Friday, April 27, 2018

5th Sunday of Easter

Children, let us love not in word or speech
 but in deed and truth.
                                                                             1 John 3:18

I love this part of the church year. Maybe it’s the post-resurrection stories of Jesus’ surprise appearances. Perhaps it’s the formation of church doctrine as the Apostles grapple with conflicting opinions about Jesus’ divinity and humanity. It could be the closeness of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it’s just that the rush of Christmas and Easter are in the rear-view mirror and summer ordinary time is just down the road.

Over the past few weeks the second reading has been taken from the first letter of John. (BTW This is the same John who wrote the fourth gospel.) Today’s reading affirms something we’ve heard recently; the call to belief in Christ and love of neighbor. The first verse of this pericope (a fancy word for “portion”) offers an important qualification and can be found at the top of this article.


I’ve tried to sprinkle a mix of traditional hymns and contemporary compositions into the music this Easter season.  Here are some bullets on today’s selections:

     The refrain of Vine and Branches (#355) is based on the familiar image Jesus used to describe our relationship with Him. The verses come from John’s gospel.

       Tell It Out (see the reprint box in this bulletin) is an upbeat composition by Timothy R. Smith and is part of a recent strain of contemporary liturgical music.  I hope you enjoy singing and hearing it as much as I.

       They’ll Know We Are Christians (#582) could be described as a throwback selection. I hope this article makes clear why this is an appropriate choice for today’s liturgy.

Blessed to be at St. Mary’s



To those visiting St. Mary’s; especially those coming to celebrate the First Communion of a family member:  WELCOME!

To the First Communicants:  Congratulations! You are now welcome to join our dynamic children’s choir.  For more info; go to the music ministry link at Home - St. Mary's Nutley.

To the teachers:  THANK YOU!

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

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