Thursday, July 20, 2017

Homily for 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

July 19, 1981
Matt 13: 24-30
Wis 12: 13, 16-19
Rom 8: 26-27
Mary Help of Christians Academy, North Haledon, N.J.
Preakness Hospital, Wayne, N.J.

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field” (Matt 13: 24).

This might more accurately be rendered, “The kingdom of heaven is like the case of a man….”  For the parable or comparison is between God’s kingdom and this man’s field, between God’s sovereign actions and the farmer’s.

The overriding theme of the reading today is God’s compassion.  In the Pauline reading, it’s true, we can find the theme only indirectly.  It is a mark of God’s compassion toward us that he has given us his very own Spirit to intercede for us in our weakness.

More plainly, Wisdom proclaims, “It is your sovereignty over all that causes you to spare all” (12:16).  Since God has no one to whom he must answer, no one mightier than he, he not only can but “does judge with mildness” (v.18), teaching us that if we are to be his subjects in righteousness, we too “must be kind” (v.19).  And God’s kindness and mercy are known by this, that he “gives repentance for sins; with forbearance he governs us” (vv. 19, 18).

Jesus makes the very same point in his little story.  The Middle Eastern farmer pulled up the weeds in his field as soon as he could recognize them.  His action assured a better environment for the wheat, true; but it also risked the accidental destruction of a portion of that immature wheat.

God behaves differently.
Reading ch. 12 of Matthew, as we’ve been doing this past week, we’ve seen Jesus in contention with the Pharisees.  The issue is the compassion of Jesus, who is not bound by their strict interpretations of the Law.  He allows his disciples to pluck and eat grain on the sabbath; he heals the sick on the sabbath—right in the synagogue!   After all, can we pretend that many of our fellow worshippers wouldn’t be shocked if someone came forward in the middle of Mass, seeking a physical cure, and if, moreover, the celebrant responded by healing him, even in God’s name?  Jesus threatens the established religious order of things.  Why, he even associates with known sinners, with the unclean, with women, with foreigners!  The leadership concluded that he is dangerous to piety—and to themselves—and must be destroyed.

Here in ch. 13, Jesus gives something of a reaction to the exclusiveness of the Pharisees.  Yes, God has standards of exclusion.  The weeds will be burned at harvest time.

But until the harvest, it’s not fully clear which are weeds and which wheat.  God is a compassionate farmer in the field of mankind.  He is quite content to let both weeds and wheat grown within the confines of his realm, and none can sort them out before the harvest.  While we are growing to maturity in this growing season of life, we cannot be sure who is genuinely wheat, who genuinely belongs to God’s kingdom. And there is time for the inner truth to reveal itself, time for you and me to repent of our sinfulness and to reveal our true belonging to God.

Therefore we need be in no rush to pass judgment on one another.  When we do so, it’s seldom with the mildness that governs God’s judgment, with the temperance of Jesus, the friend of sinners.  Rather, we tend to be exclusionists like the Pharisees, to hold membership in the community of the good up to our own infallible standards.

Such tendencies may show in the Moral Majority if it passes from a valid political judgment to a spiritual one.  It may show in a revival of American nativism in reaction to Vietnamese, Haitian, or Chicano immigrants’ taking a place in our little kingdom on earth.  It may show in our attitudes toward the divorced, those who don’t go to church, those who are ignorant of faith, those who don’t live by our interpretation of the rules, those who hold different opinions from our own.

We are certainly free to uproot the weeds if we choose.  To do so is to act not in God’s power, but in our own weakness, fear, and insecurity.  Those are the driving forces behind the Pharisees of the New Testament, behind exclusivism of any sort.  God’s sovereign power, his confidence, reveals mercy and compassion and time for all—including you and me—to repent.

If the kingdom of God is like the case of a man who sowed good seed in his field, how shall we act so as to be his coworkers in the harvest?

Friday, July 14, 2017

Homily for 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 19, 1984
Isaiah 55: 10-11
Matt 13: 1-9
Holy Rosary, Birmingham, Ala.

Since it appears that it will be a while before I have Sunday Mass assignments in the D.C. area, I'll be posting a lot of old homilies.

“My word … shall not return to me void but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (Is 55: 11).

We speak of the Scriptures as the word of God, of Jesus as the word made flesh, of homiletics as preaching the word.  God’s revelation, called the word when spoken, written, or incarnate, is the focal point of our faith.

God’s word is powerful and effective, we’re told today.  It’s not revealed in vain.  It’s not preached to be fruitless.  Jesus isn’t an empty-handed Savior.

The 1st reading comes from that part of the book of Isaiah, ch. 40-55, which modern scholars call Second Isaiah.  These utterances of the word of God came thru an anonymous prophet living among the exiled Jewish community in Babylon about 540 years B.C. their message is a word of liberation, of deliverance from captivity.  In a style similar to the original Isaiah’s 200 years earlier, Second Isaiah predicts a new exodus thru the desert, comparable to the saving exodus from Egypt 800 years before.

In a number of places, the prophet, speaking in God’s name, says, “This prophecy will be carried out, and thus you’ll know it’s true.”  Today’s 2 verses are one of those places.  When rain falls from heaven, it waters the earth; it makes even the desert bloom.  It makes nourishing food grow.  Even so will God’s word be fertile, productive, effective.  Even so will the word of liberation become the reality of a homeward exodus across the desert from Babylon to Jerusalem.

