Temple by Joseph and Mary.
          Simeon’s words form part of our traditional Catholic night prayer, a late evening reflection where we also naturally ask together with prayer with our Savior – what happened today? We may also, at times, ask – did I get what I deserved?
          Simeon is rejoicing because his prayers are answered.
[__03__]  This prayer was answered but it took quite a while.  Perhaps, Simeon had been disappointed with other Messiah candidates. Yet, he persisted in prayer.
          He know that he was missing something in his life – he persisted in prayer, persisted in asking, seeking, knocking.

[__04__]  We also see in Simeon that his prayer is not only for the SOLUTIONS.  Rather, Simeon is seeking a SAVIOR, and a PERSON. It is a reminder that Jesus comes to us personally.
          In our relationship and conversation with him – in prayer – we discover answers, we gain insight, we gain imagination and compassion.
          In our conversation – we may not gain the ANSWERS or INSIGHT or WISDOM we expected.  You and I are called to talk this out – in prayer with Jesus.
          Is there not an analog (not a perfect digital replication ..just an analog) in our relationships with others?
          That is, we talk things out with to others – we disclose ourselves to others – so that we are able not only to examine the other person – but also to examine ourselves.
          We want to understand not only what are missing but what we truly value.
          Was Simeon, from the outset, expecting a Messiah who would be an infant? Perhaps, not always. But, after years of prayer, he came to this realization. He had come to realize not only what he was missing – what he deserved – but what he truly valued.
[__05__]   This is Holy Family Sunday and we recall that it is in and through our families that we not only ANSWERS but QUESTIONS.
          We gain not only COMFORT and CONVENIENCE but also we have a place to share our SUFFERING and DIFFICULTY and what we are missing.
          From my own parents and family, I am grateful they taught me about friendship and love and that friendship begins not with ANSWERS, but with QUESTIONS.
[__06__]   Through the silent partnership and gift of my grandparents, the bike was replaced several months later.
          The Holy Family also reminds us that we experience Christ together – in moments of forgiveness and of crisis – and that he gives us more than we deserve.
          Jesus Christ is our true and greatest value.  [__fin__

Monday, December 25, 2017

Bethlehem is Crowded (Christmas 2017)

[Christmas]  ••Isaiah 9:1-6 ••Psalm 96••Titus 2:11-14 •• + Luke 2:1-14   /  

Title: “Bethlehem is Crowded.”

[__01__]  In this Gospel, we read about Bethlehem:  Bethlehem as a sacred place.
          A sacred place for the Jewish people, a sacred place for the Christian people in the Holy Land.
          And, Bethlehem is crowded.
          Bethlehem is overbooked and for a particular reason. It is because of the census which required Mary and Joseph – among many others – to go to Bethlehem for the census of the population by the Roman Empire. There are many people required to go to Bethlehem. As a result, they cannot find a room, or any space. There is no room at the inn.

[__02__]   It is a paradox that that Bethlehem should be crowded. Bethlehem is an out an out-of-the-way place, a back-water – up-river place - sort of like West Orange before Thomas Edison and electricity.
          And, later, Nazareth is considered similarly, an out-of-the way place. No one expects a great Messiah from there. So, it is a paradox that  Bethlehem should be crowded.
And, a paradox, that Jesus our Savior should be born.

[__03__]   And, he is ignored by the crowds. The only people who notice him are those who were not in the crowd. The shepherds were keeping their night watch over the flocks, out in the field. They were told by the angel to go and see Jesus, to encounter him.

[__04__]    So, Jesus is not even noticed by the crowd, part of the paradox that Bethlehem a sacred place.
          There are places sacred to you and to me in our lives.
          A home we once lived in, a college we once attended in, an apartment we once lived in.
          Our Lady of Lourdes is a sacred place to many of us as we return here for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
          We read in Psalm 84, “one day within your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”
          This reminds us that our place before God –and Christ our Savior – is the best place of all.

