Author Archives: sjadmin

Thursday Reflection

April 11, 2019
When Events Come Together – Is it chance!
According to cliché masters and Christian bumper stickers, there are no “accidents” or “coincidences.” It is Saturday morning, and I’m sitting at my desk and catching my breath. Among the “close calls” and “dumb luck” of life, I was just driving through the grey and foggy mist on Rt. 123 earlier this morning, when out of the fog came a group of cyclists who seemed determined to clog the entire lane heading in the opposite direction. Then suddenly came a truck going much too fast that swerved into my lane to pass them, honked his horn at them, and I am virtually certain, never noticed that he was speeding right at me until I swerved, missed the ditch to my right and held my breath as he sped by me and missing me by the breath of a shadow of a hair! (There may even be tire tracks in my trunk – I haven’t looked yet).
I’ve had my share close encounters since I moved here to the “country,” where proper lighting and even sidewalks are considered the Devil’s spawn by some. This is but one more. But do I hold that my loving God may have decided to take Saturday morning off (to go fishing?) or was with me! Was it mere chance that put the cyclists, the road raged trucker and your humble servant at that one point in time and space?  Was God against me or with me or neither or both? Was this a manifestation of: divine protection, superior urban even if anciently honed driving skills or sheer dumb luck!
I think God gets way too much blame for bad human choices and not enough credit for guiding us to make the right ones. Is God to blame because the person with decades of poor eating choices dies of a heart attack?  I once wrote that I saw our dog Abby pick out the one parishioner (in a group sitting in the lobby) who was suffering from cancer, and sit by him.  How could she possibly know? (or was she guided?)  I recall many years ago going one evening to visit a parishioner in the hospital, but she was no longer there because, unknown to me, she had been discharged that afternoon. However in that room was now a person who wanted to speak with a priest – and so might one argue that I was “guided” to be where I should have been even if it was not with the person that I thought I was supposed to visit?
In my decades of ordained ministry, I have experienced too many “chance” events that make me question the notion of “chance.”  I have also made more than my share of stupid decisions leading to inappropriate comments and questionably intelligent actions. Was there no proper guidance from above or was I just not listening?
So was I meant to be on the road that road this morning with others who seemed bent upon creating the conditions for an accident? Or should I have left the residence one minute earlier and avoided the entire encounter? Was I guided? Did I make a bad choice? Or a good one? Only God truly knows the answer to these questions, but I do believe I ought to listen more attentively.
Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 4.4.19

April 4, 2019

“Being At Peace with Where We Are!”

With the sun and warmth of spring now within smelling distance, I am dealing with a different new experience at this time. As I’ve previously written (and you all know), springtime conveys all the imagery of new life. All is fresh and young and beautiful. From a new baseball season, the rites of passage of high school proms, the ability to walk with Abby with only a light jacket or drive anywhere with the car window open, all about us are signs of nature and life being renewed. In a few weeks, we liturgically enter into a celebration of not only the Lord’s passion and death but more importantly his “being raised from the dead unto the glory of the Father.” Oh to be young again!
But for reasons that I am only gradually coming to comprehend, I am having to acknowledge that, at least physically, I am never going to be young again. Try to RUN with the dog, and my knees and lower back will relentlessly remind me of what I am no longer! Ask the church office staff: rare is the moment when, leaving the office, I remember to take coat, phone and keys without forgetting at least one of the above. But it’s more than no longer being able “to hit that fastball.”

On Holy Tuesday each year, at the “Chrism Mass” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine where we priests renew our vows, as we gather by year of ordination, I cannot help but notice that each year, my era of clergy grows smaller and smaller – and the reading of the names of those who have passed into life eternal grows longer and longer. It’s one thing to know that you’re going to be the oldest in the room when you are teaching teens in their Confirmation Class or teaching theological students when they study canon law at General Theological Seminary, but it is more humbling to also be the oldest in the room when “older” faculty (even mere adjuncts like myself) come together for a meeting.

