Sunday, April 29, 2018

Connectivity is Fragile. (2018-04-29, 5th Sunday Easter)

5th SUNDAY of Easter 
29 April 2018,    •• Acts 9:26-31  •• Psalm 22  •• 1 John 3:18-24  •• + John 15:1-8 ••

Title:  “Connectivity is fragile.”

[__01__]      Connectivity is fragile, a fragile reality or phenomenon, difficult to maintain.
            Connectivity is fragile, sometimes also mobile.  Regarding the phone, we move toward a window or away from a wall – just a short distance, we receive a better (or worse) signal.   Re. this microphone, moving it 6 millimeters away from me, the audio signal may be better or worse.
            Connectivity is fragile.
            This is true with regard to the vine and the branches of Jesus today. There is a fragile connectivity between the vine and branches, and the fruit on the vine.
 [__02__] We know this technically – technologically – and we experience it in our relationships. Sometimes, it is hard to remain connected to people.
            And, we are called by love of God and love of neighbor to seek connections, but also to discern where the real connections, the true connections are. Not every geographical place on the earth’s surface offers an equally clear satellite signal. Not every choice we make – even choices made with a loving intention will produce connectivity.
            We are called to seek connectivity of a real signal and not just the noise of productivity.
            [The vine and the branches Gospel is not about a server, but about Jesus as servant and 24 x 7 connectivity. But, before there is productivity, we are called to connectivity.]
[__03__]      On Friday, April 27, at Washington Elementary School – in our neighborhood down the street at Tory Corner – there was a remembrance/memorial for 2 of our parishioners.
            1st. Governor Brendan Byrne, governor New Jersey from 1974-1982 and 2nd. Mrs. Patricia Villarosa, of Lourdes parish and 1st grade teacher at Washington School until she recently passed away.
            Each was being honored by the planting of trees at Washington Elementary, one in memory of Patty; one for Gov. Byrne.
            Trees remind us of roots, of connections, connections to each other.
            And, the superintendent of West Orange schools, Jeffrey Rutzky, pointed out that the trees, will mark times for the students so that when they return in 10, 20, 50 years, of the passage of time and the vibrant and living memory of Mrs. Villarosa and of Governor Byrne, in their branches, leaves, beauty, strength.
            I could not help but think, being in the presence of these Washington Elementary young people that they were – truly – the ones being planted, nurtured, receiving roots, growing strong.
            Yes, the trees are to be cared for but so are the children and so are we also to be cared for and loved by God and by each other.
            These children were believed in by Governor Byrne and by Patty Villarosa in every moment she spent with them, and that we are also called to care for these children and for each other. Connectivity is fragile.
[__04__]    The children are going to grow up and become as strong as trees. And, we are called to see both the forest and trees in our lives, to see them as individuals and to see them as a community as family.
            Jesus also proclaimed that his disciples were not just individual branches, but a community of branches. Jesus also saw both the forest and the trees.
            Governor Byrne is remembered for having protected a forest – the Pine Barrens State Forest – in southern New Jersey. It is appropriate to plant a tree – and many trees in his honor and in Patty’s honor, because of their care for life and lives in our community and in our state. Connectivity is fragile.
[__05__]     When we plant vines, we observe that these vines – with their stems and tendrils – grow
everywhere and even to overgrow. They grow on the walls, up the walls, inside the walls, under the masonry, on fences, et cetera et cetera.
            Check out the Lourdes Grotto of Blessed Mother/Mary network of green + vines. We are Ivy League!
            But, Jesus is calling us not only to productivity but also to connectivity.
with God and neighbor.
            One example of this is the way that we are called to be charitable.
 [__06__]    CHARITY is our highest ideal. Everyone of every income level – or wealth - is called to be charitable.  Everyone of every age and expertise is called to be charitable.
            In both the way that we give away material things or that we give away our mind or our energy.
            On the other hand, if CHARITY is not connected to the gospel, we can run the risk of being too easy or too easygoing.   (Reference: Parochial & Plain Sermons, Book II, S. 23, “Tolerance of Religious Error”)
            Parents – sometimes – say NO to their children. And, that is an act of love, charity. That’s charity.
            Or if someone asks me to share my perspective or knowledge, sometimes, I might say too much.
            We have all said too much at times.
            Sometimes, saying less is a gift. Less is more.
            And, in this, I’m citing Jesus’ example of being pruned, cut back, purified, simplified.
            He is the vine we are the branches. “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5)   [__fin__]     

Sunday, April 22, 2018

"Good Shepherd & 1st Communion " (2018-04-22, 4th Sunday Easter)

4th SUNDAY of Easter  22 April 2018,    •• Acts 4:8-12  •• Psalm 118  •• 1 John 3:1-2  •• + John 10:11-18 ••

Title:  “The Good Shepherd: Ready. Rescues. Redirects.”

