Category Archives: Chaplain’s Message

Lent III

One of the quietest and most moving places on earth is the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  It is the remnant, all that remains, of the Temple of Jerusalem built by Herod the Great about 20 years before Christ, and then destroyed by the Romans around 70 AD.  The Temple of course was where Jesus was presented as an infant by Joseph and Mary.  It is where Jesus taught the teachers, and where he was found after being lost for 3 days.  It is also the sight of the gospel for the third Sunday of Lent.  Jesus was annoyed at what had become of this most holy place.

When I was a kid I was never allowed to speak in church—ever.  It was the quietest place in town.  I miss that and I still feel uneasy talking unnecessarily in church.  Sometimes I do, but in the back of my mind is the reminder that perhaps I shouldn’t be.  There is something different about Catholic Churches.  What is different is God’s real and abiding presence; independent of whether one knows it, believes it, or even likes it.    The Divine Presence is not dependent upon my consent or even my understanding.  God is simply there in that tabernacle in every Catholic Church and chapel throughout the world.

In all Catholic Churches there is a large candle near the tabernacle called the Sanctuary Lamp.  It beckons us in the dark, as a lighthouse beckons a ship that is lost.  “I’m over here!”   This is no mere auditorium, gathering space, theater or concert hall.  It is literally where God abides.  And so, we ask:  How do I act in His presence?  Do I visit Him throughout the week?  Do I spend some time with Him?  Very often throughout the day I see people stop in to spend some quiet time with the Lord.  Around our tabernacle are a few rows of seats.  I urge you to use them.  Come right up there and spend some silent time with the Lord.  He’d like to see you. Pope Benedict XVI wrote “Silence excavates and carves out an interior space in our inmost depths so that God might abide there.”  The silent time we spend digs out a place in us so that God might live there.  Pretty amazing!

This past week I brought the 7th and 8th grade Religious Education Children along with a few of their parents to a Holy Hour in the Church in the evening.  I spent a little time explaining to them about spending quite time in God’s holy presence.  I reminded them that God speaks to us in quiet.  I asked them to sit anywhere they wished in the church, but to sit quietly by themselves.  I knew this could end in disaster as I waited for all the phones to start chirping around the church.  The amazing thing is that there was absolute silence for a long time throughout the church.  I was truly amazed that the children became lost in the holy silence, since most humans are uncomfortable in silence; perhaps they had never experience silence before.  Silence is where God lives.

In the gospel for this third Sunday of Lent Jesus becomes indignant at those who ignored the Divine Presence in the Temple of the Lord.  This causes us to reflect upon our own demeanor in any Catholic Church.  Do you remember to genuflect?  Do you bow in the direction of the tabernacle?  Bowing is good.  Genuflecting is better, but please, please…never ignore Him.   

Fr. Gerard Gordon


On this second Sunday of Lent we are given the gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Ancient tradition holds that the Transfiguration of Jesus occurred 40 days before Good Friday.  The central figures of the Transfiguration are Jesus’ “inner circle” of apostles:  Peter, James, and John.  It is these 3 only who are present for the raising of the daughter of Jairus.  Peter was the first Pope, James was the first apostle-martyr and John was simply the favorite.  Ironically it is these 3 who wanted to avoid the cross at all costs.  Peter tried to talk Jesus out of the cross, and is thus called “Satan” by Jesus.  The brothers James and John have the nickname “Boanerges” which means “sons of thunder.”  In the gospel of Luke, while on the way to Jerusalem James, John and Jesus pass through Samaria, where the people reject Jesus’s journey because Jesus is going to the cross.  James and John want to call down fire from heaven to destroy them, thus, “sons of thunder.”

St. Thomas Aquinas believed Jesus was transfigured before these three men in order to strengthen them for what was about to happen to Jesus.  St. Thomas writes: “For a person to travel a difficult road, he must have some knowledge of the end in order to persevere.”  And so the Transfiguration takes place before the crucifixion to remove the doubt and despair that might occur as a result of the cross.  Jesus drops His humanity for the briefest moment.  Peter, James and John see a brilliant flash of the Divinity of just who this Jesus is.  Jesus is Divinity veiled in humanity.  There is more here than just a mere human being.  They received a glimpse of Jesus’ true Divine Nature to sustain them for the coming “scandal” of the cross. 

