Tag Archives: Union City

Morning Thoughts: Joy Of The Cross

by Howard Hain

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My parish church was seriously damaged in a fire a few months back. It was pretty dramatic, devastating in many ways.

Since then the parish has continued on, celebrating Sunday Mass in a Union City public school gymnasium. Ironically, that public school is housed within a building that was once part of our parish community, built to stage an annual Passion Play—amazing how consecration begets consecration—grace begets grace.

Seeds long forgotten, suddenly popping up through cracks in the sidewalks.

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“…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…”

(Romans 5:20)

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Overall, the parish community over the last few months—during this period of “destruction” and “darkness”, of “uncertainty” and “grieving”—has been more alive than ever before. Amazingly enough, surely by grace, the various parish ministries seem to have expanded, at least in my unofficial and non-statistically-supported opinion. All this despite the fact that most of us have been hiding in our own upper rooms—doors tightly locked. Praying nonetheless.

No, praying all the more.

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“You are indeed Holy, O Lord….sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall…”

(Eucharistic Prayer II)

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Well, sparing you the details of our own little acts of the apostles, we received official word from the Bishop just this past weekend—Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity—that the church building will be reconstructed.

Believe me, this was not a forgone conclusion. In fact, there was good (and perhaps a better way to express it, “sober”) reason to brace for news quite the contrary.

But it will be rebuilt.

And renewed.

Praise the Lord.

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Sitting in the elementary school chapel of Saint Francis Academy this morning, just a few city streets from our still burnt-out parish structure, I thought about this fresh news. The Good News.

The Church will be rebuilt.

But that’s not how I heard it now.

No, that’s how man reported it.

God says it differently. He doesn’t report.

He speaks into being. God is the News.

And when He is most loving, He is most commanding:

“Rebuild My Church.”

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The irony is delicious, I tasted and saw; I was sitting in a little chapel named after the Original Knight of Lady Poverty, Francesco d’Assisi.

It’s a beautiful, joyful chapel, where God becomes man over and over again, and where children become disciples time and again. It is also the place where we adults, so very much pretending to be in control, came crawling to receive sanctuary—to be cared for during our days of distress.

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“Lord…look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church…”

(Order of Mass)

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Irony upon irony. Saint Francis Academy was originally an orphanage. For the past several generations it has been a beacon of what true elementary education—what true human formation—should look like—when led by the Spirit.

We have celebrated weekday Mass in the academy’s chapel almost every morning since the fire. Such generosity. Such openness. Such hospitality.

So welcoming. So joyful. So Franciscan.

So Christian.

God uses everything, always and in every way, for Good.

And He is never so creative as when manifesting new forms of humility.

For there we are, day in and day out, the homeless “know-it-alls” within the home of tiny tots. Roles reversed. Upside down. Little lambs feeding the uncertain shepherds.

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As I pondered this mystery this very morning, my little Francesca—my own little “flower”, my own little troubadour of God, my own incredible little girl—God’s little girl—to whom I have been chosen “to light and guard, to rule and guide”—tends to her studies just a few floors above.

The first-grade classroom at first glance seems impossibly small. But it’s truly a delight—safe, bright, full of promise—in spiritual reality, there is so much room.

Francesca finishes the school year this week, a week of events and performances and feasts, a week designed to catapult her and her fellow “novices” into a summer of playful absorption and merry-filled mission: public pools, French-braid festivities, and watermelon days and Italian-ice filled nights at the ever-popular Camp Grandma.

Ah, the goodness of God.

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“O Bonitas!”

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The old phase, “goodness gracious”, takes on totally new meaning. It becomes a sacrament. A sacred sigh. With divine significance. A poem made of breath. A cry announcing life.

That little one of whom I speak I love. Deeper and deeper each day. And I pray it’s all for the sake of God. For the love of God. Of His Divine Presence. The King of Kings—The Monarch of Mercy—an eagle and a butterfly—held completely captive—voluntarily held hostage—within the liquid heart of a ever-emerging child.

She is the entire universe within an ark of angelic giggles…all of creation within a jar of ceaseless surprise…the totality of God’s promise within a tabernacle of painfully-sweet joy—O Lord, may we truly learn how to pray!

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“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”

(John 16:12-13)

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Francesca is all children. All children are Francesca. And by the Blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit of Adoption we too are now God’s children.

We are all God’s Francescas.

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Thank You, Lord, for the news. The practical and the permanent. The circumstantial and the promissorial. And thank You for expressing it Your unimaginable way.