[__01__]     Ready? Are you ready?  Yes, we can see that you are and are delighted that you are ready – dressed so well for your 1st Holy Communion and with your family and friends here to pray with you.
            And, girls and boys this morning, I imagine you had to get ready TOGETHER, getting ready was not just for you alone and individually but for the whole family. Sometimes, we forget things and we all have to go back together … to be ready. In big changes, in marriage, family, we get ready together.
            And, in the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus – the Good Shepherd – is the one who is READY to receive us, who RESCUES us, and who REDIRECTS us.
[__02__]     I’d like to share a personal example of something that happened on a day off from school – when I was in high school.
            And, how I experienced this – READINESS – RESCUE – REDIRECTION.

[__03__]     1st. READY.
            In January of my junior year of high school, we had a day off from school.  I went downhill skiing with 2 friends of mine [Michael S. and Patrick T.].  Sorry, to be talking about snow again? After being dropped off at the ski area – a relatively small ski area run by Bergen County in Mahwah called Campgaw Reservation.
After a few hours of trying to keep up with them – they were much better skiers than I as you will soon learn -  I had to go to E.R. emergency room because of some acrobatic move I attempted on a little hill, a very little hill.
            I was unhappy to spend my day off from school in this manner. And, this was hardly a big mountain or difficult slope. I was not much of a skier. This was hardly Vermont or Utah. A short vertical drop [i.e., height]. No black diamonds, all GREEN / EASY slopes.       Meanwhile, I had to leave my two friends [who continued to ski] while my mom picked me up and took me to the E.R.
            My mother was, of course, very nice; the doctor also professional.  But, what consoled me that day, in addition to my mom and the doctor was a friend and coincidence. At the ER, I met one of my high school classmates. Unlike me, he was NOT a patient. He was, rather, a volunteer on an ambulance squad and had been in the ER with another patient. He was the ER when I arrived. He just happened to be there. And, while he did not expect me, he was READY for me. He was present to me.
            My classmate, John, did not “treat me”,  he did not examine me.  That’s good, because he was only in high school. But he had free time and he spent it with me. He was READY.
            And, a great gift we can give to each other is to be ready, to be “quick to listen slow to speak”(James 1:19) … to try and do what our parents ask when they ask. To remember that it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35)

[__04__]    Jesus the Good Shepherd is [READY], he [RESCUES] us, and [REDIRECTS]  us.

[__05__]      Jesus the Good Shepherd [RESCUES] his disciples, he feeds you and me.
            This word “rescue” makes us think of a great drama or a trauma – something meterological or seismic..
            However, Jesus rescues us by his mercy, by his forgiveness.
            And, sometimes, we are starving – very hungry – for help in our lives, and for someone to take a risk, being merciful, to take a chance on us.
            Rescues are risky and Jesus inspires us to take such risks.
            We are rescued by forgiveness. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who RESCUES - lays down his life for - his disciples, for you and me, who feeds us with his Body and Blood. This is Holy Communion.
[__06__]       Sometimes, I need mercy or rescue from something that is my own fault, my own responsibility.
            I had landed not safely on 2 skis but in the ER because I was not really being careful enough, and because I had not maintained my skis properly, et cetera, et cetera …using the wrong equipment and fell to the ground. Not a pretty picture. My responsibility.
            Jesus the Good Shepherd rescues us with mercy not not because of our great TALENTS (SKIING, BALANCE, OR OTHERWISE) but actually because of our TRESPASSES, our SINS. He loves us, forgives us.
            He also [REDIRECTS] us.
 [__07_]        I wonder what my high school classmate – whom I met at the ER is doing now… does he work in medicine or healing?  He had a wonderful bedside manner.  He was simply present to me.
            And, not only was it a consolation to experience my classmate’s, John’s,  presence in the ER to but also to share the good news of his presence when I returned to high school that he had been there with me. It was good news to share, of why I was more calm, tranquil, all of this at the EMERGENCY ROOM! So, I was “redirected” to share that Good News not only with the 2 friends I skied with but with other classmates. And, I remember it felt great to share what had happened.
            Sometimes we are rescued not with 9-1-1 but simply with with mercy and forgiveness. And, we are called to share this Good News with others.
I suggest my friend’s kindness at the E.R. was also a REDIRECTION of Jesus to me– calling me . When I was 16, I did not think I was going to be a priest.  But, when I later did think about it, this particular experience was very significant.
As a priest, I try to be present to people in both sorrow and joy,  which includes visits to hospital, to be present in this way, to imitate the Christlike example of my friend at he ER to me.
So, to you -- our fathers and mothers -- I encourage you to help your children to reflect on – and pray about -- their joys and sorrows on moments of consolation.
These moments will shape them, help them to grow and understand later what it means – themselves to be a mother, father, wife or husband, to be a nurse or a doctor, to be a priest to serve the Church and to listen – in all these ways to Christ the Good Shepherd.