And so it happened within a few years of Second Isaiah’s prophetic ministry.  Almost out of nowhere, Cyrus the Great, king of the Medes and Persians, swooped down on Babylon and destroyed its empire.  Soon after, he issued a decree that allowed exiles to return to their homelands, and the Jews returned and rebuilt Jerusalem, which had been leveled 50 years earlier.  The hardships of exile were over.

Those hardships had taught God’s people, in the meantime, a greater fidelity to the Lord, had induced them to develop a new form of public worship, the synagog service, and had inspired their scribes to write down and codify the sacred traditions, the holy Scriptures.  “My word … shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
Image taken from blog
The parable of the sower emphasizes not only the effectiveness of the word but the odds against it.  The farmers to whom Jesus preached certainly knew the odds of sowing and harvesting.  Their method of sowing grain was the simplest, the most primitive.  They just walked up and down their fields with a sackful of seed, tossing our handfuls as they went:  no digging, no plowing, no weeding.  Whatever took, took; whatever grew, grew.  If the farmer got back 6 or 8 times what he’d sown, he had a fine harvest, enuf to put aside for the next year and enuf to live on till then.  But the risks from birds, weeds, poor soil, and lack of rain were rather obvious.

Despite the odds of a hostile environment, the word of God, the Gospel message of Jesus, will take root, will grow, will bear abundant fruit.  It is a word of liberation, of salvation, for individuals and for society.  “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matt 13: 9).  Let him be encouraged.  If many don’t accept the word, if the word seems to be spoken or written in vain, let him not fear.  God is the harvest master.  If you’re trying to teach the meaning of the Gospel to your children, if you’re working actively for some particular social goal, if you’re praying for some special purpose, if you’re trying to practice the Gospel in your own life, and the results are anything but evident—hang in.  It took St. Monica 30 years of prayer before her son Augustine was baptized.  It took Christianity 280 years and countless martyrs just to become legally acceptable in the Roman Empire, and still more to make at least an outward transformation of Roman culture.

Against all odds, God will see that the harvest is unbelievably rich, not 6- or 8-fold, but 30-, 60-, 100-fold.  No matter how few seem to hear and accept the message of Jesus, it will be accepted; it will take root in the hearts of men and women; it will bear rich fruit in their lives.  In the end, God’s word is just as powerful, just as irresistible, as at the moment of creation when God said: “let there be light,” and there was light (Gen 1:3). “My word shall not return to me void.”

That word is given to us today in a world that makes long odds against it, both in our personal lives and in our culture.  We can hear the word in the Sunday liturgy, in the Bible we read at home, in the public teaching our bishops and the Holy Father.  The word is opposed by selfishness, consumerism, an inordinate desire for national security, the pursuit of the dollar, and private enterprise.  If it took faith to believe that Second Isaiah’s message came from God and would become reality, if it took faith to believe that Jesus was revealing the very person of God, it takes no less faith to hear the Gospel today, to hear God speaking to us and commanding us to put our trust in him in our work for peace, our care for the poor, our openness to life in our love, our defense of human life.  “Him who has ears, let him hear.”  The word is sown in our hearts.  It will bear fruit.  May it bear fruit in your heart and in mine.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Zech 9: 9-10
Matt 11: 25-30
July 5, 1987
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

One from the archives, since I had no preaching responsibility this weekend.

“See, your king shall come to you” (Zech 9:9).

When we heard the 1st reading, we probably thought right away of Palm Sunday.   And of course we’re right.  Jesus may well have modeled his behavior on this prophecy of Zechariah.

(source unknown)
Zechariah prophesied after Israel returned from the Babylonian exile.  Israel had no king in those centuries but was part of the Persian empire and then of the Greek empire.  The Jews longed for independence, for peace and prosperity, for the good old days of King David.

A number of times God had promised the Jews a messiah, someone from David’s line, who would inaugurate God’s reign on earth, the final age of mankind, and the return to the way things were in the Garden of Eden.

In this passage Zechariah is promising the coming of the messiah, God’s anointed one.  “See, your king shall come to you.”  He’ll come to Jerusalem, the city of David; he’s to be David’s successor, a direct descendent of that great and holy king.

“A just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass.”  If he is to be a true and godly king, he must be just.  Without justice, there can be no peace within the nation, no peace between the nations.  He must be meek, for he’s the people’s leader and protector, a god-image; he puts them and not himself first.

He rides an ass because he comes on peace.  A warrior king mounts a horse or chariot.  Indeed, the next verse of the prophecy is entirely about banishing chariots and bows, proclaiming universal peace.  And his rule, his peace, his justice, will be universal.

All of this—the restoration of David’s throne, a meek and just king, universal peace —is cause for joy.  Daughter Zion, i.e., Jerusalem and the Jewish nation are told to rejoice heartily, to shout for joy.

The gospel complements or rounds out Zechariah’s prophecy. Jesus, a direct descendent of King David, describes himself as “gentle and humble of heart.”  He offers us refreshment, which is another way of saying justice, peace, and security.  In the fashion of authentic kinship, he shares the burdens of his people.

On this Independence Day weekend, certainly we could talk about the kind of leadership our nation needs to fulfill the role that a provident God has given to us.

