Pastor’s Column

July 20-21, 2024

“His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.”

 

On this sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the theme of the good shepherd whose heart always goes out to his sheep echoes throughout our readings. We sing with the psalmist this weekend: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” How often, indeed, we need to hear those beautiful reassuring words. The image of the shepherd and the sheep is one that we come across quite often throughout the Scriptures and in the Gospel of John, Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep so that they can be safe, and can remain within one flock and not be scattered.

In our first reading, we hear God’s promise through the prophet Jeremiah to bring together the scattered sheep of his flock and to “appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble.” We see that promise being fulfilled in our Gospel reading through Jesus. He had invited his apostles to come away to a deserted place to rest after they had come back from their missions. But the crowd would not even allow them to enjoy such rest, and Jesus, upon seeing their persistence and need to be ministered to, “was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” As the Good Shepherd, he was willing to ignore his own needs in order to meet the needs of the sheep.

The Lord continues to fulfill his promise to shepherd us, his flock, through his Church. Our ministers—the Pope, the bishops, and the priests, continue that same shepherd role entrusted to the apostles after the Good Shepherd himself. Hence, it is indeed a serious and important task which is why great care is taken in forming men who would tomorrow, by the grace of God, be counted among the shepherds of the Lord’s flock. What other better way is there to learn how to become a good shepherd than being with the sheep and having “the smell of the sheep,” in the words of our Holy Father Pope Francis?

So, as a seminarian, it is very crucial in my formation that I become familiar with the people of God that I will, one day, be serving as a priest, as their shepherd, because they are the ones that will teach me how to be a good priest, a good shepherd. It is on this note that I must say a very big “Thank You!” to all of you here at St. Mark–St. Margaret Mary parish for the wonderful role you have played in my formation during this short but great time I spent with you. Thank you for welcoming me and for allowing me be part of your parish family this summer. I had a great time both at the school with the kids, at the parish with the wonderful parishioners and groups I was blessed to meet, as well as the Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach neighborhoods that I have come to develop some special liking for. More especially, thank you very much Fr. Bob (our pastor) and Fr. Michel for your pastoral mentorship. I appreciate all you did to make sure I had a wonderful summer pastoral experience.

I go back to the seminary this Fall to complete my last year of seminary formation. I want you all to know that your love and care and prayers for me during this summer with you will be a great strength for me and I will always keep you in my heart and prayers as well. Please, continue to pray for me and my classmates as we prepare for that day when we say yes and lay down our lives like the Good Shepherd for the service of the people of God. Until I see you again, may the good Lord continue to bless and keep you. —Callistus (seminarian)

 

Pastor’s Column July 14-15, 2024

“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.”

 

In our Gospel this weekend, Jesus sends out his Apostles on mission and gives them authority over demons. The reality of demonic powers has been a constant doctrine of the Catholic Church ever since it was founded by Christ through his Apostles. The Church teaches that Satan and the other demons were at first good angels, created by God before the creation of the human race. But they became evil by their own free choice, radically rejecting God and His reign. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel called “Satan” or the “devil”. […] The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing” (CCC 391).

Christ, who himself encountered Satan when he was tempted in the desert, referred to demons on many occasions, and casting evil spirits out of those who were possessed was an indispensable part of His ministry. In our gospel reading, St. Mark tells us that the first task that Jesus gave to His Apostles as he sent them on mission was to expel demons. “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. […] The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

Thankfully, instances of demonic possession, while real, are extremely rare. But we are all engaged in some type of spiritual warfare with Satan and his demons through temptation. The ordinary activity of demons is subtle and occurs within our thoughts. They plant ideas within our minds seeking to influence our reason, memory, imagination, and ultimately our will. Demons tempt us through deception. Jesus called Satan “a liar and the father of lies”. They also tempt us through accusation. Scripture calls the Devil the “accuser” of Christians. Acting like a bully, he tries to make us feel worthless and hopeless to pressure us into sin. The devil also tempts us through doubt  as he seeks to shake and diminish our faith. Finally, demons tempt us through enticement. They know our  weaknesses and bring to our attention things we find attractive in the hope of drawing us into sin.

While demons may have remarkable power to use against us, it is essential to remember that they don’t have unlimited power. Satan is only a creature, subject to God his Creator and Judge. Why God allows demons and evil to exist is a mystery we cannot and will not fully understand in this life. But we can say that God allows evil because even out of the greatest evil God can bring about a much greater good. And through the Church God provides us with the weapons we need to battle the demons and resist their temptations, most notably the sacraments, especially Confession and Holy Communion, sacramentals such as the brown scapular, the miraculous medal, and holy water, and prayer, in particular the Rosary, and the prayer to St. Michael. And if the attacks seem to be more than ordinary temptation, causing spiritual, mental or even physical pain, come see me your Pastor for help.