My mentors warned me that the day must come when I would be “…in the autumn of my life…” (to quote the great Sinatra). Can I be at peace with this? In response to that question, “What is God calling me to do,” how must I answer this within the limits of body, mind and spirit? Will I be wise enough to acknowledge my limitations and not try to keep with the pace of my 20 year old self? Will I be humble enough to let others show kindness to me? (A young women on the subway a few months ago actually wanted to give up her seat for me! I was horrified! Would that I had been more grateful to allow her to show kindness!)

Learning to share the wisdom gained from experiences (good and bad) but without intruding or sounding “preachy” is a skill that now must be acquired. I believe that this is a call to which I must respond. I wonder what the Lord is asking in whichever chapter of life you are living?

Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 3/28/19

March 28,2019

Being Out of Position

Each year during the final weeks when I spend time teaching the parish teens about our Christian Faith (in Confirmation Class), I try to come up with some (any!) innovative ways to explain what living the Gospel is like and what “sin” as rejection of grace means. (I have often secretly wished I could video those encounters so that parish adults could observe and hear for themselves what marks the lives of their adolescent sons and daughters, how they think, feel, and argue about the rightness or wrongness of specific actions, and what their personal level of Christian morality is like).

And this brings me to face the same question: so how does one, as a Christian, describe “sin” – as an act or attitude of failing to live into the love of God and love of neighbor mandated by Jesus? Allow me to use an example from yesteryear. I played baseball in my ill spent youth, and I can assure you that in no way I did give up a promising athletic career for the Lord’s service. I was merely a catcher blessed with extraordinarily mediocre abilities who had fun.

One particular late spring game where a high school actually worse than us was on our schedule, we were experiencing a rare blowout win – some absurdly unbelievable 23 – 2 lead with but one inning to play. Predating today’s “mercy rule” and having to finish this game, Coach decided to play everyone – and many of us got to pick a “different” position from where we normally played. For reasons I will never understand, I ended up playing at third base – never before and never since!). In that awful half inning, I managed to kick, miss, and or throw away just about anything hit at me. I even tripped over the bag and fell splat on my face.NEVER EVER AGAIN !

But here is the point. Do you want a working definition for “sin?” Try this: sin is playing out of the position that Jesus has placed us in!. It’s being where one should not be, and not using the tools/skills that God gives us as we should. It’s not seeing the field (life) from where we should. It is taking on too much, or at other times not doing enough.

God’s grace is open to all, but only we can open our hearts and souls to receive it. Thinking we can “do it all,” or are so important that one is above the need for improvement is another symptom. Holding others to standards that we do not hold ourselves to is still another. Seeking to learn and taking enjoyment in the flaws of the “other” is yet another.

In A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks uttered the unforgettable line: “There’s no crying in baseball.” But baseball does have its uses as a metaphor for life. And if I am honest with myself and with my God, I know that there have been more than enough times in my life that I put myself “out of position.” I’ve failed to live as my Lord and Master has shown me. There is reason for me to cry as I recognize my own flaws. How about you?

Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 3.21.19

Thursday Reflection “What is God calling me to do?” March 21, 2019

It’s SPRING! The calendar declares that we survived this winter with its not-so-much-snow but a too generous portion of sleet, freezing rain, and bone piercing damp chill. Even though we now march through the spiritual challenges of a Holy Lent, there is a bit more brightness to the day, more warmth in the sun, and, who knows, maybe we have seen our last winter storm of the season – although we all know that late March can play nasty games with the awful white stuff.
It’s Spring. In decades past, t’was the time to throw a baseball, choose a college, shed long extra clothing, begin the chorus of sneezing to springtime allergies, become obsessed with “March madness,” and at least “to live in hope” for that “summer job” that meant some discretionary income and time away from the parental nest. In seminary, spring was the time when those end of semester papers had better have been in at least research if not writing stage. It’s Spring,and in years of study of post-seminary ecclesiastical law, presentations and papers had better have been already long completed so yearlong comprehensive exams could be prepared for.
A parish’s rhythm is somewhat similar. It’s Spring, and that means Lenten programs are already happening, and the work for Holy Week should be reaching the final prep stages It also means that in many local faith communities, the season of joy filled events – weddings and baptisms and/or confirmations and graduations – is about to take place.
For me, this is a season of awakenings. We hopefully take in the glow of the season’s warmth. We hopefully might have to reflect less on the various tragedies that infect our broken world – although events in New Zealand last week have already proven me wrong. It’s a time to see new life, seek new life, and perhaps appreciate not only what is new, fresh and young but also what is (or those who are) elderly, fragile but young at heart.
For me, as a Christian, the greatest gift of Spring is about to be celebrated: not just new life in all those baby bunnies we’ll see in our yards, but in the greatest gift of life – a share in the risen life of Jesus. The feast of the world’s redemption is about to be remembered! And it makes no difference what stage of life you are in. It is Spring, and the glory of the promise of a resurrected life is about to be shared with us. Again!

Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 3.14.19

Thursday Reflections

Thursday, March 14, 2019

“What is God Calling me to do?”

I know I have spoken about this issue on more than one occasion. I may have written about it as well – I honestly cannot remember. But, sisters and brothers, let me make yet another request that we acknowledge the uncertainty of life and in life, and take advantage of the time given to us to do what we were sent here to do and to enjoy the company of those whose paths we cross and who dwell with us.

An avid baseball fan and a passionate N.Y. Mets fan, I was caught up in that “miracle” in the summer and autumn of 1969 – the so called “Miracle Mets” and their utterly improbable run to a championship that year. I was a university sophomore in my late teens working both at a summer camp “for underprivileged urban youth” and on “off days” worked at a local beach club in a snack bar, as a waiter / busboy, and as coach of these “privileged” suburban youth basketball team. (I think I did get 8 hours of sleep – total combined all summer!)

I was caught up with a group of perennial professional losers who, thinking back were only about 5 – 8 years older than me. They were led by a young star pitcher who graduated from Stamford University, and whose status in the baseball draft was somehow screwed up by the powers that be – so his name was re-entered into a special drawing, and the N. Y. Mets drew the name of Tom Seaver out of a hat – literally. He was talented, a star, articulate, fiercely competitive and for that summer was not only the best pitcher in baseball, he may have been the MVP of all baseball (except for the prejudice of certain baseball writers who would never deign to give that honor to any pitcher). He may in fact be the greatest star my poor talent deprived team has ever had.

I bring this up because that man is now 74 years old, and it was recently announced that he has been diagnosed suffering from dementia. He will no longer be seen in public. For those of us who have cared for a parent with this disease, as much as we love that person, we know that the cost in terms of emotional and physical capital is not to be believed. And his family will experience this. There will be a major celebration this summer to mark the 50th anniversary of that amazing championship season, and he will not be there. He may not remember that he was on that team. He may not, at that point, remember who he was or is.

The point I make in all this is to remind you: we know not the paths that we will walk in life. We don’t know if we’ll make memories or if we’ll be allowed to keep them. We don’t know how much time we will be given to enjoy the company of others. We don’t know how much time we will have to give love and experience love in return. I often “shoo” folks out of here after meetings are over not only because I am indeed old, tired and probably cranky, but because I hope there are folks waiting for you back home who love you. And you simply don’t know how much time you will be given to experience that love.

Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 3.7.19

Thursday Reflections

Thursday, March 7, 2019

“What is God Calling me to do?”

