Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What Is All Souls Day?

On November 2nd of each year, Catholics observe The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, also known as All Souls Day.  We are encouraged to pray for the dead and to remember our loved ones who have gone before us.  Our prayers for these souls assist in expediting the “process of purification.”  The Church recognizes that few people achieve perfection in this life (after all, we are human!), and therefore, go the grave with remaining traces of sinfulness; a period of purification is necessary to prepare the soul to join God.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”  This is called Purgatory.  It is important to recognize that Purgatory is not a state of punishment, but rather a cleansing very much like our Baptism.  Think of it this way: Purgatory makes the soul perfect forever!  Our prayers for the deceased, put their souls in the HOV lane to complete purification and unity with God—pretty awesome!

In remembering our deceased loved ones on All Souls Day, it is common for people to visit cemeteries and decorate gravesites.  It is for this reason, this feast day reminds me of my grandfather, Sal, or as I call him, Pa-pa.  Pa-pa was not exactly a church-going Catholic until the last year or so of his life, but he religiously honored and prayed for the dead by visiting the cemetery of our relatives and planting flowers, placing wreaths or palm.  Today, my mom, her two sisters and their husbands continue Pa-pa’s tradition of visiting the cemetery and decorating the grave-sites of all their loved ones several times throughout the year.  I make an effort to join them at least once a year to pay tribute to my relatives and to follow my grandfather’s example of acknowledging those who have gone before us.

I will never know why Pa-pa did not attend Mass with my grandmother for much of his adulthood, but something drew him into church towards the end of his life.  Perhaps he knew his time was approaching and he found solace with the Lord.  This year, I will be praying for all of my deceased loved ones, but I will be thinking especially of my Pa-pa with great hope.

Be sure to reflect on the memories of your loved ones.  If you can, make some time to visit a cemetery, light a candle and attend Mass this All Souls Day.  On Monday, Good Shepherd will be holding Mass for the Bereaved at 7:30 PM.

This reflection on All Souls Day was written by Good Shepherd Parishioner Christine Berg.  Christine manages the social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter & Instagram) for Good Shepherd and works for the US Army as a Financial Program Analyst.  She received an undergraduate degree in Business Administration with concentrations in Finance and Accounting from American University and an M.B.A. from Florida Institute of Technology.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Pope Francis' Stateside Agenda

Ever since the pope’s trip to the US was announced in November 2014, speculation and guessing began as to where he would be visiting during his time here. While it was made known that his intention was to be present at some portion of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the rest was more or less up in the air to the day to day Catholics not involved in the planning process. Now that the visit is less than a week away though, the agenda is set, tickets have been distributed, and final preparations are taking place across the three cities on the east coast where he will be stopping. There is a caveat though… as we have seen many times over the last two­-plus years, this pope, Pope Francis, has continually shown a propensity for going off the script and beaten path more so than his security detail would want… with Pope Francis, you never know.

Tuesday, Sept. 22
  • Arrival to the United States
    • The Pope’s flight from Havana, Cuba will land at Andrews Air Force Base just outside of Washington, DC where he will set foot on American soil for the first time in his life. He will be greeted by cheering crowds as well as Church and political dignitaries.

Wednesday, Sept. 23
  • Official State Welcome
    • President Obama will officially welcome Pope Francis to the United States with a special ceremony reserved only for other heads of state.  After the ceremony is complete, he will make a short trip around the National Mall giving thousands the chance to catch a glimpse of him.

  • Midday Prayer with the US Bishops
    • Popes have a special connection to their brother bishops throughout the world. While in DC, all of the US Bishops will gather in St. Matthew’s Cathedral to pray and speak with the pope. St. Matthew's was where the funeral of President Kennedy was held in 1963.

  • Canonization Mass for Blessed Junipero Serra
    • For the first time in Church history, a canonization Mass will take place in the United States. Blessed Junipero Serra was a missionary priest in the 1800s in the western US. He helped to establish parishes and a Catholic presence through California and more. The Mass will take place outside of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of The Catholic University of America. The Shrine is America’s Catholic Church and the University the Bishop’s University will have been visited by a pope three times after Francis’ stop there.  Pope St. John Paul II in 1979, Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, and now Pope Francis in 2015­ which makes CUA the only university in the US to host three papal visits.

