Pastor's Column

Pastor’s Column
May 3`, 2020                 Feast of Pentecost

Strength of the Spirit

 

As our Easter season comes to a close on this glorious feast of Pentecost, the Coming of the
Holy Spirit, I’d like to share with you a description of a prayer card that I picked up somewhere
along the way while in seminary. On the front cover is a beautiful picture of a white dove, with
gold rays emanating top and down from its body.
 
This is characteristic, of course, of the image that the Church commonly uses for the Holy
Spirit. What is not characteristic, however, is that there appears to be seven drops of blood
emanating from the dove within the gold rays. At least this is what a seminarian buddy of mine
called attention to when he told me about this particularly prayer card that he said I just had to
attain for myself.
 
On the back of the prayer card is this simple, yet eloquent, prayer:
O, Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, … I adore You.
Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me.
Tell me what I should do … give me Your orders.
I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me
and to accept all that You permit to happen
Let me only know Your will.
 
I have long treasured this card because of the distinctness of the drops of blood, portraying
Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, and what they indicate to us about Christian life. Moreover,
though it may sound like an oxymoron, the prayer of abandonment to the Holy Spirit on the
back of the card is incredibly empowering; such is the fulfillment that comes when submitting
ourselves daily to what the Lord desires of us and permits to happen to us.
 
Dr. Edward Sri, in Praying the Rosary Like Never Before: Encounter the Wonder of Heaven
and Earth (2017), writes that “just as God descended on Mount Sinai in the form of fire, with a
loud sound and with divine speech familiar to the people, so now God’s Holy Spirit descends
on the mountain of Jerusalem with the extraordinary signs of fire, a loud sound, and miraculous
speech that is understood by people of different languages. Portrayed as a new Sinai event, the
descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost marks another turning point in salvation history, the birth
of the new covenant people of God, the Church” (p. 135).
 
Importantly, Dr. Sri emphasizes that “the prophets foretold that God would establish a new
covenant with a new kind of law: a law that would be written on people’s hearts. This new law
would do much more than inform people of a moral code they should follow. It would actually
give people a supernatural strength to rise above their weak, fallen human nature and walk in
God’s ways” (p. 136).
 
Incredibly, as the prayer card tells us, this supernatural strength comes with submitting
ourselves to what the Lord desires of us and permits to happen to us.

 

Fr. Michael Panicali

 

 

 

Pastor’s Column
May 24, 2020                 Seventh Sunday of Easter

 

BE BOLD FOR CHRIST

 

Last Sunday, I rode my bicycle over the Manhattan Bridge into lower Manhattan, all the way from Sheepshead Bay! A great big billboard grabbed my attention as soon as I got onto the bridge from the Brooklyn side. It simply said one word: COURAGE. Maybe you have seen this billboard if you ride the D, N, Q, or F trains into Manhattan. It struck me as particularly pertinent in these challenging days. We have seen a great deal of courage displayed by doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, hospital workers, health aides, transit workers, police officers and
firefighters, and social service providers, including those who labor in food pantries and homeless
shelters. Many of these courageous individuals are our fellow parishioners, and have responded to
the call of duty in exemplary, sacrificial ways.
 
As we come upon Pentecost, and hear prevalently from the Acts of the Apostles in our
readings, I am struck by the toughness and grit displayed by the Apostles and followers of Christ
after His Resurrection. They are simply different people from the ones we encounter before
Christ’s Death and Resurrection. They are emboldened.. They are fearless. They say what needs to
be said and throw caution to the wind – certainly as it relates to incurring punishment and
persecution from the Roman and Jewish authorities.
 
They are indeed COURAGEOUS individuals who risk, and give, their lives, for the sake of
Christ. Our Church is built on the convictions of these men and women – who based their own
convictions on Christ. Many of these men and women had not even met the earthly Christ, and yet
they were still emboldened by an encounter with Him – sometimes mystically, and sometimes
simply through the account and boldness and Spirit-filled words of eyewitnesses
.
I am sure to stress the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit -- COURAGE’s synonym FORTITUDE
being one of them -- to the St. Mark Catholic Academy students preparing for Confirmation each
year. Though I have seen FORTITUDE described in varied ways, I find this simple description
from Wikipedia particularly useful: “Fortitude is often identified with courage, but St. Thomas
Aquinas takes its meaning to also encompass endurance. Joseph J. Rickaby describes it as a
willingness to stand up for what is right in the sight of God, even if it means accepting
rejection, verbal abuse, or physical harm. The gift of fortitude allows people the firmness of
mind that is required both in doing good and in enduring evil.”
 