I am trying to help our border collie become more liturgically literate! As astute as she is, Abby doesn’t quite get “Lent.” Now of course there are those purists who will remind me that “technically” dogs, lacking human reasoning and some even claim lacking a soul – seriously – are not capable of sin, and therefore have no need to understand the notion of “repentance.” To my critics I would respectfully provide anecdotal evidence: this dog may or may not have an intellectual grasp of the concept of “sin,” but she knows how to lie, disobey, steal, be willful , stubborn and insistent on rolling around in any batch of disgustingly smelling biological materials found on the ground! I’ll let our esteemed attorneys of our parish debate this one, but this seems a matter of Res Ipsa loqutur – whose non technical real life definition might read: “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” – well you get the point.

So I try to explain to “her majesty” that in the early church, as folks were preparing for the great celebration of Easter – the most significant feast we Christians celebrate – there were three portions of the community that began to prepare themselves in a very special way.

There are the majority of us whose lives are marked by our normal human frailties. There are “the things we’ve done and the things we’ve left undone.” All of us need to take stock of our lives from time to time and seek the Lord’s strength and forgiveness.

Secondly there were those who were preparing to be baptized by the Bishop on the Eve of Easter. They had spent years in study and prayer. Now they spent the final forty days in serious preparation, fasting and seeking the prayers of the community that they were, sometimes at the risk of their lives during times of persecution, about to enter.

Finally there were those who because of their notorious and extremely grievous sins (in the early centuries of the church’s history, you find lists of such things like abandoning the Christian faith out of cowardice, murder, adultery, being married more than once, worshiping Caesar among others) had been spending perhaps years doing public penance: living lives of prayer, fasting and giving to charity and seeking the forgiveness of the community and of Jesus. They also were now in the last forty days of their time as “public” penitents before being allowed to rejoin the community.

And thus that final season of the Spirit, “Lent,” was born. It was a time when all three of these groups – and they are us, are they not – came together in prayer and action — So all Christians (and those who wished to be) spent the final weeks together in preparation to become one with the Risen Christ and the community reborn from and nourished in His spirit.

So try explaining all this to Abby. She would rather play – of course. She would rather race in March snowstorms as she shadows (in the hopes of herding) the deer that pass through the yard. Perhaps she instinctively knows that she is not held to the human standard. She is not capable of change and of repentance. But we are. Perhaps she is of the mindset that as long as I “give up” something that I may enjoy but certainly don’t need anyway (alcohol, movies, chocolate, TV or whatever), I’ve done enough. She was not made to deal with the deeper questions: what is there in my life that really, for heaven’s sake, needs to go? Where can I grow and should I grow in my spiritual life? What is God really calling me to do? How can I be more generous? How can I learn more about His word in Holy Scripture?

Abby, imperfect as she is, does live her life giving love and receiving it. And she is where God wants her to be. But what about us? Where are we in terms of the spiritual life? And how may these forty days bring us closer to the one who died and rose for us?

Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 2.28.19

Thursday Reflection
Thursday, February 28, 2019
“What is God Calling me to do?”
         Step back in time. It is March, and it is still cold. There is more than a bit of residue of snow in Central Park. Classes ended at 2:55 p.m., and so the 15 year old me has raced down from the 5th floor home room to the locker room in the basement, rushed to change into jeans and sweatshirt, grabbed my glove, catcher’s mask and whatever else Mr. (Coach) Byrnes commands that we lug over to the park, and so about 20 of us go racing across W. 87th street to the park entrance, find a diamond that is relatively useable, and thus begins first Spring baseball practice. The rites of Spring have begun! The “boys of summer” have arrived.
         Of course today the way older me sometimes watches Spring training games on TV. But more often, I just take in the hints that winter’s bitter winds and death like grip is lessoning. Days are getting longer. Even the TV personality shadow-deprived weather “rats” have given us hope for a quicker end to winter’s gloom. Springtime may still be on the horizon, but at least it is there. Spring for me meant discipline, hard work, but eventual fun.
         In the cycle of our liturgically corporate lives, the same message is about to be sent. Next week (finally) Ash Wednesday will arrive and in anticipation of Easter’s Message and Easter’s Joy, we are asked to become a part of the story of a church community that prepares itself with the disciplines of penance. It is the time for “spring training” for the soul, as it were.
         For more than a few centuries, these 40 days of LENT was a highly touted period for self-reflection, admission of our human fallibility and the need for reform and renewal, but also for preparing ourselves for the most significant feast of the Church year: Easter. “Spring Training” is a weak comparison to be sure. It is NOT about what WE DO to get into spiritual shape. It IS a time to participate with others in any spiritual discipline so that we open our hearts more to receive the glorious gift of salvation that HAS BEEN DONE FOR US in Christ.
         I hope you are all looking forward to this season as a preparation for Easter’s joy – “Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again!” And because of what Christ has done for us, the days will become longer, the sun will be warmer, and the athletic “rites of Spring” will merely be a symbolic anticipation of all the wonders that our loving God has prepared for us.
Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 2.21.19

