Monday, June 29, 2015

Farewell Father Martello


For my homily this week, I'd like to post an excerpt from Father Martello's Farewell Mass held at St. Joseph Parish in Amherst this past Sunday, June 28th.

Well, it is with great joy that we are here and we have Father Martello here with us to celebrate his retirement mass for all of his years of service. For Father Martello's last mass here, please turn your cell phones off and ringers off at this time. We are so glad and delighted to celebrate this. We have Father Weber here with us, and our Deacon as well, Deacon Dan. So as we begin to celebrate this celebration, we take a moment and call to mind our sins, and we ask the Lord to grant us his pardon and peace.... 

Well, buddy, it's here. Who would have thought; who would have thought that I would get to be here for this, and who would have thought you would be retiring? A lot can change in six months' time. 

Farewell to Father Martello
My first memory of Father Martello, while I would like to say it was in my home parish as he was at Holy Family in Parma, but he left in '77, and I was born in '79 -so I actually don't remember him from my home parish. However, over the years he would come back and I would get to experience him and know him -but I really didn't know him well; I knew of him and I knew of his legend. I didn't really know him until I actually came here to St. Joseph. 

The first time we really began to know each other was about a week before I started my assignment -you come and you meet the parish and you meet the pastor and the staff. When I walked into the office the first thing I saw was Father Martello's picture, his portrait, on the office wall. As I walked in, the door opened and Father Martello came and he gave me a big bear hug and I knew I was home. I felt like, from that first moment of meeting him, that I was going to be truly welcome here and at home here. You have made this really a home for me, Father Martello. So I thank you for that! As parishioners, I know that he's done that for many of you too. He has made this a home for all of you for the last 26 years. 

I think about that need that we all have to be touched, the need that we all have to feel love. In the Gospel, we hear two experiences of this. One is a woman who touches Jesus and another is one who Jesus touches. 

The woman who touches Jesus is just yearning, she reaches out for Him and she gets this notion that if I could just touch the cloak or His tassel, I could be healed. So amidst of this whole crowd swarming around Jesus and pressing upon Him, somehow or another she manages to get through and touch Him. At that moment she's healed, and the power drains out of Jesus. He feels the power come out of Him through touch. 

The other moment is when Jairus asks Jesus to come visit his daughter. He says to Jesus, "If you could just touch my daughter, she would be healed."  And Jesus responds, "Do not be afraid. Just have faith." As a father, Jairus had this longing to have Jesus touch his daughter, to lay His hands on her so that she may be healed. We all have this sense of the power of touch and the healing that it could do. 

I've seen this especially in the last six months. As Father Martello has been in and out of the hospital and rehab, he's been so good to me and allowing me to care for him. At one point he said, "I'm so sorry you have to do this." And I said then, and I say now, what a privilege. What a privilege it is to be able to care for a brother priest. In some small way, I've been able to care for him. Of course there are others helping much more than I, but what a privilege it is to be able to care someone you love. 

DSC_0078.JPGI think about your hands, Father Martello, and all the Sacraments that you performed over the years. Just think for a moment about the countless children that he has baptized; the countless times that he's laid hands on someone for confession; the countless times he's anointed. There were times in the last six months that I've anointed him, that I've laid hands on him and blessed him. And there's even times I've asked him to anoint me and to pray with and over me, to calm my anxieties. He's been such a wonderful pastor to me and a wonderful pastor to all of us. 

I think about this touch. God gave us the Sacraments, ultimately, so he could touch us. God wants us to know what His touch feels like. At some point throughout our lives, I think we all encounter a moment where we wish we could be physically touched by God; we wish we could be held by God; we wish God would sometimes come and give us a hug when we are going through a rough time; we wish God had skin so that He could actually touch us. 

