Pastor's Column

Saints Among Us

November 1, 2020,   Feast of All Saints

 

On All Saints, we look to those men and women definitively declared by the Church to be in Heaven. Our Catechism teachesus that “those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ;” these souls are perfectly incorporated into Christ and “enjoy the communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed” (no. 1023-1029).
 
We faithful study and learn from these flesh-and-blood persons who suffered many of the same trials and from the same temptations that we can face, only to emerge from them with a heroic intimacy with our Lord Jesus Christ that was evident to those around them and left a lasting mark on the life of the Church.
 
I was once in the presence of a saint – in October 1995, while a college student, I attended Mass in Central Park celebrated by Pope John Paul II with classmates. I can never forget the experience – the weather was damp and chilly and I was not adequately dressed for it. My mother Santina Panicali was succumbing to the pancreatic cancer that would take her life six months later. Because of this there was a sadness, a melancholy that I brought to that Mass with the Pope – which punctuated and set the stage for what I was to experience.
 
Even though a pall was cast over me that day, as it had every day since Mom received the diagnosis four months earlier, throughout that crowded Mass in Central Park, a calm, a peace, came over me, assuring me that everything was going to be okay. My words fail miserably in describing it; nevertheless, it was very real, and very comforting, to me. Even though I never was able to go anywhere near the Pope, I somehow communed with a saint that day. I am sure of it.
 
I have only had that feeling one other time in my life – that I was in the presence of a very holy person, and that something supernatural was taking place. I call my grandmother Maria Milazzo an uncanonized saint. Even though she died when I was only five years old, she left a mark on me that would only be validated as I got older and learned many painful things about her – one being that she and Grandpa had buried two children (nine-month-old Isabella from whooping cough, and eighteen-year-old Joey from epilepsy). The following are excerpts from a 2016 seminary paper I wrote on how my grandparents’ spirituality and Roman Catholicism shaped their experience as immigrants to the United States:
 
While in kindergarten I had decorated for Grandma a two-by-four block of wood, painting it yellow and gluing Crosses and pearly things on it. Grandma received it as though I were handing her the keys to Heaven. Grandma never had any words for me. By this time, she had already suffered a series of strokes, and the Grandma I knew was unable to speak and used a wheelchair. But I knew how much she appreciated my gift. And me. A palpable love and holiness emanated from this woman, the likes of which I do not think I have experienced since. Even though I was quite young, I was able to perceive an energy radiating from her. Children can often feel these things much more strongly than adults do. While Grandpa, the strong, hard-working, devoted family man, would mostly keep to his backyard vineyard and basement, Grandma wore all the emotions. In her chair, in her silence, I would describe her as a fountain, overflowing with joy, warmth, and love; magnifying the Lord….
 
I have now come to realize who inspired my own mother to tirelessly give of herself to our parish community even though she and my father were raising eleven children -- Grandma and Grandpa similarly were aware of other people’s struggles, and made them their own. This insight and altruism no doubt emerged from having suffered many dark nights and challenges. My aunt Sister Rosemarie Milazzo, Maryknoll Missioner, shares: ‘I was not yet born when my sister died, but I remember Joey’s death. It was extremely difficult. Grandma insisted that he have
a Mass of the Angels since he was an angel. She was traumatized by the death. Joey [had a developmental disability] and was watched every minute of the day. He was never left alone just in case he had a seizure. Imagine, he left so abruptly. Both Grandma and Grandpa were with him when he died. It was difficult indeed. Grandma and Grandpa’s faith sustained them’…
 
It was also a heart-wrenching experience for Grandma whenever letters from Italy would arrive bearing news of a family member passing away. After immigrating at age sixteen to help her older brother Frank, she never returned to Italy to see her family; from age sixteen and on, she would never lay eyes on her mother. Even when an opportunity presented itself many years later, Grandma still would not return. Aunt Ro shares that ‘when Grandpa’s sister was dying, he went back to Sicily and begged Grandma to accompany him. She told him she could not stand that pain of separation again, so she could not bring herself to go’”…
 
Today, fittingly, we celebrate the holy people, canonized and uncanonized, who have left a mark on us and lead us by their own example to the Cross of Jesus Christ.

