Saturday, April 21, 2018

The GOoD Shepherd

The idea of Jesus being our Advocate with the Father from last week’s second reading continues to spark my reflection.

I summarized a fairly dense paragraph about the First letter of John with the following two comments:

1.   In sacrificing his humanity on the cross, Jesus becomes our Advocate with God the Father.

2.   We are called to charitable living as a response to this gift

In today’s gospel, Jesus uses the allegory of the Good Shepherd to describe himself. The answers to three questions provide the basis for today’s article:

1.    What are the qualifications of a Good Shepherd
2.    How do I measure up?
3.    What can I do?

The major qualification of the Good Shepherd is congruous to that of the Advocate.  The Good Shepherd lays down His life.

I simply don’t measure up.  If I were a pro golfer, I wouldn’t even make the cut. It is important however, to remember that Jesus calls himself the “Good” Shepherd, in contrast of the religious leaders of His time. This notwithstanding, it is freeing to acknowledge that my love can never be as perfect and complete as that of he who is GOoD Shepherd.

So what can I do? That is the upcoming week’s reflection. I’m sure you won’t be surprised that a song lies at the center of my initial thoughts.

In “With All The Saints” (#418) Bob Hurd names many who call you and me to advocacy.  Among these are the poor and forsaken, the refugees and victims of violence.

Verse 6 is what brought this powerful prayer to mind:

So may this flock, this church once more gathered, faithfully follow its Shepherds voice to be a living sign of the love of God and neighbor.

Blessed to be at St. Mary’s,


Click below for a link to 

Friday, April 13, 2018

3rd Sunday of Easter

…But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous one.

                                        1 John 2:1

                                                                               The readings during the Easter season are filled with stories and images on which one can meditate, preach or write many weekly bulletin articles.

The central story is found in the gospel. The tomb is empty. Jesus has risen from the dead. He appears to the women who visit the tomb; the disciples locked in the upper room and unnamed travelers leaving Jerusalem in gloom.

Jesus’ promise of an advocate (see the quote above) never fails to capture my attention.  It is like an “Easter egg” a hidden message or secret feature placed in a movie for devotees to discover and/or be developed in a future movie.  The advocate promised by the risen Christ just might be the ultimate Easter egg.

Of what do you think of when you hear the word "Advocate?" 

Consider the U.S. Council of Bishops notes on the first letter of John:
The author affirms authentic Christian love, ethics, and faith take place only within the historical revelation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The fullness of Christian life as fellowship with the Father must be based on true belief and result in charitable living; knowledge of God and love for one another are inseparable, and error in one area inevitably affects the other.

Let me offer two comments that helped me grasp the meaning of this quote:

    1.      “Based on true belief"
This is an important part of our Christian understanding of Jesus. It is the belief that Jesus was fully human as he offered his life on the cross.  In doing so, he becomes our advocate with God, presenting our personal case for salvation.

    2.      The “result”
This is our response to the gift of salvation, which the church describes as charitable living

The call to charitable living drives my involvement and leadership in the social concerns ministry of St. Mary’s.   It calls me to be an advocate for others when I am in a position to do so.  I will write more about this in the upcoming weeks. Join in the conversation and work of charitable living.  Contact me at or call the parish office to be part of our e-mail list.  In the meantime, please visit the social concerns page on the St. Mary’s Website at

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Superstar vs. Godspell

"The chief priests assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep."
Matthew 28:12-13

It’s the day after Easter; another Monday - another snowstorm.  I pour a cup of coffee, open my laptop and scan the news to see what I’ve missed during the Triduum. I click on a you-tube video and watch the buzzer beater that gave Notre Dame the NCAA women’s basketball championship.  Then I check social media.  Two things dominate:  Easter Alleluias and the buzz about the live telecast of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Enough procrastination, it’s time to get to work. I begin with the scripture readings. The verses at the top of this article send sparks of ideas shooting through my brain.

Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit has tricked me. Instead of reading the gospel for the second Sunday of Easter, I have read the Gospel for Easter Monday. Not being one to argue with the Holy Spirit, I begin to write.

Like many who posted on social media, my feelings on Jesus Christ Superstar were based on a comparison with Godspell. My gut reaction: “There was lot of the Gospel in Godspell but not much in Superstar.

A post by friend offered a valid explanation; “Godspell was written from the perspective of Matthew's gospel where Jesus Christ Superstar was written from the perspective of Judas. These differing perspectives make all the difference.
The 28th chapter of Matthew offers two differing perspectives as well.  Both the soldiers and the Mary Magdeline and Mary the mother of Salome saw the angel of the Lord.  Both groups were gripped by fear.  But each group saw and responded from a different perspective. 

The soldiers were bribed to see the side of the status quo and remained in fear. The two women heard and heeded the words of the angel. Still fearful yet overjoyed the women ran from the tomb ….and behold, Jesus met them on the way and greeted them. ( Matt. 28 9a)

The witness of these two women was kindle (pun intended) to a fire that burns to this day.  It brought millions of Catholics to a holy fire outside darkened churches last Saturday night. 

They and we come to hear the resounding echo of the perspective of two women informed by the Holy Spirit through the voice of an angel:

“….Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.  He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said".
                                                                           Matt. 28:5-6a



Monday, April 2, 2018

Happy Nor' Easter

The Adult and Senior Children's Choir of St. Mary's Nutley

Happy Nor'Easter

It is the second day of spring. As I walk around town I see people digging out of yet another "Last storm” of the winter of 2017.

