Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Be The Light!!!

Hello St. Francis.

What a week of contrasts.  The celebration of Dr. King's message followed by the inauguration of a president that so many people fear may in some way negatively effect the perceived harmony of our nation.  So, what do we take from all of this?  There is certainly an abundance of topics to reflect upon, but, I'd like to focus on something that I think can and will be very easy to slip into if we are not careful, hypocrisy.  As I look at those things that I have a more difficult time "going with the flow" with, I recognize that most of them are centered in hypocrisy.  Now that REALLY frustrates me.  I should clarify here.  People often say one thing and do another. Though it does aggravate me a little, over the course of my life, I have come to understand that all of us try to deceive ourselves about some things and that as we grow in wisdom (if that is our choice) that many of these things become apparent and we work towards fixing them.  What really gets me is the more systemic, social or societal hypocrisy that is so easily sold to us by so many with an agenda. YEAH!!! We all so often call out the hypocrisy in others, this reflection will hopefully lead to an opportunity to reflect on our own hypocrisy.  

So, here's the premise.  I know that sometimes I attempt to fight for what I think is right, which is good, except when I lower myself to the depths I perceive those who do not agree with me do.  It is a travesty to see all of the unrest that we all blame on everyone else.  The point...when we make our point the "How" is maybe even more important than the "What".  It is easy to try and advance my point, my belief, my agenda, by using the same tactics that we are so against in those who have an opposing point, belief or agenda


I must say that I purposely attempt in most cases in my life and in my writing on this blog to not make sweeping generalizations and of course, even if this sounds like one, I am well aware that this is not a 100% always type of thing.  Nonetheless, it still "gets my goat".

Jesus, in my opinion, became the enemy of the religious and political leaders of his time mostly because He never shied away from making a statement that made those who were filled with hypocrisy really uncomfortable. The amazing thing though is that all of those statements came from a place of love and reconciliation, it is for that reason that I, in my reflection, take Jesus so seriously.  He made his statements not to win an argument but to begin, in a small way, a conversion.  Those who opposed him had no reason not to at least listen. Whether or not they bought into his message was not influenced by tactics of anger.  It was an invitation, not to do and believe everything right away, but to at least listen.  Boy, do we want people to listen to us (especially since my point and my belief are right all of the time in every possible way...haha). Oh...I'm not always 100% right? I need to listen too?  Is that really a part of the deal?


YES!!!!!

 As a result of the hypocrisy being slammed into our society, and especially into our young people, they have come to believe that their way is the way it should be.   The fact of the matter is that even today, people are uncomfortable with the truth. People are equally as uncomfortable with an opposing view...All of us!!! People sometimes don't want to be told that there can be and is a different, a better way.  Why?  It messes with their rock solid belief that what they believe is the Gospel truth.  

Jesus never had an issue making the difficult statement, the one that rocked the foundation of any self indulged person or organization.  We too need to find the courage to make a statement.  You see, it is ok to say that you believe in, follow and live your life by faith, (whatever that faith may be).  It is ok to stand up and say that Jesus' message of love, mercy and compassion is a better way.  It is ok to say that living selfish lives that tear a person down and make them feel less beautiful or less worthy is not the way our culture should be.  It is ok to witness to the difficult teachings of Christ and live our lives centered in the joy of the good news. But, it is not ok if we proclaim these truths in a way that hurts others, that does not seek to find the other but instead violently tosses them into the abyss of the ignorant, the evil, the sinners.  Jesus never made his point that way.

We are often told that we are called to a "radical" faith.  I am convinced that we need to live this radical faith in a couple of ways.  First, a radical faith never discriminates or closes doors on anyone, regardless of their beliefs. Second, we are called to be the light, the reconciler.  That means that we must be the example by living with open minds and hearts, with compassion for those who have strayed from the truth of the Gospel, but, also a willingness to meet them where they are and journey with them back to the light.  Finally, we are called to make a statement.  Our statement should be based on conviction of faith and the joyful love of the Gospel.  We need to dismiss the notion that evangelization is not politically correct because it forces people to challenge themselves to be more than our society calls or wants them to be.  When we live as Jesus would have us live, our statement does rock the foundation of our hypocritical society and offers an opportunity for all to see life as a gift as opposed to life being about the gifts you receive.  So, be radical in your faith, proclaim it and live it out fully, unabashedly, knowing that your statement may be the one that opens the eyes of a person who seeks truth. 

Hey SFDS, BE THE LIGHT!!!