[__05__]    Bethlehem is crowded. Life is crowded.
          Our relationship with Christ invites not only to encounter him privately in perfect silence – but also in the crowds – the things in life that may be out-of-sequence or otherwise difficult.

[__06__]   Bethlehem is crowded. Washington D.C. is also crowded.
When I was 12, my father and mother took my 2 brothers and me to Washington D.C. to see the sites – Smithsonian, Lincoln Memorial, the Mall and monuments.
          We drove to D.C. and stayed in a Holiday Inn hotel.  My father was eager to report – and point out – that the WATERGATE office / apartment building was just across the street. At that age, I knew Watergate was a thing, but I did not know that Watergate was a place. 
          By the way, I’m not suggesting that Watergate is a sacred place, but that what is precious to me is the memory of my father teaching me about a place.  
          And, knowing “location” is important in every relationship. Do I know where I am – where I stand – with another person? If I just met someone, I may talk/listen in a particular way. After 20-30 years of friendship – being further down the road in the geography of affections – I may communicate differently.  Place is important.

[__06__] Location is important. It was important in the Gospel, connecting Jesus to Bethlehem to the kingdom of David.   
[__07__] Bethlehem is crowded. Washington D.C. is crowded. Being on a crowded sidewalk, on the 2nd day,  my mother accidentally stepped off one of the curbs in our nation’s capital and twisted her ankle.  A slight sprain. She was at this point, expecting a baby – our next sibling and was 6 ½ months along, 2 ½ months before the birth of our sister.
          Fortunately, my mother was quite fine. The next day, however, she informed us that she would be separating herself from the city crowd and our crowd and stay behind in the hotel room.
          This seemed strange to me at the time.  She would not be with us. Would she be lonely? OK?
          Not quite…

[__08__] My mother loved us, , cared for us, but was so happy, so glad to see us leave that hotel room.
          But, she was not alone and nor were we truly separated from her. She was with us the whole time in a different way.
          Also,– the reality of new life – of our new sibling appeared clearly to me at that time as my mother rested and stayed behind. There was going to be a new crowd, a new person, a new presence.
          There would be room for one more at the inn.

[__09__] Bethlehem is crowded. Our hearts are crowded. It is Good News that Jesus arrives there to be born, to give us new life with his presence.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Mary's Reactions: Pondering, Puzzled, Positive (2017-12-24, Advent)

[4th SUNDAY OF Advent]  2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16 •• Psalm 89 ••Romans 16:25-27 •• + Luke 1:26-38

[__01_]  It requires some extra internal imagination and devotion to recall the remains of the 4th Sunday of Advent. Pay no attention – on the altar and here in church -- to the Christmas trees, poinsettias, wreaths your 12/25 proximate preparations at home, et cetera, et cetera …

[__02_] While Mary is hailed as full of grace -- and blessed art thou amongst women  -- did Mary not also call upon some internal – interior – vision for this gift of God which arrives without ornamentation or decoration.

          Right now, it is only a word, a promise that both STARTS and FINISHES in solitude. 

          Yes, the angel appears to Mary telling her not to be afraid, inviting her to be the Mother of God.

          But, in the end, the angel departed from her. Mary – without human physical companionship – she is outwardly “solo” though inwardly saved and blessed.

[__03__] Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the 3 steps – 3 reactions of Mary (The Infancy Narratives: Jesus of Nazareth, 33-37) at the Annunciation.

          Mary PONDERS; Mary is PUZZLED; Mary is POSITIVE.

[__04__] PONDERING …

Mary ponders without what I normally experience as the parallel emotion of distress.

          When do I find myself pondering … or in deep thought?

          [MATH-ACAD.] Long division. The difference between radius and diameter. Interest rates.

          Academically – and intellectually – we ponder.

          When do I ponder?