  • Overnight Accommodations
    • While staying in Washington, DC, Pope Francis will stay in the Vatican Embassy residence on Massachusetts Avenue, alongside several other foreign embassies.

Thursday, Sept. 24
  • Address to the US Congress
    • There are very few times when Congress gathers together both House and Senate for a Joint Session. Pope Francis, through an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner, will address the elected representatives outside the US Capitol building. After this,

  • Visit to St. Patrick's Parish- Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Washington
    • Pope Francis has voiced his concern for the poor and the marginalized of society since day one of his pontificate. Putting those words into action, he will make a stop at one particular parish in DC where the poor are cared for in a special way.

  • Arrival to New York and Evening Prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
    • What first-time American tourist would not stop in New York City? The second stop on the pope’s trip begins when he lands at JFK Airport.  He will then travel to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for Evening Prayer.  The cathedral has been undergoing significant renovations over the past three years.  It included cleaning up the outside marble surfaces, repairing the stained glass windows, and more.  Scaffolding, yellow tape, and signs have been everywhere throughout the cathedral to mark off construction spots, but none of that will be there when the Holy Father arrives next week.  

  • Overnight Accommodations
    • While staying in New York, Pope Francis will stay in the residence of the Apostolic Nuncio to the United Nations.  Close to Central Park, the home was once the residence of a prior mayor of New York City.

Friday, Sept. 25
  • Address to the United Nations General Assembly
    • He will then go to address the United Nations General Assembly­ a place where all of the popes who have visited the US have made stops to before. He will undoubtably will call for peace among the nations and a common care for the poor among other topics.

  • Multi-Religious Prayer Service at Sept. 11 Memorial
    • In 2008 when Pope Benedict visited the US, he made a stop to pray at Ground Zero. Pope Francis will make the same stop this year. The visit here is very symbolic in that a man who stands for peace and forgiveness will be praying at the very site which witnessed such violence and sadness. As we know too well, the victims of that day were not just Catholics or just any other faith, they people from all walks of life.  As such, it is beautiful to see people of all faiths coming together to pray at this sacred place.

  • Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem and Procession Through Central Park
    • Pope Francis’ connection with the poor and with immigrant families leads him to visit this Catholic elementary school in East Harlem.  Like so many Catholic schools in the US, school closings and mergings are necessary due to rising costs and declining numbers.  Our Lady Queen of Angels school was formed when several others closed in the area.  It has become the home to so many children whose families have come to the United States seeking better lives.  After the school visit, he will make his way through a packed Central Park which gives the faithful of New York and chance to see him much like the ride through the National Mall.

  • Mass at Madison Square Garden
    • Visiting pontiffs and sporting venues have been connected in this country ever since Pope Paul VI’s Mass at Yankee Stadium in 1965. 20,000-­plus people will pack MSG for an evening Mass with Pope Francis. If you are not going to be one of them, you can join us for Fellowship with Francis to watch the Mass at Good Shepherd in our Parish Hall.

Saturday, Sept. 26
  • Arrival in Philadelphia and Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
    • It’s worth noting that while Pope Francis may not be on the ground in New Jersey at all during his trip, our state will be geographically in the center of it all. The majority of flight time from DC to New York and then from New York to Philadelphia will take him over New Jersey airspace so the Holy Father will get a bird’s eye view of the Garden State. He will celebrate Mass at Philly’s home Church, the place with St. John Neumann and St. Katherine Drexel went to Mass.

  • Visit to Independence Hall and to the Festival of Families
    • As Catholic Americans, it is pretty cool to see the leader of our faith visit the spot where our Founding Fathers began a nation.  It is significant because true democracy does not suppress the weak, it gives everyone a chance to be heard, and it supports the dignity of the human life.  Sound familiar?  Catholicism and Democracy are really so close in their roots.  After this stop, he will swing by the on-going Festival of Families where he will speak and take part in the events there.

Sunday, Sept. 27
  • Meeting with Bishops and Visit to Correctional Facility
    • While staying in Philadelphia, Pope Francis will rest his head at the St. Charles Borromeo seminary.  On Sunday morning, he will meet with bishops to discuss matters effecting the Church in the US.  After this, he will visit a local prison and meet with individuals who are living there.  We have seen him visit places like this before- most notably celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in prisons near the Vatican.  

