Thursday, December 25, 2008

Saint Malachy Church decorated for the season.

This Christmas story begins with the vanity of my mother. She was born on July 4, 1909. When she was about thirty-five she met the mother of a classmate to my sister and discovered that this woman, too, was a Yankee Doodle Dandy. The woman, Margaret DeMacedo, asked my mother the simple question, “What year were you born?” and my mother, thinking that this woman was surely younger than she, trimmed a few years off her age and said, “1912.” And Margaret said, “Oh, I’m older, I was born in 1909.” Several days later my mother called Margaret and owned up to the lie. The two women not only shared a birthday but became fast friends.

Later in life, after Margaret’s husband and one daughter had died, Margaret used to come to my parents’ home for Christmas dinner with our family. I remember the dignified way in which she lived through her widowhood and the loss of her one child. One Christmas at dinner she told us that the sermon at the early Christmas Mass had given her some comfort. The priest told the congregation that, if indeed they had a sadness on Christmas Day, they ought not feel guilty about their failure to share in the joy of the Lord’s birthday. Like so many widows and widowers who attended the early Christmas Mass, Margaret would always miss her spouse and child at that celebration. That sermon convinced her that her faithfulness was true even if she could not feel the joy of Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent altar at Church of the Gesu; site of student Christmas Mass December 19, 2008

The Catholic Youth Organization in Philadelphia collects and wraps thousands of presents for underserved families in a program called Operation Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve the presents are distributed by teams of Santas with their elves. These young men are Prep students about to go out to distribute presents.

Dec 19 Student Mass before the dismissal for Christmas Break

First I wish you a Merry Christmas and all the blessings that go with celebrating the birthday of our God in Christ Jesus. Our God loves us entirely and becomes one like us, a child who is completely dependent on us.

A priest or teacher greeting is always a prelude to assignments. I give you three assignments for the Christmas break. I relate the first one with a story:

Some years back I went to the grocery store a few days before Christmas. I don’t do the shopping any more; Father Maivelett takes care of it. I used to go to a store over on Aramingo Ave. and I was always eager to finish. The shopping went quickly and I got the grocery cart out to the parking lot. I was focusing on getting home as soon as I could get the bags of groceries into the trunk and go on my way. A boy of 12 or 13 years old approached me and offered to help me. Preoccupied with my own thoughts I waved him off indicating that I could take care of it. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind and he said, “Mister, it’s Christmas.” I thought to myself “what is the matter with me?’ He was right to call me into reality. Sure, it’s a great line and he probably had been using it all day. But, after all, It is Christmas. I had no reason to put the kid off. I asked him to do the job and gave him an extra tip.

So the first assignment, brothers, is this. Do not get so lost in your own self that you ignore the season. Don’t get so self-absorbed or pre-occupied that you ignore the people that are around you. Jesus comes to us so that he can be around us and have our company. So in imitation of him we ought to welcome even the stranger.

The second assignment is based on another story. Mr. Magree tells this one and he can tell it better with all its detail. But I will give the main outline. One Christmas Eve Mr Magree and his brother were driving across New York State on their way home to Ohio where their family was gathering at home for Christmas. They had some trouble with their car, got off the interstate and sought help at a rural gas station. But the mechanic needed a part and could do nothing to get the car back on the road until after Christmas. They were stuck on Christmas Eve far from home and far from a car rental agent or an airport.

Somebody at the gas station saw their plight and took pity on them. He had an extra pickup truck and lent it to them so that they could drive an hour to the Buffalo airport and there rent a car for the trip to Ohio. The man asked only that they bring the truck back on their return trip. We know Mr. Magree and we would trust him with our lives but this man only saw these two strangers, strangers who could have wrecked, stripped, stolen his truck. But he takes a risk and lends his truck for a few days to two college boys. Perhaps he knew the story about the travelers Mary and Joseph, far from home, who had a hard time finding a place to give birth to their child. In any case he took pity on these two brothers and made it possible for them to celebrate Christmas at home with their family.

Your assignment is to do something generous like this for your family or friends. This might mean taking time with your family, taking time to help an older relative or a young cousin. Whatever you do for them, you do for Christ.