Or we could comment upon the Church as the image of the messianic king, how the Church must foster universal peace and justice.

Or we could bring Zechariah’s message from God to our homes.  In our homes, if our homes are to be Christian homes, the authority we exercise has to be messianic authority.  Messiah means “anointed”; it means “Christ.”  All of us are anointed as images of Christ, Christians.  So our manners of governing our households must be Christlike.

I won’t start considering who wears the pants in the family or who’s the boss.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that family or household authority be like the authority of Zechariah’s messiah, of Matthew’s Jesus:  just, meek, and peaceable; burden-sharing, refreshing, gentle, and humble.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Fr. Richard Cressman, SDB (1928-2017)

Fr. Richard Cressman, SDB (1928-2017)

by Fr. Steve Ryan, SDB

Fr. Richard M. Cressman died on Monday, July 3, at the St. Philip the Apostle Residence in Tampa. He was 88 and had been a professed Salesian for almost 43 years and a priest for more than 37 years.

Rich was born in Bethlehem, Penn., on August 15, 1928, to Charles and Charlotte Cressman.  He was the second of their five children:  Robert, Richard, Paul, Mary, and Charles.  His undergraduate studies were done at Penn State University, and he earned a Ph.D. in botany at The Ohio State University in 1957. 

Rich was drafted and served in the Army from 1953 to 1955.  Afterward, he worked as a researcher for the USDA in South Dakota and Washington for 15 years.  He enjoyed hiking, swimming, tennis, skiing, nature, and travel.  He was a Boy Scout troop leader for over a decade. He loved chess and as a youth quickly mastered it.  He avidly taught his nieces, nephews, and many young people how to play it. 

In 1972, Rich felt God’s call to the priesthood.  He joined the Salesians as a candidate in 1972 at 44 years of age.  He professed his first vows as a religious on September 1, 1974, and was ordained a priest on May 24, 1980.

Fr. Rich spent his ministry in various assignments, including Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.), Salesian Boys & Girls Club (Columbus, Ohio), and Salesian Boys & Girls Club (East Boston).

Fr. Rich moved to a graceful retirement at St. Philip the Apostle Residence at Mary Help of Christians Center in Tampa in 2013.  Fr. Richard tutored and mentored students at Cristo Rey Tampa High School during the past year, the school’s foundation year. This new Catholic high school in Tampa that educates underserved youth was near and dear to his heart. 

Even in his final weeks of life, Fr. Rich continued
to tutor Cristo Rey Tampa's freshmen. (Photo by Fr. Bruce Craig)
Less than a year ago, Fr. Rich was diagnosed with cancer and suffered its effects for the last eight months, cared for by parishioners and family members during his illness. After hospitalization, he came back to St. Philip’s for hospice care about two weeks ago and went peacefully home to the Lord, surrounded by his brother Salesians. 

Funeral services will be held first at Mary Help of Christians Church.  Wake on Wednesday, July 5, from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m.  Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on July 6 at 11:00 a.m.

A second set of services will be celebrated at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y. Wake on Friday, July 7, from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m.  Mass of Christian Burial at 7:00 p.m. Fr. Rich will be buried in the Salesian Cemetery in Goshen, N.Y., on Saturday morning, July 8, at 10 o’clock.

Donations in his memory can be sent to Cristo Rey Tampa High School at Mary Help of Christians Center (6400 E. Chelsea St., Tampa FL 33610).

Salesians Ordain 4 Refugees

Salesians Ordain 4 Refugees

Ordinarily, I wouldn't write about ordinations like that.  But in today's political climate, it seems "right and just" to do so.

Photo by Emma Dallman for the province
On June 24 the New Rochelle Province had the supremely happy occasion of the ordination of 4 new priests:  3 for our own U.S. East Province and 1 for the Middle East Province (our province is his province of origin).  All 4 of these men came to the U.S. as refugees--not in the recent crisis (or crises) involving Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or our southern border but between 1992 and 2000.  2 of them came from Vietnam and 2 from Haiti; 3 of them came as minors with their families, 1 as a young adult.

The ordination Mass was celebrated at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Pelham Manor, N.Y., on a beautiful Saturday morning.  Once again our province was honored to have one of our own SDB cardinals, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras and coordinator of the Pope's council of cardinals, preside over and carry out the ordinations.

I can't tell you much about the Mass or the homily except that the church was packed, with people standing, with SDBs, FMAs, Cooperators, Don Bosco Volunteers, friends and families of the ordinands, past pupils, present pupils, and parishioners from as far away as Toronto; and I heard that the homily was exceptionally good.

Can't tell you because--as I alluded to at the end of my post on the Catholic Media Conference in Quebec, June 21-23--God had other plans for my travel from Quebec to New York.  I was to take a 5:10 p.m. flight on Friday, connect in Montreal, and arrive at LaGuardia around 9:30 p.m.  But the plane for that flight never made it to Quebec due to bad weather somewhere else, and the flight was cancelled.  After a couple of hours involving 2 trips to the Air Canada counter and a very long phone call to their service center (Air Canada really needs a better way to handle these things!), I got a flight to Toronto around 8:30 p.m. and a 6:00 a.m. flight to LaGuardia from there.  On arrival at LGA, there were no SDBs available to meet me--they were on their way to the ordinations--I had to use public transportation:  bus to Manhattan, Metro North to Pelham, taxi to church; and got to the Mass as Cardinal Rodriguez was finishing the Eucharistic Prayer: "thru him, with him, and in him," etc.  The pastor met me and my luggage in the church foyer, and remarked, "You're  a little late."
Frs. Chu and Dang giving out Holy Communion

So from that point, I shot a lot of photos--the end of Mass, the 1st blessings, and the reception.  Thanks to the intervention of our new provincial, Fr. Tim Zak, I was also able to get some good portraits of the newly ordained (altho the background wasn't ideal for portraits).