Christ tells us, “If the world hates you, take comfort, for the world hated Me first.” As
Pentecost approaches, we pray that we are filled with COURAGE and FORTITUDE, this gift of
the Holy Spirit, to uphold the teachings of the Church and boldly proclaim Christ in a world that
continues to reject Him.
 
Fr. Michael Panicali

 

Pastor’s Column
May 17, 2020                 Sixth Sunday of Easter

 “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate

to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept.”

 

As our liturgical celebration of the season of Easter begins to draw to a close (next Thursday is the
Solemnity of Our Lord’s Ascension and ten days after that we celebrate Pentecost), the focus of our
Scripture readings is more and more directed towards the Holy Spirit. In our Gospel this weekend for the
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as our Advocate, the Spirit of Truth. I have always
found it interesting to think about the Holy Spirit as our Advocate, our Lawyer, if you will (in Italian, the
word for Lawyer is Avvocato). When I studied in Rome, I used to complain that so many of the homilies
given by my brother seminarians and faculty, most of whom were from those square states in the middle
of the country we are usually flying over to get to where we want to go, were always using analogies
about farming, agriculture, digging fence posts, etc., things to which I had a hard time relating. But those
of us here in New York certainly know the importance of having a good lawyer on our side. Our
television and radio airwaves are filled with commercials for lawyers like Celino and Barnes
(800 888 8888) or Burns and Harris (dial 1 800 PAIN LAW) over and over again. A lawyer is someone
who speaks on our behalf, who stands up for us and protects and defends us when we find ourselves in
trouble.
 
In our Gospel this weekend, as Jesus prepares his followers for his Ascension back to the Father, he
tells his disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the
Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him,
because he remains with you and will be in you.” What an awesome and important gift we have in the
Holy Spirit which we first receive by virtue of our Baptism, and in which we are sealed when we
complete our initiation into the Catholic faith with the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Holy Spirit is our
Advocate who pleads our cause and brings our prayer to the Father. The Holy Spirit gives us his gifts of
wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord to enable us to discern
God’s will so that we can make the right decisions in our life.
 
Now, no analogy is perfect, and comparing the Holy Spirit to those lawyers we have come to know
and love (or hate as the case may be) in our society fails in one very important aspect. Whereas our civil
lawyers are not always known for their adherence to, and pursuit of, the truth, our Advocate, the Holy
Spirit, is also called the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, protects and defends
us from the wickedness, snares, and temptations of Satan who is the Father of Lies. In this fallen and
broken world in which we live, a secularized world that has often abandoned God and embraced the error
of relativism, we are bombarded with misinformation and lies every day; lies that speak about abortion as
reproductive health and euthanasia as compassionate care. We are told that money and wealth is
the measure of our success, that material things will make us happy, and that religion only enslaves us and
fills us with guilt. But the truth of the matter is that only by living in God’s love will we be truly happy,
and only following his plan for our life will bring us true peace and contentment. Jesus says, “Whoever
has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves
me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” To help us do that, we need
the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth and our Advocate. Come Holy Spirit!
 
-- Fr. Bob

 

 

 

 

Pastor’s Column
May 10, 2020                 Fifth Sunday of Easter

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:1). 

 
This statement of Jesus’, at the heart of today’s Gospel, is dogmatic; one cannot profess himself
to be Christian without full, unwavering attestation of this two-fold revelation of Jesus’ identity, and
His role in the salvation of humankind. His direct words, His ministry, His establishing His Church,
and His call to baptize all nations, all have logically led to many within the Church, over its two
centuries, to proclaim the classic dictum, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”
 
It goes without saying that this dictum has provoked much confusion and controversy. On a
personal note, this topic very recently was the center of a discussion taken up by the parish’s Men’s
Ministry. Without getting into the back and forth, I digress to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
nos. 846-847, and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium, November 21, 1964)
in its discussion of salvation outside the Church:
 
“How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Reformulated
positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church
which is His Body: ‘Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a
pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of
salvation; He is present to us in His Body which is the Church. He Himself explicitly asserted the
necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church
which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing
that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to
enter it or to remain in it’ (LG, no. 14; cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5).
 
