Category Archives: Chaplain’s Message

The Dignity of Every Human Life

The woman on the phone said “they found his body in the basement of an old flophouse.”  She didn’t know him very well, but she thought, being Catholic, she should call a priest.  And so, I went.  When I got to the run-down old building it was filled with people of questionable character—I left my wallet in the car.  I locked the car.  Sure enough the poor guy didn’t have anything; I imagined a life lived with nothing to show for it.  Sad.  But he was a child of God and deserving of a Catholic burial.  The problem was that he had no one in the world.  His father, his mother and his brother were all dead—each buried in a different borrowed grave.  I found a wonderful funeral director who helped make arrangements to claim his body.  I called the local church and met with the kindest priest who allowed us to wake his body in church for an hour before I said the funeral Mass.  His few friends walked from the boarding house to the church funeral.  None of them had a car, as they walked everywhere and took buses when they could afford it.  A very kind lady I know bought him a grave and the “Bishop’s Charity Fund” provided for the opening of his grave.  A suit from Sears—probably the only suit he ever owned.  After the funeral, a meal was arranged for his little group of friends from the boarding house and a few homeless people.  Afterwards we took him to the cemetery—just the funeral director and myself.

Why am I telling you this sad story?  I tell you this story to remind you of two things:  First, that every human life has dignity from conception until natural death and therefore has inestimable value.  Moreover, we are given an even greater dignity by virtue of our baptism, consecrating us as children of God.  Our bodies have now become a holy dwelling place and temple of the Lord.  To that end, at death we are afforded the ancient and venerable rites of a Catholic funeral, weather we be rich man or poor man.  This is what the lady who called me knew intuitively, even if she couldn’t put it in precisely those words.

Secondly, I tell you this story as a counterweight to the diminishing value of human life in today’s society.  It is a story that shows us—because every human life is sacred—that we must practice the Catholic Corporal Work of Mercy of burying the dead.  And when there is no one to do that, there we find the Church.  This is what the Catholic Church does in every place and every age—the Church ensures that the dignity of every human person is maintained unto death. This is something that everyone knows—the Church is there for those whom the world forgets.

A postscript. A woman contacted me.  She had been at the funeral.  She told me she had four children.  One child was dead, the second child was in a mental hospital, the third child was in drug rehabilitation and the fourth child was in prison.  She asked if I would make sure she would be buried properly when she died.  She said she had no one that could ensure she would have a funeral Mass and a burial.  She told me that the only one she could count on for sure was the Church.

She’s right!

– Fr.  Gerard Gordon

Saints and Sinners

November is dedicated to the holy saints and holy souls who have gone before us.  Where we walk, they once walked.  Where they have gone, we hope to follow.  I remember touring catacombs of the dead in Sicily.  On display were real skeletons of the dead, and they spoke out to us from the grave; the sign read: “You are where we once stood, we are where you will one day be.”  It was a macabre setting, but a sobering message.  All around you this past week you saw the orange and black colors of Halloween.  They are the colors of the orange pure beeswax candles and black bunting used in the ancient Catholic Funeral Masses before Vatican II.  Halloween is the night of the ghouls and goblins, but for us Christians, All Saints Day overshadows death with the triumphant victory of the saints about whom we have studied:  Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Bernadette.  All Souls is the day we remember those people we actually knew in this life:  your mother, your father, your child, your teacher, your friend who now lives with God in eternal joy.  Jesus tells us in the gospel:  “This is the will of my heavenly Father:  that I should not lose anything He gave to me, but raise it on the last day.”  God wants us to live with Him forever and He gives us every chance in this life, and even after we die.  This is why we continuously offer Masses for the dead—to assist them to heaven.  I hope you have enrolled your deceased loved ones in the nine-day novena of Masses offered in every church throughout the world beginning on All Souls Day, November 2.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken words that are essential to remember: “Every saint had a past, but every sinner has a future.”  Please remember those words.  Saints did not always begin their lives well, but they finished well.  St. Augustine, Saint Thomas Becket and others had dubious and selfish beginnings, but faithful and glorious endings to their lives.  The process toward sainthood is not always pleasant, it can be purgative, so as to burn away the dross and leave only the gold.   Saul was knocked off a horse, other saints were rejected and persecuted.  They were ordinary people who did ordinary things extraordinarily well.  After 30 long years of his mother’s prayers for his conversion, the great Saint Augustine received baptism at the hands of Saint Ambrose.  He went from rogue to Christian, to priest, to bishop, to saint.  And in the end, he made the profound statement: “Too late have I come to love Thee, Lord.”  Why did I waste so much time on myself?  Why didn’t I love you sooner Lord?