If you are old like me, you may remember comedian Flip Wilson who played a character named Geraldine. Whenever Geraldine fell into sin she would say, “The devil made me do it!” But, while the devil may try to make you do it, with the grace and help of God and his Church, you have the power to fight back and resist. The first rule
of warfare is to recognize and know the enemy. St. Peter wrote, “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith.” — Fr.

 

 

Pastor’s Column July 6-7, 2024
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house.”

Whereas last weekend’s Gospel reading told us about two miracles that Jesus performed for people because of their faith, our Gospel for his Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time tells us that Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deeds for those who lacked the gift of faith. The scene of this event was Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Jesus arrived accompanied by his circle of disciples, so we know that this was not some private trip to visit with family and friends; rather, Jesus was there as a Rabbi and Teacher. And so, when the Sabbath came, Jesus began to teach in the synagogue. And although St. Mark says that “many who heard him were astonished,” the people took offense at him saying, “Where did this man get all this? […] Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And Jesus was not able to perform any miracles there.

As Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” Jesus’ words remind me of my time in Rome when Bishop DiMarzio would come from time to time to visit the Brooklyn seminarians studying there. The Bishop always seemed so much more relaxed in the land of his ancestors, approximately 4,300 hundred miles and an ocean away from all the problems and challenges he had to deal with back in Brooklyn and Queens. And occasionally during those business trips to Rome, the Bishop would also try to work in a visit to his family in Bari. During my second year in Rome, the Bishop invited one of the seminarians a couple of years ahead of me to accompany him on just such a trip. The seminarian said that while spending so much time with the Bishop was somewhat intimidating, once they arrived at the farm where the Bishop’s family lived, he had the opportunity to see the Bishop in a completely different light. For among his family he was not His Excellency, the Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn, but just plain nephew Nicky or cousin Nicky who could be chastised for not visiting more often or teased about for putting on weight.

Unfortunately for those people who had watched Jesus grow up in Nazareth, they could not get past those preconceived notions they had about him. Although they were astonished by his teaching, they could not see beyond his humble, human origins. They were not able to accept the idea that there was something more to Jesus than what they could see or understand; that he was more than just the carpenter’s son, that he was more than just the son of his mother Mary, that indeed he was and is the only begotten Son of God., the long awaited Messiah.

Many of us today have the same bad habit of judging others by their outward appearance or of being blinded by our prejudices or of not being able to see beyond our own limited world view. And influenced by our secular culture, a good number of people today still have that same difficulty as those living in Nazareth two thousand years ago with respect to Jesus. They say, “I believe that Jesus was a great man, a wise teacher and a prophet. I just don’t believe he was divine.” But as Bishop Robert Barron likes to point out, such a position makes absolutely no sense. For either Jesus is who he claimed to be by his words and demonstrated himself to be by his miraculous deeds and actions, or he is a hoax, a fraud, a delusional and dangerous con man who should be rejected and vilified.

St. Mark tells us that Jesus was amazed at the lack of faith of the people in his native place and because of that he was not able to perform any mighty deed there. Let us pray that God’s grace might open our hearts and minds so that we do not jump to conclusions, are less judgmental, and that our faith in Jesus might increase so that he will accomplish mighty deeds for us and through us and astonish us and amaze us. – Fr. Bob

 

 

Pastor’s Column June 29 – 30, 2024
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

Our readings this weekend and next can be viewed as a contrast between people of faith and those who do not have faith. Mark’s Gospel contains two accounts of miracles that Jesus performs for people who seek his help in faith. It begins with the story of the synagogue official named Jairus, who pleads with Jesus to come and lay hands on his twelve-year-old daughter who was at the point of death. But their journey to the synagogue official’s home was impeded by the crowd that followed Jesus and pressed upon him, and then was interrupted by another healing that took place along the way.

Right in the middle of this story about Jairus and his daughter, St. Mark tells us about a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years who came up behind Jesus in the crowd. The woman had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had, but she only got worse. The woman said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured,” and as soon as she touched Jesus’ cloak, her flow of blood dried up. As perhaps only those of us who have commuted on a packed subway during rush hour can appreciate, when Jesus tried to find out who it was in the crowd that had touched him, his disciples responded, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?” But the woman, who knew she had been healed, approached Jesus in fear and trembling and told him the whole truth. Jesus reassured her: “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” What beautiful words! At some point in our lives, each and every one of us needs healing, whether it be physical, spiritual, psychological or emotional. We all long to hear such comfort from the mouth of Jesus. “My daughter, my son, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

Jesus did not even finish getting these words out of his mouth when people from the synagogue official’s house arrived with the news that Jairus’ daughter had died and so he should not trouble Jesus any longer. But Jesus disregards their message and tells Jairus, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” When Jesus arrives at the house he tells the mourners that the girl was not dead but asleep, and the people ridicule him. He brought the child’s parents and those disciples who were closest with him, Peter, James and John, into the child’s room, took her by the hand and said, “Talitha koum,” that is, “Little girl, I say to you arise,” and immediately she got up and began to walk around.

