Tag Archives: NJ

The Vine

I visited  Laurita Winery in New Egypt, New Jersey, some years ago. Some of us wanted to see how wine was made.  Ray Shea, one of the owners, and Nicholaas Opdam, the Oenologist or Vineyard Manager, gave us a tour.

“ I am the vine, you are the branches” Jesus says in today’s  gospel. He saw  the vineyard as an image of the play between  heaven and earth. Growing grapes is as challenging as sowing seed, which can fall by the wayside, or on hard ground, or among thorns, and the birds of the air can eat it up.

Vines are similar. At the very least, the vine needs pruning. But there’s more.They depend on the right climate, they need the right amount of water, the soil in which they’re planted needs feeding and watchful adjusting. Blackbirds can swoop down on the ripening grapes. Better than protecting nets is a circling red-tailed hawk, the vineyard keepers say.

“We need good weather and other things beyond our control,” they told us.  Twice a year the vineyard is blessed, in the cold of January and during the harvest in October.

They’re using the latest technology and the wisdom of wine-makers from all over the world at this vineyard. Solar panels circling the fields harvest the energy of the sun and a man made lake collects vital water. Yet it’s no sure thing. It’s a risky business.

“I am the vine; you are the branches.” I must admit, I hardly thought of the patience, the risk, the dimensions behind this image, which is so richly incarnational.  A loaf of bread or a bottle of wine came to the table from nowhere, I thought.

Not so.

At the Eucharist, bread and wine just come to the table, from nowhere. Not so.

Immigration, Now and Then

Immigration is a hot political topic today. It’s not just an issue here in America; it’s a world issue. Millions of people all over the world are on the move today because of wars, violence and because they can’t make a living on lands affected by climate change.

Our first reading today at Mass is about Abraham, the “wandering Aramean” whom God blessed as he went from place to place. May God bless those wandering from place to place today.

Today also is St. Patrick’s day. This was a big day in the place where I was born and raised, Bayonne, NJ, a city of immigrants, many from Ireland. The Irish went to church today to thank God for the faith brought to them by St. Patrick and for being able to live in a country where they could make a living and bring up their families, hoping for a better life.

Years ago, I visited the place where some of my relatives came from in Donegal, in northern Ireland. I saw the little abandoned farm house, with no roof, where some of them lived. An old man in the neighborhood remembered the day they left for America, three young people carrying away their simple belongings. It was all they had. There was no work for them there anymore.

When they came to America they took whatever jobs they could get. It had to be hard for them making their way in a new land and another way of living. But they helped one another, and that’s one of the things I remember about that immigrant generation. They helped one another.

I took a picture of that abandoned house in Donegal and gave it to my relatives. I see it’s still hung proudly in their house when I visit. We have to remember where we come from. We’re children of Abraham, on our way to a place that’s still before us. We have to stick together.

The World Trade Center

world trade

Today is the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attach on the World Trade Center in New York City, September 11, 2001. Like many others I remember where I was then. I watched the towers fall from a rooftop in Union City, New Jersey, just across the river. Many from that area died that day and as the days went on their bodies were recovered and they were buried in nearby churches. A frightful time.

About a year later, I went to an exhibit about the attack called “Recovery,” at the New York Historical Society. The exhibition rooms were filled with debris from the tragedy: parts of smashed police cars and fire engines–I remember a little child’s doll, parts of one of the planes that crashed into the buildings. A black and white film of the disaster played silently in one section of the exhibit. Grim reminders of that awful day.

It was the exhibit’s opening day and media people were there. One of them came up to me with a notebook in hand. “What do you think of this?” he said. I had my clerical collar on so he knew who I was.

I told him I really couldn’t put into words what I thought. It was an overwhelming picture of evil.

He wrote what I had to say in his notebook and then put it in his pocket and said, “You know I don’t believe in evil.” That began a conversation that lasted for a hour or so.

I asked him first of all why he didn’t believe in evil, so evident here.

“Yes, this is bad,” he said, “ but we can change the way people behave. We can rinse out the evil in them by giving them a better world.” How? “Science and technology can change the world,” he said, “we can give people what they want and give them all they need.”  Later I found out that he was a writer specializing in science and technology

“Do you believe in God?” “No, I don’t,” he said. “In fact, it would be better to get rid of God altogether. And that goes for religion too. Get rid of it. The fanaticism of religion was responsible for this.”

At the end of our conversation, it seemed to me his hope about creating a better world through science and technology seemed naïve and unreal. Even if everyone in the world were given a new iPhone, his kind of thinking doesn’t seem to be the answer. Evil is hard to rinse out of our world.