          [MSG-MEM.] If my phone were to ring or receive a message at certain hours of the day or night, I ponder – what did I forget to do? What do I need to do?

          [DIFF.PERS.] If I bump into someone who makes me uncomfortable, I tend to ponder, perhaps, my “dislike”, my “envy”, my “revenge…” 

          Mary invites you and me to ponder – to recall – to remember what God has done in our lives and what God can do in our lives with our cooperation, both internally and externally.

          This Annunciation moment is retained – pondered – by Mary and shared by Mary with Jesus, his disciples. It becomes part of the Gospel. Mary is the only witness.

          It is her podcast and it is a reminder that our ponderings can also be podcasts for GOODNESS, for GRATITUDE, for the GLORY OF GOD.


          Mary is neither the 1st nor the last person to be puzzled by God’s will or ways. Mary asks, “how can this be?”

          Similarly, Sarah – wife of Abraham in the Book of Genesis was puzzled that she could have a child in her advanced age.

          Sarah laughs at God at this information …then when asked “why did you laugh?”, she denies it.

          These are classic psychological reactions to being puzzled. That is, being puzzled, we retreat into ourselves, go into hiding and possibly denial. We want to solve the problem on our own terms without the help of God or neighbor.

          Mary, OTOH (on the other hand), does what is difficult. Calmly, with tranquility, she asks – “tell me more” …. “how can this be?” …. “OK, so what is the plan…”

          Mary PONDERS; Mary is PUZZLED.

[__06__] And, 3rd, Mary is POSITIVE. Through Mary’s affirmation, we are made not only brothers and sisters to Jesus Christ, to the Son of God, but we are also made brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ and to each other.

          A mother reminds her child  -- you and me – of relationships and responsibilities – POSITIVELY – we have to each other.

          And, yes, LOVE and RESPONSIBILITY call us to PONDER, sometimes to fear of commitment or fear of not keeping our commitments.

          Asking for forgiveness, admitting our wrongdoing – or the true reason – even to ourselves – can be puzzling, troubling.

          We also ask – how can this be?

          Mary gets ready herself – on the way – we are called to the same.

 [__07__]   In 2008, on Martin Luther King Day, a Monday evening / at night, I was in the rectory talking on the phone to a friend on “Line 1” of the rectory telephone system, when “Line 2” began to ring.

          I was asked, “Is Father Joe Petrillo there?”  As so many of us remember fondly, Father Joe – our beloved pastor until he passed away around this time of year in 2013.

          “May I speak to Father Joe Petrillo, please”

          Hearing the matter-of-fact tone of voice, I detected no  emergency for a priest in general. I asked the person to HOLD and I resumed my conversation and wrapped it up about a minute later.

          I engaged / picked up LINE 2 and said, “Sorry, Father Joe is not available – may I ask who is calling?”

          “This is Archbishop Myers.”

          Mentally considering that Father Joe was in charge of all priest-personnel assignments and that this is the AB, I was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

          I reported that Father Joe was unavailable and out for the evening and took the message that Archbishop Myers had called.

[__08__] Then I started to get puzzled.  In 2008, Father Joe, God rest his soul, had a cell phone, mobile phone but it was always powered-off. Could I reach Father Joe?

          How can this be?

          I knew he was visiting a friend in Wilmington, Delaware because he always did the same trip annually on Martin Luther King Day with the same people, same visit.  Clockwork. That’s Father Joe.

          I called one of his friends on a cell phone that was NOT turned off and was able, positively, to connect Father Joe à Archbishop Myers.

 [__09__] Some puzzles invite us to look beyond our own competency and calculations.  “How can this be?” invites us to consider where God’s grace is present, in another person, in our own conscience, in God’s word to us each day.

          Can God not be glorified in the puzzles, the mysteries of my life?

          Interrupted. Mary is interrupted. She is alone. We are interrupted sometimes causing MADNESS or GLADNESS.

