All posts by Fr. Gerard Gordon

From Slave to Priest

Last week the Vatican issued a decree for the cause of Father Augustine Tolton in order to advance him to sainthood.  Pope Francis has promoted Father Tolton to the rank and title of “Venerable Augustine Tolton.”  Father Tolton was the first African-American diocesan priest here in the United States and the founder of the first black Catholic parish in America.  It was never his intention to serve here as a priest in America; Father Tolton did so out of obedience.  As it turns out, Father Tolton’s superiors were correct.

Augustine Tolton was born in 1854 as a slave in Missouri and baptized a Catholic because it was the faith of his family’s landowners.  When his father left for the war, his mother rowed Augustine and his two siblings across the Mississippi River to settle in Illinois, which was a “free state”.  They were fired upon, but made it safely to Illinois.  While Augustine tried to study in America, he wound up studying in Rome where he was ordained a Catholic priest at the age of 31.  He had every intention of ministering in Africa as a missionary and even studied the culture and language of his ancestors.  His religious superiors instead sent him back to Illinois where he endured prejudice and racism.  From Rome Cardinal Giovannii Simeoni told the new Father Tolton “America has been called the most enlightened nation in the world.  Let us see if America deserves that honor.  If the United States has never before seen a black priest, it must see one now.”

I imagine this new priest questioned why he was never permitted to serve more easily in Africa and now would have to endure the cross of prejudice in America.  However, Father Tolton remained committed to the hardship of obedience.  In Chicago he eventually built the parish of Saint Monica, a North African saint and the mother of another African saint by the name of St. Augustine —perhaps one of the greatest minds the church has known.  Fr. Tolton had been named after Saint Augustine.  Like most saints, Father Tolton worked tirelessly and died of exhaustion at the age of 43 while walking down the street and ministering to his people.

The director of Catholic Studies at Loyola University said Fr. Augustine Tolton “went from slave to priest.  He went from having lived amid the greatest sin in American culture to being a minister that would address that kind of moral crime.  From prisoner to liberator.”  

1430 AM

I want to introduce you to a new radio station I discovered on AM Radio.  It is called Relevant Radio and it is ubiquitous and free!  You can also find Relevant Radio on the website www.relevantradio.com.  And if you are really tech-savvy you can download the app which will bring you right to the website with a single touch of the screen on your mobile phone, desktop or I-Pad. 

If you go to the website and read a little about Relevant Radio you will find its guiding principles:  Fidelity to the Magisterial teachings of the Church and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  This is not a website for conjecture and personal opinion; it is a website that teaches us the time-tested truths of our ancient faith, founded upon the Apostles.  Relevant Radio began in 1997 as a single California radio station and has grown to consist of 66 radio stations across the nation, reaching over 68 million people. The website tells us that Relevant Radio provides programming that speaks to the human condition, helping to bridge the gap between faith and everyday life.  The network produces a variety of popular and exciting programs to help strengthen the family, solve everyday problems, and raise the heart and mind to God…it brings the beauty, goodness and truth of the Catholic Faith into the everyday lives of people who seek it, whenever and wherever they are.”

Relevant Radio has a wide variety of topics available via the website for your desktop computer or your I-Pad as well the AM Radio Station 1430 out of Newark, NJ, or on-demand podcasts for your phone so you can listen to an enormous number of talks and conversations in private.  You can pray the Rosary with others online, you can watch the Mass as well as learn some theology.  I especially like the link called: “Catholicism 101”.

So, whatever you’re doing—stop!  Go to your computer or device and go to the website, download the app, tune-in your AM radio in your car and follow-along with this inspirational station.  Share this information with your family and friends—especially your kids.  Make sure they install the app on their phones and maybe they will covertly tune-in and learn something about our Catholic Faith. And if you’re totally lost and can’t download an app, go to a website or even tune in an old-fashioned radio, you can tell Alexa and she will do it for you!  Really!

Let me know what you think.

Ascension

Last week the great Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord was celebrated throughout the Catholic world.  In some dioceses, the Ascension is transferred to a Sunday.  Here in the Ecclesiastical Province of New York, which includes the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, the Ascension is kept on Thursday, May 25.  The Ascension lifts up our humanity to heaven with the Lord.   A story….