We find that in the Sacraments we do, each and every Sacrament involves touch. Think about a baptism. The priest actually takes the child into his hands and pours the water over the infant. "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."  Some of you as adults got to experience that with Father Martello through the wonderful work that he did with RCIA. At the end of every confession, the priests lays hands on the penitents and says, "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  I think about the power of touch. At that moment, I know Father Martello would see, just as me, a person's body relax and release as the Holy Spirit comes over them. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, our source and summit, the priest's hands pick up the bread and wine, and in those very hands they transform into the body and blood of Christ. The married couples that he has blessed over the years. The priest's hands are extended over them in blessing. And then I think about the final burial- the hands are there to touch the casket, and to comfort the family members. 

Over the years, 25 of them here at St. Joe's, Father Martello has baptized 945 people; he sat in the confessional for over 945 hours; he has given children 2,196 First Communions; he's seen over 1,354 Confirmed; and he has married 270 couples -all just here at St. Joseph. He has even had a newly ordained priest with Father Joe Warner and laid hands over priests. Father Martello has celebrated over 9,126 masses here at St. Joe's, and he's probably buried many of your loved ones. Over all of these times, I think about God's touch, God's beautiful touch through Father Martello's hands -which is why, I want to end with a poem called "The Beautiful Hands of the Priest." 

The Beautiful Hands of a Priest
We need them in life's early morning,
We need them again at its close;
We feel their warm clasp of true friendship,
We seek it while tasting life's woes. 
When we come to this world we are sinful,
The greatest as well as the least.
And the hands that make us pure as angels
Are the beautiful hands of a priest. 
At the altar each day we behold them,
And the hands of a king on his throne
Are not equal to them in their greatness
Their dignity stands alone. 
For there in the stillness of morning
Ere the sun has emerged from the east,
There God rests between the pure fingers
Of the beautiful hands of a priest. 
When we are tempted and wander
To pathways of shame and sin
'Tis the hand of a priest that absolve us.
Not once but again and again. 
And when we are taking life's partner
Other hands may prepare us a feast
But the hands that will bless and unite us,
Are the beautiful hands of a priest. 
God bless them and keep them all holy,
For the Host which their fingers caress,
What can a poor sinner do better
Than to ask Him who chose them to bless 
When the death dews on our lids are falling,
May our courage and strength be increased
By seeing raised o'er us in blessing
The beautiful hands of a priest.

Father Martello, we thank you for all the times that you have touched us and blessed us, and we thank you for the many times that your hands have been the ones that have brought the body of Christ into this world. Through your hands, we have experienced the Sacraments. We thank you very much for your years of service, not only here at St. Joe's, but throughout the Diocese of Cleveland.

Friday, June 26, 2015

“Quiet! Be still!”

“Quiet! Be still!”Watching my nieces and the rule was "only one of you can cry"  and they listened!

Quite a few years ago I was babysitting my three nieces.  They were all under the age of ten and it was the first time I watched them alone.

It was all great fun at first.  We spent some time playing in the front yard kicking a soccer ball around.  One of the girls got very upset and was feeling left out.  She started to cry so I took her in and held her trying to calm her and assure her I loved her and we all loved her.  She was just sobbing in my arms.

Moments later another one must have gotten hurt because she came in screaming and crying as she walked through the garage door.  I didn't know what to do at that point and didn't know how to handle two crying kids.  So in order to have some order (and without much thought), I firmly stated with surprising confidence and serenity: "Uncle Mike has a new rule.  Only one of you can cry at a time!"  To my absolute amazement they BOTH stopped crying.  I think they were both shocked to have such a strange rule!  I was surprised because I felt little control but all of a sudden they listened to me!

It is still a story we tell from time to time and laugh about what an absurd rule that was but said with authority, it worked!

In Mark's Gospel we witness the authority and power of Jesus' voice.

As the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat with Jesus, a "violent squall came" so great that "waves were breaking over the boat" and it began filling up with water.  This was a serious storm and the disciples were understandably panicked.  For some reason Jesus was asleep in the stern on a cushion.  He must have been exhausted and sleeping very comfortably and soundly!