And then there are times when things can go tragically wrong. There is an old apocryphal story about a young man named Pietro Bandinelli.  It is one of my favorite stories.  When Leonardo daVinci spent years painting the masterpiece “The Last Supper” he scoured Italy for the models of each apostle.  He selected a young man named Pietro Bandinelli who looked exactly as a striking vision of Jesus.  His presence conveyed the virtues of Jesus’ compassion, gentleness and holiness.  Bandinelli sat for daVinci to let his face be used for Christ.  Many years went by but daVinci had not yet finished the painting.  He finished Peter, James, Thomas, John, and then the last was Judas the traitor.  It had to be someone who conveyed despair, hopelessness and sin.  He found his Judas in a prison.  As the portrait was near to completion Judas became despairing in grief.  “Do you not remember me?” asked Judas.  “I am Pietro Bandinelli.  I was the model for your Jesus.”  His life of innocence and holiness had decayed into crime, despair and sin.  Bandinelli had made the greatest of all mistakes; he had gone from saint to sinner.

– Fr. Gerard Gordon

 

Cor ad Cor Loquitur

We were in Sicily with 100 teenagers.  You haven’t traveled until you travel abroad with 100 teenagers.  They were always surprisingly good, for the most part.  I remember one fellow trying to smuggle brass knuckles through customs in Munich; that did not go well.  The German police are not known for their humor. I remember the first trip, nicknamed “the plague trip,” when absolutely every person on the trip got sick—very sick.  I remember the trip when all the passports were stolen on the way home as we went to the airport.  Then there was the bright fellow who bought one of those “disposable cameras.”  When he finished taking all his pictures he threw it away, and then asked how the pictures got to your house.

My years at St. Anthony’s High School were perhaps the most memorable of my life.  As we traveled the world our groups were so large that we had our own airplane:  students, faculty, Franciscan Brothers, parents, chaperones, guides, doctors, photographers, and this priest.

Of all the trips and hundreds of students, I remember one in particular.  Matt got sick towards the end of the trip and we put him into the “quarantine room” where the other sick students were.  Upon our return to America, Matt still got sicker and sicker.   He did not have a simple flu. Eventually he was put into the hospital.

On Saturdays Brother Joshua and I would drive a busload of students into New York City to the hospital to visit him.  We would bring small gifts for him, but he was not improving.  His devoted mother kept her makeshift bed pushed up against his hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit; she never left his side.  On this particular visit, I had printed hundreds of simple paper cards and handed them out to the students in the school’s hallway.  I asked them to write a few words and return them to me.  I would bring them to Matt on the next Saturday visit.  I got hundreds back, which I gave to his mother.  She read every one of them to him.

The next Saturday when we visited the hospital and I entered his ICU room his entire room had been wallpapered with those simple cards.  From floor to ceiling, Matt was surrounded by the love and prayers of his friends and even those who didn’t know him at all.  It was while surrounded by those cards that Matt soon went to God.  All these years later I can still see that cocoon of cards.  I carry Matt’s holy card in my prayer book to this day.