 

Fr. Michael W. Panicali

 

 

 

 

Pastor’s Column October 24 - 25, 2020

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

 
For the second weekend in a row, our Gospel reading has the Jewish leaders of his day looking to
trap Jesus by his words. Last week it was the Pharisees and the Herodians who asked Jesus about the
legality of paying the census tax to the Roman authorities. In my homily last weekend about repaying to
Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God, I mentioned how Jesus’ teaching is so
timeless because, rather than laying down specific rules and regulations, he offers us general principles to
follow instead. That observation is even more clearly demonstrated in this weekend’s gospel when one of
the Pharisees, a scholar of the law, tries to test Jesus by asking him the question, “Teacher, which is the
greatest commandment in the law.”
 
While this question may seem simple and easy enough, we need to remember the centrality of the
Mosaic Law to Judaism. The Law of Moses is contained in what Jews call the Torah, or what we call the
Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
They include the Ten Commandments, moral laws regarding murder, theft, honesty and adultery, social
laws with respect to property, inheritance, marriage and divorce, dietary laws on clean and unclean food
and how to prepare and store it, purity laws concerning things like menstruation and skin diseases, feasts
such as the Day of Atonement, Passover, and the Festival of Weeks, sacrifices and offerings including sin
offerings, peace offerings, burnt offerings and first fruits, instructions for priests, the tabernacle, and
Temple, and so on. So picking out just one of these as the greatest would be sure to get Jesus in trouble
with one group or another.
 
But once again Jesus refuses to take the bait. Instead, he follows a standard that has come to be
known as the K.I.S.S. Principle. For those of you who may not be familiar with that terminology,
K.I.S.S. is an acronym which stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. Jesus knew how to not allow himself to be
drawn down into a petty disagreement about details. In his reply, Jesus shows us how the entire law can
be condensed into two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind;” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
 
Love of God comes first. To God we must give a total love which directs our thoughts, and a love
which is the dynamic of our actions. It is only when we first love God that other people become truly
lovable, because all men and woman are made in the image and likeness of God. A person who genuinely
loves God also loves his neighbors because he realizes that they are his brothers and sisters, children of
the same Father and redeemed by the same blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this love is not some
vague sentimentality, but that total commitment which, rooted in devotion to God, manifests itself in
practical service of others, especially, as our first reading points out, the alien, the widow, the orphan, the
poor and oppressed. This is the theme of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.
 
There are many today who criticize our religion as being overly legalistic, full of rules and
regulations saying you can’t do this and you can’t do that. And in fairness, sometimes the Church has
been her own worst enemy, with too many bishops and priests trying to get people to do the right thing
through guilt and fear. But Jesus shows us that it’s not about guilt and fear, it’s all about love. God first
loves us, even in our weakness and sinfulness. And it is in response to that unconditional, infinite love
that we love Him in return, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. And this total love
for God must naturally express itself in loving his creation, most especially our brothers and sisters
created in his image and likeness. So let’s follow the K.I.S.S. principle as we demonstrate our love of God
by our care and concern for one another through our participation in the Parish Stewardship Program.
 
Fr. Bob
Pastor’s Column October 17 - 18, 2020
 
 
“What Belongs to God.”
 
 
God most certainly has a sense of humor, and I am sure He must have enjoyed a hearty chuckle this week watching me as I read this weekend’s readings in preparation for this column. As you may have noticed, I have been working hard trying to lose weight. I have engaged a personal trainer and nutritionist with whom I work out three days a week, exercise on my own the other days, and follow a strict diet, cutting back on the red meats, pasta, bread, and sweets I love so much and eating more chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables instead. So I was practically drooling as the Prophet Isaiah says in our Old Testament reading: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” And if that weren’t bad enough, in our Gospel Jesus uses the image of a wedding feast in a parable. He says, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast!”’ Believe me when I say that they would not have had to call me (or at least the old me) twice!
 