  • Mass to Close the World Meeting of Families
    • The final stop on Francis’ stateside trip will be to the World Meeting of Families where he will celebrate an enormous open air Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to close the event. Francis has stressed in his homilies and his other comments, that the family is essential to life, and the message will be no different there.

This is a packed work week for the Holy Father!  While he will be speaking English for some of the events, it is said that he feels most comfortable speaking Spanish, his native tongue.  So much of what he says will be translated.

Here’s a brief wrap up for you:
Six Days in the US
Three Major US Cities
Four Mass Celebrations
Two Major Popemobile Rides
One Canonization
Visits with Students, Inmates, Families, Bishops, Politicians, and More

Not bad for someone’s first ever visit to the United States.  As mentioned before though, what may be most anticipated is to see how he goes ‘off the script’ as he has been known to do.  Those moments may prove to be the most memorable ones.  It is not often we get to see and hear the Holy Father on our own turf among the places that we see everyday.  Throughout the week, please take time to watch, read, and  listen to the coverage of his visit.  Most importantly, though pray that his visit may inspire our country to live more like Jesus would want us to and that the Holy Father’s message of peace, charity, and love are received by all!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Holy Trips by the Holy Fathers

When compared to the history of the Catholic Church (2,000+ years), the history of the United States of America is minuscule.  In 1789, Pope Pius VI confirmed the selection of Fr. John Carroll as the first Bishop in America.  Since that time, the Catholic Church has grown enormously in our country.  However, it wasn’t until 1965 when Pope Paul VI made the first visit of the Holy Father to the United States.  

Ironically, Pope Paul’s visit came on October 4- the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi- the Saint whom our current Pope has modeled himself after.  When he came to the US, he visited the United Nations General Assembly, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium in front of a packed house.  

While the papacy of Pope John Paul I was tragically cut short by his untimely death, his successor, Pope St. John Paul II, ended up visiting the US plenty of times during his 26 year pontificate- seven separate times!  Below is the list as published by the USCCB:
  • 1979 (10/1 – 10/7) Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington and Des Moines, Iowa.
  • 1981 (2/27) Anchorage, Alaska – stopover/several hours
  • 1984 (5/2) Fairbanks, Alaska – stopover/several hours
  • 1987 (9/10 – 9/19) Miami, Columbia, SC, New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit
  • 1993 (8/12 – 8/15) Denver (World Youth Day)
  • 1995 (10/4 – 10/8) Newark, NJ, New York (including Brooklyn), Baltimore
  • 1999 (1/26 – 1/27) St. Louis
Most notably of all those visits to people of our area was the 1995 occasion when he celebrated Mass at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.  Thousands of people packed the stadium on that rainy afternoon- many of whom hailed from the Diocese of Paterson, including some from our own parish!
In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI made his one and only journey to the United States.  He made stops in Washington, DC and New York City (including a stop at the Sept. 11 Ground Zero Memorial), celebrated three Masses and and met with representatives of other faiths during his visit.
Pope Francis will have a full agenda during his few days with us and we will detail that agenda in our next blog post.
Recently, Newsweek has published an article detailing visits that sitting US Presidents have made to the Vatican to meet the Pope.  Starting in 1919 with President Woodrow Wilson, 12 sitting Presidents have visited the Vatican to see the Pope.  
It is quite interesting to look at the history of visits on both fronts- Popes to the US and Presidents to the Vatican.  These visits are mainly diplomatic in nature, however they are also representative of the mutual respect and admiration the two leaders and the two countries have for each other.  Because the Pope is also the leader of the Catholic Church, they can also be seen as showing the importance of the Catholic Church to the United States.  
While there has been a significant amount of build up for Pope Francis’ visit to the US, he has not been the only Pope to come stateside-- and he will not be the last-- but each time is unique and special for it’s own reasons and times in history.  What is important to remember and focus on is that the Pope, the Servant of the Servants of God, the Successor of St. Peter, and the Vicar of Jesus Christ, represents so much to so many throughout the world and he is coming to visit us- the Catholics of the United States.  May all of us be open to the message of peace, hope, and love that Pope Francis will bring and carry the energy of this trip into our daily lives from here on out.
Do you have any memories about a previous Papal Visit? We'd love to hear about it! Just send an e-mail to and maybe we'll publish your story in a future post!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Who is Pope Francis?

