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June 2018

The Northern Kingdom Of Israel Falls

CaptivityIn this morning's first reading we learn of the fall and captivity of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians. Though they are part of the chosen people, they ignored repeated warnings from prophets to reform their lives and worship only the God of the Israelites. They were carried off into captivity and never received permission to return to the homeland. They have become the "lost tribes of Israel."

Sobering warning for us we celebrate Religious Liberty week in the United States, that our responsibility is not to pray that God helps and protects our right to religious liberty, but that we walk in the Way of the Lord. If we find ourselves lost, who has wandered, God or us?



The Witness of John the Baptist



Luke’s gospel this morning
Should remind us of Christmas.

The carefully balanced stories
Of John the Baptist’s birth
With Jesus’ birth
Including that they were both
Announced by the Angel Gabriel

Prepare us
As everything John the Baptist
Said and did for the coming
Of the Lord.

By the time he was born
He had already recognized
The Christ child
Dancing in Elizabeth’s womb
For joy.

Once he spotted Jesus
On the shore of the River Jordan
His ministry became focused
On pointing the way to Christ.

There He is, The Lamb of God!

Drop everything and follow Him,
He is the culmination of history;
All your hopes and dreams
Reside in Him.

For calling out authority
For immorality
He eventually lost his life.
Beheaded in a game of
Jealousy and anger and lust
At the court of the king.

He’s the perfect saint to
Celebrate during Religious Liberty week,
Especially when our media culture
The press, corporations, universities,
Some government leaders
Get as angry as Herod’s court
When confronted with the teachings
Of Christ and his church.

Direct confrontation isn’t even necessary
In some cases,
Just the very fact that Christians dare
To practice their faith in public
Is deemed a direct threat
And must be curtailed.

Many years ago
Public schools in this country
Taught American Protestantism
And ridiculed the Catholic faith
Leading many to found the
Catholic schools as a place
Where the faith could be taught
And not mocked.

Today it would be hard to characterize
Exactly what the public schools
Are teaching about religious faith
Or civic faith or faith in relationships.

In some cases, educators seeking
To remake society
View the American family itself
As a threat.

At a time when Catholic institutions,
Schools, adoption agencies, hospitals,
Are needed now more than ever
Their very existence is threatened
Not only by market economics
But by maneuvering in
Our toxic political square.

Our prayers during Religious Liberty week
Are to strengthen the laws which protect
Our God given right to worship
And witness our faith as we must,
In the spirit of John the Baptist.

Democracies depend on virtuous citizens
And virtuous leaders to survive;
May we be encouraged by
The Holy Spirit to be strong witnesses.

All of us can give witness to the virtues
About which Jesus spoke:
Mutual sacrificial love
And the beatitudes.

Sometimes it takes the courage of John the Baptist.

The King's Good Servant, But God's First

ThomasMoreThis famous portrait of Thomas by Hans Holbein the Younger shows More's resolute determination and the symbols of his office conferred by King Henry VIII.

Today's celebration begins a week of prayer for religious liberty in the diocese of the United States. We don't need reminders anymore how necessary this is, since with every passing year the atmosphere in the public square and in the media becomes more inimical to Christianity.

Join us after morning mass for a moment of reflection and prayer to continue the blessings of religious liberty in this country and strengthen our resolve to witness to our faith when necessary.


Swing Low Sweet Chariot's first reading completed the Elijah cycle and in a dramatic fashion introduced the prophetic period of Elisha, his successor.

Many ancient religions had sun gods who rode the fiery chariot of the sun across the daytime sky each day. Hearers would be quick to connect the arrival of a fiery chariot as an escort to heaven.


One Man's Vineyard is Another Man's Vegetable Garden: Naboth and King Ahab

Remains of a vineyard and winepress near the biblical location of Naboth's vineyard, coveted by King Ahab and deceitfully obtained by  his wife Queen Jezebel at the cost of Naboth's life.

Just after a sense of righteous anger is aroused in us after reading this passage in the First Reading, Jesus tells us in the gospel to reject the law of revenge and offer little resistance to adversaries.

Nevertheless, the cry of the poor and the oppressed reaches the ears of the Lord, especially those who are mistreated by the powerful for their own interests. Let us resolve today, to augment their prayers and alleviate their suffering when we can.


End of Academic Year School Mass Today


The end of the year school mass at Holy Cross School ended with the best "Lift High the Cross" singing by the students I have ever heard! The air was filled with reverence and enthusiasm...what a great combination. May our students be the salt and light of the earth this summer and may God protect them during their waking and their sleeping.

