Thursday, January 23, 2020

Psalm 119:105

Psalm 119:105

January 1998:
I am the adult advisor for the youth group at Princeton United Methodist Church.  The teens have just completed a service project and are waiting for pizza to arrive.  I hear Jennifer calling out to the other dozen or so high school students; “Let’s have a sword drill while we’re waiting!”   “A sword drill?” I wonder to myself.  “I don’t see any long sharp.....”.  My thoughts are interrupted by Jennifer’s shout of “Psalm 119, verse 105”  and a dozen bibles being furiously searched. In what seems to be 10 seconds I hear Billy, “Psalm 119:105 - Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

Jason hands me a bible saying, “Now you can play too”.  Billy gets the honors to call out the next verse. I hear Timothy 3:16.  My mind races: Timothy... New testament....Written by Paul...After the Gospels before Revelation.  Where in the heck is....Suddenly the room around me erupts.  Got it! Me too! Hey, I got it first!  Second Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for correction and for training in righteousness”.

Twelve years of catholic school,  Mass EVERY Sunday Mass, plus lots of daily Masses…and.... I didn’t hear Billy say SECOND Timothy because I didn’t know the Bible presents Paul’s words to Timothy into two books.  

Two thoughts come to mind: 
1. Sword Drill: A game where these kids cut the adult shreds. 
2. Where in the heck is that pizza???

I now realize that knowing the order of the books of the bible is a bit of a parlor trick. It’s like reciting Keats or Yeats or The Gettysburg Address from memory.  But what about when those people knock on your door or approach you in Times Square? Shouldn’t I? You? We? Catholics? Be more familiar with Scripture?  

Pope Francis has instituted this Sunday, the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time to be the “Sunday of the Word of God”. The title of his Apostolic Letter: Aperuit Illis comes from the Emmaus Story found in the 24th chapter of Luke’s Gospel.   Luke tells of an encounter after the crucifixion between two dejected travelers and the risen Christ.  

In the words of the Holy Father:  “This scene clearly demonstrates the unbreakable bond between sacred Scripture and the Eucharist.”

The U.S. Conference of Bishops speak to the role of Scripture in our relationship with God this way  “The Bible is the story of God's relationship with the people he has called to himself.” Here is to what they title 10 points for fruitful scripture reading: 

"Understanding the Bible" U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Blest to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s,


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Blessed to be in ministry with you, at St. Mary's

Blessed To Be In Ministry With You, At St. Mary’s

January is a time for lists.  

The Best and Worst Movies of 2019.  
Famous People Who Left Us......
The Top 5 News Stories Of....
My New Year’s Resolutions.

With this in mind I share a list that has been forming in my mind for quite some time:  
“Why I Am Blessed To Be In Ministry With You, At St. Mary’s”

Disclaimer:  I apologize in advance for any oversights, please don’t be offended.  There’s always next year’s list. :)

* Members of the music ministry:
John Luland - No member of the music ministry works harder than John.   What you see and hear on Saturday or Sunday is the result of hours of preparation.  John willingly and happily learns at least one new song for each weekend he sings.

The Guitar Ministry - Andrew, Bill, Jeff, John and Rob have faithfully served St. Mary’s for many years.  They bring a style and instrumentation that complements and balances the overall musical offerings at St. Mary’s and have graciously rolled with more than a few changes over the years.   

The Adult Choir - The members of the adult choir epitomize both “music” and “ministry”. Their willingness to sing whatever song, style or Liturgy that benefits the parish is a true gift to St. Mary’s. Their embracing of the young people who have joined our music ministry is inspiring and uncommon.

* My Kids:
The Children’s Choir brings a tremendous spirit, boundless energy and limitless potential.  Their sweet sound is music to my ears.

The Treble Choir is the realization of that limitless potential.   I am so proud of what they have accomplished individually and collectively this past year.  Take a look at the videos on the music ministry page at to see what I mean.

The St. Mary’s Quartet - Apryl, Gabrianna, Aaron and Fred (as well as David and Michael who left their home in Nutley to venture to new places) have helped implement my vision for music and liturgy at St. Mary’s.  They are my kids who have grown-up and are now my colleagues, collaborators and friends.

* The Parish Staff:
Each and every member of the Parish Staff works tirelessly and diligently to make St. Mary’s the best it can be.  We do this because St. Mary’s deserves the very best! We are able to do this because of the leadership of our Pastor....

Fr. Rich.  
You may have heard the phrase:  “Don’t pick a job. Pick a boss.”   The reason I took the risk of leaving teaching and taking the job at St. Mary’s is Fr. Rich Berbary.  And that, to quote Robert Frost “Has made all the difference.”