As a result, they remain silent.  They do not understand.  We are very much like them.  We only see the “human” Jesus and do not get a glimpse of the “Divine” Jesus.  Peter, James and John saw that—quicker than a flashbulb.  They were shown a glory beyond their imagining. But it must have been magnificent, because it was enough for them to persevere in the face of the “scandal” of the cross.

This second Sunday of Lent we are given this gospel of the Transfiguration so that we also might not lose heart in our trials.  Like Peter, James and John, we are given a glimpse of the target—the glorified Christ—that awaits those who remain faithful unto Him.

Keep going!

Ash Wednesday Begins Lent

Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Not very pleasant words.  A reminder that I shall die.  Perhaps even more sobering, a reminder that I shall be judged.  That’s not very comforting.  It has been said that the gospel is meant “to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict those who are comfortable.”  The gospel is meant to trouble us.  Surely it comforts us, but during Lent it is supposed to challenge our egos and dangerous illusions about ourselves.  So often we will fail during our Lenten resolutions, but these “failures” remind us of an eternal truth—I need to be saved, by one stronger than myselfI cannot do it alone.  I need…a Savior.  And the Savior can only save the one who acknowledges that he needs to be saved.  Said the Lord:  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  We will remind ourselves daily that we need to be saved through acts of Lenten penance:  fasting, prayers, Confession, forgiveness, sacrifice, conversion, and pardon.  Our small, daily penances and sacrifices will slowly build up our resistance and resolve so that when the big temptations come along, we will be ready to combat them.  Penance is that constant reminder that this life is only a pilgrimage; we hunger for heaven.  We were made for heaven, every human heart yearns for heaven, whether we know it or even believe it!  Settle for nothing less than heaven!  Penance prompts us not to cling to the fleeting things of this world, but to seek things eternal.

          The 6th century saint and archbishop Caesarius of Arles wrote of Lent: “With the hope of attaining eternal life, during these days of Lent, let us strive to repair in this little ship of our soul whatever through this past year has been broken or destroyed or damaged or ruined by the many storms; that is, by the waves of our sins.”  And so, we join ourselves to countless people united across the globe for the next 40 days to “fix what is broken, repair what was ruined,” so that God might find us worthy, and the ship of our soul still afloat. 

This week we begin the Lenten season by marking ourselves unmistakably with the ashes upon our forehead.  The external and very public acknowledgement that you and I are sinners in need of a Savior.  We enter now into these 40 days of Lent, after which comes the glory of Easter.  For 40 days and nights there was the great flood of Noah, followed by a beautiful new earth.  Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years, and then arrived at the beauty of the land of milk and honey.  Jesus spent 40 days and nights being tempted by the devil in the desert, and then was ministered to by the heavenly angels themselves. And it is Easter that awaits those who have passed through these 40 days of Lent.  For our salvation begins this day!  Never in history has Easter ever come before Lent.  In order to get to the magnificence that awaits us at Easter, first…Lent!

You Fool

There is a television show that is called “Storage Wars” or something like that.  The premise of the show is based upon those ubiquitous storage buildings that have sprung up around the country.  Apparently, Americans have so much junk and stuff in excess that their houses are not big enough to hold it all.  Someone has made a fortune in setting up storage facilities around the county where they will hold all your excess treasures in case you need access to them.  I don’t really get it, since I throw everything away; I’m not a keeper. 

            So, back to our show:  the premise of “Storage Wars” is that you have groups of people bidding on a storage bin without knowing what is inside.  It seems to be the new version of “Let’s Make a Deal” from our youth.  (“What’s behind curtain number 2 Monty?”)  Not knowing what is inside the storage bin people make bets to purchase the unknown.  Apparently last week a man in Oklahoma bid $500 on a storage bin with unknown content.  When he opened the storage bin there were the expected broken chairs, bean bags, glasses, plates and tools.  Then the new owner opened an old bag sitting in the corner of the bin he found $7,000,000 in cash!  Someone, somewhere was an ignorant fool to have never looked inside that bag.

