Clergy Column - August 2, 2020
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Hands of the Lord Feed Us; He Answers All our Needs
On Sundays my mom would usually prepare three pounds of pasta – we’d always call it ‘macaroni’ -- to feed my very large family. That same batch of macaroni would make its way to the dinner table the following night. And if there was still some left over, it would make another appearance on Wednesday!
Mom always knew how to spread the macaroni over several meals.
As was always the case on big holidays, Mom never seemed to sit down. Even if it was Mother’s Day – her day – she was on her feet running back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room. She simply loved her family and making sure they were well-fed. Such it is with mothers. And such it is with Our Lord! Today’s beautiful Gospel from Matthew, famously known as the “Loaves and Fishes,” illustrates the love the Lord has for His children and the depths He will go to feed them. In this Gospel account, as He mourns the horrif-ic death of His cousin John the Baptist, the Lord performs a beautiful miracle – this, after taking pity on the great multitudes of people who had gather, and healing the sick among them. We are told the crowd numbers five thousand men, not even counting women and children!
The Lord does not rest with curing the sick and ministering to the multitudes; He also feeds them, by multiplying the scant number of loaves and fishes to the point where twelve wicker baskets of food are left over. It is interesting that His disciples wish Him to simply dismiss the crowds when it is clear there is nothing for them to eat. The Lord’s response is that there is no need to send them away.
Expressed in our colloquial language of today, it’s almost as if the Lord says, “I got this.” Jesus is present to, He heals, and He feeds those who come to Him in trust and faith, and with a longing for God. His care has no limits. His pity, mercy, and love will lead Him to the Cross. He gives His very life to reconcile His beloved with the Father Noteworthy is that Jesus says to the disciples, “Give them some food yourselves.” He empowers the disciples to do what He can do! He includes them in feeding the multitudes. The Gospel reads,
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.”
The parallels to our Eucharistic Prayer are intentional. Today’s Gospel is a microcosm of what the Church offers today, as insti-tuted by Jesus Christ -- healing, care, and spiritual food. Through the actions of we priests -- sinful men, just as the Apostles were sinful men -- Jesus comes to the multitudes today to be present to them, heal their sickness and brokenness, and feed them.
Brothers and sisters, we are present in those multitudes of people gathered around Jesus. Our Living Lord will stop at nothing, today, to make sure we, like them, are taken care of.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – St. Paul, Rom 8
·Fr. Michael Panicali
Pastor's Column - July 26, 2020
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field…”
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls…”
In our Gospel this weekend Jesus tries to teach us about the kingdom of heaven using two analogies. He tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it” (Matthew 13:44-46)
Jesus certainly knows how to grab our attention. In our materialistic culture that often times measures success by what a person owns or how much he or she is worth, people are tempted to believe that things will make them happy. But as the great Scripture scholars have taught throughout the ages, the buried treasure and pearl of great price that Jesus is talking about do not represent something, but someone, Christ himself. He is that hidden treasure in the field. He is that pearl of great price. He is the Kingdom of Heaven incarnate. As I mentioned in my homily last weekend, our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said, “Jesus Himself is what we call heaven; heaven is not a place but a person, the person of him in whom God and man are forever and inseparably one. And we go to heaven and enter into heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him.”
It was Jesus who taught us to call God our Father. It is Jesus who reveals to us that God is a community of love, Father, Son and Spirit, and it is Jesus who calls us to share in and participate in that love by being in relationship with Him, by loving and serving Him through loving and serving one another. Our relationship with Him, expressed through our relationships with one another, is the only thing that will truly make us happy.
Finding a buried treasure is something unexpected, something fortuitous. We do not and cannot do
anything to earn God’s love. He offers us his love freely, totally, unconditionally. When we experience God’s love
in our lives and come to know its infinite depth, we too are filled with great joy. Think back perhaps to your
wedding day, or to the birth of a child, or when a special prayer was answered. For me, the day of my ordination was such an experience. It is a feeling so exhilarating we want it to never end, and in heaven, it never will. That is
why attaining heaven is worth our total effort.
