Monday, March 31, 2008

Annunciation Day

An amazing encounter. An angel, sent by a young virgin. With an amazing announcement.

Amidst fear, puzzlement, and doubt, she gives an answer of faith....and the whole world is changed forever!

Let us, with Mary, be open to the surprising ways of God. Together, let us say "Yes" to the life-giving activities of God in our lives.


Divine Mercy....THANK GOD!

The Second Sunday of Easter, a.k.a. "Divine Mercy Sunday"

A couple of years ago, I remember that liturgists here in the United States got very nervous about the growing devotional practices surrounding the new "Divine Mercy Sunday." They were trying to line up the traditional liturgical practices of the Church with the growing devotional practices associated with this "Divine Mercy" Sunday. Some of the professional liturgists, myself among them, were worried that the devotional practicses associated with the "Divine Mercy Chaplet" would conflict with the liturgical celebrations of the Triduum, Easter, and Easter Week.

In our parish, there have been no requests for the celebration of the "DMC" as I like to call it.

However, I am wondering: "What is the need that needs to be met by these folks so devoted to the Divine Mercy Chaplet?" I wonder, "Are these folks in parishes that are not celebrating the Triduum well?" I wonder, "Are these folks looking for an intense experience of prayer through this devotion, because they're not getting it through the liturgies?" It could be. Once again, I wonder!

I don't have any empirical data. But I have a gut feeling that people are looking to have a deep, meaningful, prayer-experience in these Easter Days.

Of course, the whole point of the paschal mystery of Jesus' life-giving passion, death, and resurrection is that JESUS IS DIVINE MERCY. That by his suffering, death and resurrection, we are the receipients of the benefits of his DIVINE MERCY for EVER!

Thank God that our Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, is the CHRIST. Thank God that he has conquered death forever by his resurrection. Thank God that his resurrection is also ours, and always will be, by our baptism into him.

Thank God, that God's Mercy is available to all!

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Thomas, getting a bad rap.....

This weekend, we hear the familiar story of Jesus' post-resurrection encounter with Thomas, who missed the first appearance.

Thomas may be more like us folks than we care to imagine. Thomas was a human being like us. We human beings like to know what to expect. Sometimes we don't like surprises. Sometimes we'd like to remain in our own world made up of expectations and experiences.

But sometimes we need surprises in our lives. Sometimes the surprises in our lives prove to be the "yeast" in the flour of our lives that helps us grow and develop.

Let's pray with Thomas and all the saints, that the "surprises" the Lord sends us this week will help us to grow and develop into better disciples of the Risen Lord.

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Friday, March 28, 2008

A new bishop for Van Nuys

Today, I'm writing from Phoenix, AZ. I'm here for the Episcopal Ordination and Enthronement of Bishop Gerald Dino as the new Eparch (Bishop) of Van Nuys, CA. His eparchy takes in the entire Western half of the United States. The ordination took place in the presence of the Papal Nuncio, and three Metropolitan Archbishops from Canada and the US.
It was a beautiful Liturgy and it was impressive to see so many parishioners and friends come to be with Bishop Gerald for this historic event. Many thanks to the Latin-rite bishop of Phoenix, for allowing us to celebrate in one of his larger church buildings.
I return to New Jersey on Saturday, and if you get close to me you may smell the remnants of the incense from the Divine Liturgies! The smell of heaven!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Week

Easter Week!

A week of celebrating Easter each day!

Each day we sing Alleluias all over the place.

Each day we pray as if it's Easter Sunday.

A week like no other

Let's pray for the grace to be open to the ways in which the Risen Christ is calling us to the new ways Christ is calling us all to live!

Easter Peace!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter, 2008

He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed!

This Icon tells the story. Adam and Eve are pulled from their tombs. Jesus stands astride the gates of death. Jesus stands with rippling muscles pulling the dead to new life. He's clothed with white and golden clothes as he literally pulls Adam and Eve up to something entierely new!

Happy Easter to all!

May the Lord Jesus pull us to something entireley new!

Easter peace to all.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Good Friday.

Stations of the Cross....The Celebration of the Passion...Venerating the Cross....Simple Communion....Silence....

While we did all of these "traditional practices" here today, I'm aware of some other activities that happened today.

Our young people took part in "Service to the Suffering"....a diocesan program for youth groups that does community service to the poor during the Triduum. Some worked with shut-ins, some worked with others in need. All gave of their time, and talent, and muscle for others in need.

