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12 January 2014

Changing Addresses

Well, the time has come to say good-bye to New Sandals - but not completely.

From now on, I'll be collaborating with a group of great people over at Catholichow.wordpress.com to think out loud about how we're Catholic in contemporary culture.

I'll continue to post homilies over there and other items that interest me.

Check it out and enjoy!

01 December 2013

Requiem for a Grandmother

My maternal grandmother - my last living grandparent - passed away peacefully on Wednesday.  I returned to Boston a day earlier than I expected on Friday and will return to Jersey on Monday for the viewing and funeral mass.  If you would, please keep my family in your prayers in the coming days.  

Here is my grandmother's obituary: 

Jennie "Jean" (nee Biss), 90, of Carlstadt for 60 years, passed away at home on November 27, 2013. Mrs. Zimmerer was born in Jersey City. She was a homemaker and a parishioner of St. Joseph's R.C. Church. Before her beloved Frank passed, Jean and Frank loved to golf and spend time at their summer home at Lake Wallenpaupack with family and friends. After his sudden passing, Jean would travel by bus to volunteer at the American Cancer Society in Hackensack, became a member of the Carlstadt Senior Friendship Club and enjoyed going to Atlantic City to play the slots. She also devoted her time to her family and growing number of grandchildren, baking her cookies for every family occasion. She recently celebrated her 90th birthday in June with her family and friends. Beloved wife of the late Frank D. Zimmerer. Loving mother of Frank T. Zimmerer and his wife Debbie, Nancy Janeczko and her husband Mark and Robert Zimmerer and his wife Rosemarie. Cherished grandmother of Frank and Dana Zimmerer, Matthew, OFM Cap, Luke and John Janeczko and Eric Zimmerer. Predeceased by five siblings, including her sister and best friend Helen F. Stroz. Also survived by niece and nephew, Susan and Richard Stroz. Funeral from the Kimak Funeral Home, 425 Broad Street, Carlstadt on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 9:00 AM and from St. Joseph's R.C. Church, East Rutherford at 9:30 AM. Interment Hillside Cemetery, Lyndhurst. Visitation Monday 4-8 PM. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to either Province of St. Mary, Capuchin Mission and Development Office, 210 West 31st St., New York, N.Y. 10001 or St. Joseph's Church, Restoration Fund, 120 Hoboken Rd., East Rutherford, N.J. 07073.

And, in case you were wondering, my homily for Tuesday:

The day before my grandmother passed away, my Uncle Bob and I were visiting with her.  He turned to me and asked, “Isn’t there anything you can do?”  I responded, “I have a call in to the Lord, but they keep telling me to hold the line.”  Little did we know at the time that I was wrong: it was my grandmother telling holding the line.  Until the very end, my grandmother, your mother, your friend, was going to do it her way.  She had fought so long to remain at home, she wasn’t going to pass on until she was good and ready and at home!
 And so, on behalf of my entire family, thank you for your prayers and support, thank you for joining together with us in prayer today before Almighty God as we pray not only in thanksgiving for the life of my grandmother, but also pray with anticipation for the resurrection for which we all hope.
 Today’s Gospel is a sort of basic instruction about “What It Means To Be a Christian.”  In speaking with my mom, it became clear to me that this is the Gospel ought to be proclaimed as we lay our mother, grandmother and friend, Jeannie, to rest.
 We hear today, 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
As many of you know, my grandmother lost her husband, my grandpa, Frank in 1988.  For over twenty-five years, my grandmother has mourned the love of her life, in a quiet inimitable way.  She would make jokes all the time, of course, at every family gathering, “This may be the last time I am here.”  But this wasn’t the mourning I’m talking about.  No, you should have seen her eyes glow every single time her husband was mentioned.  She would cock her head to the side, smile gently and say, “Remember when Father did this, or Father said that…” One of my favorite memories with my grandma took place just a few months ago.  For some reason, I got to telling stories about my grandpa – the few things a three-year old can remember, and you should have seen the way she glowed.  She glowed, I think, precisely because his memory was so present to her, precisely because in her mourning she sought to preserve his memory.  Despite the sadness at losing her husband earlier than she would have ever thought, my grandmother never let it control her.  No, whether it was taking the bus to volunteer at the American Cancer society or spending time with her grandchildren, she found comfort in the gifts that God had given her – grandchildren and a ferocious will to live - gifts that allowed her to comfort others.
 We hear, 
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God. 
We pray today, of course, that God looks upon the purity of my grandmother’s heart and welcomes her into His Kingdom.  And when he looks, he will indeed see purity: most especially God will be able to see purity of heart that comes from having raised three children – and passing away knowing all three continue to grow in faith – that all three are present here today and have, throughout their lives, passed on their faith to her grandchildren.  God will indeed see a heart colored by charity: charity toward her grandkids, always wanting to “slip them something green” – no matter what an odd amount - $27 for instance.
We also hear, 
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 
My grandmother was a peacemaker.  Or, maybe, it’s more accurate to say, a peace-builder.  One of the extraordinary things about her life was her ability to bring people together.  This didn’t strike me until just last week, when, gathered around the Thanksgiving table, we told story after story of family and friends who had met each other and broke bread with each other because of my grandma.  I cannot believe all of the people that I have met because of my grandmother, her caretaker for the past five years, Rose, among them – thank you for all you’ve done, Rose.  Indeed, peacemakers are children of God, not because they make peace appear in violence, but rather because they build communities where we have the opportunity to meet and greet each other as children of God!
 We gather here together to mourn that which we have lost: a grandmother, mother and friend.  But at the same time, we consider what my grandmother has gained by her faith: gladness and salvation given to her freely by God, a happiness that was set aside for her through baptism in a church in Jersey City so long ago.
 In a lot of ways, the mountain that described in the first reading today fits my grandmother’s time on Lake Wallenpaupack, even if Coors Light and golf at the Hotel Ellendale aren’t mentioned.  Though the red house in Indian Rocks contained such great memories for my grandmother – and Rutland, Vermont before that – these places only foreshadowed the great mountain that my grandmother would climb in her final days.  And yet, on this final climb, on the final trip home, she ever kept faith that the day would come when, just we heard in our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah the “Lord God [would] wipe away the tears from all faces.”
 And so, on this day of sadness, let us be consoled not only in the memories in our hearts of grandma, but also that the promise extended to her is also extended to us: Blessed are those who mourn, those who are pure of heart, those who are peacemakers, for in the days to come, as the Gospel teaches us, the Kingdom of God shall be ours.

22 November 2013

Of Kings and Jesus



When I was a kid, every year my family would go to a county fair in Pennsylvania, about forty minutes to the east of Scranton.  The highlight of the evening for me would be the ride on a Ferris wheel with my dad: until, that is, the car started to rock.  Things would always start well: we’d wait our turn, get into the car and start our slow ascent to the top.  Without fail, the car would stop at the very top of its rotation and we’d have a great view over the countryside: in the fading light, we could see farms, mountains, forests and fields and the lights of Scranton beginning to brighten.  And then the car would start to rock as people got on and off: just a little bit, and then a little bit more, and then a swing as we jolted forward just a few feet for another car to be unloaded and loaded.  Of course, looking back it wasn’t all that big of a deal, but for an eight-year-old, this rocking would cause all my fears of heights to come rushing back.  I would go from great joy at being on top of the world – and then the moment would end, crashing down around me due to my own insecurities.

And so it is for Jesus in today’s Gospel. Perhaps between breaths on the cross we can imagine Jesus looking out at Jerusalem, the city he loves.  He sees the buildings of Jerusalem rising up above the hills and can’t help but remember the moments of joy as a child on pilgrimage with Mary and Joseph.  Maybe he thinks about his moments of learning in the Temple, or recalls just days ago he entered into Jerusalem while receiving a hero’s welcome.

Looking beyond Jerusalem, Jesus would have been able to see the road leading into the city.  This road was the place of any number of wonderful memories.  We have heard about many of them throughout this last year.  The lepers cleansed. A blind man sees A widow’s son raised.  Preaching mercy.  Offering forgiveness.  Dining with sinners. Teaching in the Temple.  Providing an example of how to pray. 