A team of explorers set off from England in the 18th century to navigate the Arctic. Their ship was loaded with great amounts of silver, porcelain, crystal, cut glass and china.  By misfortune the ship became stranded with only enough coal for 2 weeks.  And so they attempted to walk in the cold….with the treasure!  Their dead bodies were found next to sleds filled with the enormous weight of table silver which they had been dragging along through the snow.  They were found only a few miles from safety.

I suppose from our perspective we see the absurdity of the situation in which these men had tied themselves to their silver, but how many of our own lives are weighted down by useless nonsense?  How much in this life prevents us from soaring and ascending?  How much stuff keeps us from our own Ascension?  There are many who look at us to see if this “Christianity” makes us any different from the rest of the world.  Is it genuine?  Does it make an effect in our lives in any way?  Does it enable us to ascend from the common and ordinary?  

The Ascension is the mirror image of Christmas.  Christmas humbly brings Divinity to humanity.  The Ascension raises our humanity up to Divinity.  The Ascension brings our humanity to its destiny.  The Ascension completes the Incarnation by making holy our humanity.  This reality ought to give us hope and joy that Jesus is our hope who lifts us up from this life which is sometimes a “valley of tears.”

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us “He has gone before us, not to abandon us, but to be our hope.  Where He has gone, we one day hope to follow.” 

The Guest Columnist

This week I hand over the pen to Nathaniel; you will find his picture below.  Nathaniel will be graduating from our parish school of St. Martin’s this June and going on to high school.  Nathaniel faithfully serves Mass here every Sunday.  I can always count on him. 

This past Sunday I joined Nathaniel and his family at the Cathedral of St. Agnes for Mass with our Bishop Barres.  Nathaniel won the “Respect Life” contest sponsored for the school children throughout the diocese.  There were different categories:  art, poetry, music, photography, and the winning essay you find below written by our Nathaniel.  I am very proud of him, and all those young people who participated in the contest; they were an incredible inspiration to me and to many others.

And so, I give you over to Nathaniel and his winning essay:

Good Shepherd Sunday 2019

Last weekend was “Good Shepherd Sunday,” also known as “Pastor Appreciation Day”.  To those who sent gifts, I am making a thank you list; to those who didn’t, I am making a different list.

The most appreciated gifts received were cards from the school children.  I want to share some of the cards with you that were written by our school children:

  • I am so happy you are in our school
  • Thank you for being fun
  • Thank you for being the best pest, I love you.  PS:  Where do you keep your money?
  • What’s your favorite color?
  • Keep doing what you’re doing
  • Thank you for helping with the environment
  • Thank you for being a great pest.  You show us hope and love in God and us.  I will pray the decade of the roiary from you.
  • Thank you so much for everything you do for me and everyone else.  I am thankful for everything you do.
  • I will say a decade of the rosary for you.  Thank you for being our pastor.  You did great at your job.
  • Thank you Father Golden
  • Thank you so much!  St. Martin’s is really thankful for you Father Gordon
  • I am so happy you are our pastor
  • Thank you for being our amazing pastor.  Thank you for everything you do.
  • You are very kind
  • Thank you for being our pastor.  I will say a rosy for you
  • Thank you for serving our church and helping me to be a better person
  • Thanks for being a priest
  • Thank you for making me be the person I am today.  I am lucky that you are here
  • Thank you for being nice
  • I love pizza

I have put some of those beautiful cards in the foyer of the church for all of our parishioners to enjoy.  The rest are on my desk.  I thank the children for their beautiful words.  If it sounds like I am boasting…you would be correct!

Notre Dame Fire

As you drive toward the great city of Paris you will see the marker signs just like any city in the world: “50 kilometers to Paris,” “20 kilometers to Paris,” “3 kilometers to Paris.”  The unique thing about the mileage marker signs in Paris is that everything is measured from Notre Dame Cathedral. One could say that every place in the surroundings of Paris revolves around the cathedral that is literally and metaphorically at the heart of the city.  All of the roads therefore will eventually lead to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and at the center of Notre Dame Cathedral is God Himself in the Blessed Sacrament.

To that end, I was captivated by two vignettes that emerged from the devastating conflagration of the most famous church in the world dedicated to the Blessed Mother.

