Tag Archives: St. Mary’s Colts Neck

Visiting the Rhine River


I’m going in October with a group from St. Mary’s, Colts Neck, NJ, on a river cruise on the Rhine. This river was a path Christian missionaries took to bring the gospel to all nations. We’ll visit cities like Strasbourg and Geneva, places connected to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.

In his book “Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era”, Harvard University Press, 2000, John W. O’ Malley, S.J. says that historians today are wary of using the words Reformation and Counter-Reformation to describe these historical periods. Recent historical research indicates the names don’t altogether fit the reality of the two movements.

“Reformation” means reform, the reform of something broken or in need of new life. In the case of the Catholic Church, it implies it was in shambles because of superstition and abuses of power. But recent social research indicates that the Catholic experience at the time was still quite vital, for the most part. True, the papacy was in need of reform, other abuses were present as they always are, but ordinary Catholic life was far from lifeless.

“Counter-Reformation,” or “Catholic Reform” usually mean that reform of the Catholic Church took place mainly through the efforts of the Council of Trent and a renewed papacy. But recent research questions the determining part played by the council and the popes in the life of the church at the time.

Historians in the past tended to see the Catholic Church then only in terms of the papacy and council bodies like Trent. They didn’t see its complexity exemplified by its confraternities, religious orders, saintly mystics and patterns of devotion. Social historians today are aware of the vitality in the Catholic Church that existed in its ordinary fabric. Its renewal didn’t just come from above, but from below.

The medieval cathedrals at Strasbourg and Cologne, which we’re going to visit, are examples of the profound faith of the medieval church. They weren’t built to satisfy the vision of a powerful bishop or ruler; they expressed the faith of a dedicated people. We can read what they believed and how they thought about life in those great cathedrals.

One of the O’Malley’s insights I liked was his comment on the lecture on the Counter Reformation by H. Outram Evennett, an English historian, some years ago at Trinity College. Rejecting the thesis that the Reformation was solely a reaction to a decayed medieval church, Evennett opined that both the Reformation and Counter Reformation “were two different outcomes of the same general aspiration towards ‘religious regeneration’ that pervaded the 14th and 15th centuries.”

Does this indicate that both Catholicism and Protestantism are moving in sync towards a place together in the modern world? I hope so.

This Sunday we listen to one of the parables of the kingdom, the Workers in the Vineyard, from Matthew’s gospel. Like the workers, squabbling among themselves, we’re often blind to the larger patterns of God’s plan unfolding in history. In a post-modern society of questioning and doubt it’s also difficult to believe in a plan for the world. There’s a harvest on its way and it’s an abundant one. My homily’s on that.

Exploring Jerusalem: November 13

We went early this morning at 7:30 to the Western Wall, where many Jews were devoutly praying on the Sabbath. The Presence of God dwells beyond the wall, according to the Jews. Women and men pray separately at the wall. No pictures were allowed today.

The Temple Mount was closed today so we couldn’t visit it.

We walked then through the narrow streets of the Old City as the Muslim and Christian shops were opening. Joseph gave us some freshly baked Jerusalem bread to eat. By the time we reached the Via Dolorosa, the traditional path that Jesus took to his death, the streets were crowded with pilgrims, from Brazil, Russia, Korea, Singapore and Eastern Europe, as well as natives of Jerusalem.

I met a bishop from Brazil who knew the Passionists there.

We walked the Via Dolorosa to the Convent of the Sisters of Sion, an order of nuns founded by a Jewish priest-convert, whose purpose is to work for better relations between Christians and Jews.  Their convent is built on the site of the Fortress Antonia, where Roman soldiers were garrisoned at the time of Jesus. While excavating for the convent years ago, an early street and part of the soldiers’ barracks were uncovered.

In this place early pilgrims, entering the city from the Mount of Olives, commemorated the trial of Jesus by Pilate, his scourging and mockery by the soldiers–the beginning of his way to Calvary carrying his cross, as Joseph explained.

Afterwards, we entered the area of Bethesda, where Jesus cured the paralyzed man who had been waiting for 38 years to be cured but no one would help him into the healing pool when it bubbled up. (John 5,1-19) The ruins of the pool from the time of Jesus have been excavated, along with an ancient Byzantine church built over the ruins, but you have to follow the ground plan carefully to sort them out, because centuries overlay centuries.

The Crusaders’ church of St. Ann, built in the 12th century, is one of the most beautiful churches in Jerusalem.  When we were there it was filled with the songs of the different pilgrim groups taking advantage of its wonderful acoustics.