But back to reality: Jesus is on the cross, nailed there, abandoned by eleven of his closest friends, betrayed by the twelfth, embarrassed by a religious kangaroo court and then beaten at the hands of an empire desperate to keep control.  Quite literally, then, one of the men hanging next to him adds insult to injury.  He mocks Jesus for not being who he said he was, mocks him for being abandoned by God, mocks him for being strong enough to help others, but not himself!  We too know this feeling: one moment on the top of our games, praised – getting things right – and then because of a misunderstanding, an illness, an off-handed comment, we are cast out by a friend, in a relationship, at work: we are all alone again, the whole world crashing down on us.

So Jesus hangs there, his mission a total failure, with a sarcastic title above him: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.  And at that moment, there is only one person who still thinks that Jesus being a king is worth anything: the second thief.

The thief thus takes a chance, asking for the Lord to remember him – a sinner – when He comes into the Kingdom of God.  Jesus, hanging from the cross, breathing his dying breaths, responds in an extraordinary way, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The Feast of Christ the King asks us to do what the good thief did: have the courage to see Jesus and not ourselves as the King.  Recognizing Jesus as king means looking at the at the cross as the beginning and ending points of our lives: no matter how many lepers we heal, no matter how many people we feed or friends we make, true love will always lead us to cross: it will call from us a love that breaks our heart over and over again.

We already know some crosses: a parent stricken with cancer, a brother in trouble with the law, a spouse who loses a job.  These are the crosses that we can expect.  The truly revolutionary moment in our Christian lives, however, comes when we begin to seek out the Crosses of others: to search to enter into the messiness of the lives of people we don’t take care of because of family ties or the loyalty of friendship.  Christian greatness is when we find the thieves who hang in public and decide to hang with them: when we get put up on the cross for all to mock, that is the time we ought to have the courage to hang there with them and call out to Jesus, “Remember us, when you come into your kingdom.” 

The great temptation represented by the bad thief today is to reject the world as hopeless, as unable to be change, and to therefore care for only ourselves.  The good thief, on the other hand, realizes that when are suffering for the sake of love of neighbor, we share in the very life of Jesus.  When we suffer because of love we are reminded that the wrong question is “Where is my kingdom?” Christian faith in the world isn’t about a question, but an answer:  “Jesus, remember us all, when you come into your kingdom!”

As the followers of the Lord, we are called to spread not just good news, but the best of all news: we follow Jesus Christ the king, who rules through the force of love, a love that when rejected, dies and rises again.  This is the love we follow the King who climbed up on the cross because that is where He could find us.  Today and every day, Jesus the King finds us on our own crosses, takes us down, and then points us to the crosses of others.  Just as the Good Thief realized Whom he encountered on the cross – the King of the World – so may we this week have the same encounter.  And, once seeing the King on His Cross, let us then spread his message of total self-giving to all we meet: because of the Cross, Jesus has shown us that he will always be faithful to us, faithful to us until he brings all of us, on our own crosses, into paradise.

18 November 2013

Of Maccabees, Blind Men and Saint Rose

For today's readings, click here.

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This morning's readings present us with two very stark images.  In the first reading, we have a group of people who are so desperate to not be identified as the People of God that they go to extremes: covering up evidence of their circumcision.

And then, in the Gospel today, we hear of Jesus healing a blind man.  There is some irony here, of course: Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem, the City of David.  The blind man calls out to him, identifying him as the Son of David.  And yet, it will be in the City of David where the of David is abandoned by David's descendants, called an impostor!

However, the most extraordinary thing in the Gospel is the reaction of the people who see Jesus heal the blind man: they all go away glorifying God.

This is our call - our vocation - as Christians: to provide the world with a transparent witness that calls others to glorify God, not us!

We are called to serve in such a way so that we point always toward Christ and not toward ourselves. Ministry and service ought not only provide consolation to others, but also serve as a greater witness to God's power, so that God may receive glory.

Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne provides us with an example of how to do this.  A Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Rose came to America as a missionary to begin schools for the French in America and founded some of the first schools to the west of the Mississippi River.  At the age of seventy-two, Rose was allowed to do that which she most desired: serve as a missionary with the Native Americans.  Yet, after only a year, the ravages of frontier life forced Rose from active ministry.  Nevertheless, she remained on the frontier, engaged in a life of constant contemplation.   Rose achieved such a reputation among the Native Americans that they gave her the name "She-Who-Prays-Always."

Would that this week, we give those we meet the strength to show their faith openly...
Would that this week, we minister in such a way cause others to give glory to God...
Would that this week, we be Christians-that-pray-always.