Some people kept the Paschal fast, only taking one meal today, and then donating to charities that help the hungry.

People were mindful of the plight of Christians in other lands who face persecution and suffering. We collected money for the support of the Christians in the Holy Land. We prayed for our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, who face the onus of oppression.

Some people visited the sick and the hospitalized. They hold a special place in our hearts and prayers in these days.

Some people gathered to plan a funeral or a memorial mass for a lost loved-one. The efforts of our bereavement ministry help lead their efforts.

People tried to be hospitable to the many visitors to our greet them with a smile and a word of welcome, and to help all feel "at home" here in these Triduum Days.

It may have seemed like a "quiet day", but there were many things going on today in our parish, and many, many people reaching out in wonderful, unseen ways.

And so we continue our Triduum journey....

Holy Thursday: Washing Feet

Washing Feet....

The most dramatic symbolism of the year. Yet, maybe the least understood.

Nowhere else do we strip off the layers of influence, status, or power as we do on this night. But we still get caught up with the "fancy" stuff of the liturgy.

I remember a few years ago when I was the chaplain at St. John Vianney High School, and we were running a KAIROS retreat during the Triduum. I asked that all of the students on the retreat get their feet washed by me as part of the regular retreat. I will never forget the look on those young faces when I knelt to wash their feet, kiss their feet, and then dry them off. They looked disgusted, confused and shocked! Then, I heard confessions like none other! I heard all about problems with parents, other adults, friends and siblings like no other.

Getting your feet washed is a powerful symbol. It wakes you up in a powerful way.

It awakens us to all sort of new feelings and emotions.

Jesus intended it to be a powerful turn us upside down. To charge us to look at ourselves as "Jesus himself"....

Imagine being a "servant" like Jesus, willing to "wash feet" at all times...

That's what Holy Thursday is all about...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

For Christians, our every year has its origin and its climax at a time determined by the earth and the sun and the moon and the human-made cycle of a seven-day week. The marvelous accidents of earth's place and sun's place, of axis and orbit make cycles within human cycles so that days can be named and remembered and rhythms established.First, we wait for the angle of the earth's axis to make day and night equal (going toward longer days in the "top" half of earth, longer nights in the lower half). Then we wait for the moon to be full. Then we wait for the Lord's Day and call that particular Lord's Day "Easter" in English, but in most other Western languages some word that is closer to an old name, "Pesach" or "Pascha," made into English as "Passover."In these generations, we are finding out how, on the night between Saturday and that Sunday, the church ends and begins not just its year but its very self.We do not come to this night unaware. The church has spent the time since Thursday evening in intense preparation. Even more, we have had the 40 days of Lent to dear down and to build up toward this night.And the night needs a week of weeks, 50 days, afterward to unfold. The 50 days are Eastertime; only after Pentecost does life return to normal.The church came very early to keep something of the spring festival known to Jesus and the first followers. They were Jews and that first full moon of spring was Passover. For those who followed Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile, this was the time when the story of the deliverance they proclaimed in the death and resurrection of Christ was placed beside the story already told at this festival, the deliverance of the captive people from Pharaoh. Very early, that proclamation came to be made not in words alone but in the waters where those who were ready to stake everything on such a deliverance, on this Christ and this church, passed over in God's saving deed.- Gabe Huck in The Three Days: Parish Prayer in the Paschal Triduum

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Enough with the Violence in Iraq!

In this undated photo Pope Benedict XVI meets with Chaldean Catholic archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, left, and Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon for Chaldeans of Iraq. The body of Rahho, kidnapped in Iraq last month, was found just outside the northern city where he was abducted. Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was seized in Mosul and three of his companions were killed Feb. 29 when gunmen attacked them after they had celebrated the Stations of the Cross . (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Referencing the murder of Bishop Rahho in Iraq, Pope Benedict XVI delivered this greeting after Palm Sunday Mass to the thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square in Rome:
"At the end of this solemn celebration in which we have meditated on Christ's Passion, I would like to recall the late Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Monsignor Paulos Faraj Rahho, who tragically died a few days ago. His beautiful witness of fidelity to Christ, to the Church and his people, whom he did not want to abandon despite numerous threats, moves me to cry out forcefully and with distress: Enough with the bloodshed, enough with the violence, enough with the hatred in Iraq! And at the same time I make an appeal to the Iraqi people, who for five years have endured the consequences of a war that has provoked upheaval in its civil and social life: Beloved Iraqi people, lift up your heads and let it be you yourselves who, in the first place, rebuild your national life! May reconciliation, forgiveness, justice and respect for the civil coexistence of tribes, ethnic groups and religious groups be the solid way to peace in the name of God!"

