Clergy Column - July 12, 2020
Is the seed scattered or Sown?
An interestingly-decorated brick lay at one of the doorways of my former seminary, Pope St. John XXIII, in Weston, Massachusetts. Painted white, it bears the inscription, “The seed that falls on rocky ground.”
I imagine the brick is there to remind seminarians as they come and go that the instruction that they receive would all be for naught if it landed on rocky ground; that is, if it wasn’t fruitfully brought into their priestly ministry.
Jesus in today’s Gospel lays out this unfortunate possibility with regard to how the people of His day – and indeed, the people of the present age – can receive His teachings. Some are going to completely cast them aside. Others are going to receive and embrace them for a period of time, and then revert to old ways. And some are going to hear, receive, and embrace them wholeheartedly into their way of being – not for a period of time, but permanently. For these people, the teachings of Jesus will be life-changing.
The seminary brick makes me think back to times in my own formation when a guy would rub me the wrong way and I’d ask myself, “Is he studying the same things that I’m studying?;” or better yet, “Why is this guy here?” Inherent in asking this, is the presupposition that I was meant to be at seminary, while it was questionable for others to be. As it relates to today’s parable, I was considering myself as the consistently fertile ground upon which the seed falls and is nourished – and others, maybe not so…
The challenge today’s Gospel presents me, and each and every one of us, is to look inside ourselves, and prepare to see what we don’t want to see. In a larger sense, this is an exercise in holiness. I’ve said in many a homily at St. Mark, regarding the saints so beautifully depicted in the magnificent icons of the church, that these men and women, if asked, would not be able to tell you how they made it up there on those walls. They would be quick to point out their own sinfulness and unworthiness.
As the Christian faithful, we must confront the real possibility that hearing God’s Word might change us for a little while, and help us to be a better version of ourselves for a time … until we succumb and easily fall into the traps of self-righteousness and complacency. We certainly do this in other areas of our lives. Before I go to the doctor, for instance, I try to lose a few pounds. The psychology behind this is that I want to present a better version of myself than the person I have been between visits. I also want to make sure my body is healthy so that nothing worrisome comes up in the way of cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, etc. If I ever get a jolt from a doctor’s visit, I’ll start eating a bit differently, and embark upon a healthier lifestyle … until, of course, the same harmful
foods, or quantities of them, reemerge in my diet.
Such is with the spiritual life. It is a life lived in consistent and steady mindfulness of personal and social sin and what can harm us and those around us. It involves frequent introspection into how we are responding to God’s Word, as seen and demonstrated in our actions toward others.
Bishop Robert Barron, in Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011) describes in his chapter on the Sacred Liturgy the action and significance of recalling our sins: “Immediately after the greeting, the priest invites everyone in attendance to call to mind his or her sins. This simple routine is of extraordinary importance. G.K. Chesterton once remarked, ‘There are saints in my religion, but that just means men who know they are sinners.’ For the great English apologist, the relevant distinction is not between sinners and non-sinners, but between those sinners who know their sin and those who, for whatever reason, don’t. The heroes of the faith – the saints – are precisely those who are ordered toward God and who therefore have a keener appreciation of how far they fall short of the ideal.”
Bishop Barron continues, “Saint John of the Cross compared the soul to a pane of glass. When it is facing away from the light, it smudges and imperfections are barely noticeable, but when it is directed at the light, every mark, even the smallest, becomes visible.This explains the paradox that the saints are most keenly aware of their sins, even to the point of describing themselves as the worst of sinners. We might make this for false modesty, but it is in fact simply a function of a truly saintly psychology. Therefore as the Liturgy commences and we stand within the embrace of the Trinitarian love, we mimic the saints and become, perforce, not less but more aware of our sin.”
Realizing that we are a constant work-in-progress – and that God is merciful -- lays the groundwork for receiving God’s Word as fertile ground that allows the seed to be received, nurtured with the help of God, and grow into fruit that solely gives glory to Almighty God.