The first involves the bravest people in the world:  firefighters.  As the first fire trucks arrived and as they were rigging their fire equipment, one firefighter leapt off the truck and did something none of the others did yet—he immediately ran directly into the burning Cathedral.  This firefighter also happens to be a Catholic Priest.  Father Fournier is a priest and also a member of the French Armed Forces as well as the Paris Fire Department.  I will let Father Fournier tell his own story as conveyed by French News Service:

…. right away two things must absolutely be done:  save this unfathomable treasure that is the Crown of Thorns, and of course our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament.  As I entered the cathedral, there was little smoke and almost no heat, but we had a vision of what hell may be:  like waterfalls of fire pouring down from the openings in the roof.   The relic was extracted from the building and guarded by police officers.  Everybody understands that the Crown of Thorns is an absolutely unique relic, but the Blessed Sacrament is our Lord, really present in His body, soul, divinity and humanity and you understand that it is hard to see someone you love perish in the blaze.  As firefighters we see casualties from fire and we know its effects, this is why I sought to preserve above all, the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When the fire attacked the northern bell tower we started to fear losing it.  This was exactly the time when I rescued the Blessed Sacrament.  And I did not want to simply leave with Jesus:  I took the opportunity to perform Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.  Here I am completely alone in the cathedral, in the middle of burning debris falling down from the ceiling, I call upon Jesus to help us save His home.  It was probably both this and the excellent general maneuver of the firefighters that led to the stopping of the fire, the ultimate rescuing of the northern tower.  We started Lent by imposing ashes and saying ‘remember you are dust,’ and truly this was a miniature Lent:  the Cathedral went to ashes, not to disappear, but to emerge stronger, as we Christians are, after the Resurrection of our Lord.”

While this was happening inside, outside the world was stunned by the gathering of young people along the Seine and the walkways of the Left Bank kneeling, praying and chanting hymns to the Blessed Mother as her home went up in flames.  Where had these youths learned these prayers and hymns?  After so many generations of French people had left the practice of the faith, here was a new generation of French youth who so naturally turned to God in prayer. The embers of faith had been stoked within them as Father Fournier told us: “the Cathedral went to ashes, not to disappear, but to emerge stronger as we Christians are after the Resurrection of our Lord.” 

Easter

I have always loved this little parable.  I don’t know where I first learned of it, but it certainly tells us the central purpose of Easter Redemption.

It is Final Judgement Day and all are joyously gathered in Heaven celebrating those who have made it into heaven.  St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John Paul II, your mother…all together and enjoying Eternal Life.  The gates of heaven have been sealed—for all eternity, never to be opened again!  Everyone is there—except Jesus.  Nowhere to be found.  St. Peter searches high and low and finally finds Jesus at the gates of heaven looking downcast as he peers out of the closed gates.  “Why are you not celebrating with everyone, Lord?  Why are you so sad on this most joyous of days?”  Jesus responds with great sorrow, “I was just looking for Judas.  I had hoped that he might have come and asked me to forgive him at the last minute—before the doors of heaven were sealed forever.  If he had only come and asked me to forgive him for what he did…I would have forgiven him you know; all he had to do was ask.”

Pope Benedict has reminded us that “Every saint had a past.  Every sinner has a future.”  The figures in the gospel stories are people who have been redeemed from their past—saved—made new by Christ.  Dismiss the thief converts in the last minutes of his life and becomes Saint Dismiss. Longinus the centurion who put Jesus to death repented of his sin and is today Saint Longinus, and Peter “wept bitterly” when he realized he had denied Christ three times, and became Saint Peter.  Often we forget that both Peter and Judas had been disloyal to Christ; the difference being that Peter repented—Judas despaired.

The great irony is that Judas might have been—dare I even say it—Saint Judas.  All he had to do was ask for forgiveness.  He was too proud.  He despaired and died wallowing in his prideful sin.

These past 40 days of Lent we have made acts of penance, fasted and cared for the poor.  Most importantly we have asked for God’s forgiveness in the wonderful Sacrament of Confession.  Last Monday countless sins were forgiven for six continuous hours by countless priests from Montauk to Manhattan, from Washington to Boston, along the eastern seaboard of the United States.  From 3PM to 9PM priests sat for hours absolving penitents of their sins for six hours without pausing.  Do you know that this custom was begun first here in the diocese of Rockville Centre by our Bishop Murphy?  Truly a great day of rejoicing for “this son of mine was lost, but now has been found.” 