How many times do our concerns also involve praying for another, perhaps for a family member or good friend? It can often be more nerve-racking and painful to watch someone we love have to suffer or deal with a difficult challenge than to do so ourselves. And sometimes well-meaning people will try to discourage us from praying or seeking God’s help as if that were some useless fantasy and instead tell us we need to accept the reality of the situation and the status quo. But faith is not fantasy. Faith is not some irrational crutch. Faith is a deep-seated trust and belief in someone and something that does not go against reason but goes beyond reason.

Both Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the flow of blood give us an example of the importance of faith in Christ’s power, for only a miracle can cure Jairus’ daughter who was on her death-bed and heal this lady who had done everything humanly possible to get better. Normally, God’s help comes to us in ordinary, unspectacular ways, but we must always trust in God for whom all things are possible. As Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Or as NY Met relief pitcher Tug McGraw’s famous slogan which helped inspire a last place team to the National League Championship once put it, “Ya gotta believe!” — Fr. Bob

 

Pastor’s Column June 22 – 23, 2024

“Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

This weekend’s Gospel reading is St. Mark’s account of Jesus calming the wind and sea. And I cannot help but be reminded of a story about a storm involving my father and me back when I was about 18 years old. We used to spend our summers together with two of my mother’s sisters and their families in a country house near Candlewood Lake in New Fairfield, Connecticut. My mother and her sisters and all my cousins were excellent swimmers. We spent almost every waking moment at the New Fairfield Town Park on the lake. Our fathers would come up on the weekends. My dad was not a swimmer and was deathly afraid of the water. He would rarely even put his feet in the lake. He was content to lie on a chase lounge and listen to a ballgame on his transistor radio.

I worked at the Town Park as a lifeguard. My best friend and fellow lifeguard named Pat had one of those flatbottomed pontoon boats. I finally convinced my father one day to come out on the boat with us for a ride. We were out in the middle of the lake when all of a sudden, the sky turned black and the wind picked up. We could see the lightning and hear the thunder from across the lake as the storm began to move our way. Waves began to form on the normally placid lake and started to wash over the boat’s engine which began to sputter. My friend told everyone to move to the front of the boat, hoping to keep the engine dry. That only caused the pontoons to submerge and water began to rush over the front of the boat. He began to yell, “To the back of the boat! To the back of the boat!” My father was terrified. We said a prayer, made it back to shore, and I somehow survived both the storm and the wrath of my dad. Our Gospel story begins in the evening of the day, a time most people arrive home from work. Their labors done, they may be tired, but are also full of hope. Jesus suggests to his disciples: “Let us cross to the other side.” This crossing in Mark represents moving beyond our doubts, fears and limitations in order to arrive at a place of promise, refreshment and renewal. Notice that Jesus takes the initiative and offers an invitation, but it is up to the disciples, just as it is up to us, to act and take the next step. The disciples, we are told, left the crowd and took Jesus with them in the boat. But when a violent squall suddenly comes up and the waves begin to break over the boat, the disciples panic. They find Jesus asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat and wake him. But rather than ask him for his help directly, the disciples seem more concerned about themselves and how Jesus feels about them. They ask him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Like a good parent, Jesus first takes care of the problem at hand. Mark tells us that Jesus “woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ The wind ceased and there was great calm.” And then once the problem was behind them, like a good father Jesus takes the opportunity to teach his disciples a lesson. He asks them, ‘“Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”’

Of course, the answer to this rhetorical question is that Jesus is God, the Lord and Master of our lives. Jesus might as well be asking you and me that very same question. Why are you terrified? Why are you anxious? Of what are you afraid? Do you not yet have faith? Remember, Jesus is in the boat with us as we sail across the sea of life. Though at times we may think or feel that He is asleep, believe me, he knows and is aware of everything that is going on in our lives. And while it is inevitable that from time to time storms will come up, the wind will blow and the waves will come crashing into our boat, Jesus will rebuke the wind and still the sea and keep us calm if we but have faith and trust in him. – Fr. Bob