But in the parable the originally invited guests do not come. “Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.” Eventually the king sends other servants to invite to the feast whomever they can find and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king finds someone not properly dressed with a wedding garment, he has that person bound and cast out into the darkness. Jesus warns us, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
 
Initially this parable was directed at the Jews of Jesus’ time who had been invited by God to be His chosen
people; yet when God sent his Son they refused to follow him. But this parable also has much to say to us today. Each Sunday we are invited to partake in the Eucharistic feast at Mass. Isaiah’s prophesy that “the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy rich food and pure, choice wines” is fulfilled by Jesus feeding us with his own body and blood. But how many of our brothers and sisters, nominally Catholic, ignore the invitation to come to the feast. Instead, these days we hear things like, “I believe in God. I am spiritual, I am just not religious;” or “I say my prayers; I don’t see a need to come to church.” Like the people in the parable who ignored the invitation to tend to their farm or business, many of our families today are busy with many things, oftentimes good things. But there is a better thing. God invites us to the banquet of the Eucharist which itself is a foretaste of the banquet to come in heaven.
 
God invites us to the feast, but it is up to us to accept the invitation. And once we accept the invitation, it is incumbent on us to be properly attired. God’s invitation, God’s grace, is not only a gift; it is a grave responsibility. We cannot go on living the life we lived before we met Jesus Christ, before we said yes to God. We must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness and a new goodness. Like me losing weight, it’s time for a new wardrobe. –
Fr. Bob
 
 
 
 
 
Pastor’s Column October 10 – 11, 2020
“Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
 
 
God most certainly has a sense of humor, and I am sure He must have enjoyed a hearty chuckle this week watching me as I read this weekend’s readings in preparation for this column. As you may have noticed, I have been working hard trying to lose weight. I have engaged a personal trainer and nutritionist with whom I work out three days a week, exercise on my own the other days, and follow a strict diet, cutting back on the red meats, pasta, bread, and sweets I love so much and eating more chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables instead. So I was practically drooling as the Prophet Isaiah says in our Old Testament reading: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” And if that weren’t bad enough, in our Gospel Jesus uses the image of a wedding feast in a parable. He says, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast!”’ Believe me when I say that they would not have had to call me (or at least the old me) twice!
 
But in the parable the originally invited guests do not come. “Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.” Eventually the king sends other servants to invite to the feast whomever they can find and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king finds someone not properly dressed with a wedding garment, he has that person bound and cast out into the darkness. Jesus warns us, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
 
Initially this parable was directed at the Jews of Jesus’ time who had been invited by God to be His chosen
people; yet when God sent his Son they refused to follow him. But this parable also has much to say to us today. Each Sunday we are invited to partake in the Eucharistic feast at Mass. Isaiah’s prophesy that “the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy rich food and pure, choice wines” is fulfilled by Jesus feeding us with his own body and blood. But how many of our brothers and sisters, nominally Catholic, ignore the invitation to come to the feast. Instead, these days we hear things like, “I believe in God. I am spiritual, I am just not religious;” or “I say my prayers; I don’t see a need to come to church.” Like the people in the parable who ignored the invitation to tend to their farm or business, many of our families today are busy with many things, oftentimes good things. But there is a better thing. God invites us to the banquet of the Eucharist which itself is a foretaste of the banquet to come in heaven.
 
