Monday, December 21, 2015

Oh, Holy Night! How Those Who Were There Might Have Felt - Chapters 1 & 2

Additional chapters to follow each day over the next week; I hope you enjoy placing yourselves in the mind and heart of the Scriptures through these simple meditations.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Catholic Corner with Monsignor Nolan

A very special "thank you" to Monsignor Walter Nolan, for his priesthood, for his long-term hosting of Catholic Corner, and for his questions and gentle moderating of this interview.

Happy to share my story, but recognize that every priest has an extraordinary story and path to their vocation. I am grateful this Thanksgiving for my brother priests, my brother the priest, and my sons, family and all those friends who helped shape my priesthood.

Catholic Corner - 11/22/2015

If the hyperlink does not work, feel free to cut and paste the link below:

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Requiescat in Pace

Feast of All Souls, November 2nd, 2015

I will often walk through our parish cemetery, reciting the Rosary. It is an incredibly peaceful place, and no matter what or who my intentions are for, it just seems particularly comfortable to journey among the graves of those long departed, and among those who are recently gone from this life on earth. It is holy ground, which makes it a good place to pray.

Mount Carmel Cemetery is also very convenient, since it is right outside my front door, and I can walk across my driveway and I am in the "Old Section," as we call it; several graves here date from the 1800s. This is also the cemetery where my wife is interred, and where one day I will be buried beside her, or as my son remarked when I was assigned to OLGC, "How do you feel starting out your priesthood where you will also end it?" Ah, Irish humor in the midst of a graveyard; who would have thought!

Today, however, my walk and prayers were for others. With my cheat sheet in hand, I was praying for those Faithful Departed who where buried here more than 100 years ago. I would like to believe that they are in heaven, and could join in my intercessions on this Feast of All Souls, along with the whole Communion of Saints. But my wanderings today also seemed to draw me into closely studying those older, perhaps "ancient" graves, to consider their stories and lives.

There is the Reynolds family, Stephen buried in 1914 at the age of 78, twenty-two years after his wife Catharine. On the back of that same stone, however, are inscribed the names of their five sons, who died between 1866 and 1874, none more than 2-years-old. That is a family who knew pain, who knew the emotional struggle of grief. May their souls rest in peace!

There is Margaret Taylor, whose death in 1899 was marked as being when she was "21 years, 3 months, and 6 days old." Young by our standards today, and by those in the 19th century. Curiously, beneath her name are the names of Norman and Sarah Taylor, both born in 1899, and who lived for 78 and 81 years beyond Margaret. Were they husband and wife? Twins? More poignantly, did Margaret die in childbirth in 1899, the same year these other two were born? May they rest in peace together.

Then there is William Cunningham, born February 8, 1910, and died February 9, 1910. This child who lived for only a day has the dates of his short life etched on the side of the grave marker for Mary Cunningham, who died on February 15, 1910 at the age of 34. Mary clearly died in the days following the birth and short life of her son William, and their journey to heaven was most certainly a time of deep grief for John W. Cunningham, who would live another 56 years until 1966. May they rest in eternal peace together.

It is good to pray for those who have gone before us, to remember those who have been called already to the fullness of life in heaven. At Mass this morning, I noted numerous parents, spouses, and children who have buried a loved one since this past June, when I began to understand more deeply what it means to minister to the dying and to grief-stricken families.

Remembering loved ones is hard, regardless of whether they were lost at 1 day, two years, 26 years, 28 years, 49 years, or 92 years. They are loved, and they are missed.

But praying for their souls on this feast day, while wandering through this ancient (to me) cemetery, was comforting. All of this earth is sacred ground; all the days of our lives are sacred moments, gifts from a Creator who desires each of us to one day be embraced again in His arms in heaven. Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of loved ones who are part of our lives, no matter how many days or years we spend with them; they are gifts to us, just as they are gifts from the Father to the Son, who cherishes each one as His Beloved Sons and Daughters.

May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. As we pray in our Eucharistic Prayer, "To our departed brothers and sisters, too, and to all who were pleasing to You at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to Your kingdom. There we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of Your glory."



Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Joy of Parish Priesthood

This past week we had a good dose of joyful celebration in and around Philadelphia, with the remarkable visit of Pope Francis. Pictures abound from family and friends who each had a story about their exceptional seat, or the way Francis looked right at them as they took his picture along the processional route up the parkway. Stories were shared from Washington, to New York and Philly, some especially good views that my brother had as a priest concelebrating mass in Washington and twice in Philly. In the weeks and days leading up to the event, so many asked me would I be going, and was I going to meet the Pope, or to concelebrate one of the Masses. What a thrill that would be as a newly ordained priest!