I've posted earlier about our new priests:  about Frs. Paul Chu, Minh Dang, and Dieunel Victor and about Fr. Wilgintz Polynice.  No need to repeat the stories of their vocations.
Fr. Minh Dang
Fr. Wilgintz Polynice
Fr. Dieunel Victor
Fr. Paul Chu

For the last 4 years, of course, they've been studying theology and doing pastoral ministry to prepare them for service as priests.  Frs. Paul, Minh, and Dieunel studied at the Studium Theologicum Salesianum (aka the Ratisbonne Monastery) while Fr. Wilgintz studied at Seton Hall University's Immaculate Conception Seminary.

Fr. Paul Chu
 has been assigned to Don Bosco Prep High School in Ramsey, N.J., as coordinator of youth ministry.  Fr. Dieunel Victor will fill the same office at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Md.  Fr. Wilgintz Polynice has been assigned to the retreat team at Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y.  Fr. Minh Dang will take up an assignment in Egypt and work on his Arabic.

At the end of the ordination Mass, the four new priests together gave their first blessing to Cardinal Rodriguez (above). Then there was a scrum of parents, relatives, friends, and members of the Salesian family for blessings, and many photographers doing their best to get pictures.

A reception dinner followed at the Surf Club in New Rochelle, N.Y. There each of the ordinati spoke brief words of gratitude to God, Mary Help of Christians, their parents and family, their confreres, and their friends.

From the reception I went to the provincial house and took a deserved nap (having gone to bed at 12:30 a.m. and gotten up at 5:00 a.m., then spent 6 hours traveling and 3+ hours working with my camera).  When I went down to the dining room, there was Cardinal Oscar in casual conversation with Bro. Andy Lacombe over a modest meal.  The cardinal was interested in the SIGNIS conference, so we chatted for a few minutes.  He's always approachable and down-to-earth--like the good Salesian he is!
Fr. Dieunel, Fr. Minh, Cardinal Oscar, Fr. Paul, and Fr. Wilgintz

We Hold These Truths

We Hold These Truths

On July 4, anniversary of Jefferson's and our great Declaration of why America is, it's necessary to call to mind the raison d'etre of our nation.  It's often been said that America is a nation founded not on the ties of tribe or language or religious faith but on the basis of an idea, namely the idea of liberty based on the dignity given to every person by our Creator.
Declaration of Independence, by John Trumbull (1817), in the U.S. Capitol rotunda
The painting depicts the presentation of the Declaration to the Continental Congress
by the 5-man committee that drafted it, led by Jefferson.
Blogger John Clark explains this very well in today's National Catholic Register online:

On the Fourth of July, we Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence, the birth announcement of America to the world. We ponder these immortal words of Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Jefferson’s argument is not that the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to pursue happiness originate in government, but that these rights have a divine origin.  Jefferson argued that the job of all governments was to “secure” rights that God had already granted.

Read his entire post.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Homily for 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 27, 1999
2 Kings 4: 8-16
Don Bosco Tech, Paterson, N.J.

If you've missed your humble bloggers homilies, you may observe from the preceding posts that he's been on the road.  (And there's more to come from his "road trip.")  Even now that he's somewhat settled in his new home in Maryland, he has no Sunday Mass assignments.  Here's one from the archive for this past Sunday's (July 2) readings.

“Elisha asked, ‘Can something be done for her?’” (2 Kings 4: 14).

It seems that in the exercise of his prophetic ministry Elisha—the disciple and successor of Elijah—travelled around Israel.  In case you’re wondering (I was), Shunem is in the territory of the tribe of Issachar, in what we now call southern Galilee.  Don Bosco used to do a lot of travelling, either to raise money for the support of the many Salesian apostolic ministries or to win the Church’s approval of our Society.  2 Kings, however, doesn’t tell us why Elisha moved around.

Richard Gunther -
2 Kings does tell us that the Shunemite woman recognized Elisha as a holy man, a man of God.  That is why she and her husband invited him to dine with them and eagerly offered him a place to stay—much as the wealthy people of Italy and France vied with each other to host Don Bosco or just to offer him their carriages.  [example of competition to have him ride in carriages]

The Elisha reading was chosen for today’s Mass because it gives a concrete illustration of Jesus’ teaching in the gospel:  “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward,” and so on (Matt 10:41-42).  In the OT, without a concept of the afterlife, a reward had to be concrete; and so Elisha promises the childless couple a son—the boy whom in a later episode he will resuscitate from apparent death (2 Kings 4:18-37).

