Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Homily for Ash Wednesday

Homily for Ash Wednesday         

Joel 2: 12-18
Feb. 26, 2020                             
Christian Brothers, Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.

“The Lord was stirred for his land and took pity on his people” (Joel 2: 18).

We can agree that our land is in trouble—great political unrest, worry about an epidemic, all manner of social concerns—and the latest polls on Catholics are hardly comforting.

Yet the Lord invites us to return to him to receive his pity (Joel 2:12-13), and Paul tells us this is an acceptable time (2 Cor 6:2)—which is the reason for our Lent, for today’s ritual.

Any resolution of our concerns begins with us individually—as followers of Jesus, as faithful religious, as evangelizers of the communities of the young whom we serve.  But it has to start with our own hearts—“return to me with your whole heart, says the Lord” (Joel 2:12)—with our commitment to prayer, to fasting from vice, to giving the alms of our brotherly love.

Monday, February 24, 2020

First of Many Salesian Martyrs

Feb. 25, 1930: 1st of Many Salesian Martyrs

90th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Sts. Louis Versiglia and Callistus Caravario

 (ANS – Rome – February 24, 2020) – In one of his dreams Don Bosco saw two large chalices rise to Heaven, chalices with which his children would water the Salesian mission in the Orient: one was full of sweat, the other of blood. A few decades later, Fr. Louis Versiglia wrote from China to another Salesian who had given him a chalice: “May the Lord ensure that I return the chalice that has been offered to our Pious Society. May it overflow, if not with my blood, with at least my sweat!”

Louis Versiglia was born in Oliva Gessi (Pavia) on June 5, 1873. At the age of twelve, he entered the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales at Valdocco (Turin), where he met Don Bosco. After ordination in 1895, he was master of novices at Genzano (Rome), then was chosen in 1906 by Fr. Michael Rua to lead the first Salesian missionary expedition to China. In 1918, the Salesians were given the mission of Shiu Chow in southern China. Soon after, Fr. Versiglia was appointed vicar apostolic, and on January 9, 1921, he was ordained bishop. He was a true shepherd, entirely devoted to his flock. He gave the vicariate a solid structure with a seminary, houses of formation, and various residences and shelters for the elderly and needy. He looked after the formation of catechists with true conviction.

Callistus Caravario was born in Cuorgné (Turin) on June 8, 1903, and was a student at the Valdocco oratory. In 1924, still a cleric, he left for China as a missionary. He was sent to Macao, and then for two years to the island of Timor in the East Indies. He edified everyone with his goodness and his apostolic zeal. On May 18, 1929, Bp. Versiglia ordained him a priest in China.

On February 25, 1930, the two missionaries were travelling by boat for a pastoral visit to Fr. Caravario’s mission at Linchow when a gang of Communist pirates intercepted them. They boarded the vessel and, finding three young women catechists, wanted to take them away with them. The two missionaries interposed and were attacked and tied up, while the pirates ransacked their possessions. One of the bandits, snatching crucifixes from a catechist, shouted: “Why do you love these crosses? We hate them with all our souls!” The young women, who were left aboard after all, saw the missionaries hear each other’s confession before being shot in the woods onshore. Thus the two chalices dreamed by Don Bosco were raised to Heaven!

St. John Paul II beatified them on May 15, 1983, and canonized them on October 1, 2000. On the occasion of the beatification, the Pontiff said: “The blood of the two blesseds is at the foundations of the Chinese Church, just as the blood of Peter is at the foundations of the Church of Rome.”

Because of this 90th anniversary, the provincial of the China Province, Fr. Joseph Ng, based in Hong Kong, is promoting a series of commemorative events from February 25 to November 13. He issued a message in which he said: “I hope that through the various activities that we are organizing this year we will know how to learn the spirit of martyrdom from these two saints.... Every Christian participates in a ‘white martyrdom’ [distinguished from blood martyrdom] if he puts the Gospel into practice and carries his own cross. Let’s model ourselves on the example of Sts. Louis Versiglia and Callistus Caravario!”