14 November 2013

How Will Your Story End?

This week's homily - spoiler alert if you're at the 4 pm, 9 am or 12 noon at Gate of Heaven this weekend.

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The movie Titanic came out when I was 13 years old – during that stage of my life when I thought I was a lot smarter than I was – and was anxious to prove it.   I can recall attempting to impress my parents’ friends by noting that I didn’t understand why everyone wanted to see Titanic, because, of course, we all knew how the movie would end: the boat would sink.  The adults would roll their eyes at me and smile: on the outside perhaps agreeing that yes, in fact, they did know how it would end. But, at the same time, the greatness of the movie was based not in a surprise ending, but rather in the way the movie got to the ending – it was the journey that mattered.  The power of the story itself was rooted in the knowledge of the audience knowing exactly how the story would end.

Something similar is happening in today’s Gospel.  The early listeners to Luke’s Gospel would have known how the story Jesus is telling ended.  When hearing this account of Jesus’ time in the Temple –between Palm Sunday and Good Friday – they would know the rest of the story:  they would know that Jesus was on his way to being killed; they would know that the great Temple would be destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD; they would know that the Christian community itself had come (and still was) under persecution from those who didn’t understand its way of life. 

They would also know that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  Or, would they?  The toughest part of faith for the ancient Christians may still be our toughest task: we have heard it before, we have said it ourselves, that Jesus was raised from the dead, but there are so many ways in which we look around and think: resurrection, where?  Jesus, who?  Salvation, when?  Even though we know the end of the story: the question remains -- where do we know it?  In our heads?  Or in our hearts? Or in the action of our hands?  God calls us to let the knowledge of the way our story ends to become real in all three places: head, heart and hands.

We are called to be people whose lives give witness to where we were – and where we are going.  As the days have grown shorter, some of us may have had the experience of leaving the house before it becomes light and arriving home from work after it gets dark.  Others of us have looked at our calendars and realized that the sprint from Thanksgiving to Christmas – with all of the year-end deadlines – is nearly here.  Still others who live lives based on the school calendar – parents and students alike – know that papers, exams, quizzes and report cards and the pressures they bring along are drawing closer.

In the shortening of days and the increase of stress, however, we’d be well-served to think back to this Gospel and the way Christians would have heard it many years ago – Jesus reminds us today that the “wars and insurrections” which fill our TV screens, as well as those personal slights we feel on a regular basis do not have the final word in our lives. 

The final words, instead, always belong to us – belong to us when we love, when we testify to our love of God through our love of neighbor.  We are called to make our knowledge of how the story ends a reality for others not through correction or condemnation, but through the power of our lives that look a lot like Jesus’: beaten up and bent over, but bursting with hope because we know that God has come to set us free once and for all.

Putting today’s Gospel into this perspective, I think, opens up its meaning. We hear in today’s Gospel that Jesus’ one of last times speaking publically and he spends it in the Temple – the heart of Judaism – pulling apart all of the preconceived notions people have about their lives and the faiths.  Just like Jesus, we come here, to this Temple of God; yet, we don’t come here to speak, but rather to be fed and strengthened with a message of hope.

Our presence here reminds us that we are participants in the love of Jesus that is through Him, with Him and in Him.  It is up to us to live lives of love and compassion.  But how? Against all the many troubles we face, how can we do this?  We are able exactly because we know where we are going. 

This Gospel ends with a statement from Jesus that we can hang our lives – our very souls, our very future on: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”  The reason we are called to perseverance amidst the trials of live is because the job of the Christian – our universal calling, regardless of our age, experience or employment – we know the way the story ends: not with a boat sinking, but with bodies rising.

I know I’ve often mentioned my deceased grandmother from up here: pointing to her as an example of Christian life for me.  In reflecting upon her life, I realize that the thing about her that made such a great impression on me was how alive she was until the very end of her life: and I can only imagine that she was so incredibly alive because she always persevered, always returned to love, regardless of the consequences.  We have the power to be this presence for others; we have the power to witness to the living God in our lives, if we dare.  This week, let us recall that no matter where our story has taken us and no matter where it will take us in the future, it always ends in the same place: with Jesus the Lord, who is God, forever and ever, Amen!