We went from there by bus to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu on the eastern slopes of Mount Sion where we celebrated Mass.  Some believe it was here that Jesus was brought before Caiaphas, the High Priest, and accused of blasphemy. In the area luxurious homes from the time of Jesus have been found, so it is likely that prominent Jewish leaders lived here.

Next to the church is a steep path down from Mount Sion to the Kidron Valley below, which dates to the time of Jesus, and it could have been the path he took after the Last Supper and the path those who seized him in the garden took to bring him to Caiaphas.

The Gallicantu church recalls the condemnation of Jesus by the Jewish leaders and also the denial of Peter. The weathervane of the rooster over the church is a reminder that a cock crowed after Peter denied Jesus three times.

The afternoon was devoted to plundering the local stores.

In the evening we went to a Church of the Gethsemani for a holy hour. In the dark church–we were the only ones there–we read the gospel accounts of Jesus in the Garden from Matthew, Luke and John as we sat around the open rock before the altar. Each of the evangelists tell the same story but draws a different lesson. In Matthew’s account Jesus relies on his Father for everything, and so leads his followers to go to the Father for life. In Luke’s account, Jesus is strengthened from heaven for what he must do, and so are we when we pray. In John’s account, Jesus is already glorified, even in the midst of his sufferings. God’s sovereign power never fails, even in the midst of suffering.

November 8, Going to Carmel

Today we drove from Tiberias to Carmel famous for its connection with the prophet Elijah,  stopping at Haifa, the main seaport of Israel and a place where Arabs and Jews live together peacefully, according to Joseph our guide. Here’s a picture of Haifa from above the B’hai gardens.

We then had Mass at Stella Maris, a Carmelite shrine above the sea. Fr. Carmelo, a Carmelite from Bergamo who spent 55 years in Japan graciously welcomed us. He told  me he was thinking of entering the Passionists but then joined the Carmelites. We taped the homily at Mass. The group sang like the Sistine choir, except for the Agnus Dei, which we have to work on. Maybe we will put my homily up on this blog shortly. I spoke about  Elijah and his relationship  to Jesus.

The view from  the top of Mount Carmel facing the Valley of Armageddon, on the the great battlefields of history, is spectacular.

Coming down from the mountain, Joseph pointed out a tomb from the time of Jesus, recently discovered, that shows how burials were conducted then. It was discovered during a recent expansion of a highway near Carmel.

On the way back we passed Mount Tabor, which we will visit later, and Naim, where Jesus raised the son of the widow from the dead. Nearby Elijah raised a widow’s son from the dead also.

Finally, proof that an army marches on its stomach.

Safe and Sound

We are safe and sound on the Sea of Galilee, forty two weary pilgrims from St. Mary’s in Colts Neck. After an uneventful flight, (always appreciated) we were met my our guide, Joseph, a Palestinian Christian, and our driver, Eiz a Muslim from Bethany at about 8 AM this morning. Since our hotel rooms would not be ready till later because of the Sabbath, we toured Joppa, where a lovely Mass was taking place in French, and the ruins of Caesaria Maritima, where we saw Pilate’s  inscription and the great stadium and harbor of that important city. We finally made our hotel Gai Breach Hotel, in Tiberias, around 3 PM.

Joseph is a wonderful guide who explained the land and its development around Tel Aviv. He studied archeology at Drew University in Madison, NJ.

Tomorrow we go for Mass to Nazareth, then to Cana. If we have any energy left tomorrow, Joseph says he will take us somewhere else. Christians tourists are all over the area, from Houston, West Virginia, California, and of course New Jersey.

I have the homily tomorrow.

Holy Land Pilgrimage

Itinerary: November 5-16

Pilgrims in the Holy Land

Over the centuries, countless Christian pilgrims have gone to the Holy Land. Among the first were women like Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, who is largely responsible for building Christian shrines over places like the Tomb of Jesus, Calvary and Bethlehem in the early 4th century AD.

A nun from Gaul, Egeria, visited the holy places later in the 4th century and left a wonderful account of her visit. Here’s what she did at every place:

“It was always our practice when we managed to reach one of the places we wanted to see to have first a prayer, then a reading from the scripture, then to say an appropriate psalm and another prayer. By God’s grace we always followed this practice whenever we were able to reach a place we wanted to see.”(9)

We are going to do that too. At most of the places, we will read from the scriptures associated with the place and celebrate Mass. Though our trip is primarily a pilgrimage, it’s also an opportunity to broaden our understanding of this part of the world and its place in our history.

On Egeria and other early women pilgrims: http://www.umilta.net/egeria.html


Where are we going?