If you were to see my desk right now it has a lot of cards on it.  The one thing I cannot throw out are the cards people write to me.  They are always written from the heart.  Cardinal Newman was famous for saying “Cor ad cor loquitur, heart speaks to heart.” The cards are under the keyboard as I type now.  One says “just wanted to thank you for being a priest.”  Jean wrote to thank me for Benediction last week.  Joanne wrote “thanks for being our priest.”  A little boy wrote “thank you for being a pest.”  (I’ve been told this before.)  Claire wrote “happy birthday, we love you.”  And Steven wrote “I thank God for you.”  How can one possibly throw away such beautiful words, for they are spoken from the heart?

While this is not a commercial for Hallmark, never underestimate the impact the words of support from your heart can have on another heart.  The person might not recognize it immediately, but when the heart speaks to another heart the words are never lost and never in vain.

This week you might invest in a stamp and let someone know you appreciate them.

– Fr. Gerard Gordon

The Wall

Something happened this week that was unprecedented.  It happened in Catholic Poland.  I don’t like to make generalizations about things, especially cultural generalizations, but I will admit that the Polish people have an incredibly strong Catholic faith.  It seems to be in their DNA.  Catholicism runs deep in the people of Poland.  Theirs is not just “cultural” Catholicism.  Their Catholic faith is infused into every part of their lives.  I admire that very much.

This week across and around Poland a wall was built.  Not a wall of stone and concrete, but a wall of flesh and blood.  All across the borders of Poland over a million Polish Catholics formed a human chain.  And they were armed with weapons, weapons of prayer; for each of them carried rosary beads to be united in one, single prayer.  All across the 2,000 miles of border with Russia, Ukraine, Germany and the Czech Republic, the Polish people prayed the rosary for the integrity of religious freedom for Poland.  It was called “Rosary to the Borders.”  The news tells us that the recitation of prayer and the rosary even extended beyond the land and into the sea.  Fishing boats and sailboats continued the chain across the waterways.  They were praying to shield their families and country from the de-Christianization of Europe.  And they prayed in over 200 churches across the country, in airport chapels, hospitals, schools and even in Polish parishes abroad.

Their prayer was “save Poland and the world,” and the necessity for Europe to return to its Christian roots before it is too late.  And the date they prayed was no coincidence.  They united in a wall of prayer across Poland on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

The date they did this was most certainly not arbitrary.  All of this took place on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, October 7.  Why on that feast day you might ask?  The answer is very interesting.

On October 7, 1571 Christianity was under siege by the Ottoman Turks.  Pope Pius V had warned Europe that Christianity itself was perilously close to being eradicated from Europe by the Turks.  Hundreds of thousands of European Christians were enslaved and put to death.  It was the great Knights of Malta who assisted in the liberation of Europe’s oppressors.  In 1571, the Christians battled an enormous fleet of Turks at the Battle of Lepanto.  The battle lasted 4 hours where the Christians were greatly outnumbered.  40,000 died and thousands were wounded, but the integrity of Christian Europe was held intact.  How could the Christians defeat those who wished to eradicate Christianity from all of Europe when they were so greatly outnumbered?

Pope Pius V had asked Catholics everywhere across Europe to say the rosary every day in defense of Religious Freedom for Christians in Europe.  By all logic, the Christians should have lost the battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1507.  What they had however, was an entire Christian continent gathered together praying the rosary for them.  Immediately after, Pope Pius V declared October 7 as the Feast of “Mary Queen of the Most Holy Rosary.”  We still celebrate the feast today to commemorate the defense of our Catholic religious freedom.  That is why on October 7 over a million Polish faithful gathered arm-in-arm across Poland to remind the world of the battle that saved Western Civilization and Christendom itself.

– Fr. Gerard Gordon

Taking a Knee

When I was a young boy I was an altar server for many fine parish priests.  I would get up very early to serve the 7AM Mass and after Mass sit on the stoop and eat a donut before school.  There were lots of priests in those days.  I remember serving for a priest who was very old.  One day he was saying what is called a “private Mass.”  That means he was simply saying Mass silently at a side altar for his own intentions and without a congregation.  He was in his eighties and had probably been a priest for over fifty years and said Mass thousands of times.  On this day after the 7AM Mass he was saying his private Mass on a side altar and, in my innocence, I interrupted the middle of his private Mass—donut in hand—and told him that when he was done practicing saying Mass I would come back and serve his real Mass.  Today I laugh at my innocence.

