2018-12-16 - Third Sunday of Advent

December 16, 2018

16 December 2018

Third Sunday of Advent

Luke 3:10-18 + Homily

15 Minutes 38 Seconds

Link to the Readings - USA Version


(from the parish bulletin)

   There could be no easier subject for comment than happiness. The best classical pagan philosophers, even if they did not believe a Creator intended that humans should share in his “delight” at what he had made, taught that we were meant to be happy. Some nineteenth-century “Utilitarians” like Jeremy Bentham, thought that this happiness meant a sense of pleasure without pain. 

   As usual, the ancients like Aristotle were more sophisticated than many intellectually clumsy moderns and made a connection between pleasure and virtue. They called this “eudaimonia.” That is to say, you cannot honestly feel good unless you do what is good, and you cannot do what is good unless you yourself are good. But as “only God is good,” real happiness demands that humans give God permission to impart His goodness to our souls. It is possible to fake happiness, and that is why there is so much unhappiness in our culture, which disdains virtue. One can create an illusion of happiness, but it is a kind of moral stage set, and its falseness is revealed in the frightening explosion in drug use, and the seventy per cent increase in suicides among young people in the past decade.

   Real happiness is not the result of painlessness, but comes from dealing with pain the right way. This is why the Scriptures curiously remark almost nonchalantly: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting” (Ecclesiastes 7:2a). Jesus promises a joy that “might be full” (John 15:11), and at the same time He was a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53: 3). On Gaudete Sunday, which means “Rejoice,” the Church sneaks a peak into the joy of Heaven. 

   Here is the confidence that man’s destiny, willed by God and which can only be thwarted by the selfish will of corrupted humans, is participation in endless happiness. The word for this is more than happiness based on happenstance, but joy rooted in eternal harmony, effectively only with God. The ancient Greeks stretched for a truth that they could not fully express: real happiness, which is joy, is the state of holiness.

   This is why Saint Paul says that Christians must rejoice “always” (Philippians 4:4a). Always – and not just after a Happy Hour at McGinty’s tavern, or holding a winning ticket at the Kentucky Derby--because the creature’s source and object of all joy is the Creator.

   Chesterton asked rhetorically in his Ballad of the White Horse: “Do you have joy without a cause?” His point: there is no joy without a cause. That would be like having health by chance. Joy is joyful precisely because it has a cause that never fails. Approaching Christmas, the Church sings in astonishment that the Word was made flesh, and when He left this world, He promised that He would never leave us comfortless.


2018-12-09 - Second Sunday of Advent

December 9, 2018

9 December 2018

Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 3:1-6 + Homily

15 Minutes 28 Seconds

Link to the Readings - USA version


(from the parish bulletin)

   All creation emanated from the voice of God uttering: “Let there be light.” There was nothing and no one yet to hear it, only God himself. As animate creatures came into being, they were able to make sounds, and some of them are beautiful, but only human beings have the gift of being able to consciously praise God by a right use of intellect and will. One of the Advent mysteries is “Judgment” and, in addition to our Creator’s assessment of us, it includes the use of speech as a correct expression of human dignity. To “take the Lord’s name in vain” does not diminish God, who is eternal, but it does corrupt our dignity in relation to him as his sons and daughters. Poor Job’s wife knew this when she told him, albeit ill-advisedly, “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).

   If we use profane language, our Creator does not wash our mouths with soap, but he becomes less accessible to us. “Profane” actually means “outside the temple.” Our culture is degraded by an increasing use of vulgar speech. There are plenty of artful ways to insult, but when script writers and stand-up comedians resort to coarseness, they reveal their lack of verbal skill, not to mention their lack of self-respect. It is worse for a woman to use vulgar language than for a man. If this is a double standard, it is so in a good sense, for by nature the female is meant to civilize the male. Invoking Eusebius of Nicomedia, and Aristotle before him, “The corruption of the best is the worst.”

   Cole Porter remarked on this degradation even back in 1934 in a somewhat insouciant way: “Good authors, too, who once knew better words, / Now only use four-letter words. / Writing prose, / Anything goes.”

   One way to discipline the use of speech is to make a quiet act of reparation when someone curses. Simply utter to yourself the holy name of Jesus. Save for the angels, we are the only creatures who can do that.