I imagine the disciples all screaming in panic trying to wake him up: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

Something very interesting happens here.  Jesus wakes up and said to the sea, "Quiet, Be still!"  And would you believe it?  The sea listened.  He must have spoke so strongly and with such great authority that the storm stopped, the wind ceased, and there was great calm!

Imagine the power and authority of his words.

Now think about it, if just Jesus' speaking can rebuke the wind, calm the storm, and even more so calm his disciples -can't he do the same for us?

Jesus has power over all of creation - including you!   He can calm you!  

Just as my nieces stopped crying at my command how much more powerful is Jesus' command?

I think of this especially when we are going through difficult times, when we are anxious and affraid.  Turn to him and say "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing!"  Because sometimes it doesn't seem like God does care, sometimes it doesn't seem like he is even there.  But He is.... and He waits... for us to wake Him up and ask Him for help. 

I think it's often like this in our own prayer lives as well.  I think there are many times when we sit down to pray and find our minds so distracted, our thoughts racing, our emotions raging, and our temptation is to try and calm the storm ourselves.  We try to calm our minds, or our thoughts, or not think about the things that anger or frustrate us... but how well does that work?

The reality is that only Jesus has the authority to calm the storms in us.  And again if he could calm the raging storm on the Sea of Galilee I think he can handle you and me.  

So the next time you find yourself in a storm either in your life or relationships, or simply in prayer, WAKE HIM UP!   Tell him you are perishing.  Tell Jesus you are struggling and you can't handle it and you need his help. 

You will find that even more than my voice had with my nieces, His authority will bring peace.  

Let Him command all the voices and emotions and feelings as He strongly, courageously, and with authority proclaims: "Quiet, Be Still!"  

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Reflection for Father's Day

A Reflection for Father's Day
When I was at St. Barnabas we had a parishioner,  by the name of Joe Russo who was a fourth degree Knight of Columbus and was very well known throughout the Diocese. He was a very active member of the parish, a loving husband, a father, grandfather, and he greatly loved and supported his priests. He was super Italian… he treated everyone like family. It was often said that he had a million friends. He had that quality of making everyone that walked into his life feel special. I was one of them.

Joe was one of the biggest affirmers of my priesthood. He was always affirming me, encouraging me, telling me how proud he was of me. And at one point he said to me… Father, I love you like you are a son to me, if you ever need anything, I won’t say no. And he meant it. Time and time again, anything I asked him for he either did himself or rallied and excited people to get involved in. At one point he gave me a new name… Joe has three sons: Rocco, Dino, and Gino and his grandsons name is Mossimo… so he gave me the name Miko. His family now calls me their brother Miko.

If you’ve ever had someone like this in your life that loved you like a father, took you into his family, gave you a new name, affirmed you, delighted in you… than you have a glimpse of what God desires to do for you. 2nd Samuel portrays this so wonderfully: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” God looks at us like this… he wants to bring us into his family, give us a new name in confirmation, love us like we are his own and delight in everything we do. You do have a father like this in God, you are a son to him, you are a daughter to him… he is your father. Delight in knowing that you are the child of our Father in Heaven!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

"This is My Body. This is My Blood." : The Miracle of Transubstantiation

"This is My Body. This is My Blood.": The Miracle of Transubstantiation

As we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi: The celebration of the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ. We have this wonderful gift to have Christ present to us, in essence and in reality, the fullness in his divinity, right here on the altar today.

One of my favorite reflections on this is actually by our former Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus. He talks about the real presence in the Eucharist, and he gives us a kind of modern day understanding of it.

By His command, do this in remembrance of Me. Jesus asks us to respond to His gift and make it sacramentally present. When Jesus said this 2,000 years ago, he was not only asking, but commanding us, and giving us the authority, and the power to make His presence sacramentally present here at the altar. Body and Blood. Sole and Divinity.