Thursday Reflection
Thursday, February 21, 2019
“What is God Calling me to do?”
           Can we be grateful for the failures or other negative aspects in our life? Should we?  Each year, I do one of the Confirmation Classes on various types of prayer that we Christians pray. Inevitably we get to thanksgiving. This always leads me to ask the teens what are those types of things in our lives for which we should be thankful, and they respond with all the usual suspects (as adolescents are expected to do).
           I have a bit of fun whenever I explain that I am ever so grateful for one experience of bitter failure. My very first exam in high school (you may guess the subject – and NO it wasn’t “religion”) was one for which I did not prepare, couldn’t be bothered to study for, and took ever so lightly. My grade on that exam cannot be registered here because the number hasn’t been invented yet to define how poorly I did. I was labeled as having poor study habits, bad attitude, and inadequate ability to do even rudimentary high school work. (And then after that I had to listen to my parents!!!!)
           That experience impacted the 13 year old me. It taught me the need for preparation and in fact, led to a life of appreciating scholarship in several fields. Of course I never realized it at the time, but it was an experience for which I became most grateful (well..all but the “grounded for the next ten years” part).
I am thankful that I got a chance very early in life to learn that I had limitations. I’m grateful that the Lord showed me that there would be several disciplines at which I could excel, but there would be some that I would, at best, only plod through. And I had to know the difference. I am so glad that I was given the chance to appreciate how we all differ in terms of talents and gifts. To presume that we all can think speak, feel or do the same in life is absurd.
So in answer to the question posed to my younger charges, I ask YOU: for what failure or negative experience are you NOW grateful? Has there been any unfortunately / sad / horrible event that has happened to you which has shaped the person you have become, and have you been open to the God’s spirit to use that event as a means to positively mold your thinking or behavior?  God has this sense of humor: allowing us to fail then so that we might profit now (and forever. Amen). So shouldn’t we be thankful?
Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 2.14.19

Thursday Reflection
Thursday, February 14, 2019
“What is God Calling me to do?”
         I am going to be that “fool” rushing in “… where wise men (sic.) never go!” (and if you remember this song, then you were a teenager before I was).  I am going to push for “a little change” (gasp !!) – something Episcopalians are just not good at.
The year is already six weeks old, and I am feeling the desperate need to introduce a little change into my life. Let’s face it: that little rat in Punxsutawney, PA may be promising that we’re heading into Spring more rapidly this year, but the cold in my soul doesn’t feel Spring’s warmth anywhere nearby. Same old winter. And the Patriots won the Super Bowl again. Boring! Heck, as much as I love Abby, watching a border collie (again) smoke the competition (again) in the 2019 Master’s Agility Competition at Westminster is just same old, same old. (Spoiler alert: Borders have an unfair advantage in the way their hips are constructed AND they are so bloody smart and quick).
So starting the end of February the weekend liturgical services will be marked with a little “change” – just to keep us fresh and hopefully to feed us with fresh thoughts, meditations, and food for the spirit.
As we have done in years past, on February 23 – 24, the sermon will be a specially recorded sermon of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King (this year, I have chosen A Knock at Midnight which he preached in August of 1967 as a reflection on Luke 11:5-8)
Then the following six weekends (starting with the weekend BEFORE Lent begins on March 6), we’re going to have a special presentation in the place of a “sermon.”   I have purchased a program entitled: Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week by Dr. Amy Jill Levine. We’ll incorporate a video presentation within our services as each week as a brilliant but very down-to-earth scholar takes us through the various scripture remembrances of that final week of Jesus life: Entering Jerusalem, The Temple, the Teachings, the First Dinner, the Last Supper, and Gethsemane.  Her reflections are all about risk: risking reputation, righteous anger, challenge, rejection, the loss of friends and finally temptation.
          So the liturgy for those six weeks leading up to Palm Sunday will be “changed”. Hopefully they remain praise filled as well as thought provoking.
Anyway I am inviting you all to embrace “change” even if just for a few weeks. And if these small changes in public worship achieve their desired ends, perhaps there will be more and better changes for you and I in what matters most: our journey to life eternal!
Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 2.7.19

