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The “Gift” of Pentecost

Pentcost Icon 2

By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

So often we hear Pentecost referred to as the birthday of the Church: associated with birthdays, of course, are celebrations, cake, candles, wishes and most especially, gifts.

Indeed, the Church receives a gift on Pentecost: it receives the gift of its own divine life, the Gift of the Holy Spirit that binds the entire community, as Saint Paul says, into a single body.

Yet the very existence of the Church is not a celebration in and of itself: the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church is not a present to be hoarded. We cannot sit within the walls of this church, enjoying the Holy Spirit any more than the Apostles could on the day of their Pentecost.  The very nature of a gift is that it is not earned, nor is their expectation of repayment. And so, the Holy Spirit’s descent on the Apostles in the upper room is not simply a gift, not another present to be opened and then put on a shelf.

The Holy Spirit is not a birthday present, but rather a birthday mission.

We are sent forth from this place, just as the Apostles were sent from their places, into a world equally as challenging, equally as dark, but equally as desperate for the message of Jesus the Christ.

As Saint Irenaeus wrote, the Holy Spirit has given the image and inscription of the Father and Son to us, and it is our mission to make a profit. Irenaeus actually refers to this gift as “two coins,” which need to be invested in others.

The ways in which we leave this place on mission are as different as each person: yet perhaps it is most important to remember that we are all sent, we all have a part to play, we all have the currency of Christ in our hearts: spend this birthday well!!!




Paris and Denying Refugees – How evil sneaks in

The attacks around Paris have left me with a significant heaviness in my heart that, to be quite honest, surprised me a bit. I was living in Boston at the time of the bombing at the Boston Marathon and have visceral memories both of the day of the Marathon and the day the city shut down to hunt down the suspects. I studied in Paris and spent part of my honeymoon there. Paris has significant gravity for me, always calling me back. It’s a strange reality to know two places that have been home for me have been violently attacked in a very personal way.

But Boston isn’t Paris. The brothers Tsarnaev are not ISIS. In many ways Paris frightens so many not just because ISIS is particularly terrifying but because – unlike places like Beirut or Kenya – Paris feels close to home. A Western developed country that feels ‘safe’ to so many. I would like to think that between my connections to Boston and Paris, I am not so naive as to the realities of evil in the world. Though as someone who is in many ways still distant and does not know the much starker reality of living under the threat of violence, I realize I still have much to learn about evil, but am not utterly separated from it myself.

Evil is a strong word and a very serious undertaking by any means. I do not hesitate in naming the attacks in Paris as acts of evil. I do not hesitate in naming ISIS as an agent of evil in the world. But these things are also the easy side to evil. It’s easy to name and fairly obvious that these heinous and horrifying events are just that. This is also where I worry that the other side of evil comes alive without us knowing, the sneaky and quietly malicious side of evil.

What happened in Paris calls us to grieve, to take the time to let the reality of what happened sink in and to process what it is to lose so many people in such a manner. But as disciples, we are always called to go beyond grieving in the wake of evil actions. There are many cries for justice rising into the air now – but if justice is to be more than vengeance, to truly seek right relationship, we would be remiss if we did not pause to reflect on how we – as Christians, as Catholics, as citizens of the United States and of the world – may perpetuate evil or be complicit in other acts of evil.

While we rightfully ought ask ‘How could they have done this?’, such a question rings hollow if we do not also inquire as to how we got to where we are in the first place. How we may have allowed the situation to progress to how it is. We also then must ask ourselves how we move forward and seek justice that is truly justice and not trumped up vengeance.

As days pass, it seems that evil is creeping its way in, whether through blaming all Muslims collectively for the actions of ISIS, or – the popular new move – blaming refugees.Despite the role of a French-born man in the attacks, having one possible refugee involved seems justification to refuse to accept refugees. Regardless of whether or not state governors have the power to refuse or accept refugees, the effort on the part of so many to keep refugees out betrays the sneaky way evil sneaks into our hearts and convinces us to act on its behalf. Refusing refugees means condemning these people to suffer the fate which we so fear ourselves that we are willing to justify their suffering in place of our own.  Evil manages to twist our logic so that we can feel confident in denying a safe haven to others to allegedly ensure our own.

It’s easy to claim courage when condemning the obvious evil of the acts of ISIS, an evil that has no easy or obvious solution and will continue to try our courage as a whole human race. The real courage comes when one is willing to examine how they might perpetuate evil on their own. Real courage comes to life when we are willing to say ‘we will take in those most in need, fleeing this evil we fear and abhor, even at the risk of suffering it ourselves.’ Denying refugees does not guarantee that we will not suffer the evils of ISIS. Accepting them means that we resist causing others to suffer from the evil that breeds within us and quell it instead.

Jesus did not call his disciples to seek self-preservation, but to give up one’s life for their friends. Jesus himself, with all of the Holy Family, sought refuge from persecution in a strange land. As we enter into Advent, may we remember that Jesus suffered for all, not just for some, and that ultimately we are called to do the same.

Holy Family, who were refugees in a foreign land, pray for us.

Jesus, light in a darkened world, pray for us.