In these words the Lord expresses, as it were, His expectation of the Church, born of His sacrifice, that we will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the liturgical form that we have today in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The remembrance of His perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper --so we are not just repeating the Last Supper here -- but in the Eucharist itself, that is, a radical newness of Christian worship.

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, there is a radical newness of Christ coming into the world.

In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into His hour. The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' self-oblation or sacrifice. More than just statically receiving the incarnate logos, we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving. Jesus, right now, draws us to Himself around the altar. The substantial conversion of bread and wine into His Body and Blood introduces within Christian principles a radical change.

During this moment of every mass, you are experiencing a miracle that is beyond miracles.

He goes on to call this a sort of "nuclear fission," to use an image that we are familiar with today, which penetrates to the hearts of all being. In nuclear fission, these particles are broken down, and a new creation takes place. Then out of this process, it explodes into this energy.

If you know anything about nuclear power, it is a million times more powerful than power that you get from gasoline or anything like that.

So "to use an image familiar today," he says, "which penetrates the heart of it is a change that is meant to set off a process which transforms reality."

On this altar, we have this explosion of energy which sets forth a process and a transforming of all reality. A process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all.

As the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward to the altar, and the priest lays hands over them, he says the words of Christ, "This is My Body. This is My Blood." Then the nuclear fission happens, that transformation happens, where the bread and wine become the Body and Blood. It becomes an explosion of grace. Not only does it explode to all of you who are here at the altar, like the blood sprinkled upon you, but your community too is going to be transformed, because you are going to walk out there today as the Body of Christ. All over the country that is going to happen today. All over the world that is going to happen today. This nuclear fission. This explosion of God's grace and energy comes forth into the world at every celebration of the Eucharist.

I am going to quote just a couple of things from the Catechism and some of my favorite sayings.

St. John Chrysostom wrote:
“It is by this conversion of bread and wine into Christ's Body and Blood, that Christ becomes present in the sacrament. It is a true presence. The Church Fathers strongly affirmed the Faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ, and of the action of the Holy Spirit, to bring about this conversion.” 
“It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but He who was crucified for us, Christ Himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God's. This is My Body”, he says. This word transforms these things offered.

St. Ambrose says about this conversion: 
"Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. The power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing, nature itself is changed. Could not Christ's word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before?”

Think about it. Christ's Word, at the beginning of the universe, created the heavens and the Earth out of nothing. He brought all of creation into existence out of nothing by His Word. Could not His same word transform this bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature.

The Council of Trent summarizes:

"Because Christ, our Redeemer, said that it was truly His Body that He was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this Holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ, and our Lord and the whole substance of the wine, into the substance of His blood. This change, the Holy Catholic Church has fittingly, and properly, called Transubstantiation.”

Jesus awaits us in the sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go and to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and to make amends for any serious offenses that we may have. Let our adoration never cease.

St. Thomas says that:

"This is the sacrament of the true Body and Blood of Christ, and it is something that cannot be apprehended by the senses, but only by Faith."

St. Cyril says:

"Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in Faith, for since He is truth, He cannot lie."

Our Lord Jesus said this very clearly to us: "This is My Body and this is My Blood." And yet I know this is one of the most doubted things in the Catholic Faith. One of the things that many Catholics struggle with is the reality and the belief in the true presence.

All I really wanted to do today is just help articulate that, to reaffirm that we do believe; that we do believe the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ; that in the sacrament, we experience the true presence of Jesus.

And finally, I am going to close with a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. 
 "Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore, Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more, See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art. Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived: How says trusty hearing? That shall be believed; What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do; Truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing true." 

Please take a moment now just to pray for an increase of Faith, to pray for an increase of belief that we truly are receiving the true presence, the Body and Blood of Christ. If this is something that you struggle with or doubt, just ask God to give you the grace to experience it today, to have a felt experience of His true presence.