For it is You, Lord God—the very same God who spoke to Francis nearly a thousand years ago through the Crucifix of San Damiano, a church almost completely in ruins—who now says to me, to all parishioners of the parish of Saint Joseph and Saint Michael, to all of Union City, to all of New Jersey, to all of America, and to all the world—both the world that is and the world yet to be.

And You Lord, speak quite clearly.

In fact, You speak with unbelievable clarity:

“Rebuild My Church.”


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Friday Thoughts: Up From The Ashes

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I saw a ladder extended high up into the sky.

It seemed to reach into heaven.

Were angels ascending and descending?

Perhaps.

Firefighters can be seen as angels, that’s for sure.

“The church is on fire.” That was the reality. The flames that consume wood and air have now been extinguished. Our parish has been pushed into the street. Most of the material damage was done to the steeple. It is pretty much gone. The bells collapsing inward. The large copper cross crashing onto Central Avenue. The roof too suffered. A large hole, allowing direct sunlight, presides directly above the altar.

The tabernacle and the statues are perfectly intact.

In other words, Jesus’ real presence and His Communion of Saints are alive and well.

No Resurrection without Crucifixion. No Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

The last service before the fire was The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—Friday after Ash Wednesday—the first Friday of Lent. The Mass was preceded by the Stations of the Cross. It was led by the women of The Sacred Heart Society.

The best poetry, the most romantic images, the most apropos settings are constructed by God Himself. Like good, basic, simple, yet shockingly profound haiku poetry—God’s work always contains three lines: One of Faith, One of Hope, One of Love.

Faith: There is a God. He is our father. He is good. All He does is good. He is ultimately in control. Nothing happens without His active or passive permission. He brings all to good. All back to Himself. His promises are good as gold. Better. Much. His promises are eternal. He promises everlasting peace. He promises joy beyond comprehension.

Hope: Jesus is with us every step of the way. Everything that happens to us can become an event that teaches us, instructs us, encourages us, and helps us become more like Him. It can propel us deeper into His presence. And Jesus is already victorious. He died for us, for you and for me, personally. He defeated death. Completely. And He has perfectly shown the way through. For Jesus not only makes His Father’s promises possible, He fulfills them. He not only provides salvation but also all the help and assistance we will ever need to reach salvation, our eternal home. All will be ok.

Love: The Holy Spirit—the Love of the Father for the Son, the Love of the Son for the Father—is awesome. Period. And there is nothing that can stop God from loving us, each and every one of us, as individual and greatly prized children. Love. Love. Love. Say it out loud. Breathe it. It is the breath of life. With Faith and Hope we can freely Love. With Love we can continually Believe and Hope.

But He never says it will be easy, this pilgrimage on earth. But He says it is worth it.

Suffering is not a choice. We will experience suffering. No one gets out alive. The only real question then is this: How will we receive suffering, and how will we handle it?

There is only one acceptable answer: In Union With Jesus.

If we suffer in union with Jesus, then our suffering is His suffering. And Jesus’ suffering is fruitful, always. It redeems. It brings to life. It resurrects.

How then can we do it?

The answer is always the same: Grace

We must cooperate with God’s grace. And that cooperation begins with posture, with how we position ourselves. And the posture needed is prayer. In His Holy Name. We need to ask Jesus for what He will not deny: To participate in His salvation of the world.

To participate in His life, His death, and His resurrection:

Lord, grant me the grace to endure all suffering in perfect union with You. Grant me the patience and strength and courage to accept and carry my cross daily. The grace to not desire that the circumstances be immediately changed, nor the desire that I be removed from the struggle—but instead the grace of walking with You, Lord Jesus, through the suffering—praising You constantly—thanking You continually for the privilege of no longer being a mere bystander, but now instead an active participant in Your great work of salvation—filled the entire time with Faith, with Hope, and with Love—knowing that great work, heavenly work, tremendous good is being done. Whether it is seen or unseen. And also please grant, my Lord and my God, the grace of always giving all honor and praise to You and You alone. “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever.”

Amen.


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—Howard Hain

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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.

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St. Michael’s, Union City

On June 1, 2012, the Passionists left Union City, NJ, after 151 years. The community came to Union City, then West Hoboken, following a mission preached by Passionist missionaries at old St. Mary’s church in 1860.