500 Years of No Shoes

Yesterday was a BIG DEAL in the Palanza household.  Mama Palanza, OCDS of over 25 years, suspended the painfully low carb diet that my ever pudgy, Italian family agreed to follow.  It only took a couple of deliciously glutenous, thin crust pizzas from Bertucci’s to make our celebration feel like one of the most important, joyful days we’ve ever had.  Yesterday, an important member of our family had a birthday – a milestone birthday that most families never get to celebrate – a Quincentenary birthday!

Yesterday was the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Jesus (of Avila).  That’s not actually a member of our family, you might say.  Well, I suppose that’s technically true.  Yet, thanks to my mother’s charism, Teresa really is the source of the way my siblings and I pray, she’s the one who gave us our spiritual goals, she taught us how important humility is, and she challenges us to become closer and closer to Christ – despite and especially when we think we are close enough.  How many “members” of our family have that kind of influence on us?  And if that isn’t proof enough that she’s part of the family, then just do a count of who has the most pictures up in the house!

You can find all kinds of information on Teresa from a simple Google search so I’ll just highlight two things here.  First, Teresa was named the first female Doctor of the Church by Paul 6th in 1970 (yeah, it took that long).  When you start reading Teresa, be sure you do so with that fact in mind.  You are about to read something written by a DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH (something of the same level as Augustine or Thomas Aquinas).  You are not about to read a short devotional book of comforting advice and pretty poetry written by a sweet, old nun.  You will be incredibly disappointed, frustrated, and perplexed if you expect to pick up the Interior Castle and get it the first time!  Second, Teresa is well know for her reform movement in the Carmelite order.  She had no intention of starting a separate group, she just wanted to live closer to what the original Carmelite rule laid out: live simply, pray a lot.  Not everyone was okay with Teresa’s reform, so separate groups eventually formed.  O. Carm. is the shorthand of the original group (Order of Carmelites), O.C.D. is the shorthand for the group that Teresa spearheaded (Order of Carmelites Discalced, “discalced” means “shoeless”).  O.C.D.S. is the shorthand for Mama Palanza’s group, which is the secular part of Teresa’s group (Order of Carmelites, Discalced, Secular – lay people with families who live out Teresa’s lifestyle as their situation in life allows).

To finish, here’s a passage from the Office of Readings for Teresa’s Memorial.  FELIZ CUMPLEANOS TERESA!

If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight.

Many, many times I have perceived this through experience. The Lord has told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we wish his Sovereign Majesty to reveal to us great and hidden mysteries. A person should desire no other path, even if he is at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding his life we find that he is the best example.

What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Siena. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If God should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares his secrets, we ought to accept this gladly.

Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favours, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love him. For if at some time the Lord should grant us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.

What Does It Matter?

I woke up this morning and my Facebook news feed was plastered with the Vatican’s most recent statement on the Pope’s controversial visit with Kim Davis. As I’m sure most of us expected, and as Fr. Jim Martin expressed well even before the Vatican released their statement, the short version is that it probably wasn’t that big of a deal. Nevertheless, more than a few friends had shared it, commented on it, and promoted it in some way, shape, or form.

While I, too, am grateful for at least some level of response to the shameless self-promotion Ms. Davis has taken advantage of from the start, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “What does it matter?”

What does it matter what actually transpired between Pope Francis and Kim Davis if it means we are ignoring an event that I am certain Pope Francis expects us to pay attention to? You see, while a brief handshake is not necessarily a big deal, the loss of human life is (and should always be) a very big deal. As President Obama reminds in the powerful statement he made yesterday afternoon, the tragedy that occurred in Oregon is one for which we all are responsible. Indeed, if Francis’s visit this past week did nothing else, it reminded us of our shared responsibility for one another–not only as a community of faith, but as a community of humans. Obama continues: “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.” It sickens me to think that this level of tragedy has become routine. How dare it be claimed  that we are numb. These are words which are difficult to hear, and even more difficult to consider as true. And yet, it was Kim Davis that littered my Newsfeed this morning…not the tragic loss of brothers, sisters, and friends.

Friends, the success of Francis’s visit is not dependent on whom he did or did not meet with; it is not even necessarily dependent on what he did or did not say. Rather, the success of the visit is dependent on how we as a community live out the Gospel as a result of it. Indeed,“If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

My hope is that your Newsfeed looked different than mine did this morning. My hope is that your Newsfeed was covered not only with prayers for those suffering in Oregon, but also with anger, outrage, and a call to conversion wherein we rethink how we live out our value of human life.  If not now, when?

Leave Your Signs at Home: A Guide to Seeing the Pope

By Javier Soegaard

As we all know, this was the greatest week ever.  Pope Francis was here and the Mets clinched the NL East.

Like several of our writers and, I hope, many of you, I was able to catch a glimpse of the traveling Pontiff during his Apostolic Visit.  However, thanks to the thoroughness of the TSA and Secret Service, my group and I almost missed our brief opportunity to see him in Central Park, NYC.