This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and
His Church: ‘Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His
Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their
actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may
achieve eternal salvation’” (LG, no. 16; cf. DS 3866-3872).
 
With this being understood, I lean on the wisdom of Dr. Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy and
noted author and apologist, in stressing the Church’s importance in enacting salvation. He writes, in
Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the
Catholic Church (2001):
 
The fundamental reason for being a Catholic is the historical fact that the Catholic Church was
founded by Christ, was God’s invention, not man’s – unless Christ, her founder, is not God, in which
case not just Catholicism but Christianity itself is false. To be a Christian is to believe that ‘Jesus
Christ is Lord.’ To acknowledge Him as Lord is to obey His will. And He willed the Catholic
(‘universal’) Church for all His disciples, for all Christians. We are Catholics because we are
Christians” (p. 98).
 
And so we proudly and boldly heed the call of our reading today from 1 Pt 2, v.4 and 5: “Beloved,
come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God;
and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer
spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
 
Fr. Michael Panicali

 

 

 

 

Pastor’s Column
May 2 – 3, 2020


“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

 

I have to admit that I am a news junkie. Even during this Coronavirus pandemic when the news is so
depressing and often causes great anxiety, I find it impossible not to watch or listen. The first thing I do when
I get out of bed in the morning is ask my Alexa device, “What’s up,” and I listen to the 1010 WINS news brief
for the day. And when I am in my car, which admittedly is a lot less often these days, I usually have on
WINS. I guess it’s a habit I picked up from my mother. She used to listen to that station all the time, including
when she went to bed. All night long the whole house would hear their slogan over and over again: “1010
WINS, you give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world.” Well, our Gospel reading this weekend for the
Fourth Sunday of Easter, which is known as Good Shepherd Sunday and is also the World Day of Prayer for
Vocations, contains one of my all-time favorite Scripture verses. And it is easy for me to remember because
rather than 1010 WINS, this verse is 10:10 John; that is, the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 10: “I came thatthey might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
 
After almost two months of being cooped up by a government stay at home order and being forced to
celebrate Mass privately in a locked up church, I long for that abundant life that Jesus promises and to which I
have become so accustomed. But as I look back over these past several weeks and take this pandemic to
prayer, I can see the hand of God at work bringing life to a world that is currently experiencing much anxiety,
suffering and death. I see the large number of people who have been viewing our live-streamed Masses and
Holy Hours and I read the many kind words and positive comments so many of you have posted on our parish
Facebook page. I see the amazing work being done with distance learning by our St. Mark Catholic Academy
principal, administrators, teachers, parents and, most especially, our students, many of whom celebrated the
Feast of St. Mark by posting pictures of themselves and/or their artwork with a lion, the symbol of St. Mark,
of all types. I see the care, concern and generosity of so many of you who call to check in on one another, and
who continue to support the parish financially through your donations to GiveCentral, the Annual Catholic
Appeal, your weekly offering envelopes, and our St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry.
 
The Priesthood is most definitely life giving, and not just to those of us who are so privileged to receive
that particular call, but also to all of you, our spiritual children, who call us Father. Whether it is bringing new
life into the Church through Baptism, or nourishing that life by making Jesus present in the Eucharist, or
renewing and healing that life physically and spiritually in the Sacrament of the Sick and Confession, or
blessing the unions that bring new life into the world in the Sacrament of Marriage, the priestly vocation is in
the midst of this abundant life. And while it is so sad and painful that the sacramental life of our parish and the
Church of Brooklyn has been curtailed by this pandemic, we look forward with eager anticipation to that day
when conditions make it possible for us to open up the church again. In fact, we have been making the
necessary preparations, figuring out the number of seats we would have with the current social distancing
guidelines of people six feet apart with an empty pew in between front and back (103 seats) and making sure
we have plenty of hand sanitizer available so that we are ready to go once the restrictions are lifted.
 
My brothers and sisters, with the weather finally warming up and trees and flowers blooming, the signs of
God’s abundant life are all around us. Pray for your priests and pray for vocations to the Priesthood,
Diaconate and Consecrated Life this World Day of Prayer for Vocations. And remember, while 1010 WINS
may give you the world in 22 minutes, 10:10 John promises you abundant life for all eternity. Stay safe and be
well. – Fr. Bob