   While Advent hymns are often blocked out by Christmas music sung too early, they are among the Church’s most beautiful sounds, giving voice to the anticipation of Christ’s birth and the prospect of his Second Coming. Among them is one translated by Edward Caswall, an Oxford classics scholar who converted to Catholicism in 1847 and joined John Henry Newman’s Oratory in Birmingham three years later. There is nothing in his vocabulary that needs to be bleeped or asterisked, although such speech may confuse and even scandalize those in our present day who grunt like animals instead of singing like humans, who are—after all—only a little lower than the angels:

Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding;
"Christ is nigh," it seems to say;
"Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day!"


2018-12-02 - First Sunday of Advent

December 2, 2018

2 December 2018

First Sunday of Advent

Luke 21:25-28. 34-36 + Homily

17 Minutes 37 Seconds

Link to today's Readings - USA version


(from the parish bulletin)

   A bishop condescendingly asked John Henry Newman, “Who are the laity?” To which the great saint, and, one hopes, future Doctor of the Church, replied that the Church would look foolish without them. 

   The same might be said of those who are consecrated in the Religious life. The difference is that most of the Church consists in laypeople, while monks, nuns, and other consecrated Sisters and Brothers are a small fraction of the People of God, but are needed to remind all the baptized that our true home is in heaven. The distinctive habits that they wear are reminders of their role.

   Since the Second Vatican Council, many ill-advised Religious have abandoned conventual life and even those Religious habits. It was an abuse of the Council’s modest prescriptions for updating the consecrated life, and in fact, it often fostered dissent from the Faith itself. Since 1965 the number of women Religious in the United States has dropped from 181,421 to fewer than 47,000 today. Eighty percent are older than 70, so the death rattle is ominous in at least 300 of the 420 Religious institutes. Yet, many refuse to admit their mistakes, rather like the definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

   But there is also a dramatic upsurge in Orders that live the traditional counsels, teaching, caring for the poor and sick, and not wasting their time in “workshops” on climate change and nuclear weapons.

   Some of these new communities are growing dramatically: the Dominican Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, and our own New York-based Sisters of Life (who share our parish’s hospitality), among others. The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, whose mother house is in Michigan, have grown in just twenty years to more than 140 Sisters with an average age of 32. They teach in preschool through college throughout the United States and this coming year will open another large convent in Texas for 115 sisters.

   A choir of these Sisters in their traditional habits was invited to sing at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in Washington. This is a big change from just a few years ago when an earlier Administration threatened to sue the venerable Little Sisters of the Poor for maintaining Catholic moral principles.

   The Advent season bids us to think more deeply about Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. The Religious are consecrated to remind the faithful about these Four Last Things. “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16.).


2018-11-25 - Christ the King

November 25, 2018

25 November 2018

Our Lord Jesus Christ,

King of the Universe

John 18:33B-37 + Homily

19 Minutes 35 Seconds

Link to the Readings - USA Version


(from the parish bulletin)

   A mark of first-rate thinkers is their ability to make complex theories understandable. Conversely, muddled thinkers assume that obscurantism is profound. Consider, for instance, a comment made a few months ago by an Italian Jesuit and close advisor to Pope Francis, who wrote: “2 + 2 in theology can equal 5. Because it has to do with God and the real life of people. . .” It was the attempt of a confused mind to justify “situation ethics,” by which sentiment replaces reality. In the lives that people really live, as distinct from indulged lives lived in ivory towers, facts are facts.

   Saint Augustine was a realist: “No man can by force of will say that three times three is not nine.” By her commitment to reality, the Holy Church has been the greatest benefactor of civilization: in theology, philosophy, science, works of charity, and the arts. Étienne Gilson, of the same religion that gave us Pascal and Pasteur, wrote: "We are told that it is faith which constructed the cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Without doubt, but faith would have constructed nothing at all if there had not also been architects; and if it is true that the façade of Notre Dame of Paris is a yearning of the soul toward God, that does not prevent its being also a geometrical work. It is necessary to know geometry in order to construct a façade which may be an act of love . . ."

   Perhaps the decline of classical reasoning explains the fuzzy and unsystematic thinking of many who portray themselves as theologians. It explains at least in part how Europe, and Rome itself, once the nursery of great sculpture and architecture, has been foisting on culture such pretentious mockeries of art, as often displayed in recent years in the Venice Biennale and scattered urban galleries. Happily, here at home the current nominee to head the National Endowment for the Arts, Mary Anne Carter, will be able to undo the waste of public monies on sham art, some of which has been blatantly anti-Catholic.

   Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King to celebrate the dominion of the Savior over all creation, sustaining and nurturing every aspect of human knowledge. As the Nazis began to disseminate pagan myths of racism and statism, he had the Vatican Radio broadcast in German: “Twice two makes four, whether you are a Japanese, a German or an Eskimo. There is a truth common to all mankind, and every nation is but a different incarnation of the same truth about man.”

   Saint Paul said that in his own clarion way: “For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him. And he is before all, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16-17).


2018-11-18 - Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 18, 2018

18 November 2018

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 13:24-32 + Homily

20 Minutes 04 Seconds

Link to the Readings - USA Version


(from the parish bulletin)

   On the day after Thanksgiving, the Church rejoices in the intercessions of Pope Saint Clement of Rome. New Yorkers have a special reason to think of him, two millennia later.
   Clement probably was made a bishop by Saint Peter himself and became the fourth Bishop of Rome after Linus and Cletus. He was the first after Saint Peter to leave a written record. Like Saint Paul, he wrote to the Christians in Corinth, leaving us a clear exposition of the early church structure of Holy Orders, with bishops and priests and deacons.

   The emperor Trajan exiled Clement and sentenced him to death. Tied to an anchor and tossed off a boat, his body was delivered to Rome several centuries later, still with its anchor, by Saint Cyril of Egypt. About a dozen years after Clement’s martyrdom, Trajan commiserated with the governor of Bithynia in northern Turkey, Pliny the Younger, about how to better control the Christians:

   "You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it—that is, by worshiping our gods—even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age."

   The foundations of the present church of Saint Clement in Rome are a timeline of the progress of the Faith. The lowest chamber was a second-century shrine for the dark and mysterious cult of Mithras, dear to soldiers. Above that is a secret fourth-century house church. The present upper church was completed before 1100. It contains the relics of Saint Cyril who, along with his brother Saint Methodius, evangelized the Slavs and created the Glagolitic alphabet, precedent to the Cyrillic script that Russians still use. 

   In the eighteenth century, the church and its friary were given to Irish Dominicans, one of whom, Father Richard Concanen became the first bishop of New York, but never left Italy because of a Napoleonic blockade. Another Dominican from Saint Clement’s, Father John Connolly, became the first resident bishop of New York, whose diocese covered all of the state and part of New Jersey, with just three churches and four priests. He traveled over one thousand miles on horseback, ministering to his flock.

   If the bones of Saint Clement could speak, they’d explain perfectly well why these New Yorkers were bishops and what they were doing in the name of Christ.



2018-11-11 - Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 11, 2018

11 November 2018

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 12:38-44 + Homily

17 Minutes 7 Seconds

Link to the Readings - USA Version


(from the parish bulletin)

   Pier 54 on the Hudson River is a short walk from our church. On display are pictures of the Titanic and the Lusitania, which is not encouraging for public relations. The Titanic was supposed to berth there, but instead the Carpathia arrived with surviving passengers. Seven years before, my grandmother had sailed on the Carpathia

   The sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat brought the United States into the Great War. Film footage shows passengers arriving at Pier 54 to embark on May 1, 1915. Of the 1,962 passengers and crew on the Lusitania’s manifest, 1,198 died. Toscanini had planned to be on board, but took an earlier ship after bad reviews of his performance of Carmen. Jerome Kern missed the ship when his alarm clock failed—otherwise, we’d not have “Ol’ Man River” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” The dancer Isadora Duncan cancelled her ticket to save money, and the actress Ellen Terry backed off because of war jitters. 

   One casualty of the Lusitania sinking was Father Basil Maturin, Catholic chaplain at Oxford University, returning from a lecture tour. He spurned a lifeboat and gave away his life jacket. That was reminiscent of Monsignor John Chadwick, later pastor of the Church of Saint Agnes here in Manhattan, who barely survived the sinking of the Maine which incited the Spanish-American War. The monsignor was hailed as a hero by the sailors he saved.

   If his chauffeur had not taken a wrong turn on the streets of Sarajevo in 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand might not have been assassinated, and the domino effect of national alliances would have not brought on the collapse of empires. At the Somme, more than one million troops were killed or wounded, and the war’s total casualties were 37.5 million dead or wounded. One year after the war, there was only one man between the ages of 18 and 30 for every 15 women. Each town and school in Britain has memorials to those lost. Both of my own grandmother’s brothers were killed in Ypres, and that was considered the norm. The United States lost 116,000 men with over 200,000 wounded. Europe has never really recovered. Military strategists were not prepared for modernized combat, and it has been said that the armies were lions led by donkeys. In a macabre way, the chief winners of that cultural suicide were Lenin and Hitler.