How fortunate we are to have so readily available to us the sacrament of Confession here on Long Island where we are absolutely assured of God’s forgiveness; this is not the reality in all parts of the world.  A Catholic bishop tells the chilling story about the former Soviet satellite country of Belarus. When I first heard this story from a Dominican priest I felt like I got punched in the gut. The republic of Belarus proclaimed its sovereignty in 1990 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Prior to this, Joseph Stalin had a firm grip on Belarus by infiltrating Belarus’s government with Russians.  Nikita Khrushchev continued this policy after Stalin’s death in order to ensure the Godlessness of communism.  God was the enemy for the communists. Upon the sovereignty of Belarus, the Catholic church finally had access to Belarus after so many years of the communist persecution of the Catholic faith.  The first thing the people wanted was to be able to go to Confession.  They hadn’t had priests to absolve their sins for so long.  The bishop tells us that late at night the people of Belarus would climb the fences into the cemeteries and search the graves, and then they would whisper their sins to the headstone of a priest. 

Easter is about Redemption:  redeeming the sinner, finding the lost, fixing the broken, and renewing a fallen world.

Redemption can be yours…if you but ask.

The Easter Triduum

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday with the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.  Holy Week contains the 3 most important days of the Church’s year:  Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.   Lent ends on Holy Thursday and the church enters into the Triduum, or “three days.”  On Holy Thursday, the feet of the 12 are washed, symbolizing Jesus’ call for us to serve others.  After the Holy Thursday evening Mass the Blessed Sacrament is carried in profound solemnity to a place of reservation where others may come to visit.  It is the long-standing tradition to visit 3 churches on Holy Thursday night.  On Good Friday, no Mass is celebrated anywhere in the entire world.  Visit any church on Good Friday and Holy Saturday and there is an existential emptiness because the Blessed Sacrament is not in any tabernacle in any church in the world.  The church is empty of God’s abiding presence.  The sanctuary lamp is extinguished.  The tabernacle door is left open.  The altar is stripped bare of everything to symbolize the death of Christ and the coldness of death.  Where would we be, had God not redeemed us in Christ Jesus?  The Son of God has died for us.  On Good Friday, all are silent from noon to 3 as Christ is upon the cross.  All Christians throughout the world gather in churches at 3PM to venerate the Holy Cross and receive Holy Communion that was consecrated the day before and kept hidden for those who may be dying and in need of Viaticum.  Finally, Christians gather throughout the world after sundown on Holy Saturday to keep vigil and await the great Mass of the Resurrection of the Savior.  A single candle carried into the dark church and soon the darkness is no more.  That candle will burn at the foot of your casket one day to guide your feet through the darkness of death to the glory of heaven.

Please do not miss immersing yourself into the ancient and sacred rituals of the Triduum.  They are 3 days like no other in the Church’s calendar.  Wherever you are, keep a profound silence from Holy Thursday until Easter Sunday.  Turn off your devices and enter into the ancient and majestic solemnity of our faith in the death and resurrection of the only Savior of the world.   

“We adore you oh Christ, and we praise you.  For by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”    

Passiontide

Why are the statues and crucifix covered?  In most Catholic churches throughout the world and over the course of the next few days you will see the main crucifix in the center of the sanctuary covered.  You will also see the statues around the church covered, with the exception of Saint Joseph, who has the distinct dispensation of not being covered during his month of March; since we’re in April, he gets covered this year.  Some churches actually remove all of the statues.  The Stations of the Cross are not covered so as to highlight the Passion of the Lord on the way to the Holy Cross. 

The covering begins in Passiontide from vespers (Evening Prayer at sundown) of the vigil of the Fifth Sunday of Lent.  The coverings in the purple color of Lent may be removed after Good Friday because Lent-proper has finished on Holy Thursday when the Triduum begins. 