When Jesus speaks of a reward for receiving a prophet, a holy person, a disciple, it’s in the context of receiving, in turn, his apostles.  Receiving apostles, prophets, saints, and disciples is receiving him whom they represent:  Jesus, and ultimately, the Father.  The reward we’re promised for such welcoming of the Father and the Father’s Word is not resuscitation but resurrection; not revival but immortality.

When doctors and others urged Don Bosco to take better care of himself, not to work so hard and so long, to take some rest, he would respond, we’re told, by quipping, “I’ll rest about a mile above the moon.”  (That, of course, was before space shuttles and space stations taught us that there’s no rest even a mile beyond the moon.)  When young Salesians complained that they were overworked, he would counsel patience—long term:  “A little piece of heaven will set everything right.”
Art by Nino Musio
In the words of the leaders of the American civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s, Don Bosco had his eyes on the prize:  heaven, eternal life.  It is for this prize, this reward, that we receive the word of God and those who bring it to us.  It is for this prize, this reward, that we ourselves become messengers of the Good News, “signs and bearers of God’s love for the young.”  It is for this prize, this reward, that we choose Christ above all other human beings, take up our crosses, and follow him (Matt 10:37-38).

The Shunemite woman and her husband didn’t ask for a reward from Elisha in return for their hospitality—tho later she does plead with him for her son’s life.  Jesus tells us we aren’t to look for rewards in this life but in the life to come (cf. Matt 6:1-6).  We can expect blessings from our beneficent Father—but we can’t know what form those blessings will take, just as we didn’t know how our pursuit of Jesus Christ would evolve within the Salesian Society over these many years, or within your marriage.  Nor can we guess what our heavenly reward, our little piece of paradise, will be like:  “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).  Like the centurion in yesterday’s gospel (Matt 8:5-13), whose faith was explicit; like the Shunemite woman, whose faith was implicit; like our father Don Bosco—we trust that God will do something for us:  “There is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:  houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands…, and eternal life in the age to come” (Mark 10:29-30).

2017 Catholic Media Conference in Quebec

2017 Catholic Media Conference in Quebec

The Catholic Media Conference (CMC) is an annual meeting of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada and the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals. The latter organization merged with the CPA earlier this year. This year’s meeting was June 21-23 at Laval University in Quebec City. Its official theme was “Sharing Stories of Hope.”

If you read the preceding entry, you know the CMC met in conjunction with SIGNIS. It was the first time that SIGNIS and CMC planned overlapping, shared congresses.  No need to repeat here what the previous post says.

The exhibitors hall in the foyer area of Laval University's student center.
CMC brought together some 200 Catholic communicators (I don’t know what the final registration count was) from the U.S. and Canada, plus a good number of SIGNIS attendees who took part not only in the shared day on the 21st but also one or both of the following days:  editors, diocesan directors of communications, reporters, publishers, filmmakers, TV and radio producers, exhibitors, et al.

Thru our province newsletter, E-Service, the New Rochelle Province is a CPA member, and I regularly attend the CMC.  Salesian Missions joined CPA about 3 years ago and has had a booth in the exhibitors’ hall at the last 2 CMCs.
Peter Jesserer Smith of National Catholic Register chats with Salesian Missions'
Hannah Gregory about coverage of missions stories.
The Old City of Quebec

As usual, there was a social event on Tuesday evening for early arrivers at the conference.  It was billed as a bus tour of the Old City (of Quebec) but wasn't much of that.  On the bus I happened to ride, we did have a guide who commented on the various spots that we passed and who recommended Aux Anciens Canadiens as a good restaurant.  (Apparently people on other buses didn't get any commentary on the way into downtown.)  We were all deposited at the large plaza outside the Hotel Frontenac.
A statue of Samuel de Champlain, founder of New France, graces the plaza.
Chateau Frontenac dominates the plaza;
it's a very high class hotel built by the Canadian Pacific RR
I joined up with old friends Ann Augherton (Arlington) and her husband Chris Gunty (Baltimore), and John Feister (St. Anthony Messenger); and met new friends Dan and Amy Morris (he's with National Catholic Reporter).  After a look at the river and original city way down below the plaza, they all wanted to eat, and we traipsed back to Anciens Canadiens, which occupies a mid-17th-century house (if I remember the date correctly).  The food was good but not inexpensive.  We joked about the bus guide getting a kickback.  Eventually a large number of other CPA folks wandered in, as well.
Ann Augherton and your humble blogger after dinner
By the time we finished dinner, it was fairly late and darkening.  We took the funicular down into the lower city ($3 Canadian each way), which was almost like a fairyland with the lights in and on the quaint old stone shops and homes.  At that hour most of the shops were already shut, but Ann hankered for some ice cream, which she found.  We wandered about just a little bit before deciding it was time to get back up to the plaza for the bus.
The funicular tram

Ann and Chris surveying a case of gelato, with Amy and Dan behind them.
Just as we got back up via the funicular, it began to rain, and then to pour, and then to thunder and lightning.  We sought such shelter as we could, losing Dan and Amy in the process and eventually being joined in our little huddle (with a few but not enuf umbrellas) by Tim Walter.
Chris and Ann in the rain
The city's main post office building on the opposite side of the plaza from our huddle
Outside the cathedral before Mass: Kerry Weber (America), Don Clemmer (Our Sunday Visitor), Greg Erlandson (CNS), Maria Scaperlanda (freelancer), Helen Osman (formerly USCCB, now consultant), and Tony Gutierrez (Phoenix Catholic Sun). In this distinguished group are 3 former St. Francis de Sales Award winners (Greg, Maria, and Helen), 2 former CPA presidents (Greg and Helen), and probably 1 or 2 future SFS winners and/or presidents.