          But, it is then that we can also discover God’s presence and welcome his development, his nurturing, and our re-birth.  [__fin__]

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Advent Charity / Identity (2017-12-17, Advent)

Sunday 17 December 2017  /  3rd Sunday of Advent

● Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11  ● Psalm / Luke 1 ●  1 Thessalonians ●● + John 1:6-8, 19-28  ●●  

Title: “Advent Charity / Identity” 

[__01__]      On this third Sunday of Advent, we read about John the Baptist who attracts attention to the message of the Gospel.
          I offer 3 reasons to summarize why John the Baptist attracts attention:
          1st,  he is LOUD.  John the Baptist has turned up the volume, he is the voice crying out in the desert.
          2nd  John the Baptist has a LEGACY. John’s father is Zechariah who is from the Jerusalem Temple. John has connections to big city and religious authorities at the Temple.
          3rd ,  John is LAUDED – or applauded.  Crowd of people are coming to him. He is famous. And, even the king  - King Herod – appreciates / lauds him.  Up to the time, John was imprisoned and put to death by King Herod, King Herod was fascinated with and applauding him.
          John the Baptist was LOUD; he has a LEGACY; and he is LAUDED by others.
          This differs from Jesus who comes more quietly, more gradually into his ministry and often into our lives.
          John the Baptist is the voice crying out in the desert. He makes himself heard.
          We do not always recognize God in our midst. We are called to awareness.
[__02__]      In 2014, a movie [film] was being made in New York City, in midtown, near Grand Central Station.
          There was a film crew, cameras. One of the actors was the famous American, Richard Gere who was in Pretty Woman, An Officer and a Gentleman, and other films. Richard Gere is not so much a brand-name / household-name today, but he was making a movie in 2014 in New York.
          What was caught on camera, one day, was that a family from out of town had just entered this particular movie set. They knew not that they were part of the action. They must have found a side street or a back entrance.
          They were caught on camera with Mr. Gere who was doing a scene.

[__03__]      Could we compare this family – the mother, father and children – to the interviewers/messengers who had been sent to encounter and experience and figure out John the Baptist.
          Why is he so LOUD? What is his LEGACY? Why is he being LAUDED by others?
          So, they go out to find John the Baptist in the desert.

[__04__]      But, John re-directs them, and re-directs us.
          Yes, we are called to be repentant, to have contrition and sorry for our sins.
          This is so that we can reconnect with God and with our neighbor, that we can re-connect with Christ who is also in the person near or far from us.
          Even if we do not hear the LOUDNESS, know the LEGACY, or recognize what the APPLAUSE is for.
          In Advent, we are called to recognize Christ in our midst.

[__05__]      So, there is this family who goes to New York, midtown Manhattan, to Grand Central Station.
          But, the know not that they are on a movie set and there are so many cameras and lights surrounding them.
          They see a man dressed in ordinary clothing, quite dirty, grimy clothing, rummaging through the garbage, the trash, searching for something to eat.
          Feeling compassion, they consider the food they have just purchased. And, they approach and offer him some food.
          He responds, “Thank you. God bless you.”

[__06__]     We, as a community and as individuals, offer charitable gifts.  The Giving Tree.
          Our annual Giving Tree service project is an example of who we reach out to others in our community. Another “giving tree” type of project was your response to our special collection for Father Brancker who is here today.
          Father Brancker’s parish is located in Dominica in the path of Hurricane Maria.  Father Brancker studied theology at the seminary at Seton Hall University, South Orange and during his seminary studies, served here at Lourdes.
          We took up a collection to which you gave over $2,500 to assist him in rebuilding and purchase of materials.
          Thank you for your generous – LOUD – responses to both giving trees. It is your LEGACY and your APPLAUSE.
[*** pause ***]

[__07__]      So – there is this family in midtown Manhattan, near Grand Central Station. They  don’t know they are on a movie set. They approach someone whom they believe is homeless and hungry. They offer him some of their pizza. But, the “random homeless man”is Richard Gere, the actor, and he is doing a scene.