I see a man shoveling out his car. Although we don’t speak, his body language speaks volumes of his feelings about the snow.  My thoughts are interrupted by the whisper of children and gaze to the balcony of the house. There I see two sets of bright eyes peering at the snow through the open door. The boy and girl, about 7 and 5 respectively are wearing flannel pajamas. Although I can’t make out their words; their body language suggests an opinion about the snow the polar (pun intended) opposite of that of their father.

I suspect the women who arrived at the tomb on Easter morning may have been like the man with the shovel. They were pragmatic. They were doing what had to be done. I believe, however, that they left like the two wide-eyed children staring at mounds of snow. They were changed by what they saw and returned with a sense of wonder that compelled Peter and John to race to the tomb.

These two thoughts stayed with me as I continued my walk. I evaluated how I respond to an Easter story I have reread each of the 40 years in which I have served as director of music.  Have I lost a sense of wonder at the miracle of Christ’s resurrection? Am I so pragmatic that I simply do what has to be done? Do I forget that the empty tomb changes everything?

How about you?  How do we reconnect with the wonder of Christ’s resurrection in our 5th Easter?  How about our 50th? 

I’m sure my answer won't surprise you: "It's the music.”  What might surprise you is that it’s not just the music: it’s the people singing the music.  Like the story from the beginning of the article; the key ingredient is the wonder of youth. Perhaps you have heard one of two groups who combine youth with talent, dedication and energy. Both groups came to St. Mary's about 4 years ago.

The first were the third and fourth graders who formed the core of our children's choir. They are now in the 7th and 8th grade and we have only scraped the surface of their potential.

The second group; our quartet:  Apryl, Gabrianna, Aaron and David were handpicked from the music program at Montclair State University. 
Apryl, Gabrianna, David, Aaron and Bruce

While some have graduated or moved on, these talented young adults bring what I consider to be the perfect mix of professionalism and commitment to congregational singing that is at the heart of my vision for music at St. Mary's.

The third group is all of us.  We have been together now almost 5 years and are beginning to create what worship at St. Mary’s is during this time in our parish’s life. 

The Easter-Berbary photobombing us!
The second group; our quartet:  Apryl, Gabrianna, Aaron and David were handpicked from the music program at Montclair State University. 

I am blessed to be here and blessed that you are here as well.

Wishing you an extraordinary Easter!


“People of God, 
see the morning is new; 
rise from your sleeping and run to the tomb.  
Come and see!  Come and see!  
He is alive.”

From “Alleluia!  Love is Alive” by Steve Angrisano, Jesse Manibusan and Sarah Hart

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What's In Your Wallet

What’s in your wallet?

I suspect many of you are familiar with this advertising tag line.

I’m equally sure many of you can name of the associated credit card company

I’m especially hoping your curiosity leads you to continue reading this article and consider the next question:

What’s on your calendar?

For what events or commitments have you blocked out time? Do you (as I) have multiple calendars full of things for which you look forward with eager anticipation, preparation or dread?

What about March 29, 30 and 31?

Let me respectfully suggest that they should be.  They should be whether you’re reading this prior to mass, the St. Joseph Novena, or just walking into church, during the week for a moment of prayer.

In fact, March 29, 30 and 31 are what it’s all about.

Rather than give you some silly idioms or concoct a catchphrase similar to the one at the top of the page, I’ll share the words of the U.S Council of Catholic Bishops:

“The summit of the Liturgical Year is the Easter Triduum—from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ's Paschal Mystery.”

The single celebration of the Triduum marks the end of the Lenten season, and leads to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil.

The liturgical services that take place during the Triduum are:
·         Mass of the Lord's Supper
·         Good Friday of the Lord's Passion
·         Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord

Mark your calendars,


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

This is not a test.

But.......I do like use the Socratic method of asking questions when teaching, learning or just clarifying my thoughts.

Consider the questions in italics that follow. It’s not a test. Think of it as a means of shifting the focus from where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing to participating in liturgy
(The work of the people. )

Did you notice a change in music last week?
What do you remember?
Did you find any of the music to be familiar?

Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Lent. This brought about several changes in the liturgy as well as the music.

At St. Mary’s we replace the processional hymn with instrumental music during lent. The leader of song proclaims the entrance antiphon (today’s will be taken from psalm 25) and concludes with “Please rise.”

How would you describe this music?
Do you recognize it?

During lent the Gloria is eliminated. At St. Mary’s we underscore this change and the penitential aspect of lent by singing the Kyrie. The setting we use was written by Mary Haugen.  It is also what I play and improvise on during the procession.

During lent we chant the prayer of the faithful. One of the singers chants the intercession to which another responds, “Lord have mercy.” Please repeat this when the leader of song lifts his or her hands.

We will repeat "God of Mercy" at the offertory and change the communion song to Transfigure Us, O Lord, to reflect today's gospel.

Finally we have returned to the mass of Christ the Savior for the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great amen and Lamb of God. Your wonderful participation in these “mass parts” affirms the investment St. Mary’s has put into its’ worship and music. It is why I often end these articles saying:

Blessed to be at St. Mary’s,


The GOoD Shepherd

The idea of Jesus being our Advocate with the Father from last week’s second reading continues to spark my reflection. I...