Notre Dame Cathedral, built in stages starting in 1647
So much for an evening "on the town."  We got a little bit more of the Old City on Wednesday when all 500 of us (SIGNIS and CMC) were bused to Notre Dame Cathedral for Mass with Cardinal Lacroix.  On that experience, I recommend you read Deacon Greg Kandra's post.
In the cathedral is the tomb of St. Francis de Laval, 1st bishop of Quebec (and of the whole of non-Spanish North America), 1659.
Amy Morris was kind enuf to take some pix with my camera during Mass,
then asked for one of me with Dan after Mass.
There wasn't enuf time before Mass to get down to the lower city, but I roved a little bit in the square in front of the cathedral and then down to Montmorency Park behind it.
From Montmorency Park, a view of the St. Lawrence River with a ferry pulling in, and of the spire of Our Lady of Victories Church in the lower City.
From Montmorency Park, the main entrance to the main post office
and a grand statue of St. Francis de Laval.
Knowing the Scent of the Sheep

As noted in the SIGNIS post, numerous speakers, both “keynoters” and panelists, in both plenary sessions and the smaller “breakout” or professional-area sessions, spoke indirectly of the need for communicators to be attuned to the sheep of the Lord’s flock.

In a CPA session for editors, Fr. Richard L’Archer from Ste. Anne de Beaupré, Que., linked theology and news reporting: “Think like a Theologian; Write like a Newshound.” After some thoughts about the importance of theological nuance in writing, he asked the editors and reporters present, How does our understanding of human beings help us to evangelize? How can people see God in their daily lives? He said that the vital elements of our writing include knowledge, communion with the Word of God and one another, and correct vocabulary. We respect the mystery of individuals, of the Church, and of communities. Our reporting has to communicate by bringing the stories of individuals into the hearts of our readers.

In a panel discussion moderated by Rockford’s Penny Wiegert with participants Anne Marie Cox (Des Moines), Mike LaCivita (CNEWA), and Helen Osman (formerly USCCB, now a consultant) about handling crisis communications, several people observed that the key word is “community.” When formulating a message reporting on or responding to a crisis, you have to know the community you’re dealing with. (That session was packed more than any other that I attended.)
"How Did You Handle This?" Moderator Penny Wiegert is standing.
The panel, l-r, is Mike LaCivita, Helen Osman, and Anne Marie Cox.
It seems to me that the examples above illustrate calls to smell like the sheep—at least as important for priest and religious evangelizers as for people working as communicators in fields other than the pulpit or classroom.

But the idea of communion and sensitivity to the sheep also came from no less a source than filmmaker Martin Scorsese.  On that, see the SIGNIS post.

Other Observations

Mary Solberg of the Erie Diocese identified Twitter as a source of information, an aid to journalism, a global resource, an ecosystem of news.

On Thursday evening the Catholic Academy held its final Gabriel Awards dinner and presented those awards for the 52nd and last time. The CPA will continue them in the future. The Gabriels recognize and honor excellence in film, audio, and video. This was the first time that I attended the Gabriel dinner; I usually go to the CPA Awards dinner, but I had to depart early this year. I was a little surprised to see that most of the awards go to secular media like the CBC and NPR stations. Honored with the Gabriel Personal Achievement Award this year, however, was Sr. Rose Pacatte, DSP.
Sr. Rose sharing credit for her Gabriel
with the large staff of the Pauline Center for Media Studies
From several commenters: Avoid church-speak! Help the media and others know what you’re talking about, in simple terms. When technical language must be used, explain it clearly. Build relationships with the secular media. “Try to be helpful and bring them on board” (Mike LaCivita, director of communications for CNEWA).

Matt Schiller Wins the Frannie

The Catholic Press Association’s highest award, the St. Francis de Sales Award, was presented at lunch on Friday, June 23. It honors an individual for his or her contributions to Catholic journalism. When voting, CPA members usually face a tough choice among three or four nominees.

This year’s winner was Matt Schiller, business manager of Catholic New York. Accepting the award, Mr. Schiller said that the Catholic press isn’t just a job; it’s a passion. We’re evangelists of the same Catholic faith that the Catholic saints of Quebec exemplify (St. Francis de Laval, St. Marie of the Incarnation, and Blessed Catherine of St. Augustine). He highlighted his mentors in the Catholic press and stressed the importance of mentoring, both teaching one’s colleagues and learning from them. His final advice was to build personal bridges with people; thank everyone; and forgive everyone.
Matt Schiller and Frannie
Read more:,15767?

As usual, a great CPA team (this year: Malea Hargett, Mary Anne Castranio, Rob DeFrancesco, Teak Phillips, Matt Schiller, Michael Swan, Joe Towalski, Tim Walter, Penny Wiegert, and Mark Zimmerman) put together an excellent conference. Unsung but doing yeoman work was CPA's "project assistant" Carol Arnold (below).