There were happy priests and cranky priest, but they were all remarkably dedicated men.  One in particular sticks in my mind because he would appear much later in my life.  As a young boy, I would serve his early morning Mass and the one thing I remember about him was this:  he would yell at me!  In particular, he would yell at me to “stop ringing the bells so loudly.”  Maybe he always had a headache—I don’t know.  But he certainly didn’t like loud and surprising noises!

Many years later when I myself was a priest, and he an old priest I learned that he had served as a priest in the war.  He was not only a priest, but a veteran of the American military.  He had dedicated his life to both God and country, but in that order.  One day I listened to him convey a story of meeting the American combat troops that had flown for many hours and halfway around the world.  They had been confined for hours in a packed airplane and sought three things:  a shower, a meal and sleep.

Whenever the planes arrived on the airfield from America and filled with hundreds of men, the stairs were pushed to the door of the plane for the men to disembark to the waiting busses.  The buses, however remained empty, for sitting around the giant wheels under the enormous wings of those airplanes were priests from the military who were available for Confessions.  The old priest told me that the exhausted men who were about to go to war, and most probably their deaths, wanted one thing more than a shower, or meal or even sleep; they wanted to confess their sins.

I’ll never forget that story.  Perhaps now I understood why he was a bit cranky and didn’t like loud and surprising noises.  I cannot begin to imagine the things he had experienced in war.  You could tell he had been through a lot.  But that image remains with me to this day: countless brave men who gave their lives for our country, kneeling humbly on rough concrete under the wings of those huge airplanes half a world away.

– Fr. Gerard Gordon

The Catholic Bank

A while back I found myself in a bank down the road in Massapequa.  I was driving along Merrick Road and I passed the sign Ocean Financial Federal Credit Union—the Catholic Bank.  I couldn’t believe my eyes. I slammed on the brakes, made an illegal U-turn and went into the bank.  A “Catholic” bank?  I had never heard of this.

When I entered the bank I saw holy statues, rosaries, and….gasp…a crucifix on the wall.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  A Catholic bank?

Why I find this so amazing is because of my experience at other banks.  Presently St. Martin’s parish keeps all of our money at Chase Manhattan Bank.  They are very nice there.  The tellers are kind and they know your name and always wish a good morning to you.  But what I noticed was that during the holiday season Chase Bank put out all the ornaments of other faiths.  I asked “Where is the Christmas crib?”  I was met with glossy eyes as if I had just begun speaking in German.  I spoke to the manager and asked “Where is the Christian Christmas crib?” but he couldn’t come up with an answer.  I was puzzled by the deliberate exclusion of the Christian feast named for the Mass-of-the-Christ.

The Ocean Financial Federal Credit Union is the 4th largest Catholic credit union in the United States.  There are more than 70 locations on Long Island and thousands across the US and abroad.  And—are you ready for this—you must be Catholic to open an account!  They were founded in 1969 by the Knights of Columbus of the Father O’Connell Council in Oceanside, NY.  In 2014 the Credit Union brought the Diocese of Rockville Centre into its field of membership.

I asked Father Joe if he knew about them and he said he never heard of them.  I am willing to believe that neither have you.  So, I wanted you to be aware of this Catholic banking institution.  As the bank says: “it matters with whom you do business, whom you support every time you swipe your credit card.”

Their motto is “You can bank on us!”  You may find out more about them at the Catholic bank at www.oceanfinancial.org.

You probably think I am advertising for the bank—I am actually!  But, even if you don’t bring your money there, go have a look at the most unique bank I have ever seen.