Finally I have an assignment without much of a story. This is the season when we men ought to take a particular interest in babies and toddlers. This is the best way for us to get an understanding of the extraordinary event of God becoming a baby. Last Sunday Prep staff and faculty brought their little children to the Prep, to the Sauter Dining Hall, to meet Santa. Among the children were several babies. I took the opportunity to hold Mr. Daniels’s baby in my arms. Now Mr. Daniels, knowing I am childless, kept a very close eye on me making sure I knew how to hold his little child. She was completely dependent on me. My instruction for you is this: if you are lucky enough over the holiday to be with a relative or friend who is a baby, take the opportunity to hold him or her in your arms and realize that this child depends completely on you and trusts you. This is what God does in the Christ Child. God entrusts himself to us.

And if you have no baby around, find a toddler and play a game with him or her. Toddlers thrive on attention from teenagers. It is easy to imagine Jesus the toddler seeking the attention of teenagers. It is easy to imagine Jesus the toddler idolizing his young relatives and other teenagers who perhaps could recite sections of the Torah or run like the wind along the streets of their hometown of Nazareth.

So three instructions:
1) Put aside any preoccupation with yourself. God is not preoccupied with anything but you and me and did not shut himself off from us but out of love came to us as a child.
2) There will be needs during the Christmas season that you can meet with a generous spirit. Be generous like the man who risked losing his truck.
3) Finally enjoy the experience of holding a baby in your arms so that you can understand better that God placed himself at our disposal. Realize, too, that Jesus was once a toddler who looked in amazement at the talents that teenagers displayed. Amaze him now even more by making good use of your talents.

And don’t forget to get your rest, your exercise and your protein.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Staff and Faculty at the Prep have their kids come to meet Santa at the school. The event begins with Mass and ends with the annual Christmas concert with concert band, jazz band and chorus.
We had a good time and ate lots of potluck dessert treats.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Twin brothers, Asa and Tucker Collins, freshmen at Saint Joseph's Prep School

The poem below was written by Tucker on the 2-month anniversary of their mom's (Andrea's) death. Andrea told her story of cancer on her blog "punkrockmommy." She was a wise and witty wife and mother. Even those of us who did not know her personally now miss reading about how she loved her family and friends, how she fought for more time with them but eventually came to know that God would take care of their future.

A Man for and With Others

September 5, 2008

I am no longer a student
But a scholar
A follower Of the teachings of Ignatius
My life is changing rapidly
To transform into a new
Being of competence
To show the world my best
What am I to become?
What am I in four short years?
What am I in my prime?
What am I when I move on to the other half of life?
I answer you now
I shall become
A Man for and With Others
I will be
A Man for and With Others
I shall succeed as
A Man for and With Others
When I leave this place
I will be still
A Man for and With Others

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent decorations in the Church of the Gesu

When I was a small boy and trying to understand the meaning of Christmas, my mother taught my siblings and me this little “advent” poem:

“Christmas is a comin’ and the geese are gettin’ fat.
Time to put a penny in the old man’s hat.”

Such little couplets carry a world of meaning. Always the future is comin’ at us filled with the same kind of promise as Christmas. Always we have the talents and resources, whatever it takes to fatten the geese. Always there is time and in the time given we are to be generous.

I remember asking my mother about the old man, “who is he?” Was he the Santa standing outside the store and ringing a bell? Later I realized that he stood in for anyone in need.

Postscript: Someone reminded me during the season of the second couplet:

"If you haven't got a penny, then a halfpenny will do.

If you haven't got a halfpenny, then God bless you."

The lack of halfpennies in my world also caused a question! And how to pronounce the word, too!

Friday, November 28, 2008

I was lucky to have my picture with Leo Carlin, 5th grader, wearing the shirt of the school that he wants to attend. Leo is fighting a serious cancer but he is at Children's Hospital, a great place for that fight. We said a prayer together that God would direct the medicines to do the required work. A cheerful and polite kid. He will, God willing, thrive at Saint Joseph's Prep.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On Bruce Maivelett's birthday we ate well: clams, mussels and paella. And for dessert two pecan made with chocolate added! One up on my roast chicken and berry crumble dessert! But it is the 50th after all, a birthday that I celebrated years ago but in the same house.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Pictures of James with friends and Mary Bur with her brother
Thanks to Mary for a great party on her Jubilee. The family and her friends enjoyed it. And thanks to West Philadelphia Catholic High School for being so good to us visitors.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Prep's Tolani Ibikunle goes all out in soccer quarterfinal!