Unfortunately, I had to leave CMC right after the Friday luncheon (the DeSales Award) to get to the airport so as to be on hand for Salesian ordinations in New York on Saturday morning.  God had other plans, but that’s another story.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Catholic Communicators of the World Meet in Quebec

Catholic Communicators of the World Meet in Quebec

One of Pope Francis’s best known quotes is the one telling priests they ought to have the smell of the sheep. That seems to me to be the take-away from the 2017 SIGNIS World Congress that took place June 19-21 at Laval University in Quebec City.

Officially, the theme of the congress was “Promoting Stories of Hope.”

SIGNIS is the Rome-based world organization of Catholic communicators, representing about 100 countries on six continents. It has been described as “an interface between the sacred and the secular.” The world congress is held every three years.
Some of the many SIGNIS reps from Asia
SIGNIS and the annual Catholic Media Conference planned overlapping, shared congresses, which was a first. The overlapping day, June 21, included notable shared sessions and Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in Quebec’s Old City with Cardinal Gerald LaCroix.  The cardinal's message to the Church's communications people was well received.
Cardinal LaCroix preaching; photo shot with my camera by Amy Morris
while I was seated with concelebrants off to the left side of the sanctuary.
The congress brought together some 300 Catholic communicators from about 50 countries—filmmakers, TV and radio producers, editors, diocesan directors of communications, publishers, exhibitors, et al.
SIGNIS opening session, Monday morning, June 19
I regularly attend the Catholic Media Conference, so was already lined up to be in Quebec as of Tuesday afternoon, June 20.  But SDB general councilor Fr. Filiberto Gonzalez asked me (through Fr. Dennis Donovan) to attend the SIGNIS congress also, so that there would be a Salesian presence there. As it turned out, there were four SDBs present: Fr. Ambrose Pereira from the Solomon Islands, secretary of the Department of Communication and Youth Ministry for the Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea; Fr. Sebastian Koladiyil from Nairobi, editor of the East Africa Salesian Bulletin, among other roles; and Fr. Leos Ryska from Prague, founder and director of Catholic TV station (Television Noe); and this humble newsletter editor.
Frs. Pereira, Ryska, Mendl, and Koladiyil
The 4 SDBs outnumbered the 3 Daughters of St. Paul, 2 Jesuits of whom I was aware, and 1 bishop who attended, Auxiliary Marc Pelchat of Quebec. (2 other bishops showed for CMC, in addition to Bp. Pelchat.) 

Spiritual life of the “nones” is based on relationships

Numerous speakers, both “keynoters” and panelists, in both plenary sessions and the smaller “breakout” or professional-area sessions, spoke indirectly of the need for communicators to be attuned to the sheep of the Lord’s flock. At least one, Fr. Richard Leonard, SJ, from Australia was explicit about that with reference to clergy.
Dr. Elizabeth Drescher & panel of respondents
For instance, Dr. Elizabeth Drescher from Santa Clara University spoke of the changes in people’s spirituality and religious practice, with heavy emphasis on the “nones” (35% of Americans under age 30 are religiously unaffiliated). She reported that surveys show the most spiritually meaningful experiences for the young to be Fido (pets), food, family, and friends. These are activities of everyday life. (Prayer ranked 5th.) Least spiritually significant for the young are attending worship and participating in church-related activities. The new reality of spiritual life is based on relationships: diverse, pluralistic, networked, experiential, incarnational, digitally integrated.

We’re seeing a series of shifts, she said:
            -- in belief, from cognitive to experiential;
            -- in behavior, from rules and ritual to narrative;
            -- in belonging, from communitarianism to cosmopolitanism;
            -- in being and becoming, from a fixed identity to an evolving narrative identity.

She continued: The more closely a story can be tied to people’s everyday lives (day-to-day expressions of faith), the more it carries meaning for people. We need to listen to what people find meaningful and respond to that.

Responding to Dr. Drescher, panelist Guy Marchessant (professor emeritus, St. Paul University, Ottawa), suggested that the key terms of Dr. Drescher’s presentation seemed to be “network, relational, incarnational.” Religion is no longer a Sunday experience but a daily one. It’s no longer top-down but bottom-up or horizontal. In turn, this implies changes in our teaching, celebrating, and governing. It’s not the message that counts any longer but one’s relationship with the other.

One commenter from the floor observed that since Vatican II the Church has noted the value and necessity of the young speaking to and evangelizing the young.

Jesus expresses God’s solidarity with human beings

In a breakout session about communicating faith and hope in difficult situations (pain, loss, tragedy), Fr. Leonard, director of the Australian Catholic Film Office, said that our story of hope is that God is good—“in Jesus Christ our Lord.” The most underrated concept in theology is the friendship and companionship of God. Jesus displayed God’s solidarity with humanity, and we can communicate God through our own solidarity with people who are suffering.

As part of a panel speaking about “Building Peace and Hope in a World of Cultural and Religious Diversity,” Jaime Carril from Chile commented that the most important value for dialog is the ability to listen. Compassion also is critical.

In a session titled “Content Creativity,” Michael Jones from Maryknoll USA told his audience that the key to creativity is sensitivity to what’s in front of the reporter or writer.

Plenary speaker Dr. Michael Higgins of Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Conn., spoke of reverence for the word/Word. Among other remarks, he quoted the late Fr. Henri Nouwen: the work of the priest is communion, bringing people together through and around the Word. Language can be a companion of the Divinity, said Dr. Higgins.