            One of the great things about the Catholic Church is our history and tradition which goes back beyond Christ, deep into our Jewish roots.  We call this “The Treasury of the Church.”  We are an ancient lot which have millennia of traditions, stories, customs and history that have survived the test of time.  While so many have come and gone, the Church is still here—sometimes in spite of the harm that we have inflicted upon ourselves.  Just the fact that the Church endures, is proof that God has to be in charge and with his Divine hand on the tiller steering us through history.  Napoleon Bonaparte once bragged to the Pope that he had the power to destroy the church.  One of the cardinals, under his breath, said “Good luck your majesty, if the clergy haven’t destroyed it, you probably won’t get far.”  It is a glib line, but there is a kernel of truth in that the promise of Christ was that no power on earth could destroy the Church—even our self-inflicted wounds.

            Which brings me to my point.  The Church is the custodian of the treasures of faith and history; our traditions, customs and sacramental practices.  We have been given the many gifts of God—in particular the Sacraments—to get us to heaven.  If you are baptized and have received your Sacraments you have been given already the treasures of the Church to assist you in attaining salvation.  But so many people, indeed far too many people, go through life and never open up and delve into those treasures given to assist us.  Like all that money, it is left in a bag that someone never opened in order to find all that was necessary to get through this life.

            I asked my friend when he was going to have his 2 little children baptized.  He told me he was going to wait and let them decide on their own.  I asked him if he let them choose their own doctors.  He got the point.  I always encourage young people to be absolutely sure of what it is they are discarding when they walk away from their faith; sadly, they have never even investigated their faith, yet they will throw it away into the trash.

            In the Sacraments God places before us all those tools and gifts necessary to get us to heaven:  The Eucharist as food for the journey,” Baptism to wash away original sin and bring us into the church, Anointing of the Sick to give us strength in our suffering, Vocations to help us commit ourselves to living the Gospel message and Penance for when we stray from God. 

            You already have those gifts.  Open them up.  You have everything you need. Use those gifts, use those sacraments; they are inexhaustible. 

The Victory of Moloch

Monsignor and I were sitting in the fancy lobby when who should walk past but a famous Catholic governor.  He was now retired.  He came over to us to say hello and seemed to be a pleasant person.  We talked cordially for a little while.  Being a bit emboldened I asked him if he still held the same position supporting abortion since now having left office.  He went pensive.  I could feel the monsignor cringe.  The ex-governor told us that he had since changed his stance and, now retired, acknowledged life in the womb.  He simply said: “I was wrong.”  I knew he didn’t like my question; I wasn’t sorry I asked it.  I hope that he did penance for such grievous apostasy before standing before Final Judgment.   

The apostate is that person who has betrayed his faith. In the ancient Church the apostate was given only one chance in his life to repent and return to the graces of the Church; no second chances.

Last week the state of New York passed the “Reproductive Health Act” which has a harmless name but which is the most brutal act of violence against innocent human life not seen since the bronze age.  This law clearly cements abortion into the constitution of New York, but goes even farther in that it is now permissible to abort a child right up to the moment of delivery and even extends beyond birth, so that if the abortionist was not successful in killing the child within the womb, then he can finish the job after the delivery and birth.  This is called “post-birth abortion.”  It used to be called first degree murder.

During the signing of this act into law the senate chamber erupted into extended cheers from state senators and those in attendance.  As a final tribute to this satanic victory, the great Freedom Tower was illuminated in pink; the tower built to pay tribute to the lives of those who died in 9/11, now transformed into a tribute to the slaughter of the innocents.  Does anyone see any incongruity?

At the end of the bronze age the Canaanites worshiped the god named Moloch.  He was a god who had infiltrated into the pure worship of Israel in the name of “inclusivity,” and thereby assimilating antithetical beliefs into Judaism.  This wound up polluting the purity of the Jewish faith.  But here’s the interesting fact: it was the apostate Jewish kings who had allowed Moloch into their faith in the name of being “inclusive” and “politically correct.”  These kings who were charged with protecting their people were the very ones who let the wolf into the fold to destroy the innocent sheep. 

And Moses wrote to the Jews: “You shall not give any of your children to devote them by fire to Moloch, and so profane the name of your God.”  Sadly, some of those kings who had vowed to protect God’s people wound up being the very ones who would worship Moloch—as their children were being offered in sacrifice to him.