Fr. Michael Panicali
Pastor's Column - July 5, 2020
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When I was growing up, one of my favorite television shows was Welcome Back Kotter. The show starred stand-up
comedian and actor Gabriel "Gabe" Kaplan as the title character, Gabe Kotter, a wisecracking teacher who returns to his almacomedian and actor Gabriel "Gabe" Kaplan as the title character, Gabe Kotter, a wisecracking teacher who returns to his alma mater, James Buchanan High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, to teach a remedial class of loafers, lovingly called "Sweathogs". That High School was based on the Brooklyn high school that Kaplan attended in real life, New Utrecht High School, which my father also attended, and which was also shown in the opening credits. Many of the show's characters were also based on people Kaplan knew during his teen years as a remedial student, such as Vinnie Barbarino, a cocky Italian- American played by a young John Travolta, Juan Epstein, a fiercely proud Puerto Rican Jew played by Robert Hegyes, Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington , the hip, black student known for his skills on the basketball court, played by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, and Arnold Horshack, the class clown played by Ron Palillo. The show’s popular theme song, "Welcome Back", was written and recorded by John Sebastian, and became a No. 1 hit in the spring of 1976. The second verse of that song seems particularly appropriate: “Welcome back! We always could spot a friend. Welcome back! And I smile when I think how you must have been. And I know what a scene you were learning in. Was there something that made you come back again? And what could ever lead you (what could ever lead you), back here where we need you (back here where we need you? Welcome back! Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back!”
It has been a tough couple of months for all of us. We have been at the epicenter of a world-wide pandemic fighting a
new and deadly disease, which led to stay at home orders, economic collapse and financial hardship. And we have had to deal with demonstrations and protests for racial equality and justice that have too often become destructive and violent. And we have had to struggle through all this without the nourishment and strength we need and long for from the Eucharis
But as we hear from the prophet Zechariah in our Old Testament reading this weekend, “Rejoice heartily, O daughter
Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.” The wait is over and we can celebrate the Eucharist together again! And in our Gospel our savior Jesus Christ invites us to spend some quality time with Him: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Who among us does not feel burdened and in need of rest? Come back home to St. Mark and to St. Margaret Mary. Place your burdens on the Lord and let Him refresh you, giving you His Body and Blood in the Eucharist to strengthen and sustain you.
Welcome back! Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back! We missed you! -- Fr. Bobr
Pastor's Column - June 28, 2020
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Be steadfast in Christ, even if it brings turmoil
Our Gospel reading today is all the more interesting, given the fact that we just celebrated Father’s Day last Sunday,
and Mother’s Day a little over a month ago. Jesus’ opening salvo, addressed to His apostles, is a bit jarring, to
say the least: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter
more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of
Our society rightfully and nobly celebrates parenthood, and asks that proper respect be given to parents by their
children. The family is not only the “domestic Church,” but the Fourth Commandment also says to honor one’s
father and mother!
Children, reciprocally, must be loved by their parents in order to thrive. My mom Santina Panicali used to tell us
that she loves us “this much,” as she would spread her arms out as broadly as they would go. A child simply cannot
be given “too much” love by his parents. If there is a limit on parental love, this is a recipe for disorder and tumult
within a child.
Finally, phrases such as, “Charity begins at home,” and “Blood is thicker than water,” also inform us of the importance
of the family ties that bind us.
Today’s Gospel, then, begs the question: Is Jesus refuting all these suppositions we hold dear?
The answer is a resounding, “No!” Jesus, instead, is making the case for true discipleship -- true, unbridled
commitment to Him. The Collegeville Bible Commentary (The Liturgical Press, 1989, Dianne Bergant and Robert
J. Karris, general editors) explains that what is stressed in Matthew: 10, referred to as Jesus’ Missionary Discourse, is
“how the disciples of Jesus are to act (10:5-15) and what they can expect (10:16-42); … just as the disciples share in
Jesus’ power, so they must share His lifestyle and His sufferings” (p. 876).