On Tuesday, September 22, Pope Francis will land at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, DC to begin his five day Apostolic Journey to the United States.  In preparation for this historic visit we will post three stories- Who is Pope Francis, Brief History of Papal Visits to the US, and Events Taking Place During the Visit.  

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina to parents with Italian backgrounds.  While he studied and worked early on as a chemical technician, he still felt called to the priesthood.  After more than ten years of formation and schooling, he ordained as a priest on December 13, 1969 as a member of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits.  He spent many years as part of the Jesuit provincial administration, a professor of theology, literature, and psychology, as well as serving as a parish priest.  On May 20, 1992, St. John Paul II appointed Bergoglio as an Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires and he was consecrated by Cardinal Antonio Quarracino on May 27.  He spent four years as an Auxiliary Bishop eventually being named Coadjutor Bishop to Cardinal Quarracino.  Soon after, the Cardinal passed away and Bergoglio became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.  

In 2005, he traveled to the Vatican to participate in the conclave after St. John Paul II passed away.  It was then that many of the other cardinals became even more interested in his ideas and what he had to say.  According to reports published by Catholic News Service, he received the second highest number of votes behind Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) at the conclusion of the conclave.  So while to the world it seems that he has risen out of nowhere, within the Church, he has been well known for year.  He returned to Argentina and continued his ministry with his flock.

As the conclave began to elect the successor to Pope Benedict, Cardinal Bergoglio's name was glanced over as one of the favorites.  Just as the Holy Spirit works however, the cardinals elected Bergoglio as the 265th successor of St. Peter on March 13, 2013.  He selected the name Francis (the first Pope to do so) as a tribute to St. Francis of Assisi and a nod to his concern for the poorest of the world.  

While all of this is just the surface of the story behind the man, knowing even this little bit helps to put his actions and words as Pope Francis into context.  As the United States prepares for his first Apostolic Visit, we will see many stories and news reports about this man you is the Vicar of Christ.  While we in the U.S. are always looking at poll numbers and political agendas, it is important to remember that the Catholic Church does not act on polls in the field or the last political election.  Pope Francis embodies this the most out of anyone.  He is truly concerned about those least fortunate ones in our society.  

Let us take this special opportunity to not only learn more about Pope Francis as our Holy Father, but even more about our Church and how we can live out the Gospel message in our world.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Jesus the Leader

Earlier this week, Pope Francis celebrated an open air mass in Ecuador and discussed a vision for evangelization in his homily.  As part of the reflection, he tells us God says:

“Look, I am at the door and I am calling; do you want to open the door?”  He does not use force, he does not break the lock, he knocks gently on the door and then waits.  This is our God!   

We may imagine the first Apostles approaching homes they visited in this way as well.  As we hear in the Gospel this week, Jesus sends them out in pairs to spread the Gospel message by traveling village to village and staying with the locals in each place they stop.  Jesus instructed them to stay in the home which welcomes them in.  One set of biblical footnotes tell us that this was a way that the Apostles could be less focused on their personal comforts and more focused on their mission- they could have jumped from home to home in the same town to find a better stay, but they did not.  

These first Missionary Apostles were sent out directly from the direction of Jesus.  These are the first ones in Mark’s Gospel who are given the power to heal and to teach in the name of Jesus.  One would have to consider why Jesus would pick this time to send the Apostles out.  Perhaps he thought it would be helpful for those in the surrounding areas to hear a different voice, maybe he knew the great opportunities that were out there if they spread their forces, or, most likely, he wanted them to begin to work this important mission while he was still present with them.  

Jesus’ actions in this passage can teach us a little bit about his leadership characteristics.  From day one of calling Peter and Andrew promising to make them “fishers of men,” Jesus was not only spreading his message of faith on his own, but was also forming the Apostles to carry on his own mission after him.  At this point, he must have thought they were ready to go off on their own.  As we will hear next week, they do come back together a basically work through a de-brief of their work... much like an organization may do after a project is completed.