Jim

Music for the weekend of January 22nd

Processional - The Lord Is My Light

Psalm 27

Offertory - Lord, You Have Come

Communion - I Receive The Living God 

Communion Meditation - Draw Me Close

Recessional - O Magnify The Lord

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Dream and the Challenge is the bridge

Hello St. Francis,

So, our country is preparing to celebrate the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.  I must selfishly admit that I love this holiday because it means a long weekend. (and I need a long weekend) But, for some reason, this year I have found myself really thinking about what Dr. King lived and died to proclaim to the people in our country.  Our world is certainly in a place where we are hypersensitive to say the least about people of different races, faiths, lifestyles, etc.  Over the next few days we will again get to listen to Dr. King's words and hopefully be inspired by his belief in his dream.  What an amazing dream it is too.  A dream that envisions all people regardless of their differences walking hand in hand unified in their humanity.

At the same time, in church this week we heard about a new shepherd who is now the leader of the Archdiocese of Newark.  His message was a simple one.  We should let go of the semantics of hot button issues and focus our energy on living in the "real world" what we are called to practice in our faith.  We here this message time and time again at St. Francis.  Pope Francis calls us to be a church on the margins, a community centered in the most basic ideals that Jesus calls us to, namely, to love.


If I may, one of the qualities that I truly admire in Jesus is the fact that even though his contemporaries and even the biblical authors would consistently define others by their race (Israelite and Samaritan) or by their occupation (poor fisherman, tax collector, Chief Priest, Prostitute) or because of the particular culture of that time when women were seen as less than their male counterparts, I don't ever remember Jesus judging a person by any of those characteristics, but rather, by their hearts, their love, their kindness and dare I say their potential.  I often think we miss the mark in understanding the labels placed on those in Jesus' time.  You see, it is great that Jesus would have dinner with the tax collector and save the prostitute from stoning but the question I pose is this.  Did he have dinner with the man only because he was a tax collector or would he have entered the house of anyone seeking the truth?  It is great that Jesus saved the prostitute but did he only save her because she was a prostitute?

I think Jesus' and Dr. King's message is about a deeper and more profound level of unity. In the real world, we announce with pride at the top of our voices who should and shouldn't be counted among the faithful.  We often place parameters around our "margins".  Instead of looking at our neighbor's heart and showing them ours, we sometimes demand to categorize people and to be categorized ourself.  In all honesty, let me tell you that I don't want to know you as a member of a certain "category" that is based on your race, culture, skin color, sexual orientation, age or anything else.  Who I really want to know when I meet you is the person.  Our dignity does not come from our differences, our uniqueness, our political beliefs or anything else.  It comes from God.  The God who created us in God's image, who lives and moves within us, each in our own unique way.

I think the message of Dr. King, the new Archbishop of Newark and Jesus is that when I look at you, I don't see our differences, I don't need to treat you differently because you are of a certain culture, religion or lifestyle.  Instead, we should look at each others as what we are, brothers and sisters.  You see, when I hold your hand and walk in solidarity with you, it's not about a cause, it's not about two people saying, "Look how different we are but we can still walk together", The dream, I believe is when our "differences" are meaningless.  When we hear Jesus' words that he spoke over and over again that He came to live in the hearts of all, I think he meant it.

So, this week, as we continue to try to live the dream, instead of accepting or even celebrating our differences and therefore categorizing others, maybe we should just walk together in solidarity as human beings, created by the same God (no matter what name you happen to give Him or Her) We are not different, we are unique.  We are not a statistic in a category, we are part of the human race, all created in God's image and all doing the best we can to "Live The Dream".

Jim

Music for the weekend of January 14 and 15
This week we will be singing a few of Dr. King's favorite songs.  What beautiful messages they proclaim.

Processional - This Is Amazing Grace 

Psalm - Here Am I Lord

Offertory - Jesus Is A Rock

Communion - We Shall Overcome

Meditation - If I Can Help Somebody  

Recessional - Bless That Wonderful Name

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My 2017 Epiphany

Hello St. Francis.
I hope this message finds you winding down from an amazing Christmas celebration and for many of our parishioners,getting excited as we prepare for the Feast of the Three Kings celebrations this week.  It does go fast, huh? Prepare the house, the gifts, Advent, wait, wait, wait and then BOOM!!! it has come and gone.  Even as I sit here writing this blog, I feel as though the passion with which I prepared for Christmas as well as the prayerfulness with which I made a concerted effort to kick up a notch has already been attacked by the NEXT BIG THING.  So, here I am, a little chunkier (Italian Food), a little poorer (two kids) and ready to start 2017 with a bang or a thud...can't make up my mind.