The Pope had already voiced his pain of Chaldean Bishop Rahho's death and a Chaldean bishop in the U.S. has laid the blame for Rahho's death at the doorstep of the administration of President George Bush.

Chrism Mass 2008

Tonight, Tuesday of Holy Week, the people of the Diocese of Trenton gathered for the annual celebration of the Chrism Mass. It was held at St. Mary's Cathedral in Trenton, and was presided over by Bishop John Smith and all of the gathered priests and deacons from throughout the diocese. The diocesan choir provided great musical leadership, and the mass was complete with "smells and bells."

At this annual Mass the Bishop blesses the three oils: The Sick, The Catechumens and The Chrism. Then he sends them out to the parishes of the diocese as his annual "gift" to our parishes at Easter time. These three oils are used in different times in our liturgical lives in each of our parishes.

At St. Anselm, we display the holy oils in the ambry in the chapel, near the tabernacle. During these days of Holy Week, be sure to stop by the chapel to enjoy the wonderful smell of the new chrism that will be used for all baptisms and confirmations.

As Holy Week progresses, let's continue to pray for each other.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Holy Week

This week we call "Holy", we turn to the essentials of our faith. We turn to Jesus of Nazareth, a human being, who knew the pains and joys of human life, but who was open to his Mission.

This week, we are all called to take some time to quiet down, to reflect upon our own Mission, and then to reach out.

This week, we listen to, and celebrate our stories....and once again, we come closer to our Messiah, our Savior, and our Lord. May the Lord in his goodness complete the good that he has begun in all of us!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Sins? NOT!!!!!!!!!!

Did you hear that the Vatican has released "New Sins"? It's not really that sensational.

The Vatican is rightly teaching about new realities in the modern world: That the division between the super-wealthy and the poor is growing and is unjust. That the gap between those who have and those who have nothing is not growing smaller.

For a full, objective treatment of the Vatican's teaching, check out :

CNS STORY: Social effects of sin greater than ever, says Vatican official


Today, I join 25 Seniors from SJV, and their student/adult team leaders on retreat at a camp in Bucks County, PA. The retreat begins tonight, and ends on Saturday afternoon. We'll have many talks, prayers in morning and evening, a Midnight Mass, and great witness talks, and lots of different, life-affirming events.

I'm looking forward to spending the next few days with the students from SJV. The experience of the KAIROS retreats is refreshing and renewing!

As we get ready to celebrate Passion Sunday in our home parishes this weekend, I share just this one thought, born of my KAIROS experience: Jesus loves us, even though we're imperfect, and continues to love us despite our imperfections, and through that love, calls us to share that love with others who need to hear that good news!

Fr. Gene

St. John Vianney Women Trounce Again!

Hot news! SJV women's LANCERS beat out Trenton Catholic Academy tonight at the RITACCO CENTER IN TOMS RIVER!

Hot stuff. The Lady Lancers continue to romp! Go Lancers!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Getting ready for KAIROS

This week, I'll be walking with some students from St. John Vianney High School who will be on a KAIROS retreat in Bucks County, PA from Wednesday through Saturday. Ever since I went on my first KAIROS retreat as a priest, I've really loved the experience for myself. It's really one of those rare experiences that makes me feel very positive about being a priest and ministering to young adults. I like this image of freshly-baked bread to illustrate information about KAIROS: the students, the team, and the retreat leaders are all like these freshly-baked loaves. All who participate in the KAIROS experience become like these loaves: warm, tasty, and newly "baked" by the Holy Spirit who touches the hearts of young people and lots of us "older folks" too. I pray this week that this upcoming KAIROS retreat will be one in which the Lord touches hearts and minds, and helps all to see that we are all beloved of the Father, who sent his Son to live and die for us, so that we may have life eternal!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Lady Lancers at the Ritacco Center!

On Saturday, the Lady Lancers will play at the Ritacco Center in Toms River. As always, I wish them the best. I just ask that they do their best, to play smart and fair, and to represent St. John Vianney H.S. with grace and class.