In a post-modern world, optimism about science and the rationalism that came with the Enlightenment seems on the decline and nothing is taking its place. Post modernism is against everything from the past, including religion and religious truth.

Today, in the New York Times, there was a story about St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, destroyed in the World Trade disaster and now being rebuilt in the World Trade complex. An icon of Christ within the church will be visible even in the dark. A good sign.

Mary White O’Donnell

I gave this funeral homily at a church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where my cousin was buried today……….

The Catholic Church ended the first phase of its Synod on the Family a few months ago, and now Pope Francis wants to hear from the church throughout the world how marriage and family life can be strengthened and understood. If Mary and Bill O’Donnell were alive today I would have suggested to Pope Francis to talk to them, because I thought they knew more about family life than any priest or bishop or (forgive me if this seems irreverent) even the pope himself.

Mary and Bill didn’t write books or give lectures, they weren’t self-proclaimed experts, but they were living books on marriage and the family. If you watched them you learned a lot.

Whenever I visited 5 Farmhouse Lane, I often spent a few minutes looking at the big wall of pictures that Mary created in the room where she and Bill would sit in their later years, watching television, waiting for the phone to ring or the door to open. Some were old pictures of the White and O’Donnell families, lots of wedding pictures, pictures of baptisms and plenty of pictures of kids. The pictures stretched through generations, the latest usually were stuck on the refrigerator in the kitchen or near the telephone.

For Mary those pictures represented the treasures of her life. They were what she loved and gave her life to. She had a story for each of them, and she was a wonderful story-teller. The pictures summed up her life as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law, a grandmother, a friend. They were gifts from God and Mary loved them all.

Most of you who were pictured most prominently on that wall are here in church today–her children, their husbands and wives, her grandchildren. I know you wont forget how she lived and how she loved you.

We bring her body to church to remember our ties with her, but more importantly to offer her to God though Jesus Christ, his Son, for the next phase of her life. “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus told his disciples before he died. We listen to his words as if they were spoken to us.

“I go to prepare a place for you,” a place with many rooms. What a beautiful, concrete description that is of that unknown place we’re all called to, the new life we’re promised by Jesus Christ. A place of many rooms. What does that mean except, perhaps, that we’ll be gathered there together, with the ones we loved and we’ll see them again.

So is that a promise that Jesus makes only to his disciples then? No, it’s a promise he makes to us now.

Later in our prayers at Mass we’ll say:

“Remember Mary whom you have called today from his world to yourself. Grant that she who was united to your Son in a death like his may also be one with him in his resurrection.”

That’s true, isn’t it? This last year or so, particularly, Mary shared in the Passion of Christ at home and then at St. Mary’s Home in Cherry Hill, NJ, where she died. Many of you stood by her. The Lord was with her then as he is now.

Our prayer goes on:

“Give Mary, with all the others, kind admittance to your kingdom. There we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For seeing you, our God, we shall be like you for all ages, and praise you without end through Christ through whom you bestow on the world all that is good. “

So where is Mary now? Her tears are being wiped away, I think, and she’s in one of those rooms that Jesus speaks of, with those who went before her, with her husband Bill and her family. I think too, she’s hanging up the pictures, waiting to see us again.

 

 

Memories of a Baptism

I was celebrant at the funeral Mass for Jack Olsen last Saturday morning in Sacred Heart Church in Bay Head, NJ.

My memories of Jack go way back to when the Olsens lived in the house on the corner of Lord Avenue and 3rd Street in Bayonne, NJ. My mother was a friend of Jack’s mother and when we were young she took my sister and me regularly to see the Olsens. We played with their 9 kids. Just down the street from their house was a football field where some of the best local teams played. During the 2nd World War Italian prisoners of war were held in barracks there and many Bayonne Italians went down to talk to them and pass them food. It put a human face to war.

Just beyond the Olsen’s house was the Kill Van Kull, the busy three mile waterway between Bayonne and Staten Island. Bill Olsen, Jack’s father, was a tugboat captain. As a kid, I couldn’t think of a better job in all the world than pushing and pulling big ships and barges around New York harbor.

My mother told me she met my father when she was washing the dishes after a baptism at the Olsens–maybe it was Jack’s baptism, or Fr. Tom’s, or Rita’s. My father was a friend of Jack’s uncle, Dinny, who probably invited him to the baptismal celebration that day.

“What’s your name?” my father said to her. “Rose O’Donnell,” she replied. “I’m Victor Hoagland,” he said. So my sister and I are here 80 or so years later. How connected our lives are by small things, like washing dishes or going to a baptism.