The security process to enter the park was seemingly absurd.  Snaking back and forth along Central Park West for a total of 18 blocks, it took us well over 2.5 hours just to get into the park.  With each tiptoed step and each city block passed by, everyone in line grew more and more nervous that we would miss the Pope’s short drive through the park.

IMG_2420I was tired too, buddy.

4:00 became 4:30, 4:30 became 4:45, 4:45 became 5:00, 5:00 became 5:01, 5:02, 5:03 and ahh he’s going to be here soon and we’re still not in!!  Eventually it became 5:16 and I texted my mother: “About to go through the metal detector”.  The pope then drove by us around 5:25, much to our relief and elation.  It was unreal.


I’m still unsure, however, why it took so long to get through the line.  I’m not sure why the security staff jeopardized so many people’s single opportunity to see the Pope.  Just thinking about it and conversing about it in line was a maddening experience.  For all their hyper-sensitivity in the security process, though, there was one thing they nailed and I believe it made all the difference.

They didn’t let people bring signs in. Except this guy, of course.  He brought in a cardboard cutout of Francis.  But other than that.  No signs.IMG_2418

This may seem insignificant, as signs are, on the whole, not a major security risk.  Like mobile devices, however, signs are distractions.  Some are harmless distractions, saying things like “We love you Pope Francis,” but others come as part of the camps, agendas, or theological opinions that immediately set believers against each other–the kinds that make people claim Francis for their side over against another.

I don’t mean to suggest that people shouldn’t have strong opinions, and even less that they should keep those opinions to themselves.  However,  for a moment, when the Pope drove by, our hands were free of everything but rosaries and mobile phones.  For a moment we knew very little about one another:  we knew not whether we were pro-life or pro-choice, for or against traditional marriage, for or against the Latin Mass, for or against women’s ordination, for or against stricter immigration laws, for or against ecological reforms, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, people with good handwriting or people like me.

All we knew was that this adorable and admirable man in white stirred something within us; he reminded us of a unity we had forgotten: the union we have in Christ Jesus as members of the human family and as member of His Church.

So if you ever go to see the Pope, think about leaving your signs at home.  Forget your pretenses and your arguments and your well-held positions.  Just go and see the man who will remind you of that deep and beautiful connection you have to others in Christ.  Then weep if you have to, or laugh.  But most of all pray for those strangers locked in the moment with you, and pray for him, that cute old man in white of whom the Lord asks so much.

Ordinary Items Transformed by Meaning: A Reflection on September 11th

By Matt Patella

I must admit up front that I don’t really want to write this blog. But I feel it is an important story to tell. So here it goes…

If asked what three things would you grab if your house were on fire, some people find answering to be difficult. For me, it is very easy: a coin, a cross, and a box of matches. The coin, a challenge coin from the New York Secret Service Field Office stationed in the World Trade Center; the cross, simple steel cut from the South Tower of the World Trade Center; the box of matches, from the Windows On the World restaurant that sat at the 107th floor of the North Tower.


The coin

The challenge coin was given to me by a Secret Service Officer who was stationed in the WTC buildings. He handed me the coin at my father’s wake in January of 2002. I don’t remember what he said when he handed it to me, though I am sure there was some sort of explanation.

But to me that coin represents resilience. It represented a bit of history, a moment that I did share with my father who worked across from the WTC in the World Financial Center. It represents a part of our shared history as Americans and shows that something was there and gives hope that something will return.

The cross

The cross was given to me by a NYC Firefighter at my Eagle Scout ceremony. For my Eagle project I built and dedicated a gazebo in my local town center to the victims of the 9/11 attacks in time for the first anniversary. I built a gazebo because it was a place where people could reflect, sit for a moment and have a safe place to remember. It was a big undertaking for a 13 year old to do, but with the help of family, friends, and my Boy Scout Troop, it was accomplished.

So to me that cross is not only a representation of my religion as a Catholic but that from evil – depraved, disgusting evil –  Good can and will come. People will rally and cheer and if one person can focus that energy in a positive way and try to turn the ship, then Good will come. And isn’t that what the cross should always teach us as Catholics? That even in the most evil times there is Good.

The box of matches

I actually found the box of matches in my golf bag, or more accurately, the golf bag my father used and then I used. It still sits in my golf bag because to me that is where it belongs. I know that my father enjoyed smoking a cigar on the course from time to time and I like to think that he would use that book of matches to light his cigars. So it is a tradition that I carry on. I have had to refill the box with matches but the striker works.

The match box holds potential. It is old and not much but it holds fire and a bit of joy in the lighting of a cigar. Steel has been reused from the WTC to build ships. The famous flag was taken down from the flag pole and has been used to help victims of other tragedies, I have reused this match box to help me grieve and enjoy a game shared with my father a bit more.

I know this isn’t a traditional reflection on September 11th. I could have spoken to how I felt and how I still grieve. I could have said what others say about forgiveness and it is true we must seek to forgive but I wanted to give those who read a look into the affects not thought of from 9/11. How items, otherwise ordinary transform to mean something. What I have is important to me because of what it represents and how it is reflective of me. So I ask you what do you have that you hold dear, what represents you?

And to remember the different ways people were affected, here is one of my favorite ways New Yorkers responded.