Pastor's Column

 

Pastor’s Column         May 8 – 9, 2021

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”

 

St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist, is known as the beloved disciple. He calls himself by that nickname on two
different occasions in his Gospel. St. John was the one who got to recline at Jesus’ side at the Last Supper and place his head against Jesus’ chest to ask him the identity of his betrayer. Along with Peter and his brother James, John was part of Jesus’ inner circle, present at his most dramatic miracles, brought up the mountain by Jesus to witness his Transfiguration and asked to watch and pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. But in addition to being the beloved disciple, St. John might just as well be called the disciple of love. Our second reading this weekend begins with this exhortation and insight from St. John: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” And then in our Gospel reading St. John records these immortal words of Jesus: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. […] This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. ”
 
It is said that, at every celebration of the Eucharist, this last of the Apostles would deliver the same homily again and
again. They say that this wizened man would stand up and look at his congregation and simply say: “My dear little children, let us love one another.” And when asked why he would say this same thing over and over, St. John supposedly replied, “Because that is what Jesus our Master taught, and it is enough.”
 
Love of neighbor was something that was already prescribed in the Old Testament. But Jesus gives this precept of
brotherly love new meaning and takes it to a much higher level when he adds the second part of the phrase: “love one another as I love you.” Jesus goes on to teach us what this love is all about. He says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Christian love is not measured by man’s heart, but by the heart of Christ, who gave up his life on the Cross in order to save us from our sins. Jesus’ love is that self-giving love that knows no bounds and holds nothing back.
 
This weekend we celebrate Mother’s Day. I once heard it said that Jesus came to reveal to us the God who is our
Father and who loves us like a Mother. And when Jesus says to his disciples, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete,” I cannot help but think that this sounds like something my own mother would have said. She would often talk about how her children were her pride and joy, and I think we were all driven to succeed and achieve more for the happiness it would bring to her rather than whatever pleasure we might derive from it ourselves. And the reverse was also true. My mother would feel the pain of our setbacks and failures even more deeply than my siblings or I would, even if she didn’t always show it at the time so that she could comfort and console us and cheer us up again.
 
Just as a mother delights in her children, so does God delight in us. And just as a mother has compassion for her
children, so does God have mercy and compassion on us. At an Angelus early in his pontificate Pope Francis compared God’s love to motherly love. He said, “The Lord feels compassion for us, like a mother does for her children.” Our Holy Father continued: “This ‘compassion’ is God’s love for man, it is mercy, thus the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our destitution, our suffering, our anguish. The biblical term ‘compassion’ recalls a mother’s womb. The mother in fact reacts in a way all her own in confronting the pain of her children. It is in this way, according to Scripture, that God loves us.” God does indeed love us like a mother, and He also gives us his own Blessed Mother Mary whom we honor this month of May to watch over us and nurture us and protect us and love us and pray for us. Happy Mother’s day! -- Fr. Bob

 

 

5th Sunday of Easter     May 2, 2021

Lessons from the Keyboard

 

 

Throughout the past year or so I have enjoyed playing hymns on the piano during our daily Holy Hours at St. Mark. I have played piano since I was eleven years old, and it is one of the great joys of my life. One of my former teachers, my friend George Poppe, is the long-time organist and director of music at St. Clare’s Church in Staten Island. He recently wrote this column for his church bulletin which I have enjoyed so much, I wanted to share it here. Dealing with advancement in the spiritual life, it is titled, ‘On Being Perfect,’ and reads: “In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ challenges us humans to be perfect. In terms of daily living,  we are challenged to accomplish tasks perfectly: paying the bills on time, doing a good job at work, eating good food and staying healthy, maintaining our homes and vehicles, loving our family and friends, etc. The list goes on and on. I can relate my profession as a performer to the attainment of perfection. As a classical pianist, there is always the moment at which you hit a bump in the road. It is when you are working on a piece of music and one passage doesn't want to play out smoothly and easily. As you play the piece over and over, this one section or musical phrase stubbornly will not allow your hands to get by it. It becomes a mental block, and shows itself like a piece of dust on a newly painted canvas.
 
What to do? The answer is conscious repetition of the phrase, employing corrected fingerings and watching that the old wrong habits do not creep back in. Perfection in the spiritual realm is quite the same endeavor. Once we hit a sour note with our brothers and sisters we are prompted to change ourselves. All the inconsiderate behaviors which we incur are somehow brought to light and we are challenged to change. Biting our tongue may be the best course of action in the interest of family peace; yet, sometimes we are compelled to have a heartfelt discussion with a family member that requires us to broach a difficult subject. Our approach to problems should always involve love and encouragement, and not an outright attack. Diplomacy can often help accomplish desired outcomes. It takes daily practice to perfect ourselves, to become kinder, more loving, and, yes, stronger in the ways of God. Often
the answer lies with the reformation of ourselves, and not with that of our loved ones. 
 
Just as the pianist engages in a dialogue with his instrument, so too must we engage each other in communicative dialogues followed up by action to achieve a desirable and more beautiful harmony. After all, how does one get to Carnegie Hall? You know the answer. It’s the same as with achieving our Heavenly reward.”
 
As we practice, practice, practice in this journey we call life, each one of us inevitably will hit some wrong notes; the amazing thing is how the good Lord is able to incorporate those wrong notes into a beautiful symphony, when we allow Him ownership of our lives. And over our keyboards.
 
Rev. Michael W. Panicali

Pastor’s Column      April 24 – 25, 2021

 
“I am the Good Shepherd.”
 