The late afternoon sun floods across the soccer field where Saint Joseph's Prep plays LaSalle College High School in a quarter-final match in the Catholic League. In a thrilling shoot-out LaSalle triumphs 4-3 after a scoreless game dominated by Saint Joseph's. Despite all out effort neither team could score.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Barack Obama speaks at Progress Plaza, Philadelphia, October 11, 2008

In my lifetime I have seen only two presidents: Richard Nixon when he was vice president in 1959 and George Bush when he spoke at Independence Hall on July 4, 2001. There I got to shake his hand and he acknowledged my greeting with that smile-smirk of his and a nod of the head.

This morning, since Barack Obama was only five blocks away, I ran down to see him and arrived in the middle of his stump speach. I did it in memory of my dad who took the trouble to see Kennedy drive through Abington in a motorcade when Kennedy was running in 1960.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bruce Maivelett, Mary Cycon, Melissa McGrath, Eileen Kennedy (members of the Mother's Club), and Gerry McHugh (speaker for the breakfast from the class of 1972), myself

Mother-Son Communion Breakfast 26th of the Year September 28 2008
Almost as constant as the truism that we sons all have mothers is another: our mothers will defend us in public no matter what we do, well, almost no matter what.
Once when I was a young priest I said something in a sermon that a stranger in the congregation did not like. My mother was also present at the Mass. After Mass on the church steps she and I overheard the woman criticizing what I had said. Allow me to quote from the criticism we heard on those church steps even in the Irish brogue with which it was delivered: “that priest needs a swift kick in the arse.”
My mother sprang immediately to my defense proclaiming me as her son and undeserving of the criticism. There were other cases, too. I remember when I was fourteen and working for an unscrupulous employer. On that occasion she rightly allowed me to defend myself but coached me on how to do it.

Were my mother still living, she would be 100 years of age next Fourth of July. She was a Yankee Doodle Dandy, as the song goes, a daughter of Irish immigrants who found their way in Philadelphia. There are still occasions when I could use her as my public defender and I rely on her spiritual strength.

So I address all my young Prep brothers. Your mothers may take you to task in private; they may even agree in private conversations with others who criticize you but in public they will defend you. In fact I am fully convinced that, should a court of law demand their testimony, our mothers would not testify against us.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sights Sights and sounds this morning at Tinicum Wildlife Refuge included a pair of cardinals calling out to one another from opposite sides of the stream, the kingfisher swooping along the water surface, a couple of elusive warblers including a wing-barred one with yellow chin and the olive blue back, perhaps a yellow. And also a small bird with a speckled face that I could not see very well.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

You will see the University Hawk elsewhere in these pages. This is the Prep hawk holding on to a boy from the class of 2022. The picture taken on an ideal sunny day, the last of summer at the Prep-LaSalle game. Our cheering fans were less happy at the conclusion of the game. Some true football afficionados let me know that we played poorly. But for a fan like me..well I enjoyed watching our team execute at least some good plays.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Michael Magree and Bruce Maivelett join me on the Prep steps for an opening day photo.
My nephew Matthew joined in dodgeball but I kept my distance. He is in the middle.
And a couple of unnamed freshmen arrive having been greeted by upperclassmen.
Young Brothers of the Prep
(Welcomed at Mass in Church of the Gesu at SJP, September 4, 2008)

“Do not be afraid; I will make you fishers of people.” Luke 5: 10

Young Brothers of the Prep: Today your past life is over. Today you begin a new adventure. You are a Prepper. You have been called with the many who considered the Prep and you have been chosen with the few who begin this adventure with you today.

The one who chooses you has known you from your birth. He is the Lord Jesus and, make no mistake, he knows you today and he is offering you a challenge.

He offers you a challenge as he challenged men 2000 years ago, especially his new friend Simon Peter on the shores of the Lake Galilee.

Picture this from our reading today: two fishing boats along the shore. To anyone except Jesus the two boats look exactly the same. But one belongs to Peter and it is this one boat and not the other that Jesus chooses for his purposes. From this boat Jesus preaches to the crowds along the seaside. In this boat he sends Peter out for the miraculous catch of fish.