God invites us to the feast, but it is up to us to accept the invitation. And once we accept the invitation, it is incumbent on us to be properly attired. God’s invitation, God’s grace, is not only a gift; it is a grave responsibility. We cannot go on living the life we lived before we met Jesus Christ, before we said yes to God. We must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness and a new goodness. Like me losing weight, it’s time for a new wardrobe. –
Fr. Bob
 
 

 

October 4, 2020 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
There’s More than Meets the Eye in Reading the Parable of the Tenants
 

Key to garnering meaning in the powerful parable presented in Matthew’s Gospel today, in which a landowner sends multiple people to collect the produce and earnings of his vineyard from the tenants who are overseeing it, is where one sees themselves in the parable, according to a commentary by Professor Emerita Sharon H. Ringe of Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC

(www.workingpreacher.org/preaching. aspx?commentary_id=996).

 

Prof. Ringe starts by shedding light on the historical context of Jesus’ parable, writing that it “begins with a situation that was business as usual in Roman-occupied Palestine. A landowner established a vineyard complete with a fence, a winepress, and even a watchtower. He then became an absentee landowner, returning to his own country as often happened in the far-flung territories of the Roman Empire. Tenants were in charge of overseeing the productivity of the vineyard and paying their rent to the owner at harvest time, in the form of a share of the produce.”

 

The landowner of course sends multiple people to collect the earnings – even his own son, who is murdered by the tenants. Prof. Ringe writes that when Jesus asks his audience (the chief priests and elders) at the conclusion of the parable about what the owner of the vineyard will do to the dishonorable tenants who killed his own son, “whether the answer is given in a gloating voice or as a lament in fear and trembling depends on where those listening see themselves -- us -- in the story, and therein lays the catch.”

 

We Christians, according to Ringe, usually associate Almighty God with the landowner, the temple leaders with the tenants who are “defrauding God of the rightful fruits of God's covenant with Israel,” the groups of servants sent to the vineyard with Israel's prophets, and Jesus, with the landowner’s son who is killed.

 

Prof. Ringe continues that traditionally, “we [the Christian faithful], in turn, [see ourselves] as the ‘other tenants’ to whom the ‘vineyard’ will be given after it is taken from the Jerusalem leaders who have not managed it well (Isaiah 5:1-7). Seen as an allegory of salvation history from Matthew's perspective, even to the point of depicting Jesus, who would be crucified outside of Jerusalem, as the son who is killed outside of the vineyard, this parable becomes an opening salvo from Jesus himself….”

 

Interestingly, Prof. Ringe argues that it may be useful to put aside these traditional associations, step back, and re-examine our approach to this parable, writing that “our confusion about how to read this parable is built into its role and place in Matthew's Gospel.” She continues that “Jesus' collision with the Jerusalem leadership is a thread running through the whole Gospel, just as the church would later be in conflict with the synagogue as both communities attempted to deal with the consequences of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple. The arguments between them were most often not about religious practices, but about the temple leaders' collusion with exploitative economic and social policies of the Roman Empire, and later over different ways of negotiating life under that Empire in the church and the synagogue from which it was ‘called out’ (ekklesia, [in Greek]).”

 

Jesus' citation of Psalm 118:22-23 (verse 42) within the parable, according to Prof. Ringe, “does not rebut the verdict the leaders have pronounced on the tenants, but rather it refocuses the discussion. The issue is no longer the old ‘vineyard,’ but rather a totally new structure of which Jesus himself is the ‘cornerstone.’ That structure is God's reign or empire, which Jesus has been proclaiming from the beginning of His ministry and which the church will continue to proclaim in Jesus' name.”

 

Finally, Prof. Ringe contends that the parable “does not use the story to set forth the surprising nature and qualities of God's reign, as do so many others in the Gospels. Its focus is rather on the futility of debates about, and maintenance programs for, the institutions of this age. Even the terms of God's relationship to God's own people are new. This puzzling parable pulls us forward toward that unknown future in which we will be both blessed and judged, and about which we know only that it is anchored in Jesus Christ.”

 

Wise interpretation of this weighty parable, and of our state of being as Christians, indeed.