The next year they were invited to settle on the high palisades above the city of Hoboken on the Hudson River by James Roosevelt Bailey, bishop of the newly formed diocese of Newark, who hoped they would minister to the German and Irish immigrants pouring into the northern New Jersey river towns of Hoboken, Newark, Jersey City, Hackensack and Paterson as the era of mass immigration began in 1850 and New York City expanded.

Passionist priests and brothers played a large part in building the Catholic church in northern New Jersey. They helped create 16 Catholic parishes in the area {St. Joseph, West New York, St. Paul of the Cross, Jersey City, Holy Family, Union City, St. Joseph/St Michael, Union City, among them) and preached missions and retreats to the growing Catholic population taking root in the new world.

Their base was the great church and monastery of St. Michael  built on the high palisades above the Hudson River in 1875, a familiar landmark visible for miles around. The church and monastery appear on the horizon of a panoramic map of Hoboken from 1881.

A missionary order, the Passionists chose their base in Union City, not just with northern New Jersey in mind, but because of its access to other places in the United States and the wider world. The first Passionists came to America from Italy in 1851. Before the advent of air travel, the busy Hoboken docks close by offered them access by sea to their headquarters in Rome and missionary fields in China (1922) and later the Philippines and Jamaica, West Indies.

Nearby too the newly-built railroads reached into the western, northern and southern parts of the United States. From Hoboken, Passionist preachers from St. Michael’s traveled to Catholic parishes and religious communities throughout the country to preach the gospel.

The foundation in Union City was an ideal location for a community like the Passionists with global ambitions.

In 1921, the Passionists began publication of the Sign Magazine, which grew to become one of the most important Catholic publications in North America. The magazine was discontinued in 1982, but efforts in publishing and the social media continued until now.

The Passionists made Union City a center of devotion to the Passion of Jesus. One important expression was the production of Veronica’s Veil, a play produced by St. Joseph’s Parish in Union City. Catholics came to St. Michael’s in Union City to take part in its Monday devotions to the Passionist saints, St. Paul of the Cross, St. Gabriel and St. Gemma. It was a center for retreats, confessions and counseling.

The Passionists ministered to the poor in the county institutions at Snake Hill for the many years they were located there. They trained their seminarians at St. Michael’s,  and their provincial government and archives were located there.

I took the picture on the masthead of this blog from the dome of the great church of St. Michael a few years ago. To me, it expresses the Passionists: they have a message for the world.

I came from St. Mary’s Parish in Bayonne, NJ, one of the parishes the Passionists helped establish. I was ordained in St. Michael’s and much of my ministry was based here.

Places teach you how to live as well as people. Now we move on.

“The living, the living give you thanks

as I do today.

Fathers declare to their sons, O God,

your faithfulness.” Isaiah 38,20

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Hanukkah and Christmas

Today I wrote a reflection for our province website entitled “Hanukkah and Christmas.” The Jewish and Christian celebrations coincide closely this year.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ approximately 167 years later.

Both of these feasts are about the Presence of God. For the Jews God was present in the temple in a special way. For Christians God is present in Jesus Christ, who spoke of himself as the temple of God in this world. His presence remains and cannot be destroyed.

Many days, I look out my window at a great church across the street here in Union City  that my community had to let go of some years ago. As with many holy places nowadays,  we couldn’t keep it going financially.

It seems to me the ancient mysteries of Hanukkah and Christmas constantly repeat themselves over time. Buildings, places, however sacred, rise and fall. Jesus Christ does not rise and fall. The Christmas mystery reminds us of his abiding Presence. He is God with us, Emmanuel, and he always gives us life.

Still, we mourn when buildings go.

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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.

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Window on the World

The window in my room faces west to a slice of Union City that includes the old monastery church and parking space, some city athletic fields, a crowded  block of houses along 21st Street and a few big oak trees that somehow have survived the urban sprawl.  It’s a wonderful window for taking in the world.

Earlier this morning, Jose reached into the van carrying some neighborhood people to work to bless them, anticipating the morning sun that blesses everything now. A  few minutes ago, a flock of pigeons momentarily touched down on the wires along the street, thenflew away. I can’t figure out their unpredictable ways.

I leave the tiny figures of Mary and Joseph and the Child on the window sill all year because they seem to complete the picture.  Keep your eyes fixed on examples of faith, St. Ambrose said yesterday in his commentary on the Visitation.  Mary saw it in Elizabeth and Elizabeth saw it in Mary. Joseph certainly had eyes of faith too.  The Child is so small.  Only eyes of faith can see him–and everything else as well.

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