Young Brothers. Today the Lord Jesus chooses you and your boat, you and your gifts , for his purposes just as on that day long ago when he chose Peter and his boat, Peter and his gifts for the purposes of the kingdom of God.

Jesus chooses you for his work and he chooses the Prep to be a place of learning and growth focused on his future with you.

Over the next four years as you get to know better this Lord Jesus who has chosen you, he will present you with life lessons about courage, and loyalty and integrity, just as he did with Peter and his other followers.

Courage: It will take courage to admire in others the talents that you wished you had and courage to step forward and use the talents that you do have. It will take courage to stand up for what is right day in and day out sometimes in front of people, even perhaps other Preppers, who will challenge you and try to lure you into dishonesty or prejudice, or to a false comfort with drugs or sex or to a half-hearted attitude about your studies and school activities. It will take courage to admit your mistakes or to seek help when you need it.

Loyalty: It will take loyalty to support your friends when they are in trouble or when others ridicule them or tear them down. It will take loyalty to continue to be a worthy son to your parents and a good brother to your siblings. It will take loyalty to continue to be faithful to the practice of your religion when you are filled with questions and doubts.

Integrity: Finally it will take integrity to be a person worthy of trust at home and at the Prep. It will take integrity to stand up and even to speak out against cheating and lying even when you know that you can get away with it. It will take integrity to speak honest answers to your parents and to your teachers when you face some tough questioning.

These challenges are now a part of your life just as they were for the Simon Peter introduced in today’s story. He was not so good at meeting these challenges. He failed to be courageous when Jesus invited him to walk across the water. He failed to be loyal when Jesus talked about the suffering to come. He lied about his friendship with Jesus when he feared going to prison with him. But he came to know his faults and place them within the framework of Jesus’ love for him. It is that love, win or lose, success or failure, that will sustain you. It will sustain you when you can walk proudly as a man for others and it will sustain you when you must admit your sins.

At the Prep each morning we will be praying together in thanksgiving and for a blessing on that day. And during the day I may see you in the corridor; I will not so much want to know your name. But I may ask you how you are stepping forward and challenging yourself to greater courage, loyalty and integrity. I hope that you will have a ready example, some action that has helped you measure yourself against the ideals that we set for you.

I hope to be here on your last day in 2012 to shake your hand and present you with your diploma. It will be a sign that you have succeeded not only academically but a sign that you are well on your way to becoming men up to the challenge that Jesus presents to you today. Nothing, I assure, young brothers, will make you happier than to become men like Peter who offered his boat and then his talents in the service of the Lord Jesus and his brothers and sisters.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Prep cheering section regularly gathers at halftime to reenact a scene from Braveheart in which the assembled warriors are encouraged to overthrow tyranny.

The last time I witnessed a Prep football victory was against Roman Catholic High School in 1958! It was a close game not decided until the final seconds.
The opening game of the 2008 season provided similar excitement. The Prep team took on highly rated Parkland, a school near Allentown, PA famed for its Friday Night Lights. After Parkland went out to a 10-0 lead, the Prep scored two touchdowns and two field goals while holding its opponent to a field goal.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A stalwart member of Gesu Parish and Saint Malachy Parish died on April 26, 2008, Aleda Harmon at age 103.
She always did whatever she could to encourage the many pastors that served the parishes during the time of her membership. In my case when I was pastor in 1990, I asked parishioners to accompany me on a walking pilgrimage to a distant church in North Philadelphia, 4 or 5 miles away. And Mrs Harmon, to my surprise, at age 86 walked the entire distance with us and kept up the pace.
In the year 2000 we at Gesu School (the parish closed in 1993) also made a pilgrimage to a certain other church. This time, the distance being great, we went by bus and Mrs. Harmon came with us. I celebrated Mass there at the church and welcomed her especially, explaining how she had "walked with us through North Philadelphia ten years ago when she was young." She corrected me from the pew: "I'm still young!" she said.
The many tributes at her funeral Mass underlined her statement. She was and is forever young.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Seventh Sunday of Easter May 4, 2008

To celebrate fifteen years as an independent Catholic School, Gesu highlighted at least fifteen stars at a Gala event on May 1 at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Four hundred people attended.