   Today is the one-hundredth anniversary of the Armistice signaled by a bugle at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year. The poet Siegfried Sassoon, decorated for bravery, was latterly put in a psychiatric ward for begging an end to the killing. He became a Catholic and is buried near the grave of Monsignor Ronald Knox whom he admired. In tribute to one of his fallen comrades, he wrote:

I know that he is lost among the stars, 
And may return no more but in their light.



2018-11-04 - Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 4, 2018

4 November 2018

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 12:28B-34 + Homily

17 Minutes 35 Seconds

Link to the Readings (USA Version):


(from the parish bulletin)

   Nostalgia is a selective editing of the past. For instance, there are those who wish we had today some of the architects of thirteenth-century cathedrals, but who avoid mentioning thirteenth-century dentists. In recent times, the general conceit has been the opposite of nostalgia. The philosopher Owen Barfield spoke of "chronological snobbery," defined as the belief that "intellectually, humanity languished for countless generations in the most childish errors on all sorts of crucial subjects, until it was redeemed by some scientific dictum of the last century."   

   That snobbery had its heyday in the past generation, which defined itself as mankind finally “come of age.” Were that true, we should now be in the stage of incipient senility. Catholics are suffering from that period’s destructive arrogance. Just look at the circular churches and ugly music that replaced venerable shrines and chants. Characteristic of that polyester period was the underestimation of evil, which Pope Benedict XVI noticed even in some assertions of the Second Vatican Council. Without explanation, the Prayer to Saint Michael was dropped from the liturgical books in 1964. But “Satan and all the evil spirits” have not politely gone away.

   That prayer was promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in 1884. Accounts variously claim that he was inspired by a vision of horrors to come in the twentieth century. Its use remained a private option after recitation of the prayer was dropped from the end of Mass, but in 1994 Pope Saint John Paul II, from his experience of travails in his native Poland, was not inclined to underestimate the power of the wickedness and snares of the devil: “I invite everyone not to forget it, but to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”

   Far from having “come of age,” chronological snobs have learned the hard way that theirs has been a prolonged adolescence. In our present cultural chaos, faced with moral decadence all around, the pope and bishops have asked that the Prayer to Saint Michael be restored at the conclusion of each Mass. In our parish we have not had to reinstate it because we never ceased to offer that prayer after Mass, sometimes to the consternation of a few who thought it retrograde. When the Barque of Peter is tossed by storms, it is time to bring the life jackets out of the storage where some liturgists hid them.

   Our church is providentially dedicated to Saint Michael, and a month ago the Catholic News Service published a photograph of our own statue of him, based on the famous painting by Guido Reni. Generations ago, the people of “Hell’s Kitchen” knew that Michael and his sword would be a better defense in battle than liturgical dancers and the balloons of chronological snobs. They also knew, as Baudelaire said, that “The devil’s greatest trick is to persuade us that he does not exist.”



2018-10-28 - Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 28, 2018

28 October 2018

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 10:46-52 + Homily

13 Minutes 59 Seconds

Link to Readings - USA version


(from the parish bulletin)

  Some classical composers whose melodramatic quirks would have made life with them difficult, such as Beethoven, Wagner, Berlioz and Satie, have their opposites in such genial geniuses as Hayden, Mozart and, I would argue, Edward Elgar.  

   Elgar was among the more modern, and had a gift for friendship. The “Enigma Variations” are musical sketches of friends who enjoyed his company. The ninth Variation is called “Nimrod” in honor of Augustus Jaeger, whose name is German for hunter. In the Old Testament, Noah’s great-grandson Nimrod was the “great hunter.” Hearing him playing notes distractedly on the piano one day, Elgar’s wife Alice said, “That’s a pretty tune, Eddie – keep it.” That is how we got that surpassing orchestral work whose solemnity has made it a staple of memorial ceremonies, played in Whitehall at the Cenotaph each year on Remembrance Day. A choral setting for it applies to its meter the text of the Requiem Mass:

Lux aeterna luceat eis,

Domine, cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,

quia pius es.
Requiem aeternam
dona eis, Domine, 
et lux perpetua leceat eis.