                        Girls and boys – God loves you, your mother loves you, your father loves you, your grandparents. Even if they are not present today, they love you and are praying for you.  Jesus the Good Shepherd loves you, the community of Our Lady of Lourdes loves you, and is grateful for your dedication and prayerfulness today and we look forward to praying with you and growing with you for many Sundays and years to come.
            Jesus, the Good Shepherd, [READY] to receive us, [RESCUES] us with mercy, and [REDIRECTS]  us to green pasture and restful waters.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Rhetorical Questions. (2018-04-15, 3rd Sunday Easter)

3rd SUNDAY of Easter  15 April 2018,
•• Acts 3:13-15, 17-19  •• Psalm 4  •• 1 John 2:1-5a •• John 24:35-48  ••

Title:  “Rhetorical Questions”
[__01__  Are you kidding me?
Are you kidding me? Joking? These are examples of RHETORICAL QUESTION, question asked merely for to effect or emphasis with no answer expected.
          If Aaron Boone, baseball NY Yankees’ manager were displeased with an umpire’s call – or Villanova Coach Jay Wright with a referee’s whistle – each would say to the umpire-referee, “are you kidding me?” while not expecting an answer.
            There other such RHETORICAL QUESTIONS, such as … “Is the sky blue?” … “Is the Pope Catholic?”.
We say this to affirm that something is self-evidently true or, somehow, to ask the listener to reflect, meditate or be careful of what they may say or state next.
[__02__  Jesus asked his disciples this RHETORICAL QUESTION:
          “Why are you troubled?” (Luke 24:38)
          This question is not a request for them to explain themselves [with all their reasons to be troubled after Good Friday – arrest, put to death … resurrection but not sure what this means] but rather to examine themselves.
          He said he was going to rise. And, now he is sending out his disciples, you, me to announce his Resurrection.
          “Why are you troubled?” is an ratification and reminder of the Resurrection, of the joy that Jesus has risen as he said.

[__03__  Now, you’re saying.. You know what, Fine… But, in real life, when someone asks you are or me … “why are you troubled?”, we often would like to answer that question if indeed we are troubled.
          But, sometimes, it’s a RHETORICAL QUESTION.
          E.g., a teacher in classroom or a basketball coach with his or team. Both of them may face a group of students – or players --  who think that either the Periodic Table of the Elements or a Full-court press are impossible… students/players are dazed and confused for so long, turns to them and says, “Why are you troubled?”
          But he or she is really saying  you do not have to answer that… just “pay attention.”