Matthew 10: 34-39 specifically deals with conflicts in one’s family. The Commentary deftly explains:
“Jesus does not guarantee the absence of conflict. In Jewish society of His time, family ties were far stronger
than they are in the modern societies of the West. But faithfulness to Jesus may involve the rupture even of these
bonds. The passage is not an attack on family life as such, but it does insist that the disciples have a greater loyalty
to Jesus than to the members of their families. In the extreme cases of having to choose between Jesus and one’s
family, Jesus demands absolute loyalty to Himself. The sayings about the Cross (v. 38) and losing one’s life (v. 39)
foreshadow Jesus’ own fate and continue the theme of the disciples’ identification with Jesus” (p. 877-878).
Finally, with regard to the faithful receiving the disciples of Jesus (Matthew 10: 40-42), the Commentary explains
that “the disciples are the representatives of Jesus. To receive them is to receive not only Jesus, but also His
Heavenly Father (v. 40). Fitting rewards will be given to those who receive Christian prophets and holy men or even
simpler Christians, because they all represent Christ and His Heavenly Father” (p. 878).
We can take solace in the fact that if there is division in our families, because of our Christian convictions and
steadfast devotion to Christ, that these conflicts are well worth the trouble they may cause us.
They may even be paving our path to eternity.
Fr. Michael Panicali
Pastor's Column - June 20-21, 2020
Solemnity of the Sacred Heart and St Margaret Mary Alacoque
This past Friday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is one of those moveable feastswhose date each year depends on the date of Easter. The feast of the Sacred Heart takes place 19 days after Pentecost. And it was on the Feast of the Sacred Heart 100 years ago, on Friday, June 11, 1920, that Mass was publicly celebrated for the first time in what would become the Parish of St. Margaret Mary. The following is taken from the St. Margaret Mary Book of Announcements for 1920:
“The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was publicly celebrated for the first time at Manhattan Beach on Friday, June 11,
1920, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by the Rev. Edward A. Wallace. The real estate office of Joseph P. Day, corner of Ocean Avenue and Oriental Boulevard in which the Mass was celebrated, has since become the first Catholic Church of Manhattan Beach. The servers of the first Mass were two of the most highly respected Catholic residents of Manhattan Beach, Mr. Thomas Monahan and Mr. Michael Finnegan. About ninety-four persons were present at the Mass, forty-five of whom received Holy Communion. On Sunday June 13, 1920 it was announced that there would be two Masses every Sunday, at 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM, as well as a daily Mass at 8:00 AM. Confession was held on Thursday evenings on the eve of First Fridays, and there was a First Friday devotion in Honor of the Sacred Heart at 8:00 PM. On Saturday June 26, 1920 at 2:00 PM a Euchre and Bridge Party was held at the house of Mrs. Thomas Monahan, 206 Hampton Avenue, for the benefit of the church… On Sunday, September 12, 1920 the Bishop’s letter permitting the building of a church was announced.”
Given its connection to the Feast of the Sacred Heart, it is only natural that the Patroness of the new parish and church would be St. Mar aret Mary Alacoque, a French Roman Catholic Visitation nun and mystic who promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in its modern form. From early childhood, Margaret was described as showing intense love for the Blessed Sacrament, and as preferring silence and prayer to childhood play. She entered the Visitation Convent at Paray-le-Monial in France, a place I had the great privilege to visit, on May 25, 1671. In this monastery Alacoque received several private revelations of the Sacred Heart, the first on December 27, 1673 and the final one 18 months later. The visions revealed to her the form of the devotion, the chief features being reception of Holy Communion on the First Friday of each month, Eucharistic Adoration during a Holy Hour, and the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
Margaret Mary reported that Jesus permitted her to rest her head upon his heart, and then disclosed to her the wonders of his love, telling her that he desired to make them known to all mankind and to diffuse the treasures of his goodness, and that he had chosen her for this work. Jesus said, “Behold this heart which has loved men so much, and has been loved so little in return.” Initially discouraged in her efforts to follow the instruction she had received in her visions, Alacoque was eventually able to convince her superior, Mother de Saumaise, of their authenticity. After the death of Margaret Mary, the devotion to the Sacred Heart was fostered by the Jesuits and the subject of controversies within the Church. The practice was not officially recognized until 75 years later. Alacoque was canonized by Pope Benedict XV on May 13, 1920, just one month prior to that first Mass publicly celebrated in Manhattan Beach, so our church would have to be among the first ever dedicated to St. Margaret Mary.