May light eternal shine upon them,

O Lord, with Thy saints forever,
for Thou art Kind.
Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

   Elgar was a Catholic whose wife converted before they married in London’s Brompton Oratory, causing her to be ostracized by her family. In 1900, less than two years after the “Enigma Variations,” Elgar set to music Cardinal Newman’s long poem, The Dream of Gerontius. In 1907, the Viennese violinist Fritz Kreisler commissioned Elgar to write a concerto that he premiered in 1910. After a chance encounter with Kreisler in New York in 1947, then-Monsignor Fulton Sheen, who at the time was a professor at the Catholic University of America, received the violinist and his wife into the Catholic Church and later preached at Kreisler’s Requiem. In another Catholic connection, Elgar set his first “Pomp and Circumstance March”—“Coronation Ode,” composed for King Edward VII and familiar at graduations—to words of Arthur C. Benson, brother of the convert preacher and writer, Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson.

   The Protestant dean of Gloucester Cathedral banned performance of “The Dream of Gerontius” because it is about Purgatory. But the doctrines of Particular Judgment, Purgatory and the Intercession of the Saints, are blessings of God’s grace, and in these wistful autumnal days when All Saints and All Souls set the theme, that melody of “Nimrod” and the lines of Gerontius give a confused world a dose of reality that is a sturdy relief from the depressing attempts of a secular culture to “celebrate life” artificially at funerals, when in fact it harbors a pagan fear of death. But as Newman wrote and Elgar played:

Now that the hour is come, my fear is fled;

And at this balance of my destiny,

Now close upon me, I can forward look

With a serenest joy.


2018-10-21 - Twenty -Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 21, 2018

21 October 2018

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 10:35-45 + Homily

20 Minutes 37 Seconds

Link to the Readings


(from the parish bulletin)

   There are those who would not let facts get in the way of theory, and such was the English philosopher Herbert Spencer who promoted the “survival of the fittest.” This “Social Darwinism” theorized that the weak and poor would gradually die out to make way for an inevitable social progress. He was idolized by Andrew Carnegie, even though that richest man in the world was generous in philanthropies that Spencer disdained. Carnegie prevailed upon his mentor to visit Pittsburgh, whose Bessemer mills were supposed to be a model of social progress. Spencer confessed: “Six months’ residence here would justify suicide.”

   Spencer’s theory that people are shaped by culture rather than shaping it, opposed the “great man” theory of the historian Thomas Carlyle, for whom culture is shaped by individuals of “Godly inspiration and personality.” But Carlyle did acknowledge the influence of cultural conditions and, moreover, warned that personal influence could be benign or evil.

   The greatest figures in history have been the saints, for their spiritual influence is more long-lasting than even their political impact. Consider two saints that the Church celebrates this week.

   Saint John of Capistrano was a skilled lawyer and diplomat in the fifteenth century. As governor of Perugia in Italy, his reforms were so radical that he was arrested by some who needed reformation. The imprisonment afforded him time to reflect on what really changes society, and he became a Franciscan. He did not relinquish his powerful mind and energy when he relinquished glamor, and he became a polyglot missionary throughout more than a dozen countries in Europe. His crowds were so huge that he had to preach outdoors, and he could be heard by 125,000 without a microphone. In 1456, at the age of 70, he joined the Hungarian general Hunyadi in lifting the siege of Budapest, riding on horseback into overwhelming numbers of Ottoman Turks, and saving western civilization.

   Another saint we celebrate this week is Pope John Paul II. On his return to Poland as Vicar of Christ, the nervous hands of the Communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski shook, and soon afterward the Marxist empire collapsed. As Karol Wojtyla, his Polish culture shaped him, with its legacy of heroism and suffering, and he in turned shaped much of our present world.

   If our secular schools and media are bewildered by the influence of saints, and do not mention them, it is because any recognition of their existence must acknowledge the existence of God who made them heroically virtuous beyond the abilities of the naturally great. Saint John Paul II wrote in the encyclical Centesimus Annus:

   “For an adequate formation of a culture, the involvement of the whole man is required, whereby he exercises his creativity, intelligence, and knowledge of the world and of people. Furthermore, he displays his capacity for self-control, personal sacrifice, solidarity and readiness to promote the common good.”



2018-10-18 - Feast of St. Luke

October 21, 2018

18 October 2018

Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

Luke 10:1-9 + Homily

15 Minutes 50 Seconds

Link to the Readings