Thank you to all for those caring and loving thoughts, and yes, it would have been a thrill. Instead, I had a different kind of thrill – to live out these days of Francis in my daily ministry - as a parish priest.

It is a daily gift to serve the people of my parish, and a source of deep joy for me. It is a daily experience of the sacrament of the Church, as the Second Vatican Council referred to our lives of faith. So, as we read in Psalm 47, “I will come to the altar of God, my God, my greatest joy.” With that in mind, what was the cause of my priestly joy during the visit of Pope Francis?

I was moved by watching the news coverage of his visits, and in reading his beautiful words offered in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. I also found great joy in celebrating the marriage of a young couple on Saturday, instead of going into Philly; their pledge of love in our church – one of two marriages celebrated in our church that day – was beautiful to witness, and was a moment of evangelization to their families and friends.

On Sunday, I celebrated two Masses, and was able to integrate Francis’ challenge of the day before in my message to our parishioners: “What about you? What will you (and I) do to put our discipleship in action?”

And at the end of that Mass, a visitor with tears in her eyes asked if I might be able to visit her brother with the sacrament of anointing in one of our nearby rehabilitation facilities, as his health was very fragile; so, with the joy of priesthood in my own heart, I had the opportunity to offer the Sacrament of Anointing to her brother, a gentle man who has served for 67 years as a priest in our neighboring diocese of Camden.

There was great joy on the parkway in Philadelphia, for sure. But there was also great joy in Moorestown, as I had the chance to live out the motto of my seminary as a “dispenser of the mysteries of God” within this parish.

I think Francis would approve of where I spent my time; I’m confident it was spent joyfully as the Lord’s simple parish priest.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Typical Day

A friend recently asked me, "So Father Jim, now that you are in the parish, what is a typical day like?" I was tempted to reply that as soon as I have one, I would let them know. In time - perhaps - I will come to know what would describe a typical day in the life of a parish priest. Only a few months ordained, I can readily share with my family and friends that the unpredictable nature of my days remains a point of excitement. I guess the three decades in the business/tech world dealing with mission critical systems and crisis management was a fit for me because I enjoy the variety and challenge of unpredictable events.

The life of a parish priest most certainly includes the unpredictable events, not just for me, but more importantly the unpredictable, disruptive events in the lives of those I am lucky enough to minister to each day.

I take great joy in celebrating the Eucharist. This begins, for me, sitting in the back of our chapel for about 15-20 minutes before Mass. I learned to do this from Father Mike last year, just by watching his preparation for daily Mass. I might pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the day; I always run through a list of names and intentions for that day, family, friends and strangers. A few sacred minutes of that time are spent intentionally looking at the people gathering for that daily Mass ... and I pray for your intentions, whatever they may be.

I occasionally surprise people at Mass, by offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation afterward ... unexpectedly, not on the schedule, something different from Saturday at 3:30 in the afternoon. I remember Bishop O'Connell's advice to the five of us when we received our first assignments, when he told us to be merciful in the confessional, and similar comments came from my other boss, Pope Francis this week in his address to priests, too.

My mentor last year, Father Sam, shared some insight with me some 30 years ago when we first met, when he was a newly ordained priest; he spoke of the uncertainty that comes from the unexpected doorbell or phone call in the rectory. He spoke of expecting the unexpected. In my role as a parish priest now, his comments make a great deal of sense. When the parish staff call my office and say, "Father Jim, there is someone here who would like to see a priest," I am most grateful to be able to respond that I will be right there.

Sometimes the day begins at 2 AM with a phone call; sometimes it ends later than expected. This week it included a call for an anointing where I said to myself driving to the nursing home, "Curious; I know some people with that name, old friends of my in-laws," only to arrive and find out that I know this family with that name, and I get to minister to friends as a loved one is called to God.

A day might include a sick call, or a funeral Mass and burial, a Mass with school kids, a meeting for spiritual direction, a wedding rehearsal, or writing up bulletin announcements; some days might include all of the above, and others have just a 9 AM daily Mass.
I'm not sure I have nearly enough experience as a priest to answer what constitutes a "typical day," but I do know that I am loving every minute of the unexpected, atypical, unpredictable days in the life of my parish ministry. My friend Monica during my pastoral year gave me a gift of a "clinging cross;" she received it from someone else in the parish, and shared it with me when I commented on it one day. It is often on the seat of my car as a way to hold tight to a prayer on my way to visit someone who needs a priest. It is a reminder that what is common to all lives of faith - for both priests and laity - is the need to hold tight to Jesus, to hang on to The Cross, and to let God provide the wisdom, the love, and the mercy in every encounter.

Thanks, God.

For everything.