The Lady Lancers have worked hard all year, and this game will cap off a wonderful year. They've really grown into a wonderful team during this season, as they've come to really know each other.

I hope to be there for this great game tomorrow, and it's always a pleasure to be with the women of St. John Vianney H.S.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Let my prayers rise like incense

A byzantine-style censor (with the twelve bells representing the 12 apostles) shows the smoke of incense rising and spreading towards heaven.

I know that some people have problems with the use of incense in Latin-Rite Catholic worship. I appreciate the fact that people sometimes have breathing problems due to asthma, or allergies. I personally struggle with trying to be sensitive to the needs of the super-allergic to incense, and then dealing with the liturgical practices and rubrics of the Latin Rite.

At St. Anselm, I've taken to using Byzantine-style incense which I find to be the lightest "flavor" that I've ever found. At funerals, we're called to use incense. At Vespers, we're called to use incense. As we approach Holy Week, I'm struggling over the use of incense in our liturgies. We could use the cheap, very smoky incense that other parishes use. However, to try to satisfy the needs of the liturgy and the people with allergies, we use the best Byzantine-style incense that we can get.

Since the Byzantine Catholics use incense in their Divine Liturgies every day, they have a lot more experience with the different flavors of the incense.

I've been thinking about why we use incense sometimes in our liturgies. I've come to believe that our ancestors realized somewhere along the line that ALL of our senses need to be engaged in our liturgical practices: touch, hearing, seeing, tasting, and smelling! As the Second Vatican Council asked us to "open up" all of our symbols, I believe that we're called to find the best ways to do our liturgies with lots of touch, with lots of oils, with the best bread, with the best words that we can use, etc.

Maybe we're called to use the best "holy smoke" that we can use, and use it to round out our symbolic and liturgical practices.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Take the Stone Away!!!

Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead.
This Sunday's Gospel calls us to reflect on some very important issues. The story of Jesus and Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus begs us to inspect our ideas about Jesus' humanity as the story outlines his greatest showing of his divine power.
I've always been fascinated by the details that John includes in this story that illustrate the tremendous humanity of Jesus. These include the wonderful two-word phrase that shows so poignantly the humanity of Jesus: "Jesus wept" the news of the death of his friend Lazarus.
Perhaps we're being called to reflect upon the ways that we incorporate both the human and divine aspects of our own lives in these last days of Lent. These last, intense days of Lent call us to reflect upon our own existence as human creatures formed in God's divine image; as sinners redeemed by our share in the baptism into Christ that redeems us all by his divine blood.
Let's pray that Jesus will raise us all beyond our various "tombs" into life with him forever.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

SJV Women's Hoops trounces RBC!!!!!!

Tonight, the Lady Lancers sent the Caseys home once again. The Lady Lancers beat the Caseys at a game held in Jackson Twp, at a new high school called Jackson Liberty High School.

I thought that the refs were a tad too tolerant of the pushing and elbowing, but in the end, the Lady Lancers came through and smacked down the Caseys, despite the dirty playing.

Now onto the next game.

For the Lady Lancers who are interested in coming on the next KAIROS RETREAT, my advice is: get your permission slips in, don't worry about the $, and keep praying! If you come on the retreat, you'll never, ever forget it!

Fr. Gene

Monday, March 3, 2008

Laetare Medal, 2008 Martin Sheen

I had lateley heard rumblings about this, and today, it was announced.

The University of Notre Dame's annual Laetare Medal will be presented to Martin Sheen for his contributions to Catholic Life in the United States.

Each year, the University presents this award to an outstanding Catholic who has advanced the cause of Catholicism in our country.

Sheen has been in numerous film, and theatrical presentations in which he's portrayed Catholic characters facing modern and challenging situations.

I confess that one of my favorite scenes is from "THE WEST WING": In it, the President, Jed Bartlett (Sheen) is suddenly faced with a surprise commuting of a death sentence for an inmate faced with capital punishment. He struggles with his decision, as do his staff: Jewish, and Christian alike. He struggles with the political implications of commuting a death sentence in today's culture.

In the end, he "allows" the death sentence to go through, but not without a little Catholic guilt. He's summoned his boyhood parish priest to come report to the Oval Office. The priest, played wonderfully by Carl Mauldin, comes to comfort the President, but doesn't back down for a moment as his lasting, and most powerful conscience. It's an unforgettable scene.