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                               

 February 7, 2019     

“What is God calling me to do?”

The Episcopal New Yorker (Official Diocesan newspaper) just sent out a notice that it is looking for authors to provide articles for its next edition exploring the theme of DEATH.   The categories are, for any clergy, the “usual suspects” (e.g., ministry to the dying; ministry to the family of those who are dying; preparing funeral rites; death of a child; death of a parent; dealing with long term illness; dealing with tragic unexpected death; and on and on).

What I continue to find so interesting as an observer (and participant) in the human condition as it is lived in this millennium is our deeply ingrained desire to avoid dealing with this topic at all..  Having an issue of a journal totally so dedicated reminds me of just how much we cringe from facing death as an inevitability..

The rubrics of our Book of Common Prayer remind me that at least once (if not more often) per year, my priesthood vows command that I remind people of their duty to put their affairs in order, to make sure that (as much as humanly possible) they will provide for the spouse or other family they leave behind, and also leave gifts to various charities and causes as a final demonstration of one’s commitment to Christ.  And I cannot tell you how often in my years as a parish priest, I will encounter some parishioner who will express her (or his) disapproval of  even raising this issue.  “No one who gets up early on a Sunday morning wants to hear that someday they’re going to die”- this I have been told a number of times.  News Flash:  Whether we say it or deny it – It’s the truth!

Even for those who profess their faith in life beyond life (“…I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”), there is our fear of the unknown.  There is the realization that as we get older, we have left not only a “carbon footprint” but a moral footprint as well.  There have been too many unkind things said or actions done that we have not yet fully regretted or perhaps even acknowledged.  There have been too many “I should have’s” in my life. And perhaps we wonder (to ourselves if not aloud) whether one can truly be forgiven for all the pain one has caused.  On the flip side, there is the anger at those who “sinned against us” and we wonder if there will be sufficient punishment for those who hurt me (or any other innocent soul).  Funny how we are very comfortable seeking divine justice on to OTHERS!

And there is that little matter of forgiving those who have injured us.  Just how will we be held to account should we leave this life’s journey with hatred for another still burning within?  Even if such animosity is deserved!  Do we demean ourselves by forgiving too often?  Do we become enablers to the abusers?  How does leaving an issue like this “in God’s hands” bring justice to those who have no one to care or speak for them?    So many unanswered questions!

Lent is still a month away (Easter VERY LATE this year).  The reminder in the Ash Wednesday liturgy that we are but “dust” is unsettling.         “All we are is dust in the wind…”     

So when was the last time you reflected on an event that is heading straight for you?   Ready or not: “Sister Death” (as Francis of Assisi referred to this reality) comes for us and will bring us home to a loving and forgiving God – but have we loved and have we forgiven?  Have sought to be loved and forgiven?  Are we ready for the journey?   Or is death a topic never to be addressed except at a funeral of someone else.  Just leave me alone and let’s not think about it.

So, anyone want to take up the offer and write for the paper?

 

Fr. Joe