I mentioned at Jack’s funeral some of the small things that took place at his baptism 86 years ago. He was brought to church and signed with the sign of the Cross. That simple sign meant that he was blessed by the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus, who would bless him through the course of his life, even the hard months that marked his final sickness.

At his baptism, the priest poured water, the source of life, on his forehead and said (in Latin then) “John, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Life was God’s gift to him, a life that begins at conception and continues beyond the years here on earth.

Jack was a strong believer in God, the Creator, who gives life and Jesus, our Redeemer, who saw life so precious that he gave his life that we might live. He was a firm believer in the Right to Life.

Baptism is a sacrament of family life, which means, first of all, that we’re members of the family we belong to in this world. Jack, a bachelor, played a big part in his large family of brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and all their wives and husbands, never missing celebrations, births, deaths and holidays. He was proud of his family and loyal to his own.

Baptism calls us into other families too– the family that’s our neighborhood, our city, our country. Jack was a good neighbor who loved the place where he lived and the people who lived there.

Baptism also calls us into the family of the church. Jack was a true believer; he loved the church. No doubt about his loyalty; the church was his home. He belonged to its societies, like the Holy Name and the Knights of Columbus. He made retreats with the Passionists. The Mass and the sacraments were not formalities, they were real for him. He loved his church in good times and bad.

At Jack’s funeral the other day, it seemed right to remember his baptism. The sacrament is at the heart of our funeral rites, when you think about it. We blessed him with water, the sign of life and made the sign of the cross over him again as his remains were carried into the church and then carried out. A white cloth, a reminder of the white garment he received long ago, was placed over him. The great words of faith were proclaimed: “The souls of the just are in the hands of God.” We heard the account of Jesus’ death and the message of the angel, “He is risen.” We celebrated the mystery of the Bread and Wine, which Jesus said are the food of eternal life.

“Life is changed, not ended,” our prayer said. Rest in peace.

Visiting the Rhine River

Cologne

I’m going in October with a group from St. Mary’s, Colts Neck, NJ, on a river cruise on the Rhine. This river was a path Christian missionaries took to bring the gospel to all nations. We’ll visit cities like Strasbourg and Geneva, places connected to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.

In his book “Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era”, Harvard University Press, 2000, John W. O’ Malley, S.J. says that historians today are wary of using the words Reformation and Counter-Reformation to describe these historical periods. Recent historical research indicates the names don’t altogether fit the reality of the two movements.

“Reformation” means reform, the reform of something broken or in need of new life. In the case of the Catholic Church, it implies it was in shambles because of superstition and abuses of power. But recent social research indicates that the Catholic experience at the time was still quite vital, for the most part. True, the papacy was in need of reform, other abuses were present as they always are, but ordinary Catholic life was far from lifeless.

“Counter-Reformation,” or “Catholic Reform” usually mean that reform of the Catholic Church took place mainly through the efforts of the Council of Trent and a renewed papacy. But recent research questions the determining part played by the council and the popes in the life of the church at the time.

Historians in the past tended to see the Catholic Church then only in terms of the papacy and council bodies like Trent. They didn’t see its complexity exemplified by its confraternities, religious orders, saintly mystics and patterns of devotion. Social historians today are aware of the vitality in the Catholic Church that existed in its ordinary fabric. Its renewal didn’t just come from above, but from below.

The medieval cathedrals at Strasbourg and Cologne, which we’re going to visit, are examples of the profound faith of the medieval church. They weren’t built to satisfy the vision of a powerful bishop or ruler; they expressed the faith of a dedicated people. We can read what they believed and how they thought about life in those great cathedrals.

One of the O’Malley’s insights I liked was his comment on the lecture on the Counter Reformation by H. Outram Evennett, an English historian, some years ago at Trinity College. Rejecting the thesis that the Reformation was solely a reaction to a decayed medieval church, Evennett opined that both the Reformation and Counter Reformation “were two different outcomes of the same general aspiration towards ‘religious regeneration’ that pervaded the 14th and 15th centuries.”

Does this indicate that both Catholicism and Protestantism are moving in sync towards a place together in the modern world? I hope so.

This Sunday we listen to one of the parables of the kingdom, the Workers in the Vineyard, from Matthew’s gospel. Like the workers, squabbling among themselves, we’re often blind to the larger patterns of God’s plan unfolding in history. In a post-modern society of questioning and doubt it’s also difficult to believe in a plan for the world. There’s a harvest on its way and it’s an abundant one. My homily’s on that.

Where is your Palm today?

You took some palm home with you Palm Sunday? Where is it today?

Following Jesus isn’t a one day thing, it’s a lifelong journey. Stay at his side day by day. To enter Jerusalem, he sat on a humble beast of burden, the donkey, who carried the burdens of the poor.