Thank you to all their teachers, the faculty and administration for a great year.

Have a Blessed Summer!


Prophet Elijah vs. The Prophets of Baal daily Mass readings this week have been following the biblical story of the prophet Elijah and his dramatic actions on behalf of the God of Israel. This painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder depicts all the drama, suspense and intense human interest at the confrontation between the Prophets of Baal and The God of Israel.

As typical for many of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets of Baal danced, chanted and slashed themselves in an ecstatic trance to communicate with Baal. Elijah's relationship with God is more direct and personal. Though at times scholars think the prophets of Israel may also have entered trance-like states, it's not likely in this particular case, since Elijah mocks the ritual dancing of the prophets of Baal.


St. Anthony of Padua
Facial Reconstruction of St. Anthony from His Skull

I had never seen this image of St. Anthony before and was quite surprised when I did.

In 1981, St. Pope John Paul II gave permission for the mortal remains of St. Anthony to be exhumed and studied in order to be public venerated. Likely this reconstruction is based on measurements taken during that study.

St. Anthony was 5 ft. 6 in. (somewhat taller than the average male of the day) and had somewhat enlarged knees and feet (from walking and kneeling?). Scientists estimate he was about 39 years old when he died.  As you may know, during a study of the body undertaken by the Franciscans under St. Boneventure in 1263, his incorrupt tongue was removed and his jaw and a forearm in later years. These had been on public display for veneration.

Neither of our two images of Anthony look much like the facial reconstruction, but icons are only windows to prayer, not necessarily representations of photographic accuracy.

Anthony was a great preacher and tireless evangelist who had a gift for communicating the gospel in word and work.


Questionnaire on Baptismal Certificate Sponsorship Eligibility Results

Thank you to those parishioners who completed our online questionnaire regarding availability of Baptismal sponsor certificates. 123 respondents completed the survey. There were many thoughtful open-ended comments on the questionnaire. Since the survey was anonymous, I cannot respond to each one personally. However, over the next few weeks, I will summarize and discuss some of them.

Here are the results of the forced-choice survey:

Question 1

The seventy percent with personal experience or firsthand knowledge were offered questions about their experience. The remaining thirty percent were only offered the last two questions asking about shopping around for certificates and what we can do to help reduce potential confusion about the criteria or the process.

Survey ColumnsAs expected, most parishioners first contact the parish secretary. The Diocese of Trenton has sponsored several workshops and appreciation days for Parish Secretaries. These have helped impress on everyone who speaks with a parishioner the importance of being helpful and courteous. However, the luxury of having a full-time receptionist dedicated to answering the phone can no longer be afforded. Here at Holy Cross, our parish secretary not only answers the parish phone, but also serves as secretary to the School of Religion. Between vacations and days off, lunch breaks and other responsibilities, we depend some of the time on parish volunteers who may not be as knowledgeable about parish procedures and sometimes may simply take a message. More frequently than I would like, the phone is in message taking mode. Other parish staff fill in answering the phone when available. If there is anticipated difficulty, the caller is always referred to a Pastoral Assistant. We frequently adjust the staffing pattern to answer the phones as best we can.




Nine Ten


Universal church law requires that sponsors:

  • have completed their 16th year
  • be baptized, confirmed and received Eucharist in the Catholic faith
  • lead a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on

This is purposely open to interpretation by the local bishop or pastor. If we imagine what a life lived in conformity with the role of a sponsor looks like, we would probably identify: being a not only a fully initiated Catholic, but one who attends mass and receives the sacraments frequently. If married they should be be united in a Catholic sacramental marriage. But unless the parishioner is personally known to the pastor or parish staff to be fulfilling these responsibilities, it can become contentious to prove.

For this reason, many parishes describe characteristics of a “life of faith” and ask the person to attest that they are fulfilling them.  The pastor also signs the certificate acknowledging the parishioner’s testimony and endorsing the sponsor’s eligibility.

Baptismal preparation interviews and preparation classes are excellent opportunities to teach the couple having their baby baptized about the characteristics of a sponsor required by the church. If the couple use prudent judgment in selecting a sponsor, or sponsors, many potential difficulties in obtaining a sponsor eligibility certificate can be eliminated. Given the high rates of divorce and remarriage and the low rates of mass attendance, it is not as likely as before that every immediate relative is an ideal baptismal sponsor. It can be quite difficult to convince everyone that a baptismal sponsor is more than an honorific title, but rather a witness of living Catholic faith.