Now, I know that the whole New Year's Resolution thing is written about over and over again so I am not going to give you the full proof way to keep that promise to lose 20 lbs. or exercise more or call your parents or your brother once a week.  We've all been there and done that.  I really would be barking up a dead tree if I concentrated on the whole "Keep the Christmas Spirit alive the whole year round" thing because I think that would just make me want to smack myself with the leftover Lasagna noodles from Christmas.  So, what wisdom can I impart on you this week?  Not much.
What I can say is that as I go through my social media and posts, I have been seeing a lot of things. It seems like only a moment ago our facebook and instagram pages were filled with Christmas and New Year wishes.  They were inspirational and drew us closer to our hopes and dreams for a future filled with a little more peace and joy.  However, it seems like as soon as the ball dropped in Times Square, many were right back to their political, social and societal tangents that were spewing hate and intolerance.  It really is kind of sad.  

Now, don't get me wrong, I certainly have at least a couple of things I could be standing on my soapbox and advocating for in the pursuit of convincing the world that my ideology is the one and only correct one.  But, really, what am I saying if that is the way I advocate?  This year, I am turning over a new leaf...I am (by the grace of God) going to attempt to truly listen to people.  I am going to trust in people.  I am going to believe that even those with whom I disagree are coming from a good place.  As passionately as I attempt to live my life and as dedicated as I try to be to the values that I profess, I must also see others regardless of their political, socioeconomic and religious viewpoints as trying to live the same way.  If we truly seek diversity in our communities, in our parishes and in our country, we must accept and cherish the gift of diversity that we have been given.  This year, I am expanding my definition of diversity to include not only people who do not look like me or come from the same origins and faith practice that I do, but also those whose views are different than mine.  I don't know about you but for me the people that I see as being most different from me are those who disagree with me.  Maybe, by opening my ears, my mind and my heart to these people, I can begin to truly live out the peace and unity that I pray for.


So as we celebrate the New Year and The Three Kings and we hug and kiss those in our life who we love, maybe we can share a gift like the Magi did.  Maybe we can start a trend to change hearts,  and make a New Year's Resolution to be a little kinder to those we don't agree with.  So, Happy New Year to my extended Church Community.  I wish you happiness and health for you and your family this year. 

Peace,
Jim

Music for the Epiphany...Big Day...Let's Sing Away!!!

Processional - We Three Kings - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJxBlJFjOU4


Offertory - Behold the Star - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrVK9HODphE

Communion - What Child Is This - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ePja2yZhQw

Recessional - Joy To The World - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBMPBoFcOZ4

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Jesus is born, but have we found Him yet? ...Music for the 4th Sunday of Advent

Hello St. Francis,
This week's reflection is a prayerful response to an article I read by Dr. Chris Anthony of Catholic Online.  It speaks of the true hope of Christmas.  I pray that this message will remain with you throughout this season.

Christmas is a commemoration of God's coming into the world. He came for all of us - believers and non-believers alike. His birth should bring us hope and triumph which will dispel the sadness from our lives. But after years of celebrating Christmas after Christmas many of us are yet to see that triumph in our lives and our hopes may be giving way to despair. Has the Messiah really come? If He has where is He? Why doesn't He bring the triumph that dispels sadness? 

The real problem today is that we are waiting for God to literally come to us. Sometimes I think we can celebrate His birth just like that of any one of us - offering prayers, eating, drinking and making merry. Our world does celebrate his coming  but do we really welcome Him into our hearts and lives? 

Yes, He has come into the world and is very much in our midst but sometimes we do not recognize Him.  

By being born to poor parents, in an environment of extreme poverty, Jesus is telling us where He dwells - not in places of majesty and glamour but among the poor and the downtrodden, the sick and dying, the hungry, the oppressed and in those we love and even in those we hate. In short He is among those that are often seen only in quickly passing; the marginalized, the forgotten, the "unimportant".

Amidst our celebrations this Christmas, let us pause a while to look around us to recognize that Jesus who was born into the world two thousand years ago. He is among us in every person and in every trial and tribulation we encounter in our lives. Let us take a moment to look around to recognize Him in those who do not have joy and peace in their lives. 

Let us do the little within our means to alleviate the pain and misery in their lives. Let us do whatever we can to give them the hope that triumph will one day wipe out the sadness in the hearts. 

We too, like Jesus, must have the humility to come down from our positions of comfort and power to meet Him in the people around us. If we isolate ourselves from others by building a fortress around us with all our wealth and power together with greed, selfishness and pride, then we can keep waiting for Jesus all our lives but it will only be in vain. 