So why is it done?  A few reasons:  In the Middle Ages and Renaissance many of the crosses and statues were covered in precious stones and gold.  These were appropriate gifts to give glory to God.  Even Saint Francis of Assisi said “Only the best for God.”  But during the Passiontide of Jesus those glittering jewels and gold were covered so as not to be a distraction from the gravitas of the Passion. The veiling of the Savior also expresses the humiliation to which the Savior subjected Himself.  In His Passion the Savior’s divinity was almost totally eclipsed, so great was the brutal agony and suffering of the Passion.  But also His humanity was eclipsed and covered because His face and body were so disfigured by the scourging and the wounds.  His humanity was veiled, covered and hidden by the torment of the cross.  The wounds hid and veiled both His humanity and His divinity.

But there is an even deeper meaning.

Remember that our faith is ancient and it carries with it very long traditions whose meanings sometime become obscured within history. Your family has many traditions handed down through generations, but the reason why you do those things may be lost to time.  During the gospel of the next few days you will see something definitively change about Jesus.  Jesus is now a “marked man” with a price on His head.  He may no longer move around freely for fear of being arrested.  Jesus is “going dark.”  And so Jesus “hid” Himself from those who were seeking to put Him to death.  Jesus is “hidden” or “covered” from the world until His Holy Passion and death.  He is hidden until His hour has come.  “They took up stones to cast at Him.  But Jesus hid himself…” (John 8) Lastly, in covering the cross, the glory of the Savior is now covered.  And if the glory of the Savior is covered, so too should the glory of His saints be covered.  The saints ought not outshine the Savior…so they are covered as well.  If the light of the sun were to darken, so too would every star in the heavens be darkened; for the light of the stars is dependent upon the light of the sun. The light of the saints is dependent upon the light of the Son.

Let us enter now into these final days of the Holy Passion of Our Lord.  We are mindful of the words said at every stop in the Stations of the Cross:  “We adore you O Christ and we praise you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.”

Come, let us accompany Him.

The Last Acceptable Prejudice

This month, 50 innocent Muslims were murdered in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Many more were hospitalized due to their injuries.  We read of the horrible atrocities inflicted upon people whose only crime was prayer.  In the name of all of the faithful parishioners from this parish, I sent flowers to the local mosque located on this same block.  I asked that the flowers be placed in the mosque so that all who visited would know that we share their grief and pray for the end to such senseless violence against humanity and against people of all faiths.

The story was the lead story in every news media outlet in the world in the days following.  The horrific story was everywhere.  Every political leader very publicly and rightly condemned this sin.  Every celestial body from Hollywood voiced protest.  Condolences and consolations were offered by everyone, everywhere. 

During the very same week, on another continent and in another part of the world, 120 Christian men, Christian women and Christian children in central Nigeria were macheted to death and slaughtered for the crime of being a Christian.  This murderous rampage against African Christians occurred at the same time.  Did you read about this?  Did you see it on the news?  Had you heard about this latest Christian massacre?  Of course, you didn’t because all of the newspaper and media outlets across America never reported it. 

Also, during that same week over 12 Catholic churches across France were desecrated.  One of the most famous Catholic churches in Paris—Saint-Sulpice—was set on fire after Mass.  Notre-Dame des Enfants was desecrated by painting a cross with human excrement as well as looting of the altar and tabernacle.  Holy Communion hosts were thrown into the dumpster, other consecrated hosts trampled underfoot.  The French government and law officials are reluctant to name those who desecrated these dozen Catholic churches.  80 percent of the desecrations of places of worship in France occur in Christian churches—on average two churches every day in France.

On our own continent, during the same week, a Catholic priest was attacked and stabbed while saying Mass at the Oratory of Saint Joseph in Montreal, Canada.  You had to hunt around to find any coverage of this attack.

The simple fact is that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world.  Seventy five percent of all religious persecution in the world—is done against Christians. 

Perhaps the reason the media never cover Christian massacres is that they are so frequent and no longer sensational enough to sell newspapers or attract viewers.  Perhaps they yawn at “just another Christian persecution”.

The world rightfully is outraged by these most recent atrocities perpetrated in New Zealand.  We join in this outrage, and we pray for all affected by such heinous sin.

Let us be just as mindful of the many more Christians throughout the world who suffer from this “last acceptable prejudice” of Anti-Christian hatred.

As a youth many of us were taught that one day we would be persecuted and suffer for our Catholic faith.  Long before that, however, it was Jesus Himself who taught us this in the Gospel of Saint John: 

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.”   John 15: 18