[__08__]      What is ironic is that Mr. Gere’s identity, fame, flash, wealth are completely ignored, unrecognizable.    
          It was the Good News. Someone saw the poverty, the need and reached out, based on their own God-given willingness to love.  They did not know where they were. They did not know who he was.  (We may have forgotten who Richard Gere is also, because he has not made a major film in a while).
          They saw beyond the face to the heart.
          We are tested.
          We pray.
          We hope to know what and who is real. That God is real in our lives. A reminder that God is love, that God is in our midst.
          He calls us to share our gifts.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Prepare the Way. (2017-12-10, Advent)

Sunday 10 December 2017,    2nd Sunday of Advent

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

Title: “Prepare the Way” 

[__01__]      On this 2nd Sunday of Advent, we read about the construction of a highway, of a road to welcome our Lord and Savior.
          What happens when a new road or bridge is being built? What happens during its construction?
          One thing we observe is that all the existing traffic has to go somewhere.
          For example, over the past 3 years, a new bridge has been under construction to cross the Hudson River where the Tappan Zee Bridge is located.
          The new bridge – which recently opened to traffic – located parallel to – alongside the existing bridge.

          A new way has been prepared.

[__02__]      There are ways in which you and I are called to prepare the way of the Lord, during this busy end-of-year season.
          You might think or say… don’t bother me – Father Jim – with all this talk about getting ready for Advent, Christmas, or the 2nd Coming.
          I have enough to do….
          I have deadlines.
          The call to prepare the way of the Lord reminds that we are building this way – often in parallel – to all of our other projects.

[__03__]  What is that creates a an obstacle to getting started ..or responding to God’s call… in our lives?
          Could it not also be a feeling that we are powerless or ineffective against some other force, maybe against someone else’s greediness, someone else’s jealousy, someone else’s anger?
          It may be that we feel powerless against our own anger or our own sinfulness.
          One of the messages of our recent Christ the King celebration is that Jesus is the King who comes to rule ..not only to rule and govern the nations, but also to give us the grace to rule, to reform, to turn back to him, to make a smooth path for his presence.

[__04__]       During Advent – or  anytime – when we confess our sins, admit our faults, we are also making a smooth pathway, admitting that actions – my actions – have consequences  not only for my own salvation and happiness but also for the salvation and happiness of others.
          Is my anger a valley or a mountain to others? It may be a mountain high enough and time enough to welcome God’s  presence and follow his instruction for construction, reconstruction and to prepare the way of the Lord. And, by preparing the way of the Lord – in love and charity – we also enable others to move about more freely, without so many traffic jams.
          And, with God’s help, we can do so, in parallel and gradually with our many responsibilities.   [_fin__]   

Friday, December 8, 2017

Immaculate Conception (2017-12-08)

Immaculate Conception 2017
December 8, 2017
Genesis 3:9-15, 20 ● Psalm 98 ●   Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12 ● + Luke 1:26-38

[__01__] This is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, on which we recall the gift of Mary as Mother of God and her own distinct place in our salvation and her relationship to Christ her Son and our Savior.
          On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, we recall 2 types of freedom, 2 manifestations of freedom.  
First, there is FREEDOM in the REBELLION of Adam and Eve.
          Then, there is the FREEDOM in the SERVICE of our Blessed Mother Mary and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

[__02__A few years after I learned to drive a car, an automobile, with a New Jersey driver’s license on my person, I discovered a new level of personal freedom, mobility, autonomy.
            Of course, I knew about being careful and continue to pray for safe journeys.
            But I also recognize that with this mobility, with these keys, I could go when I wanted and where I wanted and for as long as I wanted.
            I did not have to worry about catching the last train home, calling for a ride, or figuring out when my friends were departing.
            One summer evening – when I was home from college – I returned well after MIDNIGHT.
            My father was home at the time. And, I had his car. By the way, did I forget to tell you that I had all this so-called FREEDOM, but it was not really my own car.
            So, my father is waiting for me to return. It was very late.