The merchant’s search for fine pearls is something which requires a deliberate effort, courage, and great
perseverance. It also involves being able to discern the genuine article from a false imitation because of the many dishonest merchants looking to deceive. Just as God offers us his love freely, he puts within our hearts a desire for that love. And our search to fulfill that desire can sometimes lead us down the wrong path, for there is no shortage of people in this world who are looking to deceive us into thinking that desire can be filled by some cheap imitation, like material things, or sex, money or power. But if we persevere and remain true to our mission, our search will one day be rewarded.
While Christ is that buried treasure and pearl of great price to us, we are that buried treasure and pearl of great price
to Him. He purchased us by giving up everything for us, by shedding His blood and offering His life for us on the Cross
He loved us first with an infinite love; and the only appropriate response is to love Him in return, which necessarily
means loving one another. These analogies teach us that the kingdom of heaven is something so wonderful, so valuable, so fulfilling that we are to hold nothing back. When it comes to our relationship with God, we must commit ourselves totally to Him, because He holds nothing back from us.
– Fr. Bob
Clergy Column - July 19, 2020
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
For True Growth to Happen, Wheat and Weed must grow side-by-side
Bishop DiMarzio’s recent column in The Tablet, “The Birth of our Democracy,” spoke much truth in regard to the recent calls and attempts (some successful) to tear down statues and monuments throughout the nation, of figures, and depictions of figures, that for some, have sparked uneasiness and controversy. He writes that “the statues that are now being taken down with public authority or by acts of individuals betray a misunderstanding of human nature. It is human nature that has been wounded by Original Sin, but it has been redeemed by the Blood of Jesus Christ. There are no perfect people.”
The Bishop adds that the statues of saints that the Church, “well aware of the foibles of human nature,” has long erected, all celebrate imperfect, sinful people – except, of course, those depicting the Blessed Mother; for “there is no saint whose statue we honor who was sinless except the Virgin Mary.”
I would like to add what I see as a parallel in today’s Gospel reading of what is referred to as the “Parable of the Weeds.” Jesus, referring to a field where unwanted weeds grow alongside fertile wheat to be harvested, speaks through the voice of the field owner, saying, “If you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Today’s call to uproot the weeds in the public sphere, so that we are left with only the wheat, not only contradicts the wisdom of the Church, as expressed through Bishop DiMarzio’s words above, but also the wisdom of Holy Scripture. This phenomenon is not sound from a practical standpoint, nor from a Biblical one.
Our Judeo-Christian history is replete with murderers, adulterers, liars and thieves who today, through the grace of God, we herald as linchpins of our faith – Saul of Tarsus, King David, Augustine of Hippo, and Matthew the tax collector -- among them. It was to the once-sexually immoral Mary Magdalene that the Lord first appeared after His Glorious Resurrection.
These men and women give us all inspiration to better ourselves, renounce sin, and boldly and loudly proclaim and live the Gospel. Theirs are the stories of redemption that will stir us. These are the men and women, as people of the past, who give us all hope and remind us of who we can be, today.
Not celebrating their repentance and their triumph over sin, made possible by uniting themselves with the Blood of Jesus Christ, would be a great detriment to restoring the broken of today’s world and leading those souls to Christ. It would be a great detriment to proclaiming the saving power of Christ!
Today’s Parable of the Weeds makes clear that it is up to the Lord to decide and sift through who is weed, and who is wheat. Jesus describes His holy angels taking up this task at the end of time. Until then, we as a society must learn that true strength and progress comes with allowing the wheat and the weed to grow together, if we are to truly learn from our transgressions and advance as a civilization. A wise adage I very recently came across reads, “History is an excellent teacher with few pupils.”
Moreover, until that time when the harvest is to be collected, we the faithful have to be cognizant that throughout our lifetimes, we are going to be both weed and wheat. We must not get comfortable and complacent, for this can be our undoing.
Brooklyn priest Fr. Chris O’Connor wrote in a ‘Sunday Scripture’ column for The Tablet several months ago, that the spiritual life is like climbing a steep mountain – at no point are we stationary; we are either going up and advancing, or are being pulled down by gravity, or going in the opposite direction.
Today’s parable doesn’t serve to remind us that the wicked are going to be inevitably punished, as much as it serves to remind us that we are all sinful and in need of the mercy of God at all times. A great mistake would be to consider oneself as consistently growing wheat in a field. We the Christian faithful can look to imperfect people, the saints, to right ourselves in those times in our lives when we more closely resemble the weeds.
Fr. Michael Panicali
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