I am blessed by you...
Those who I know by name and those I know by sight.  Those who made St. Mary’s the wonderful parish it is and those who are making it what God is calling it to be.  You, who minister at Mass as lectors, eucharistic ministers, altar servers and ushers. You, who minister to the community;  particularly our social concerns ministry and my collaborators: Bruce Segall and John Saar.

I am blessed by God ...
Who created, sustains and redeems and from whom all blessings flow.


Today’s offertory songs honor those who have struggled and those who continue the struggle against inequality in any form.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Baptism of the Lord

Did Jesus remember his baptism?

Many of you will recognize the question at the top of this page as a “trick” question.  Whether you do or don’t - please read on.

In today’s gospel Matthew tells us:  “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.”  Matthew 3:13

Do you see the difference between Jesus in today’s gospel and Jesus in the gospels we’ve heard since Christmas?

“The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in a manger.  Luke 2:16  (Luke calls him “the infant” because he won’t receive the name Jesus for another 8 days).

“And behold, the star that they (the magi) had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.”   Matthew 2:9b

The difference is the first reason we can say that Jesus remembered his baptism.  It happened when he was 30 years old.

The second, and far more important reason is that Jesus spent the remainder of his life living out this baptismal call.

The baptism of Jesus is the occasion on which he is equipped for his ministry by the Holy Spirit and proclaimed to be the Son of God.  
                                                                                  U.S. Conference of Bishops

How clever were those who developed the lectionary?  To close the Christmas season with a gospel (and feast) that moves us to the part of ordinary time where we recall the Christ-child’s earthly ministry.

Today’s musical selections reflect this transition.

The text of today’s processional hymn; “Jesus to Jordan’s Water Came” will help us enter the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

We will sing the following as we have during the Christmas season:

* Gloria in excelsis Deo as part of Paul Gibson’s “A Christmas Gloria”

* Our seasonal psalm for Christmas : “All the ends of the earth have seen the power
   of God”

* The Christmastime Alleluia

Our offertory song, Star-Child serves as the hinge between Christmas joy and the work of Christmas still to be done.

Finally, we conclude with Issac Watts call to announce, spread and live the joy of Christ’s birth and reign on earth as in heaven.

Blessed to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s,


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Thursday, January 2, 2020


We saw his star at its rising 
and have come to do him homage.
                                                         Matthew 2:2b

Today’s Liturgical Note is the second in a series inspired by the Holy (not to be confused with “perfect”) Family. You can find out why I call them this by going to The key point of part one was that our families can be holy like Jesus, Mary and Joseph not because we’re perfect but because God is with us when we face life’s challenges.  My proof-text is the story of Jesus lost in the Temple. The story tells us that Jesus’ knowledge of the scriptures impressed the chief priests and elders...

But his parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt. His mother said, “Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.” Luke 2:46-48

— The Message Catholic/Ecumenical Edition by Eugene Peterson, William Griffin


Today’s gospel is Matthew’s account of the Epiphany. 

Pause for a second and reflect on what you remember of the story.  Hint: It’s the one with the Wise Men who Matthew calls “Magi”.

The Magi travel from the east guided by the light of a rising star. When they find Jesus and Mary “they prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures (probably how they  funded their journey) and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Do you remember the other part of the story?  This other part is there; hidden in plain sight.  You might say it is embedded like a foreshadowing at the end of a Star Wars Movie.   Matthew introduces it innocuously, almost casually in the first part of the verse written at the top of this page.

The mage arrive in Jerusalem saying “Where is the newborn King of the Jews”
                                                             Matthew 2:2a

The significance of this line can be easily missed. It is the beginning of a conflict between kings: Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews and Herod, the current King of the Jews.  

This Herod is sometimes referred to as “Herod the Great” because of the improvements he made to the Temple.  (His son, Herod Antipus is the Jewish king at the time of the crucifixion.) Herod’s jealousy of the Christ-child was also great and his response equally as brutal.  He called for the slaughter of all male children under 2 years of age in the vicinity of Bethlehem. (You can learn more by googling “Holy Innocents”).

Matthew tells us that two miraculous dreams keep the Christ-Child safe.  In one the Magi are warned not to return to Herod. So they avoid Herod; returning home by a different route.  In the other, Joseph is instructed to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt.

My take-away from this story is allegorical.

Herod stands for all the dangers that face our families and family members. These are the things that we as parents worry about. Some come from a world that can be a dangerous place.  Some are created by our own human shortcomings and personal mistakes.

Yet in all of this God remains with us.  God who sent his Son. God who IS the Son.  God whose Holy Spirit comes to us in dreams both we are alseep as well as when we are awake and inspired.

Perhaps God is calling us to “take a different route” to avoid the Herods that attack and diminish the goodness in all of us.

Blessed to be in minstry at St. Mary’s.


Psalm 119:105

Psalm 119:105 January 1998: I am the adult advisor for the youth group at Princeton United Methodist Church.  The teens have ju...