I was at Mass in St. Ann’s in Dongan Hills on a Sunday evening a month or two ago. Monsignor Tom Bergin was the celebrant. I’ve known the monsignor for a lot of years. My kids went to Farrell High School when he was principal back in the very late ‘80s.
For the non-Catholics out there, somewhere about 10 to 15 minutes into a Mass, after a couple of scripture readings and the Gospel, the priest gives a homily. Most times, the homily focuses on the readings. And then the priest tries to tie the readings to something that’s meaningful in our lives.
But at great peril of insulting all the good Staten Island priests who also are called upon to be orators, I have to say it: Puhleeze! You really don’t need to explain the readings is such excruciating detail. They’re in English. We just read them. If a congregant or two didn’t hear them being read, it’s a good bet they’re not hearing you either.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s get back to Monsignor Bergin. The good monsignor, now in his early 80s, is retired. Not that he wants to be. There’s some rule in the Catholic Church that priests have to retire at 75. So when Monsignor Bergin found himself a priest-without-a-parish, he jumped into his car and did what he did when he was a kid. He found Route 66 and drove cross-country to California. And back. By himself. With some stops to see family along the way.
Monsignor let the Archdiocese know when he got back and lo-and-behold, they had work for him. He bounced around a few troubled New York parishes, fixed what needed fixing – and finally landed on Staten Island again. His home. This time, at St. Ann’s, where he’s still retired but says Mass daily and Sundays along with the pastor, a dynamo named Rev. Joy Mampilly.
So about that homily. I wrote a column back then decrying some issue on Staten Island. Maybe it was our rude drivers. Maybe it was rude people littering. Maybe it was rude people in their tank top shirts, talking loudly on cellular phones, in a restaurant. Maybe those dopey drivers who blast their horns the second the light turns. Or run red lights. Or won’t let walkers cross at a stop sign.
Maybe it was about all those Staten Islanders – there are a lot of them – afflicted with a condition called schadenfreude.
I never heard of it either till I caught an episode of TV’s “Boston Legal” when lawyer Allan Shore (James Spader) explained it to Denny Crane (Bill Shatner). Schadenfreude is a German word, Allan told Denny, for when people experience joy or pleasure when witnessing the troubles of others. They want you to fail.
He was looking right at me. Or so I thought. (He wasn’t.) He was telling me I’m way off base. Or so I thought. (Well, maybe. But not just me.)
His message was so powerful – at least to me – that I have no recollection what the scripture readings were before his homily…or if he was tying his message into those reading.
As the monsignor spoke, it became clear I was living a glass-half-empty life. Monsignor Bergin was telling all of us the glass is more than half-full. Way more.
On the way out of church, he greeted people at the door. At least those who didn’t bolt out before he got back there.
“We need to have dinner,” I whispered as we shook hands. On the walk home, I wondered: Who deals with those schadenfrued-types as I do? Who else could I invite to dinner?
So Jimmy Oddo and I, along with three buddies — former Councilman and now Grand Central Partnership head honcho Fred Cerullo, our brother-from-an-Egyptian-mother Sam Farag, and Jimmy’s deputy, Eddie Burke — joined Monsignor Bergin over an Italian meal at Basilios in South Beach.
Politics, naturally, dominated the conversation. But finally I put monsignor’s homily on the table.
“What is it?” Fred asked. “What is it that gives you the capacity to see past the negative and see the good?”
There’s so much good out there, the monsignor said. So much more good than bad. You just need to look for it.
He told us how he sees the good every day in his job. Quiet volunteers. People who donate just to help someone else. People who cannot donate so give of themselves. Strong families with strong values whose mission is to help a new generation build the next strong family with strong values.
We finished coffee and dessert, said our good-byes in the small parking lot off Lily Pond Avenue and drove home.
Just one thing. I’m wondering if it was wise of me mentioning that issue I have with some homilies. I have to see those priests every Sunday. And then there’s that confession thing.
So next time you’re in, or driving by, St. Ann’s on Cromwell Avenue and see a guy with a funny looking big nose, fake eyeglasses and phony beard…well, don’t stop and say hello.
© 2019 SILive.com. All rights reserved (About Us). The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of SILive.com.
Post time: Nov-16-2019