[__04__]     “Why are you troubled?”
          In dialogue and prayer with Jesus, we might ask ourselves this question.  Why am I troubled? Why are your troubled?
          We might see this as an invitation to describe all the sources of difficulty such as being troubled by --  [REJECTION] … [WORKLOAD] … [UNCERTAINTY] … [INSUFFICIENCY] … [DISHONESTY] … …
[__05__   So, in prayer, we can answer the RHETORICAL QUESTION very specifically.
            However, I suggest the Lord was not asking for list of lamentation from his disciples. He asked them – and you and me – why are you troubled?
            As an example, I might say that I am troubled because I was “rejected” . All of us have experienced some form of rejection.   But, are we able not only to say… that I am troubled because I was rejected..but simply to say… I am troubled because I “feel rejected.”
            Saying I feel rejected is a humble place to start. Saying I was rejected might just be an angry place to remain.
            That’s just one example.
            In a similar way, Jesus does not ask the disciples why they ran away and at the crisis of Good Friday. There were reasons to flee… he wants to know in their hearts – in our hearts – what is troubling them still.
[__06__  On Friday April 13, I attended a lecture conducted to honor the life and political career of New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne, governor of New Jersey 1974-1982 and parishioner and friend to Our Lady of Lourdes always.
            So, for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon, in a lecture hall at Princeton University – the Governor’s alma mater – a few judges and attorneys who worked for him discussed his career.  The speakers included John Degnan who also is from LOURDES school and LOURDES parish. You’ll be proud to know he represented us well.
            You’ll also be pleased that I sat in my theater seat for a couple of hours and did not say a word. And, you’re thinking … what a relief. He didn’t talk. You’re NOT troubled by that at all.
            It was a discussion of what Governor Byrne did for the environment, for the state treasury and schools and a few references to the Meadowlands and stadiums and sports authority which was one of his projects.
            At one point, the state of NJ or Newark Airport was in a negotiation with Alitalia Airlines about something. And, these Italian executives thought the Governor’s full name was not “Brendan Byrne” but “Brendan Byrne-a-rina”. You have to be over 40 to get that.

[__07__   Each of the speakers mentioned ways in which they both harmonized and clashed over the years.
            One told of a very personal example of how he had experienced Governor’s  “rejection” at one point. It happened in 1977. He was telling the story on Friday.
            I thought .. wow .. you are on this stage – at Princeton. You were elected to Congress (multiple times) the U.S. Senate (multiple times), you’re successful… you’re retired now. And you felt snubbed / rejected for 4 decades.  And, finally – last year, someone invited you – sort of dragged you into it…to make you “reconcile” with Byrne last year. Sometimes, we also need help with such things, to examine our hearts, and ask ourselves “why are you troubled / why I am troubled…” and to experience Easter joy, to know that…   Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders who has become the cornerstone and it is wonderful in our eyes. This the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it.    [__fin__ 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Caution Tape: Thomas, Apostle (2018-04-08, 2nd Sunday Easter)

2nd SUNDAY of Easter  8 April 2018

•• Acts 4:32-35  •• Psalm 118  •• 1 John 5:1-6 •• John 20:19-31 ••

Title:  Caution Tape+Plus: Thomas

[__01__]   This Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, is also commemorated [“canonized”] by Pope John Paul II as the Sunday of Divine Mercy. We count today as the 8th day of Easter – or the octave day – for Easter Sunday was the first day.
            Since the first day, Jesus’ resurrection was being sought out by his disciples.   By now – by the time of today’s  Gospel episode [John 20], some have seen the Lord’s Resurrection, some are still seeking. And, Thomas’ search engine was spinning.

[__02__] DISCIPLINE.  I’d like to reflect on the Thomas and his DISCIPLINE. Traditionally, we associate Thomas with another D-word = DOUBT.
          As a “doubter”, however, Thomas was not exceptional.  All of the apostles doubted – until they saw Jesus.    
          Cardinal John Henry Newman describes Thomas the Apostle as “over-cautious.” [1] (J.H. Newman, Parochial & Plain Sermons, Bk.II. Serm. 2, “Faith &  Sight”, San Francisco: Ignatius, Press, 1997, p. 238)  Caution tape was everywhere for Thomas, so to say .. he would have barricade tape, the 2-tone tape -- colored tape (you know … the two-color tone pattern of alternating yellow-black to indicate a possible danger or hazard, often bilingual: CAUTION/CUIDADO)
[__03__]    There 3 levels of discipline that Thomas [Thomas = T] experiences. I suggest we all experience them.
          There is the discipline of [►CAUTION];   the discipline of  [►COMPREHENSION]; the discipline of [►CONSCIENCE]
[__04__]    1st.  Discipline of [►CAUTION] Caution tape is good. Caution tape help us to avoid avoid trouble.
          Even the Villanova University, recent men’s college basketball national champions, was renowned not only for potent offense but also for discipline -- taping down – restricting - their opponents with preventive defense and won all their tournament games by double-digit margins. Their basketball-court barrier was well-fortified.
          And, [►CAUTION] tape may also help us to play defense and avoid embarrassment.
          For example, as discipline and “defense”, do I hold out the CAUTION TAPE, expecting others to bend to my will?   Am I discouraged not because of a setback but because of the surprise ending?
          Jesus, by his life, death and resurrection – is offering us as place in the kingdom, but his is not … shall we say … a convenience store.
          He is asking us to take up our cross each day and store up treasure in heaven.
          This might mean that we move beyond the caution tape barrier.
          Yes, [T] learned -- and we all learn – that to see is to believe. But, to believe is also to see.
          When I believe in – or strive to believe in – the potential goodness of another person or in my own potential – I can see more clearly, not just more cautiously.
          [►CAUTION] tape is good but just one phase/step on the journey.