– Fr. Gerard Gordon

14 Minutes to Live

I am writing these words in the middle of the August.  The nuclear missiles of North Korea are aimed toward the United States mainland and also aimed at the little island of Guam.  In retaliation, United States missiles are “locked and loaded” and aimed at Pyongyang, North Korea.  There are a little less than 200,000 people on the tiny island of Guam; all those born there are ipso facto American citizens.  The island is an American territory and presently directly in the sites and range of nuclear missiles.

During Mass on the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, that would be August 13, 2017, a priest in the local parish on the island of Guam gave a pertinent sermon entitled “14 Minutes to Live.”  It would take about 14 minutes for the nuclear missiles launched from North Korea to strike Guam, and so the parish priest asked the chilling question: “If you had 14 minutes to live, what would you do and would you be ready for judgement?”  How sobering is that?  As the faithful were leaving the packed church in Guam, those interviewed were clearly shaken.  It is a frightening message to all of us.  For us in New York the question would be extended to “If you had 29 minutes to live, what would you do and would you be ready for judgment?”   We are fortunate to get an extra 15 minutes of discernment.  Hopefully you could find a priest and make your confession within that time to be shriven of your sins.  But no one escapes the question of Final Judgment.

So, what would you do?  Would you be ready for judgment?  Hopefully you would be in the State of Grace and not worry.  Our Lord tells us: “On Judgment Day, the Son of Man will come like a thief in the night, when you least expect Him.  Be ready!” 

I have walked the streets of Hiroshima and seen the destruction.  Part of the destroyed city has been permanently left intact to remind us of the devastation of war.  It is not a pleasant sight, but it is a somber reminder to us of the horrors of war, and a reminder to us that we will all be judged…when we least expect it!  Will you be ready?

– Fr. Gerard Gordon

Windows on the World

Every year I would bring the youth from my parish into New York City to visit a few famous places:  Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, but always the top of the World Trade Towers.  I can vividly remember going up in the two sets of elevators; you had to change elevators half way up.  I remember they were extremely fast.  Once you got to the top there was that view in every direction.  There was nothing like it.  You could see past Staten Island, you could see the Bronx, across New Jersey and all the way into Suffolk. In a single sweeping glance you could see everything just as God sees the world.  It was a “window on the world.”  I had seen the view many times but it never ceased to take one’s breath away.   I imagined my uncle the ironworker walking around these very steel girders as he helped build the towers so many years ago.  It was such an awesome sight that I could not even bring myself to sit in the little recessed window seats.  It was all so overwhelming.  Outside was the immensity of God’s creation; and just for a minute I was seeing things just as He did.  Perhaps that is why it was so overwhelming.

On this particular visit, something caught my eye—it was the other 1,776-foot tower which stood only140 feet away. It was as if you could reach across and touch the other tower.  What caught my eye in particular were the windows.  On top was the famous “Windows on the World” restaurant where the elite of New York dined.  I could see them all sitting there in luxury, but just below them was a cleaning lady sitting at her dusty trolley eating a sandwich.  Below were all the common folk. Each tableau oblivious to the other. And as I looked around at the rest of the façade I could see people below at work at their desks, someone at a copy machine, someone making coffee, someone snoozing.  Each individual person framed in the silver window frame of the exterior of the building.  Each of them looked like a framed picture. They looked like individual pictures of loved ones set up on a shelf. It is the last living image I have of the towers.

A few weeks after that visit it all collapsed.  I have written before about the towers, but these are the last images I have in memory of them.  I can still see the framed faces of each one of them.  It truly was a “Windows on the World.”  Not so much windows for us looking out from our individual perspective, but windows looking in from outside.  To see us as God sees each of us from His heavenly perspective.  Each and every unique person lovingly framed by God so that He might gaze upon the face of each one of those whom He had created in His image and likeness—never to be forgotten.

On Monday, Americans, wherever they may be, will stop and remember at 8:46 AM, at 9:03 AM, at 9:37 AM, and at 10:03 AM.  We will remember all day.  Tomorrow morning bells will toll in church towers from North to South, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, across America as we stop and remember our fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and fellow Americans.  We will remember those whom we never knew.   Each individual framed lovingly before God so the He may look upon them for all eternity.