Here’s an outline of the places we’re going to and the scriptural readings at Mass. I’ll provide some material beforehand and as we go along. We’ll have a professional guide with us who is certified by the State of Israel.

The guidebook I follow is The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, OP  NY 2008

The Gospel of Matthew is an important gospel to have as a reference in Galilee. The Gospel of John is important for Jerusalem.

Nov. 5 Newark departure

Nov. 6 Tel Aviv to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, where we will be staying for four days.

The drive from the airport to Tiberias is about two hours. Israel and the occupied territories are about the size of New Jersey, so most of us should feel right at home. Our trips to different sites won’t be too long in Galilee– less traffic than the Garden State Parkway.

Nov. 7 Tiberias to Cana. (Mass) Is 62,1-5   Jn 2,1-12.  John’s gospel also recalls a Jewish ruler came to Jesus at Cana asking him to cure his son. (Jn 4,46-54)

Then to Nazareth, now a city of 70,000 people, mostly Muslim, and the capital of Galilee.  At the time of Jesus it was an insignificant village of about 500.

Nov. 8 Mt Carmel, where the prophet Elijah, who is closely connected to Jesus,  defeated the priests of Baal and King Achaz and his Queen Jezebel. In the ancient world, mountains like Mt. Nebo and Mt. Tabor, were places to get your bearings. (Mass) Sirach 48,1-15 Mt. 16,13-20  From Mt. Carmel to a baptismal site on the River Jordan near the Sea of Galilee.

Nov. 9 Sea of Galilee sites where Jesus lived, taught, gathered disciples, left a memory. Mt. of Beatitudes, Primacy site along Sea of Galilee, (Mass) Jn 21,1-19  Acts 5, 27-32,40-41 Tabgha, Capernaum, Peter’s house. Synagogue.

Nov. 10 Tiberias to Mt. Tabor, where Jesus was transfigured. (Mass) 2 Pt 1,16-19  Mt 17,1-9) Jericho, Qumran, Jerusalem.

Nov. 11 Bethlehem (Mass: Shepherd’s Cave) Luke 2,1-2 Tit 2,11-14

Dead Sea Scrolls: Mystery Solved? Cf: National Geographic Special, Robert Cargill, 60 years ago.


Nov. 12 Jerusalem, Old City  Western Wall, Temple Mount, St. Stephen’s Gate, Upper Room (Mass) Mk 14,12-16.22-26  Heb 9,11-15   Jesus is the new Temple.

Nov. 13 Mount of Olives. Peter in Gallicantu (Mass)   Jn 18,15-27 Is 50,4-9a

Nov. 14 Via Dolorosa, Church of Holy Sepulcher (Mass)

Nov. 15 Return to Newark

The Political Situation

We are going to the Holy Land as negotiations between the Israeli and the Palestinians have reached a critical point. You may find these background stories from the website of the  BBC  helpful to understand the current situation:

Obstacles to Peace: Jerusalem

Obstacles to Peace: Borders and Settlements

Obstacles to Peace: Refugees

Obstacles to Peace: Water


There’s an important Synod on the Middle East involving Catholic and other religious figures that convened at Rome now to discuss the situation of Christians in that area.  You can follow it at the Vatican Radio site: http://www.radiovaticana.org/en1/index.asp

50 Years, a Priest

I celebrated 50 years as a priest at the 12:00 Mass at St Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck, NJ yesterday. Here’s the homily I preached:

We’re celebrating Mass, which is time to thank God for the blessings we’ve received. You know priests are told they shouldn’t talk about themselves in the homily; they should talk about the scriptural readings for the day. But I know you wont mind if my homily takes a personal turn today as I celebrate with you 50 years as a priest.

I was ordained on the feast of St Juliana Falconieri, June 19, 1959, in St. Michael’s Monastery, Union City, NJ. The bishop ordaining us was Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara, a Passionist bishop who had just been released from a Communist jail in China.

June 19th was a late date for our community to ordain priests. Usually ordinations were in February, or April.  June 19 was a very late date.

We didn’t have any particular devotion to St. Juliana Falconieri.  Probably, those in charge didn’t want to unlease us on to the world without getting as much as they could into our heads.

There’s not much to tell you about how my vocation to the priesthood came about. I knew a good number of priests and liked them. I liked the Passionists who helped out in our parish in Bayonne and I joined the community in 1950 out of high school, and they took me in.

1950 was also when the Korean War began. China was deeply involved in that war.  Our community had priests in China then as missionaries, who worked with the Sisters of Charity from Convent Station, and they were imprisoned, humiliated and finally thrown out of the country by the Communist government after war broke out.  They went through awful sufferings. One of them, Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara, bishop of Yuanling in China, ordained me.