What a weekend! On Saturday our St. Mark – St. Margaret Mary Parish Picnic makes its return to Nansen Park
in Staten Island after a year’s hiatus due to the pandemic. On Sunday we honor our patron, St. Mark, on his Feast Day,  with an afternoon concert in the church at 4:00 pm featuring Nina DiGregorio and the Italian Opera Company. And this Sunday also happens to be Good Shepherd Sunday and the Fifty-eighth Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
 
The Church has always used the image of the shepherd with respect to its bishops, priests and other Church leaders. In fact, our word “pastor” is the same as the Latin word for shepherd. Our gospel this weekend offers us the figure of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who knows us, his sheep. In fact, Jesus takes up this title himself. He says, “I am the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep…. I know mine and mine know me, just as the
Father knows me and I know the Father.” Jesus calls us, he feeds us, he guides us, he protects us, and he lays down his life for us. Jesus is the great shepherd of the sheep, and he entrusted to his apostles and their successors like St. Mark, who by the way, was the first Bishop of Alexandria, as well as to the current day bishops and their collaborators, today’s priests, the ministry of shepherding God's flock. Those of us in the ordained ministry act in the person of Jesus and pray for the grace to love the flock entrusted to us with His heart.
 
In his message for the 2021 World Day of Prayer for Vocations Pope Francis uses the example  of St Joseph.      .He writes, “God looks on the heart, and in Saint Joseph he recognized the heart of a father, able to give and generate life in the midst of daily routines. Vocations have this same goal: to beget and renew lives every day. The Lord desires to shape the hearts of fathers and mothers: hearts that are open, capable of great initiatives, generous in self-giving, compassionate in comforting anxieties and steadfast in strengthening hopes. The priesthood and the consecrated life greatly need these qualities nowadays, in times marked by fragility but also by the sufferings due to the pandemic, which has spawned uncertainties and fears about the future and the very meaning of life. Saint Joseph comes to meet us in his gentle way, as one of “the saints next door”. At the same time, his strong witness can guide us on the journey. […]Saint Joseph suggests to us three key words for each individual’s vocation. The first is dream. Everyone dreams of finding fulfilment in life. We rightly nurture great hopes, lofty aspirations that ephemeral goals – like success, money and entertainment – cannot satisfy. […] A second word marks the journey of Saint Joseph and that of vocation: service. The Gospels show how Joseph lived entirely for others and never for himself. […] Together with God’s call, which makes our greatest dreams come true, and our response, which is made up of generous service and attentive care, there is a third characteristic of Saint Joseph’s daily life and our Christian vocation, namely fidelity. Joseph is the “righteous man” (Mt 1:19) who daily perseveres in quietly serving God and his plans.”
 
God is calling heroes forth in every vocation today. Especially new shepherds of heroic faith, heroic virtue and
heroic zeal are being invited to be so much more than we realize we can be. I can tell you from personal experience, it is awesome being a priest. Pray that our young people may hear their vocational call and courageously answer it, and pray that parents and families will encourage their children to be open to a possible call to the priesthood, diaconate and the religious life. Happy Feast of St. Mark! -- Fr. Bob

 

Pastor’s Column              April 17 – 18, 2021

Food for Thought

 

One line in particular from this weekend’s Gospel grabs me time and again. After His Resurrection, in one of His many manifestations to His disciples, Jesus asks if they have something for Him to eat. This line is captivating – showing the sheer humanity of Our Lord in that in this instance, He hungers for bodily food, while at the same time, as the Son of God, He has just manifested His Divinity, in rising from the dead!
 
This past Tuesday, I had a wonderful interaction with St. Mark Catholic Academy’s third-grade class, upon visiting the classroom to distribute Holy Communion after the children live-streamed the 8:30am Mass. I must have spent a good twenty minutes in the classroom praying with them, distributing Communion, and mainly answering their questions about the Holy Eucharist – and if I had not had someone waiting for me in my office, I would have stayed longer. The questions kept coming, and hands kept getting raised:
 
What is the difference between the wine at Mass, and grape juice?
• Is it special wine?
• Why is it we no longer are drinking the wine at Mass?
• How is it that the (Eucharistic) hosts are perfect circles?
• Did Jesus eat hosts like this? What was the bread that He ate like?  
• How come kids aren’t given the wine at Mass?
 
 
And of course, the questions that have been raised by children, the people of Jesus’ time, and the greatest of theologians throughout the history of Christendom, were also posed to me by these eager young learners:  
 
How can this be the Body of Christ? Isn’t it just regular bread?
• Is the host still bread, or is it something different?
• Doesn’t it still taste and look the same as what it was before?
 
 
Needless to say, this is a very inquisitive, very articulate group. The Academy and parish community is blessed by their enthusiasm. Their questions in turn prompt each of us adults to examine what we believe, and the questions we ourselves have in regard to the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  
 
The main point I attempted to impart to the third-graders last Tuesday is that human beings not only have bodies that need food (as Jesus does in today’s Gospel), but also souls that need food (which prompted questions on the human soul, and the spirit world, which would have made Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas quite proud).
 
This simple statement I made to them, is the thrust of our very complex understanding of the Eucharist. Our great and magnificent Lord, in asking for food from the disciples, reminds us today, that we hunger for the spiritual food that He so beautifully and humbly provides us at Holy Mass. This is so that our souls are fed, as our souls journey to Him.
 
As the Feast of Corpus Christi looms in the not-so-distant future, we all hope for the inquisitiveness and zeal of the St. Mark Catholic Academy third-grade class, in wrestling to comprehend what the Lord has amazingly and miraculously done for us, in giving us His Body, to feed our souls. 
 
Rev. Michael W. Panicali