– Fr. Gerard Gordon

Solemnity of Corpus Christi The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

As you know from your studies of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, when we receive the Holy Eucharist we are receiving the Lord Himself and not a symbol.  It was the Protestant Reformation that rejected the true presence of Jesus in the host.  They believe in the symbolic presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Protestants believe the host is still bread.  In the 13th century the Dominican priest Thomas Aquinas taught us that we receive the very “body, blood, soul and Divinity of Christ” in the Eucharist.  He is present to us fully and completely in the host as well as in the chalice.  However, and this is the important point, St. Thomas tells us the accidents remain (what we can perceive with our senses).  The 13th century hymn “Pange Lingua” written by St. Thomas in honor of the Holy Eucharist ends with the words “sensuum defectui” which mean “our senses fail us.”  In other words, while the host is now God, those qualities and effects of bread and wine still remain.  It looks like bread, tastes like bread, feels like bread, but it is God.

Moreover, St. Thomas teaches us that bread ceases to exist, when the priest pronounces the words that only he can say: “This is my body.”

How can this be?  How can this be something other than what we perceive with our senses?  The answer lies in the heavens.

Go out tonight and lay flat upon your front lawn.  Look up into the heavens.  Two things will happen.  First, the neighbors will stare at you, but more importantly, you will see the stars.  What you are seeing is not really there now!  Astronomers tell us what you are really seeing is the past.  Because it took millions, perhaps billions of years for the light of those starts to reach your eyes on earth, you are looking at light from millions and billions of years ago.  You are literally looking billions of years into the past.  But more to our point—your senses are failing you:  “sensuum defectui” as St. Thomas Aquinas say.  Your senses are fooling you.  What you are looking at might not really be there anymore.

The same is true of the Holy Eucharist.  What you see is bread, but what it is, is simply—God!

Today throughout the world there are large and small Eucharistic processions in churches and streets in a monstrance such as portrayed below.  It is a showcase, a throne for God.  We bow or genuflect before the tabernacle where the blessed host is kept.  If this were merely bread we would be idolaters.  But we know that, even though our senses deceive us, what we are in the presence of…is God Himself. 

– Fr. Gerard Gordon

The Widow’s Mite

I open a lot of mail.  I get letters and cards from many people.  Unsigned letters are always shredded unread.  Most letters are usually very kind.  One lady wrote to tell me my eyes were blue.  That was very nice of her, but I had known that already.  I wrote back to thank her and told her they were my mother’s eyes.  Another lady wrote to correct my Theology.  A man wrote to correct my history.  Some people write because they are angry at me or at the church for something.  A lady asked me to come with her to the cemetery to bury her husband’s ashes…in Ireland.  I’m thinking about that one.  I am not always able to put a face to the name on the card or letter, as is the case with one card I received today.

The first thing you notice about the card is that it is a real card.  It is a card from the Society of Saint Theresa.  It is an Easter card from the Carmelites.  When you open the card the inscription inside reads: “The Carmelites are remembering you and your intentions in a Novena of Masses.”  Inside the sender has taken the time to write words in steady and practiced Catholic school script in the Palmer Method: “I can only get to Mass watching it on TV with the Passionist Fathers.  I have heart problems and this has changed my life.  So, I send a donation once a month, when my almost blind macular degenerated eyes can manage it.  Enclosed please find my offering.”  The card is signed “Lillian.”

I have never met Lillian.  I want to meet her.  I will write to her and call her as soon as I finish typing this message.  I do know that Lillian is a woman of faith and she reminds me of the gospel story of the Widow’s Mite.  That woman who did not have much to live on, but made sure that she shared what little she had with those in need.  Lillian makes quite a sacrifice for you and me and forces us to look at our own generosity.  She doesn’t know I’m writing this about her.  She would probably tell me not to, so I’m not going to ask her.  If you ever meet Lillian, please thank her for her sacrifices for us at St. Martin’s.

– Fr. Gerard Gordon