When our eyes and hearts are opened to those around us, our Christmas will begin to take on a deeper meaning.  It will not be just another day to celebrate, eat, drink and make merry. Instead, it will  become the day when hope, peace, love and community truly begin to be born in us.  On this day, we shall truly celebrate, we shall truly sing of the unimaginable love of the Incarnation of God and when that happens our hearts, our homes and our communities will be born again in the miracle of Christmas. 


See you soon,
Jim

Music for the 4th Sunday of Advent

Monday, December 5, 2016

SANTA IS THE MAN!!!!

Hello St. Francis,
I hope this message finds you stress free and spiritually prepared for the coming of Christ at Christmas!!!  Yup, me neither.  Still running around like my hair is on fire trying to make all of the last minute preparations.  As a Music Minister, this time of the year takes on a whole new set of stresses, but I would be naive to think that my stresses are more stressful than yours.  As a matter of fact, have you found yourself in that conversation yet?  Two people facing off to see who has the most to do!!!  "I have 73 people coming and I don't know where my tree topper is and I have to wait in a 14 hour line at the store and then it closed and....."  "You think that is bad well...blah...blah...blah..."  You know what, it's a tie!!! Everyone is stressed!!!  The good news is that regardless of whether you cook the very best Christmas roast of all time, or whether you remembered to send all 14,000 Christmas Cards or whether the neighbor has better lights than you do, in just a few days, Good Ol' Santa will be moseying his extra large bag of toys into town.  Thank God!!!  It's over.  

Not to sound judgmental but I don't understand how people can dislike Christmas or this time of year.  Is it busy?  Yes.  Does it drive you nuts?  You bet it does.  Are people who dislike this time of year afraid that they are on Santa's naughty list?  What would the big guy from the North Pole tell you?  Ho! Ho! Ho! Yes, I think he would laugh at our stress.  Does that statement make you hot enough to melt Frosty?  So let me give you this disclaimer before the following statement...No one cares how perfectly your packages are wrapped or whether your Christmas shindig is the best of ALL TIME!!!  So, why do we place our Christmas spirit in those things?  Shouldn't it just be...I don't know, FUN!!!!!

Our Jolly Old St. Nick may have the answer...indulge me here.

S stands for solidarity.  Stand together to serve others and appreciate the traditions of your family and faith.
A stands for appreciate.  More appreciation = Less scepticism
N stands for neighbor.  Tell them that you love them (or at least fake it till you make it)
T stands for Tears.  Let yourself be open to the true emotion of this time
A stands for adaptable.  Don't sweat the small stuff.

In the end, Santa Claus is coming to town and he won't leave coal in our stocking if his cookies are a little burnt or if those stockings aren't perfectly matched.  The only coal in our stocking are the pieces that we put in ourself.  Loosen up!!! Santa Claus Is Coming To Town!!!

MUSIC FOR DECEMBER 10TH AND 11TH





Monday, November 28, 2016

Away In A Manger...Music for December 3rd and 4th

Hello St. Francis,
I am excited to tell you that my home is officially decorated for the Christmas season.  Lights, wreathes, Christmas stuffed animals and a big tree right in the middle of my living room.  When I first got married, both of my grandmothers gave us as a wedding gift beautiful Christmas Manger scenes.  One, is crystal and quite frankly I am afraid of breaking it every time I open up the box ( I can be a bull in a china shop) and the other is a children's set with plastic and durable figures.  I appreciated these because as I grew up there was always a manger in just about every room.  I also felt like the "kids" set was a little premature as we had just gotten married and it was July.  To this very day, my grandparents amaze me with their wisdom.  The lesson that they were trying to give to me is one that I am just beginning to realize.

This year, as my kids were helping us decorate the tree, we got to those manger sets and my daughter began to talk about how she was learning about how much Jesus loved her because He came to earth to be friends with us.  My son asked me who was Jesus' mommy and daddy? And, who were all these other figures that we were putting near them?  And so, the conversation began.  It wasn't a conversation about what they wanted Santa to bring them or which decoration should go where, or, whose stocking got hung in the most conspicuous place.  It even wasn't about "Lucy", our personal "Elf on the Shelf".  The conversation was about Jesus.  As young as they are I felt as though they began to understand something about God and about Christmas.  They are still looking forward to Kris Kringle's annual visit but this year, they want to not just leave cookies and milk (and carrots for the reindeer) by the tree.  This year, they want to also leave a present for Jesus.  I told them that just by remembering how much Jesus loved them, they are giving Him the only gift He wants.  They were amazed!!!  All they have to do is love Jesus and that makes him happy?  I said, "That's it".  My son said "Do we love him the way we love you and mom?"  I said, "That's Right".  "So, I am going to love Jesus as much as I can"  he said.  Then my daughter said "and we should probably try to be nice to other people too since Jesus asks us to do that".