Unfortunately, our ideas for marking this momentous occasion have been waylaid for the moment by the pandemic, ut
we will most certainly find a suitable way to celebrate once we are able. – Fr. Bob
Clergy Column - June 13-14, 2020
Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Corpus Christi Endures
I was fortunate to visit the town of Corpus Christi, Texas five summers ago with one of my best
friends, Fr. Baldemar Garza, who hails from there and is now a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston.friends,
one would expect for a city named for the Body and Blood of Christ, I was swept up with some of the
beautiful churches and the religious devotions of the Catholic faithful.
A popular devotion that extends well beyond the boundaries of this beautiful, pious, Gulf Coasthugging
city, is the Eucharistic processions to mark the celebration of today’s Feast of Corpus Christi. As
with many things around us, this year’s celebration of the beautiful feast will be quite different; precautions
over COVID 19 have preempted this popular devotion throughout the streets of Sheepshead Bay
and Manhattan Beach.
If good can come of this terrible pandemic, might I offer this: the renewed appreciation of the
Eucharist in the life of the faithful. We priests have heard from so many parishioners, friends, and family
members how difficult it has been for them to not be able to attend Mass in-person and receive the Holy
Eucharist. So many have expressed how much pain this has caused them. Many have experienced a
tangible longing for the Lord’s Body and Blood. Some have even offered this longing as a spiritual
It calls to mind the Eucharistic spirituality of a great many saints, some of whom went long periods of
time subsisting only on the Eucharistic Body and Blood. One such saint, celebrated on April 29 and
known as the Saint of the Eucharist, is St. Catherine of Siena. Author Cynthia Trainque quotes Fr.
Raymond of Capua’s biography, the Life of St. Catherine of Siena:
“Pope Gregory XI…to content this longing of hers, published a Bull that granted her the right to
have a priest at her disposal to absolve her and administer Communion to her and also to have a
portable altar, so that she could hear Mass and receive Communion whenever and wherever she
liked. .…For the seven year period prior to her death, Saint Catherine of Siena took no food into
her body other than the Eucharist. Her fasting did not affect her energy, however. She maintained
a very active life during those seven years. As a matter of fact, most of her great accomplishments
occurred during that period. Not only did her fasting not cause her to lose energy, but became a
source of extraordinary strength, she becoming stronger in the afternoon, after having received
our Lord in His Eucharist.”
Trainque goes on to write that “it was Catherine’s tremendous love of Jesus in the Eucharist that
allowed her to go out to the poor and especially the very ill and to minister to them as she did. Wasn’t
this the Eucharistic spirituality that Mother Teresa of Calcutta lived out, too — so that she could pick up
the dying from the gutters of the slums, carry them to one of her clinics and care for them until they either
got better or died with dignity? Love and devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist does that. They took
very seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do
unto me’ (v. 40)” https://catholicexchange.com/st-catherine-of-siena-saint-of-the-eucharist.
That many of our faithful are expressing a great longing for the Eucharist, is a potent and vivid
articulation of the mystical reality at work in our communion with the saints, and at work in enacting our
salvation. While the Corpus Christi celebration will not take place in our neighborhood this year, what it
celebrates endures, until the end of time itself…
Fr. Michael Panicali