Follow him on his way and make it your way too.

Providence Clinic

The other night I was at a dinner and a stranger asked me what community I belonged to. When I told him I was a Passionist, he said “Barnabas Ahern was a member of your community. A great voice at the Vatican Council. Those were the days, but they’re gone now.”

Yes, those heady days are gone. Now we live in hard days.

But even in hard days, as the mystery of the Passion seems to overshadow all else, there are signs of Resurrection. The dinner we were attending Sunday evening was a fund-raiser for Providence Clinic, where poor people without insurance or funds in Monmouth County, NJ,  get treated by dedicated doctors and nurses. About 4,000 patients are taken care of yearly in this little clinic that started 14 years ago in a trailer in a church parking lot.

As the Director of the Clinic, Doctor Anna Sweany, remarked: “People came along and gave their help and their support.”

The clinic is a testimony to God’s providence. It would never have gotten started or continued through the years without God’s hidden, silent care. People “come along” and things are done.

Now they’re worried at Providence Clinic that some vital government funds will be withdrawn and they wont be able to meet their modest budget for this wonderful work.

Even in hard days, God offers signs of resurrection.  I’m hoping and praying Providence Clinic will continue to live up to its name.

Ramadan

I never expected to be caught up in Ramadan celebrations in Union City, New Jersey, but this morning I did. About 700 Muslims from this area celebrated the end of Ramadan this morning praying and listening to a local Imam at the Union City Midtown Atheltic Complex, which formerly was the garden of a Catholic Monastery– St. Michael’s. Now it belongs to the city of Union City.

Muslims throughout the world are celebrating the end of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, a month given to fasting and refocusing their attention on God. They’re making their way into this area, as today’s event proves; recently they’ve opened a religious school in a former Catholic High school nearby and have a mosque here in Union City.

The Imam spoke in Arabic to the assembly, people brightly dressed from many Muslim countries, but he ended with words in English, thanking Allah for the recent revolutions taking place in Egypt, Syria, Libya and other places in the Middle East and urging his hearers to support those revolutions. He also encouraged support for the Palestinians in their struggle for Independence.

These revolutions are giving Islam a new face in the world, the Imam said.

As the celebration ended a group, likely from Libya, held up a flag from the Libyan revolution to celebrate events in that country.

American cities, like Union City, are changing.

Celebrating in Bayonne

Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Bayonne, NJ celebrated its 150th anniversary Saturday evening, May 14, with Mass presided over by Archbishop Peter Gerety, the retired archbishop of Newark. About 30 priests, 4  like myself raised in the parish, concelebrated the Mass. Msgr. Frank Seymour, the diocesan archivist–also from the parish– preached the homily.

A number of former parishioners came back to celebrate at the Mass and at the dinner that followed in the school hall, along with the present parishioners.  Most Reverend Joseph Younan, Bishop of Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese came to the anniversary. Like so many immigrant groups before, the Syrian Catholics from places like Iraq in the Middle East have found a home in Bayonne. Now they have their cathedral at St. Joseph Church, which formerly belonged to the Slovak community.

The bishop and the wonderful choir from St. Dominic’s Academy that sang latin polyphony at the Mass says that  Bayonne is still a city for immigrants.

Memories flooded into my mind. I arrived early to walk through the church where I grew up and where so many important moments of my life took place. The church I remember so well still bears the stamp of its Irish origins. I counted three statues and windows of St. Patrick and the familiar scenes in the windows of the life of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, bright and fresh as when they were put there.

Baptisms, weddings, funerals, anniversaries took place here. I celebrated my first Mass here; afterwards at the parish meal Msgr. William F. Lawlor, our pastor, fell over and died of a heart attack as he offered some remarks. That event made headlines in The Bayonne Times the next day.

I sat at the banquet after Mass with some of the “living stones” of St. Marys, which we used to call the parish years ago.  One has been a member of the parish council for decades. The others lived there for most of their lives, although now they have moved away. Watching them easily connect with each other , trading stories, reliving memories, singing and dancing with delight, makes you appreciate the deep delight and faith that kept this place alive for 150 years.

I have a treasured picture from 1914 of my mother’s graduation from St. Mary’s School.

She’s  clutching her diploma. Many of these kids were just off the boat or their fathers and mothers were. But they set their worlds on fire.

My mother said her class loved getting together in later years. One of them Msgr. Leo Martin became the popular pastor of St. Marys, his home  parish. Another, whose name I forget, became head of the New York Stock Exchange. (He always footed the bill for the celebration, my mother said).

The “living stones” loved the celebration Saturday evening. I loved being with them.