It seems to me that the examples above illustrate calls to smell like the sheep—at least as important for priest and religious evangelizers as for people working as communicators in fields other than the pulpit or classroom.
A panel of Fr. Luis Garcia Orso, Magali Van Reeth, Fr. Peter Malone, Sr. Nancy Usselmann,
and Abdul Rehman Malik discusses religious themes in recent films.
Martin Scorsese found communion in his boyhood parish

But the idea of communion and sensitivity to the sheep also came from no less a source than filmmaker Martin Scorsese.

The core of the SIGNIS-CMC shared sessions on Wednesday, June 21, was a screening of Mr. Scorsese’s most recent movie, Silence, and a conversation with Mr. Scorsese. Silence is a story based on the persecutions of Christians in 17th-century Japan. It took Mr. Scorsese 27 years to make the film after he read Shusaku Endo’s novel in 1989. On stage in front of between 400 and 500 captivated Catholic communicators, the legendary director engaged in “a conversation” with writer Paul Elie.
Martin Scorsese accepts an award from the Catholic Press Assn. and SIGNIS at dinner on June 21.
Mr. Scorsese started with his boyhood experiences at Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan’s Little Italy. The church offered an element of peace amid the noisy streets and the quiet pervasiveness of organized crime. Early on, he saw different ideas of power: street power, parental power, and church power (that power offered balm and peace). Since asthma kept him from activities that most kids enjoyed, the cathedral and the movies were his outlets and stirred his imagination. “You don’t see cinema once and throw it away; it stays with you.”

Church imagery in the 1950s was of martyrs and suffering—quite a different set of images than Hollywood offered at that time concerning Catholicism. The parish also presented liturgy, pageantry, Holy Communion, community, a sense of right and wrong. The cathedral’s focus and its rituals helped one get to the core of Christianity.

Unlike the parish’s other clergy (good men though they were), the young assistant pastor, Fr. Francis Principe, paid attention to the youths, guiding them in how to transition from their parents’ Italian culture to America’s, to pay attention to their minds and to learning, to beware of the ethic of the streets. They learned that professional recognition isn’t the highest value; rather, family, religion, and school are to be valued.

At a formal dinner on Wednesday evening, Mr. Scorsese was presented with an award from the Catholic Press Association and SIGNIS for excellence in filmmaking.

The message of Silence

Martin Scorsese explained on Wednesday afternoon that his movie explores our search for meaning when what’s right and wrong isn’t obvious. As with any film, one must look beyond the image. What’s the idea being presented, the spiritual question? Silence challenges us to ask what we’re looking for in our own lives, regardless of our age. How do we live who we are? The key issues to face are love, trust, and betrayal.

Mr. Scorsese’ interlocutor, Paul Elie, had written earlier in the New York Times Magazine (11/26/16): “‘Silence’ is a novel for our time: It locates, in the missionary past, so many of the religious matters that vex us in the postsecular present — the claims to universal truths in diverse societies, the conflict between a profession of faith and the expression of it, and the seeming silence of God while believers are drawn into violence on his behalf.”

Other significant events and observations

Speaking of St. Michael’s University of the University of Toronto, its president David Mulroney said: “We have to live the mission, communicate the mission. . . . You can’t communicate who you are if you don’t know who you are.”

John Zokovitch of Pax Christi has observed that extremism arises from situations of hopelessness, especially in the young.

Fr. Tom Rosica, CSB, defined the mission of Canada’s Salt + Light media as “opening doors and building bridges.” He stated that we must offer the world solid, beautiful content, always respectfully, and not be concerned about ratings or hits. People respect and respond to truth and beauty. “Joy and hope are the weapons of mass construction.”

Addressing “Finding Truth in the Age of Digital Propaganda,” Dr. Renee Hobbs of the University of Rhode Island said, “The best digital software is mindware,” i.e., being aware of what we’re hearing or watching.

Reporter Sebastian Gomes from Salt + Light made these points among others:
     -- Catholics have a great story to tell, and we have to tell it well.
     -- It’s important to be professional: to give good, timely, respectful information.
     -- Build personal relationships.

Brenda Riojas described a program of the Brownsville diocesan communications office, a “mobile journalism” partnership with youths in the parishes, some as young as 11. This engages them in their parishes and also catechizes them. They start with photography, which is easier to teach and which grabs their interest faster than writing does.

“Babble-on: The Role of the Word in a Barrage of Words”

Dr. Michael Higgins’s address on the word/Word was cited above. (It wasn’t always clear when he was referring to the Word of God and when to “mere human words.”) More from that presentation:

Our mission as Catholic communicators is to protect the word. The word is some jeopardy and needs to be recovered. “A lot of language is steeped in opacity.” Facts are foundational. Words must represent reality. Words have to be handled with reverence.

There’s some concomitance and some divergence in the use of words between the religious and the secular spheres. The meaning of the word has been corroded; discourse has coarsened. E.g., what does “mercy” mean today?

John Paul II spent the bulk of his pontificate attacking the lie that was Soviet hegemony. We renew, cleanse, and redeem the word. The Word will undo the chaos of lies. People listen to great orators and poets because they’re looking for truth.
Some of the audience, including Fr. Pat McCloskey, OFM, line up to comment on Dr. Higgins's address