…and so it continues.


The doctor told the parents “You’d better call a priest.”  Looking back now I suppose it strikes me as odd because it was a Jewish hospital deep in the heart of a place called Brooklyn.  The year was 2011.  I didn’t know the young parents, but I was called through a friend.  I drove to Brooklyn.  The baby was only a few days old and the doctors told the brave young couple that he most likely would not live much longer as he suffered from very severe brain damage.  Entering the neo-natal intensive care unit, I met the father who was FDNY.  I told him I should baptize the little infant right then and there.  Priests do that often in hospitals; we call it “In periculo mortis,” which is Latin for “in danger of death.”  Nurses of a certain age were once trained always to take matters into their own hands and to baptize any Catholic baby that was in danger of death when a priest could not get there in time.  I don’t know if nurses today are trained to do that—they should be—or perhaps today they might get sued. 

I leaned into the little crib and turned to the father: “What name shall I give him?”  “Rocco John” was his immediate answer.  I poured the water on his forehead in the ancient ritual: “Rocco John, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Then I anointed his forehead with the Sacred Chrism.  He now belonged forever to Jesus Christ.  His soul was impressed with the indelible mark of baptism and the seal that only God can see; the seal God looks for at the day of the great Resurrection.

I turned to the Father and told him I would now administer the sacrament of Confirmation.  I asked him for a Confirmation name.  It took about 2 seconds for the father’s quick response: “Thomas Aquinas.”  I was caught off-guard by the name of the great saint.  The epiclesis prayer calling down the Holy Spirit upon the infant sealed the little fellow with the fullness of the Holy Spirit.  He was all set!

Rocco John Thomas Aquinas lived for 7 more years until last week when I buried him in that place called Brooklyn.  I had never seen such a tiny coffin. His whole life had been lived on a respirator and he was tended to day and night by those faithful parents who never left his side.  The cemetery was particularly hard because it was the first time that his mother would be separated from him.  He lived his whole life upon the cross.  Rocco never once spoke a single word, but at his funeral the church was filled with countless young and old whose hearts had heard his silent voice.  It was amazing to think that so many were so moved by a fragile little child with such disability.  During the eulogy his father shocked us when he said the doctors had suggested that Rocco not be allowed to be born as his life would never accomplish much and he would never be able to interact with others.  I wondered if any of those doctors were in that overflowing church?

If you look at a picture of Saint Rocco you will notice something interesting.  Being a priest, I know all these seemingly useless things.  Saint Rocco is the only saint who is portrayed as pointing to his infirmity:  Saint Rocco points to the lesion-mark from the plague upon his leg.  His little dog always sits at his side as St. Rocco displays his sickness.  Rocco never hid his infirmity and that was precisely what drew others to him. 

The Catholic Church is both loved and hated throughout the world for one immutable principle:  we uphold the absolute dignity of every single human person from the moment of conception until natural death no matter its condition.  Every life is sacred, has value and is to be protected.  Servant of God Terrence Cardinal Cooke once wrote something so profound that I put it onto my mother’s funeral cards after a dozen years of Alzheimer’s: “Life is no less beautiful when it is accompanied by illness or weakness, hunger or poverty, physical or mental diseases, loneliness or old age.”

The Chalking of the Doors

I found the following extracted excerpts in a religious article store.  It is called the “Chalking of the Doors.”  In many ways it reminds me of the beautiful Jewish custom of the mezuzah.

Above the doors of many homes you may see a mysterious series of letters and numbers, looking for all the world like an equation, inscribed in chalk over a doorway at your parish, or at the home of a friend.  Maybe you thought you could figure it out.  Maybe you were too embarrassed to ask, “What is that?”

If you don’t know what the chalk is all about, don’t be ashamed.  You’re certainly not alone.

Epiphany (also known as the “Twelfth Night”) marks the occasion of a time-honored Christian tradition of “chalking the doors.”  The formula for the ritual—adapted for 2019—is simple:  take chalk of any color and write the following above the entrance of your home:  20 + C + M + B + 19.