As a young student and a young priest I was fortunate to live with many of those men when they came home. They were men of great faith, inspiring, dedicated, zealous– heroes in my mind. Many of them after a little while went to our new missions in the Philippine Islands and Jamaica. They left their mark on me.

I’m grateful for many wonderful priests.  One of them died a few weeks ago, Fr. Thomas Berry. He was known throughout the world as  a leading religious figure on the environment. He taught me in the early 50’s; I was young, just out of high school. He taught us history, and the first day he came into class he gave us copies of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx.  “You have to study this, because you can’t understand the world we’re in today if you don’t understand this.”

Now remember, this was in the 1950’s, the Cold War was on. We were fighting Communists then, not trying to understand them. Yet he told us to learn as much as we could about the world we were living in.  He wanted us to learn Chinese, to read the religious texts of Buddhism and Hinduism.  “Asia is going to become more powerful, learn about it.” He was right, 50 years ago.

Because of priests like him, I’ve never felt my life as a priest has been limited. The faith we have in Jesus Christ is not just a package of tightly bound beliefs that you memorize; faith is a way of taking in the world as Jesus takes it in. At Mass, the priest represents the world as it is, in all of its variety and completeness, as Jesus does. Our faith is not meant to make us small-minded.

My community sent me to Rome to study theology in the 1960’s, an interesting time to be there, because the 2nd Vatican Council was taking place. I studied with a great Jesuit theologian, Bernard Lonergan. He wasn’t a good teacher, his classes were disorganized, but he was brilliant.

One thing he said I still remember. “We go to God through questions. You may answer one question, but that opens twenty more, and so it goes.

On the last day of class he said, “ Well, I got this far. If I get any further, and you come back next year, I’ll tell you where I am. But for now, I got this far.” So, at the end of his course, you didn’t know it all. You knew there was always more to come.

That final remark of Lonergan’s  “I got this far” is actually very similar to one my mother’s favorite expressions. When things were difficult, someone died, the future was not too clear, when some problem would come up, my mother would sigh and say, “Well, we got this far.”

But think about it. There’s real faith and wisdom and strength in a phrase like that, isn’t there?  None of us sails through life, life is a mysterious journey. An old black spiritual I like says we “inch”along.  “Keep-a inching along, keep-a inching along, the Lord Jesus comin’ someday. Keep-a inching along like the old inch worm, the Lord Jesus comin’ someday.”

God is there from the beginning, God will be there in the end, God is with us now, but we inch along.

Over the years, my teachers haven’t been just university professors or priests. I’m grateful for those basic schools where we learn so much, for my family into which I was born, for the friends I grew up with. I’m grateful for my years here at St. Mary’s. The priests, sisters and people of this community have taught me a lot about life and faith and God who is present among us. I thank God for all of you.

I was ordained less than five months after Pope John XXIII announced the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and as a priest I’ve seen a changing church and a changing world. I lived through the social revolutions of the 1960’s and 70’ and 80’s. I’ve experienced  the liturgical movement, the ecumenical movement, the charismatic movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement. It’s been a world of change.

Certainly we all have questions about our troubled world and our troubled church. I wonder, for example, will there be priests to come after me? What about the next generation and the next? Will they go to church?

Someone described our times as a revolution that nobody understands. I don’t understand it, but I have an assurance that faith gives that “ all will be well” as we inch along. We have questions, but we go to God through them.

So as we celebrate this sacrament of faith we lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord our God. Our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, abides with us. “He is our ultimate teacher and redeemer, he was born for us, died for us, and for us he rose from the dead. He is our shepherd, our leader, our ideal, our comforter and our brother.” (Paul VI)

“Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.” We’ve got this far.

Victor Hoagland, CP        June 28, 2009

Appreciation Night

Last night the parish where I help out, St. Mary’s in Colts Neck, NJ, held an appreciation night for all the people involved in ministries in the parish. A couple of hundred people came out for a meal, music and dancing.

I wish people who study parishes would go to affairs like this to learn what makes a parish tick. On the older side, most of them, but obviously they like each other. No sign that any of them were dragged out to be there. In that gathering you feel you’re among friends.

Most of them are married, with kids mostly married and out on their own. They’re worried about the country, of course, and also concerned about the church. All of them are doing something, sometimes a lot, to make their parish and their communities what they should be.

So while I wonder where good clerical leaders, like bishops and priests, will come from, while I wonder about the absence of young people in the churches, while I wonder about the future of the church in our country and in the western world–last night gave me hope. All will be well.