[__03__] Now, there were telephones in those days. We did not call them land lines, but we had telephones in houses, pay phones too.
            But, I had no intention of calling to say that I would be late. That would reduce my freedom, my mobility.
[__04__] As I walked up the stairs and opened the door, I recall this question: “Where were you?”
            I responded, “I was out…”
            But, there was no further discussion.
            It reminded me of the question posed by God at the gate or garden steps of Eden to Adam and Eve. Searching for them, he says:  “Where are you?”  (Genesis 3:9)

[__05__] And, in any reflection or act of repentance, we are asked this question, “where are you?”  or “where am I?”
            This is not the same as the CSI or Law & Order (or your parents’) question “where were you on the night of July 27th ….” Such a question is an accusation.
            God does not come to accuse us. But he does not come to excuse us either. He comes to invite us, to have a conversation with us, “where are you?”
            So, it is not only question about what we have done but also what we are doing, who we are and who we will become.
            “Where are you?”
            It is a question not only about our faults but also about our freedom.
[__06__] On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, we recall 2 types of freedom, 2 manifestations of freedom.  
First, there is FREEDOM in the REBELLION of Adam and Eve.
Then, there is the FREEDOM in the SERVICE of our Blessed Mother Mary and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

[__07__]  In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve exercise their freedom – their rebellion – in the shadows, in the dark and possibly in the middle of the night.
          Pope Benedict XVI, in a 2005 homily, wrote that “we live in the right way, if we live in accordance with the truth of our being… for God’s will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside.” (Benedict XVI, Homily, Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2005, Cappella Papale on 40th Anniversary of Vatican II)

[__08__]  I use my example of arriving home late – years ago – as an example that we wall want – at some time – to set our own limits, define our own curfews, make our own laws.
          In such a way, we gain freedom or we think we do.
          But, is freedom defined by a maximum number of choices?
          Benedict XVI further wrote and reflected that sometimes we think evil is good or at least necessary: “We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God is basically a good thing perhaps even necessary.” (Benedict XVI, Homily, Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2005, Cappella Papale on 40th Anniversary of Vatican II)
          Lots of people seem to think this way and unfortunately their actions – our own with this attitude – can be taken to extremes and cause great harm to themselves and to others.
          Check your local listings.

[* * * PAUSE * * * ]

[__09__] Mary, our Blessed Mother is an example of FREEDOM and FIDELITY, FREEDOM and TRUST,

[__10__] I have professed, at times – we have all professed at times – a belief that if we abandon ourselves to God – if we completely trust His ways, then we become a marionette, a puppet on a string.
          By the way, someone recently told me that no one knows what a marionette (puppet on a string is anymore).
          So, let me put it this way. If we completely trust His ways, then we become an AVATAR in a divine video game in which God is pressing START, STOP, and turning the volume UP or DOWN.

[__11__] Mary, our Blessed Mother, gives us an example of the disciple who becomes not lesser – but greater – by the gift of her heart, her flesh, person and personality to her Son, and the Son of God, our Savior.
          Surely, Jesus shared and inherited not only some of Mary’s features and appearance  (blood type, genes, sensory perception…) , but also affection and attitude and compassion…. 
          Surely, Jesus inherited not only some of Mary’s features but also her freedom and free will.
          With this sense of freedom, he was able to say Yes to suffering for our sins.
          With this sense of freedom, she – Mary – had the courage to say with Christ at Calvary.
In this regard, her freedom was her mobility, her freedom of movement, while others rebelled into the shadows.
With just a few others, Mary stayed up later than all the rest, trusting in God’s infinite mercy.
Notre Dame de Lourdes, priez pour nous.
          Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Lourdes, Pray for Us.  [__fin__]