The letters have two meanings.  First, they represent the initials of the Magi—Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar—who came to visit Jesus in His first home.  They also abbreviate the Latin phrase, “May Christ bless the house.”  The “+” signs represent the cross, and the “20” at the beginning and the “19” at the end mark the year.  Taken together, this inscription is performed as a request for Christ to bless those homes so marked and that He stay with those who dwell therein throughout the entire year.

The chalking of the doors is a centuries-old practice throughout the world, though it appears to be somewhat less well known in the United States.  It is, however, an easy tradition to adopt, and a great practice whereby we dedicate our year to God from its very outset, asking His blessing on our homes and on all who live, work or visit there. 

The timing for the chalking of the doors varies somewhat in practice.  In some places, it is done on New Year’s Day.  More commonly, it is performed on the Feast of the Epiphany—the Twelfth Day of Christmas.  Most often the chalking takes place after Epiphany Mass, and can be done at any church, home, or dwelling.   Traditionally the blessing is done by either a priest or the father of the family.  This blessing can be performed simply just by writing the inscription and offering a short prayer, or more elaborately, including songs, prayers and processions and the sprinkling of holy water. 

After many Epiphany Masses, satchels of blessed chalk, incense and holy water are distributed.  These can then be brought home and used to perform the ritual in the days following Epiphany.  Another common practice is to save a few grains of the Epiphany incense until Easter, so that it can be burned along with the Easter candle. 

Practicing traditions like the chalking of the doors helps us to live our faith more concretely and serve as an outward sign of our dedication to Our Lord.  The chalking of the doors of a home encourages Christians to dedicate their life at home to God and to others.  Seeing the symbols over our doors can help to remind us, while passing in and out on our daily routines, that our homes and all those who dwell there belong to Christ.  It also serves as a reminder of the welcoming the kings gave to Jesus.  We should strive to be as welcoming to all who come to our beautiful homes to visit.

A Shining Star

I buried Stella a few days after Christmas.  She had a beautiful family and they were all gathered at her funeral to celebrate her life, to mourn her loss and to assist her to heaven by our prayers.  It was a beautiful celebration of a life well lived and a life very faithful to the Catholic faith. 

Stella lived for 97 years and was committed to her parish as well as Mass attendance here at St. Martin’s for many decades.  She was older than the church-building in which we had her funeral Mass.   She regularly attended Mass in the former church that once sat upon this site. 

You already know that Christmas is so potent in meaning that the Church traditionally celebrates Christmas for 8 consecutive days:  we call this the Octave of Christmas.  Since Stella’s funeral was within the Octave of Christmas I took the liberty of doing something I’ve never done before at a funeral:  I read the gospel of the birth of Jesus.  Usually the church gives us Easter funeral readings, but it was appropriate to read the gospel from Christmas during the Octave.  I read the story of those who were drawn to Christ by the star.  Stella means “star.”  One of the titles of Mary is “Stella Maris,” (Star of the Sea).  Stella was named after the star that beckoned the shepherds to find Christ.  Stella was named after the star that beckoned the 3 kings to find Jesus.  Stella was named after the star of Bethlehem which guided so many to Jesus, just as Stella herself had led her many family and friends through nearly a century of faith to Jesus.

After Stella’s funeral I received a Christmas card with a generous donation to the parish; it was from Stella herself.  She had written on the card the words: “To my Church.  My last Christmas envelope.  I am with my Jesus.”  Even at the end of her very long life Stella wanted to remember her church.  This was such an inspiration to me when I opened the card.  It was evidence of a century of unwavering fidelity to the Church.  It showed me someone who was never attached to the fleeting things of this world, but always kept her sights among the stars of heaven, yearning for things eternal.  Stella surely was a star.

May she be welcomed to the celestial heavens where she shines brightly before her Lord, continuing to beckon others to Him.  We call these stars our saints of heaven.

“Benedizione die Bambinelli”

Each year on the Third Sunday of Advent children gather with their families in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in Rome for “Bambinelli Sunday.”  The children bring with them the figurine of the Christ Child—the “Bambinelli”—from their family’s Nativity Crèche.  The Christ Child is held aloft for the Pope’s blessing and then returned home to the family crèche; they are “taking God home” with them.