Among the stars was Jamar Stokes, Gesu '96, who spoke about his success working with Deloitte and his two years with a traveling basketball group like the Harlem Globetrotters.

In the picture at the top are Ralph and Bette Saul with Bob McAlain. Ralph received the Gesu Spirit Medal and I was honored to introduce him:

With great joy Gesu School recognizes one of its most outstanding stars, Ralph Saul. Ralph and Bette Saul became friends of the children of Gesu School on a lovely June night in 1992 at a sponsorship benefit dinner. This event took place while the school was still a parish school, a year before the parish closed. In my mind’s eye still are Pat Cooney and her late husband, Gordon, introducing the Sauls to Sister Ellen Convey, then and now the principal and me, then the pastor of the parish. Pat knew then that Ralph would be a star. Never had he not been one. I see that event now as a watershed moment for our children. Ralph and Bette extended and still to this day extend personal generosity and kindness to all in the Gesu community. And Ralph also uses his considerable influence built on years of leadership in the financial and insurance community to draw others to our mission. Among his earliest finds for the children, for example, were John and Rosalee DiIulio. And I could list a dozen others. For the mission with the children of Gesu Ralph is a star with the warmth and luminosity of the sun.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. held at SJU Fieldhouse

Local State Representative Louise Bishop always organizes a music and prayer rally with the SJU Fieldhouse as her site.

Left to right starting at top: SJU student athletes prepare to leave for day of service; four boys learn about Dr. King; a praise dancer marks the occasion;
some of the 250 student athletes prepare for day of service; a musical tribute from center stage; a blue sky day today;
the choir raises the roof with Alleluias.
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Sunday, January 20, 2008

These are two less conventional images presented as images of the face of Jesus Christ. Popular Science magazine offers the image on the left as consistent with the typical remains of Jewish men of first century Palestine. Above is a more conventional African-American image.
Ordinary Time Second Sunday John 1: 29

“John the Baptist saw Jesus walking toward him.”

This action by Jesus, “walking toward,” ushers in a new age. This scene is the first in the gospel of John to place us human beings in the presence of our brother who is the Word of God. A few verses earlier in the text the gospel does refer to Jesus Christ as the one through whom truth comes into the world. But the gospel reports this “walking toward” as the very first of many public actions of the man Jesus: “the Baptist saw Jesus walking toward him.” In this way Jesus appears on the scene, his first appearance noted as we might note the first appearance of the lead character in a movie....

If someone whom you do not know is walking toward you, how do you feel, how do you react? On a street in the city I react in different ways depending on how I answer questions concerning the one who is approaching me: Does this person want directions? Is this person going to give me an advertising flyer? Will the person be begging? Will he or she demand something more from me? Can I read the face? Is it smiling? Or is it threatening? Ought I to be afraid? There are many times in fact when we carefully change our paths or even cross the street simply to avoid having to face up to a greeting or a snubbing of the person approaching us.

The gospel suggests that we place ourselves next to the Baptist and watch Jesus walking toward us. How do we react? Test yourself. Will you be able to greet Jesus as you would an old and trusted friend? Will you greet him with a feeling of embarrassment and not want to meet him eye to eye?... If you are reluctant and step aside and let Jesus walk by, you are in the majority.

Most of us do the same. Some of us even cross the street. But those of us here at this Eucharist on this non-descript cold winter morning, we come here looking for something, someone. We want the grace of him walking toward us in the same way as he has walked toward other sinners and other saints. No other reasons exist for us to get out of our warm beds, turn off our televisions and cell phones and come here to this sacred space. We are willing to have Jesus greet us. He brings forgiveness to sinners; consolation to the sorrowful and courage to those who persevere in patience, courage to those with heroic ideals and heroic ambitions. He brings the good news to the poor and freedom to captives, sight to the blind and liberation from oppression.

But whether we let Jesus walk right by us today or not, he will be back again walking toward us tomorrow. He lives in all of the people that approach us. He lives in what they give us and what they ask of us. His life shared with us deepens our joys and eases our sorrows.

In our prayer this morning, let us prepare ourselves to meet the Lord Jesus in this Eucharist and in one another.

“John the Baptist saw Jesus walking toward him.” John 1: 29