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,


Want to share in the work of Christmas at St. Mary’s and beyond?  Subscribe to our social concerns e-mail list at

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.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Silent Night - Holy Night?

Silent night, Holy night. 
Shepherds quake at the sight.

Beautifully carved and perfectly polished they are in our homes, offices and gardens.  We call them: Nativity , crèche, or presipio.  

Shepherds and magi alike kneel at the manger in pristine, wrinkle-free, perfectly draped robes.  One can not detect the  
faintest scent of sheep or cow.  Wonderful representations for sure; but not exactly realistic.

I wonder if Joseph Mohr was looking at a Nativity Scene as he penned arguably the most iconic hymn text of all time.

I doubt, however Mohr was thinking about this section of Luke’s gospel:

“The next day they found him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers. 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

Sleep in heavenly peace
(Unless you’re the parent of small children)

OK, time for a flash quiz:   
Which of the following are true?

A)  Josef Mohr had 7 children and 26 grandchildren 
B)  Joseph Mohr was a pediatric physician
C)  Joseph Mohr went to live and study in a monastery at age 16 

And the correct answer is.....

Let me put it this way:  a musician and priest who went to live in a Monastery at age 16 knows as much about the realities of child-rearing as a Martian studying farm animals by looking at a Nativity Scene in store window.

As we sit between 3 months of Christmas movies and New Years resolutions let us remember that each of our imperfect families; your’s and mine can be good, loving, Christian, Holy Families.

Perhaps you will be inspired by Joseph Mohr; born to an unmarried embroiderer and a mercenary soldier and deserter, who abandoned his family before the birth of his son.

All Is Calm, all is bright.
Christ, the Savior is born.

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


Friday, December 20, 2019

O Come O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Welcome to “Liturgical Notes.”

If you are reading this on December 24th or later:  Merry Christmas!
If you are a visitor: Welcome to St. Mary’s!
If you are reading this on the 4th Sunday of Advent: Welcome back!

What follows is the second part of a “Liturgical Note” on the “O” Antiphons. These are the 7 longings contained in the hymn; “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” You can find the hymn at #38 in the purple hymnal located in the pews. 

Part one of this note (found at included the following commentary:

The Roman Church has been singing the "O" Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative "Come!" embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.

United States Conference of Bishops (USCB)

Those of you reading this on Christmas might be wondering; “What does a 1300 year old Advent Hymn have to do with Christmas?” 

Press on, and I will state my case. My goal is that by the end you will be convinced “It has EVERYTHING to do with Christmas!”

No matter which Mass you attend, you will hear the words of the prophet Isaiah proclaimed in the first reading. Think of the prophets as divinely inspired commentators who spoke/wrote about the state of the world in which they lived. Their words contained seeds of hope for the future, specifically; the hope for a Messiah. (The definition of “Messiah” includes the words: leader, deliverer and savior).

We as Christians believe the fruit of these seeds, what the USCB calls “Old testament hopes“ to be Jesus; whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

So what about the “present hopes” of which the Bishops speak?

How about a world that is just and fair?

A world where everyone has enough to eat?
A world where all people are respected?
A world free from division, hatred and violence?

Isn’t this the world Isaiah described?

The world that the grown-up Christ-child called the Kingdom of God?
A world you and I would like to wrap up and put under the tree for our children and grand-children to open?

You and I are called to share in the creation of this world.   We as the Church are called to continue the work of the Christ-child - The Messiah in leading, delivering and saving our world.

We pray for this world at every Mass and when we say: “Thy Kingdom come; on earth as it is in heaven.”

Now the work of CHRIST-mas begins!

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


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
What does this bring to mind?

A song, perhaps?
Can you recall some of the words?  
Maybe a melody?
Does singing the melody help you recall more words?
Try it.

The “Liturgical Notes” for this week and next week center around the “O” Antiphons; the text of the Hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  This week’s note focuses on the text and musical settings. Next week will speak to the place of the “O” Antiphons in the Church’s Advent prayer.

The following definition provides a good starting point:

The Roman Church has been singing the "O" Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative "Come!" embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.

                  United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The “O” Antiphons are based on the writings of the prophets like Isaiah, whom we hear proclaimed this Advent.  The antiphons ARE the “magnificent theology” which describe the attributes of God the Messiah will embody. The first two reflect God’s Divinity taking on human form:

  • Emmanuel - literally “God with us” or the Divine God in human form
  • Wisdom - an attribute connected to God’s Holy Spirit

As Christians, we believe that the baby born of Mary is the Messiah for whom our Jewish brothers and sisters longed.  For almost 2000 years (since Christ’s Ascension to be exact) Christians have longed for His return. This is the primary preparation of Advent.

The text of the “O” Antiphons permeates our advent prayer and music.

We will sing some of it in the acclamation occuring where the Gloria is normally sung.  (The gloria is omitted during Advent and Lent.). We will sing all of it at offertory using a tune written by Steve Angrisano (Emmanuel #56.)

You will hear and sing the traditional chant melody in the Missa Emmanuel; a mass setting composed by Richard Proulx.  Listen closely as the leader of song intones: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.”

Wishing you a blessed Advent as I am blessed to be in ministry with you at St. Mary’s.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; 
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, 
as water covers the sea.
Isaiah 11:9

Have you ever been looking for something...and found something else?  Something you forgot you had? Something you treasured?

Let’s say you were looking for a Christmas cookie recipe you clipped last year.  After searching everywhere you go to that one place you were trying to avoid - the dreaded junk drawer at the end of the kitchen cabinet.  You know, the one where we stuff everything we’re afraid to get rid of. The one we neaten only when it is stuck shut due to the overflow.

You empty about two thirds of the drawer, and there it is!  Not the silly cookie recipe but your grandmother’s chestnut stuffing recipe - the one that you’ve been thinking about for years.  Your heart leaps as you see her beautiful handwriting on a yellowed index card.


A collaboration of St. Anthony and the Holy Spirit?

A few weeks ago I was searching the 21st century version of the dreaded kitchen drawer - the hard drive of my computer.  I typed “advent cycle-a” into the search bar and waited hopefully. What I wanted never showed up. What I received was far better.

It was a copy of this column from the Second Sunday of Advent 2016. The year is significant because today is the first time we hear these readings since then. 

In it, I used the image of God’s holy mountain in today’s first reading and offertory song to introduce the newly-formed Social Concerns Ministry.  Here is part of what I wrote: 

In January St. Mary’s will be forming a social concerns team.  We will be looking for ways that we can actively work toward the building of Christ’s kingdom here in Nutley and beyond. 
As you hear and sing Isaiah’s words in today’s offertory song please consider reaching out to me via e-mail or at the parish center to be part of this social concerns effort.
In three years our list of volunteers has swelled to just under 100 people.   
What began with our participation in the Nutley-Belleville care kitchen has grown to include other on-going and one-time efforts.  
We’ve just completed our first year of the We Are St. Mary’s social gatherings on the first Sunday of each month and are considering expanding in the coming year. 
We’ve attracted a coordinator, Bruce Segall, who helps St. Mary’s stay at the forefront of the Church’s efforts to be a Community of Salt and Light.
So what about you?  Will the words of Isaiah move you to be a part of our efforts?
All it takes to start is a phone call (973) 235-1100 or an Email

Blessed to be in ministry with you 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...