This passage can serve as a motivation to us.  Jesus calls all of us to set out on a mission to spread the Gospel message to all we meet.  In order to do our part though, we have to allow him to enter our lives and stay with us in our homes.  As our Holy Father reminds us, God will wait for us to let him in… we must do the same for others.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Healed by Faith

This weekend, we are lucky as Mark's Gospel presents us with two miracles relating to healing in the same passage.  As Jesus is on the way to a man's home to raise a little girl, another woman seeks him out and touches his cloak as he passes by.  Immediately she is healed and Jesus continues on to raise the girl from the dead.  In both cases, he points out that faith is the gift through which the healings took place.  

“Daughter, your faith has saved you."Mark 5:34 
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”Mark 5:36
In both cases it seems as if the people in the stories are desperate for healing from somewhere.  The woman healed through Jesus' cloak had been suffering for years and no doctors' care could help her.  The man from synagogue begged Jesus to visit his daughter since she was near death.  The same could be said for us... do we only reach out to God when we are desperate?  It is sometimes hard for us to make the connection with God when things are going well.  We don't always see the need to either thank him or simply acknowledge his existence.  In a challenging situation or in circumstances similar to the ones we read about this week, turning to God as a last resort is one of the things we are best at.  While this is very much acceptable and right of us to do, we must also remember that God guides us through the good times in our lives as well through the blessings and talents he bestows upon us.  

Through these healing stories, we learn that our faith is the vehicle through which we can fully see the power of God.  The man who comes to Jesus about his daughter is named Jairus.  A quick search online brings up multiple sources which seem to agree that the name Jairus roughly means "whom God enlightens."  Nothing within the scriptures is pure circumstance.  The fact that the man's name is Jairus is significant as it is through him that Jesus' healing power is revealed.  Because he is described as a man from the synagogue, we can make a little bit of an assumption that he had seen, or at least heard of, Jesus many times around the area and he would have known of  Jesus' miracles.  God enlightened him with a strong faith in Jesus which gave him the strength to ask for help.  Without the man's faith in Jesus, the girl is not healed.  Without his faith, this story never provides us a witness of Jesus' healing power.

This week in our daily lives, let us attempt to have a stronger faith- a faith that trusts in the power of God and his plan for our lives.  Let us always turn to him in thanksgiving and praise for the good times in our lives and then look to him for strength and solace through the tough times.  

Sunday, June 7, 2015

On the Feast of Corpus Christi

This Sunday, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ- perhaps more commonly known as Corpus Christi.  Tradition has it that a young girl named Juliana received visions from Christ starting at the time that she was 16 years old.  Through her prayerful devotion to the Eucharist, she began to learn that Christ was calling her to help institute a celebration which focused on the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  It was the local bishop who accepted her proposal for the new feast day which led to other bishops introducing it within their own dioceses in the area.  As we will experience on Sunday after the 10:30 AM Mass, the Feast of Corpus Christi concludes with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament around the local area.

One of the most interesting stories related to this feast comes from a priest who celebrated mass in the town of Blosena in the Umbria region of Italy.  In the course of celebrating the consecration, he began to have feelings of doubt that the bread and wine were truly becoming the Body and Blood of Christ.  He then saw the consecrated bread show a red liquid substance which looked like blood.  It was determined through the Church that the blood had come to the altar as a sign to the priest that the Real Presence was true.  The blood-marked corporal is now preserved in the local cathedral for all to see.

We have all doubted things in life but our faith gives us the power to believe.  Each time we celebrate the Mass, we remember Christ's sacrifice for us but we also welcome Him to the table of our lives.  The Eucharist is what sets us as Catholics apart from other faiths.  If you step back and think about the significance of what we believe, it is a pretty powerful display of faith.  The fact that Jesus is present through His Body and His Blood should give us tremendous hope.  Just has God sent His Son in the form of a man to walk among us 2,000 years ago, the Son comes to us each day to lead us back to the Father.

So this weekend, take extra care to listen to the Eucharistic Prayers which walk us through the mystery of faith that we believe... the True Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.