I personally consider that episode to be one of my favorites of the WEST WING, and one of the best scenes ever portrayed on television in the United States.

Anyway, Sheen has been honored by numerous Catholic colleges, including King's College, my alma mater, and so I'm not surprised by this recent honor from Notre Dame, my other Alma Mater.....

Actor and human rights activist Martin Sheen has been awarded Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal for 2008. He will receive the medal, the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics, during the University's 163rd Commencement exercises May 18 (Sunday).
“As one of our nation’s most recognizable and accomplished screen actors, Martin Sheen has achieved a level of celebrity that few Americans enjoy,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., University president. “He has used that celebrity to draw the attention of his fellow citizens to issues that cry out for redress, such as the plight of immigrant workers and homeless people, the waging of unjust war, the killing of the unborn and capital punishment. We welcome the opportunity to lift up his example for our Church, our country, and our students.”
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Sheen was born Aug. 3, 1940, one of 10 children of a Spanish-born father and an Irish-born mother. His legal and baptismal name is Ramon Gerardo Antonio Estevez, but he later adopted his stage name in honor of the pioneering televangelist Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
After his graduation from Chaminade High School in Dayton, Sheen claims to have intentionally failed his entrance examination for the University of Dayton in order to pursue an acting career of which his father disapproved. Borrowing money from a priest friend, he went to New York City, working with Julian Beck’s Living Theatre and eventually landing a widely acclaimed role in the 1964 Broadway play, “The Subject Was Roses.” During this period, he became fascinated by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, visiting and volunteering at the Catholic Worker’s houses on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Sheen has played numerous award-winning television and film roles, most notably an amoral young murderer in the 1973 film “Badlands,” a disintegrating American soldier in the 1979 film “Apocalypse Now,” a bemused journalist in the 1982 biopic “Gandhi,” and the itinerant French co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Peter Maurin, in the 1996 film “Entertaining Angels.” From 1999 to 2006, on NBC's widely acclaimed television series "The West Wing," he played a soulful American president who was a Notre Dame graduate.
A self-described Catholic peace activist, opponent of abortion and student of Catholic social teaching, Sheen acknowledges his spiritual debts to St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Dorothy Day, Rev. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., and the late labor leader Cesar Chavez. He often has been arrested as a participant in nonviolent demonstrations against various U.S. military policies and has enthusiastically donated money, time and his celebrity to such causes as the alleviation of poverty and homelessness, human rights for migrant workers, and environmental protection.
The Laetare (pronounced Lay-tah-ray) Medal is so named because its recipient is announced each year in celebration of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent on the Church calendar. “Laetare,” the Latin word for “rejoice,” is the first word in the entrance antiphon of the Mass that Sunday, which ritually anticipates the celebration of Easter. The medal bears the Latin inscription, “Magna est veritas et prevalebit” (“Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail.”)
Established at Notre Dame in 1883, the Laetare Medal was conceived as an American counterpart of the Golden Rose, a papal honor which antedates the 11th century. The medal has been awarded annually at Notre Dame to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”
Among the 130 previous recipients of the Laetare Medal are Civil War Gen. William Rosecrans, operatic tenor John McCormack, President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker foundress Dorothy Day, novelist Walker Percy, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, and death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean.

So Martin Sheen joins us in being "Loyal sons and daughters of Notre Dame"...... may we all join in praising the Mother of the Savior of us all!

Congratulations, Martin!

May the Lord continue the good work begun in you!
One more reflection on today's gospel, a poem by Sr. Elizabeth Michael Boyle, O.P.

The Price

To be born blind
is to be born without:
to believe without icons
to worship without idols
to reflect without mirrors
to live without "living up to"any image,
especially your own.
I had no idea of darkness
until I saw the light.
Bathing in the pool of Siloam
I didn't have the sense
to search its clear bright waters
for a glimpse of my own face.

And so it was that his kind eyes
were the first to meet my own.
"So, this is what we look like,"
And this is what it feels like to be seen.

'If only sight has stopped there.
For then I yearned to show my parents
but their eyes flinched and failed
to hide
other faces -- judging , staring, bruising
fearing him, fearing me.
I had no idea of darkness
until I saw the light.-

Elizabeth Michael Boyle, O.P.