Maybe it was my grandmother's wisdom or maybe it was just the fact that the manger sits right next to our Christmas Tree just like they did at my grandparents house and as it always did at my parents house but I'm sure glad I got that gift.  Maybe, when my kids are all grown up and their grandmother's give them a manger they will remember this conversation that they had with their parents and teach their kids about how much Jesus loves them too.

PS - THIS SATURDAY THE 5PM MASS WILL BE CELEBRATED AS A FAMILY MASS FOLLOWING OUR PARISH RETREAT.  ALL ARE INVITED TO JOIN US WITH THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS TO SING WITH US AT THIS MASS.  REHEARSAL WILL BE AT 4PM IN THE PARISH HOUSE.  ONCE AGAIN, ALL ARE WELCOME!!!


MUSIC FOR DECEMBER 3RD FAMILY MASS

Psalm 72 - Blakesley!!!




MUSIC FOR DECEMBER 4TH


Psalm 72 - Blakesley!!!



Recessional - Ready The Way - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GGd6n5g8bo

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

To "Live" Thanksgiving or to Just Be Thankful

Hi St. Francis,

So, now that it is common knowledge that Parmesan cheese has more tryptophan in one teaspoon than is found in a pound of turkey which destroys my after dinner nap time on Thanksgiving, I guess I have to come up with something else to do.  Oh yes, I will be watching some football...after Thanksgiving Day Mass at St. Francis at 10:00 am!!!  I don't know about you but this fall has just flown by.  I am still thinking about the warm sunshine of summer and then BANG!!!  There are no more leaves on my trees and frozen turkeys abound at the local store.  I do love Thanksgiving.  It is a time to really spend with the family.  However, things certainly have changed since "back in the day" every night was family dinner night.  I guess we can lament over that but life is just different than it was even a few years ago.

So often I hear it said that we need to remember what we are thankful for around this time of year. As a matter of fact, St. Ignatius called "lack of gratitude" one of the worst sins.  So, we put on our nice clothes, maybe even say a prayer before dinner, a dinner that took 5 hours to make and 20 minutes to eat and we act thankful.  Seems kind of shallow, but, nothing is meaningless when it includes Pumpkin Pie!!!  So, how do we go from acting grateful to actually being grateful?

In our churches, schools and places of business we are seeing lots of boxes to put some canned goods in.  It makes us feel good to help those in need.  But, what if we actually skipped the nap, the Macy's Parade or dare I say the football game and actually spent some time being grateful by serving those who have so much less to be grateful for.  Everyone knows about the "local soup kitchen" that serves Thanksgiving Dinner to the poor.  This is what I know, those folks who have so much less than I are so much more grateful for the little they have than I am for the abundance of blessings in my life.

On top of all of this, this weekend marks the beginning of Advent, the new beginning of the Church Year.  During this time we are called to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus.  Maybe its time we did some preparing.  I guess when your refrigerator and your wallet is empty, you learn to appreciate even the smallest thing when it's in there.  I know that as I mindlessly stare at my full refrigerator, I come away thinking, "There's nothing in here to eat".  Do you think that could work with our own sense of entitlement and our "right" to be in a place where we have freedom, prosperity, comfort and health?  I think that I want to be grateful because I see the true joy in the eyes and hearts of those who are truly grateful.  What is hard for me is understanding that in order to be truly grateful that I maybe have to recognize things that I am not entitled to or that I haven't earned and that I certainly do not deserve and then pray for the wisdom to have even a small idea of what my life would be like if I did not have these things.

So, when we go to that "Soup Kitchen" I guess the question is, who is really giving and who is really receiving?  When we realize how lucky we are, maybe we will begin to understand what Thanksgiving is supposed to be.  Maybe, our new beginning can be an epiphany of the abundant blessings we have and maybe with that knowledge, we will see God, ourselves and others in a whole new light.  For when we empty ourselves, we are filled with God's love and grace.  That is the way I want to start off my year.

Jim


Music for the 1st week of Advent!!!  Sing Away St. Francis.

Processional - Emmanuel - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFghkY6OwA0

Psalm 122 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-fob3QoxGY

Offertory - Steal Away To Jesus - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqvB0-9lJyg

Communion - Taste and See - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WzBnq_p4SQ

Recessional - Soon and Very Soon - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmGiu9JfbIs