In 1223, three years before his death, St. Bonaventure tells us that Saint Francis of Assisi created the first Crèche, or a “living Manger of Bethlehem” with real animals and people to “make the Incarnation of God become real.”  800 years later, Saint John Paul II, as Pope, reinstituted the ancient custom of “Bambinelli Sunday.”

          Today in every parish in the world on the Third Sunday of Advent the custom continues. This weekend many of you have brought your baby Jesus from your family’s Nativity scene.  It may be a brand-new baby Jesus or one your grandmother gave to you: the one you remember so fondly as a child.  No matter the age your baby Jesus, the custom is meant to remind us of the reality and tangibility of God-made-flesh; we call this the Incarnation.  After Mass at the 9AM family Mass we will process out to the large Franciscan Nativity on the front lawn and exercise an ancient custom of St. Francis.  Each person will take one single strand of straw from the church’s holy manger and bring it home to your family’s manger scene.  You will place that single strand of straw underneath your baby Jesus at home.  Perhaps you will reflect upon the many homes across our town and indeed across the world that bring the holiness of the Nativity into their own homes.  St. Francis wanted each of you to bring the birth of God into your homes. 

          What makes this exceptional is that the place for the birth of God is no longer in simply in Bethlehem, but in your home, in your own life.  God settles himself into your home and even into your heart:  this is what we recall as we look upon the Nativity scene. 

Meet the Neighbors

On the afternoon of the first Sunday of Advent I was invited to visit the neighbors down the block.  In between the morning Masses, a late afternoon wake and the evening Mass, I walked down the block and knocked on the door.  I had been invited a few weeks prior and was eager to visit.  Unfortunately, when I arrived I had knocked on the wrong door and was politely asked to use the front door and not the side door, as the front door was for men only and women used the side door.  Confused, I dutifully obeyed.

When I entered I was politely greeted by about 25 men and their leader who was just finishing an address to the group.  I had now made my second mistake without saying a word:  I had left my shoes on.  I noticed that everyone was barefoot and so I quickly took off my shoes.  It was my first time in a mosque.

The group of men ranged from about 15 to 75 years old; they sat staring at me.  The only other time I had experienced anything like it was when I sat Shiva with my Orthodox Jewish rabbi friends:  as I walked in…silent stares!  I spoke for about 15 minutes and gave a quick overview of the history and teachings of the Catholic faith.  I invited questions; there was only one: “What will be the signs accompanying the Jesus-Messiah’s final return?”  It fit right in with that Sunday’s Advent Gospel.  The answer was simple:  there will no sign; Jesus will come like a thief in the night, when we are least expecting.  The word used is He will come like an “assault,” so that we must always be ready and be prepared that if He should come in the middle of the night, we must be ready.”  To my surprise the ladies had been watching on closed-circuit television and following our conversation from another room behind the petition:  that explained the gasp!  They had not expected such an abrupt and startling answer; however true it might be.  No warning!

After our gathering I observed their very reverential and sincere prayers, which take place six times each day.  They bow toward Mecca and praise the name of God.  After prayers the men had gone to great lengths to prepare a luncheon for me and so we sat around the table and talked faith.  It was almost like a Muslim Knights of Columbus meeting.

I do not recall having been so warmly welcomed and treated as I was that day.  They were sincerely and joyfully interested in my words, grateful I came to visit them; they smiled and laughed and each man wanted to individually come to me in a line to thank me for coming to visit them.  They gave me gifts and a beautiful bouquet of flowers that I told them I would bring to the saint recognized and adored by both faiths:  Miriam, or Mary as we call her.  They asked if they could come visit our parishioners.  I told them certainly we would look forward to that day after the New Year.

I put my shoes back on and collected my gifts.  A young man of about 20 asked if he and his friend could carry my packages back to the church with me; I was very moved by their kindness.  I told them it was raining, but they insisted.  Along the way they asked if they could come some day and play basketball with some of the youth of the parish in our gym.  I told them I would be sure to make that happen.

There are many branches on the Muslim tree as there are many branches in Christianity and Judaism.  Their particular sect called Ahmadiyya lives by a motto that was emblazoned on their walls and worn on pins affixed to their jacket lapels: “Love for all, hatred for none.” 

            I like the new neighbors.  I hope they stay around.  If you see them, please say hello.

– Fr. Gerard Gordon