[05] 2nd. Discipline of [►COMPREHENSION]
          Thomas [T] is invited by the other disciples to comprehend, to understand.
          Sometimes, giving up our in [►CAUTIOUS] ways, we can [►COMPREHEND] more, such as when I dare to ask a question in a confusing or troubling situation.
          Can we not dare to ask a question before classmates or co-workers even though this will reveal a state of confusion…?
          Humility is a discipline.
          Can I do not dare to ask a question about something that upsets me or makes me anxious, even if I do not like the answer …?
          It takes discipline to be humble and ask a question. Admitting that you or I do not have all the answers is a discipline.
          [T]’s [►CAUTION] is an obstacle to [►COMPREHENSION].
          What happened?
          [T] was told of the Resurrection and he puts up the caution tape and/or Jersey barrier (yes, the highway divider was invented here. +1 for us).   (Thomas’ guard goes up immediately). He does not ask for more information – “tell me more” – but announces his need for independent counsel = caution tape.
          But, isn’t it necessary in our loving relationships with others – as spouses, as parents – or as children listening to our parents – that we cannot necessarily evaluate or store everything immediately on our own?
          Moreover, we demonstrate our love of another by accepting his or her word, when we do not ask too many questions, when we comprehend.
          In the letter of James, we are reminded to be : “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19).
          In this regard, it is not only true that …”to know you is to love you” but also ..
·        “to trust you is to love you”
·        “to listen to you is to love you”
·        “to [►COMPREHEND] you – to get you – is to love you.”
·        To forgive you is to love you.
          Thomas is called to move from the discipline of [►CAUTION] to  the discipline of [►COMPREHENSION] and finally to the discipline of [►CONSCIENCE].

[__06__]     3rd. [►CONSCIENCE]
What is the discipline of [►CONSCIENCE]?
            Through the writings of Vatican II and of Cardinal Newman, I suggest and summarize [►CONSCIENCE] is not simply a more or thicker CAUTION TAPE … rather [►CONSCIENCE] is CHRIST HIMSELF.   [►CONSCIENCE] is not a mandate; [►CONSCIENCE] is a messenger.
          Yes, we are called to trust and obey our consciences, but this is because our consciences connect us to God’s Holy Spirit which reminds us to pray, to talk with God each day.  This is our discipline, our practice, our habit.
          Through our conscience, we can know what is good/evil, right/wrong.  It is a message from God. And, it is a message that we experience – and examine – in our relationships with others.
          We need the laboratory/milieu  (or playground) of our own experience to know what is right and true. In this regard, we do not simply examine our actions (results) but we also examine our consciences (motives, reasons).

[__07__]     While I have, at times, acted or thought I had acted the best I could under certain circumstances, I have realized later that maybe I was too cautious, maybe I was uncharitable, maybe I was dishonest.

[__08__]      Conscience, therefore, is something we examine not because it is faulty or slow but because it represents our seeking – and our seeing – of the Risen Lord.
          Conscience represents our effort to discover that Jesus is each day trying to enter the sometimes locked door of my own heart or the upper room of my mind.
          And, to teach me to move beyond a cautious route to a truly safe journey with Him, and to remember to give thanks for those who have helped me to believe – my parents, my family, my teachers over the years, parish priests and religious sisters and brothers, and also for you – people whom I have encountered praying with me in church – tonight here I give thanks for you – to my own parish family, for your presence, the discipline of your own prayers,  your witness to me, to all of us as priests, teaching us by your own carrying of the cross and consideration of conscience, that “blessed are those [blessed are you] who have not seen and have believed.” (John 20:29)   [__fin__] 

[1] J.H. Newman, Parochial & Plain Sermons, Bk.II. Serm. 2, “Faith &  Sight”, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997, p. 238