The saints' feastday is February 25.

They were the 1st of many martyrs, as this post's title indicates.  95 Salesians (including FMAs and lay colleagues) were martyred during the Spanish Civil War and have been beatified.  6 Polish victims of the Nazis also have been beatified, and others are under study, including most of the clergy assigned to Karol Wojtyla's parish in Krakow.  2 martyrs under the Communist persecutions in Eastern Europe have been beatified.  Others suffered imprisonment.  In more recent time, Salesians have been killed in mission lands including Brazil and Burkina Faso for reasons related to the faith and its practice.  The bloody chalice that Don Bosco foresaw is flowing over.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

SDBs Begin 28th General Chapter

SDBs Begin 28th General Chapter
GC28’s work sessions officially open

(ANS – Turin – February 22) – The official opening of the Salesian Society’s 28th General Chapter took place on February 22 in Valdocco (Turin), the Salesian motherhouse, altho a week of work had already taken place.  The chapter members number 242 and come from 132 nations.  Each of the almost 90 provinces and vice provinces sends its provincial and 1 or 2 elected delegates (depending on its size); the Rector Major, Rector Major emeritus, members of the general council, and several other confreres take part ex-officio.
The morning began with Mass in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, presided over by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz (above), prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life.
At 10:30 a.m., the chapter assembly met in the house’s theater and began work with prayer and singing of the “Veni, Creator Spiritus.”  Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime is the presiding officer, but Fr. Stefano Vanoli, moderator, coordinates the work of the assembly.

At the opening Mass and chapter assembly there were many Salesian guests, including Cardinals Oscar Rodriguez, Tarcisio Bertone, and Ricardo Ezzati, and some bishops. Turin’s archbishop, Cesare Nosiglia, and Mayor Chiara Appendino sent messages of greeting.
Ms. Appendino recalled that “seed which, in just over two centuries of history, has left indelible marks and strongly contributed to connote the character of our city.” And today that character is still present in Turin: “Like the activities of the Salesian Congregation, it’s reflected in the continuous commitment to educate young people, to teach, to be supportive and attentive to the weakest, to welcome without prejudice those who leave their own country of origin and dream of building a new life for themselves.”

Archbishop Nosiglia highlighted the current relevance of Don Bosco’s educational experience: “From the wealth of experience that Don Bosco has left us, today we can also draw several fundamental features of each educational action: the authoritativeness of the educator, the centrality of personal relationship, education as an act of love (‘a matter of the heart,’ as Don Bosco would say), the integral formation of the person, co-responsibility for constructing the common good.”
Speakers representing the groups of the Salesian Family were Mother Yvonne Reungoat, FMA, and Renato Valera, President of the “primary” Association of Mary Help of Christians (ADMA).

Mother Reungoat (above) highlighted the opportunity and necessity of each Salesian Family’s chapter assembly: “They are precious opportunities to revive today the apostolic and missionary passion that nourished the beginnings of the Salesian Family and that we try to keep alive today.”
On behalf of all the laity of the Salesian Family, Mr. Valeria thanked participants for their presence and offered his best wishes for “a strong [intense] time of meeting, prayer, and discernment.”

Cardinal Braz de Aviz offered his message to speak of an ecclesial horizon open to the present moment. It is in this context that a renewed document dealing with the relationships of consecrated life in the Church (mutuae relationes) is now at the final stages. He continued with the presentation of some current challenges for consecrated life.
First of all, he mentioned, those involving formation choices. Then he stressed the attention that must be paid to give a just and renewed importance to male-female reciprocity. Another open challenge is what concerns the service of authority. Last, but not least, is the challenge that awaits the management of ecclesiastical assets dependent on institutes of consecrated life.

Fr. Fernandez formally opened the work of GC28 and, immediately afterwards, gave the opening speech. He began with words of thanks for the many guests, Salesians and representatives of the groups of the Salesian Family. For Fr. Angel, too, the first focus is that of a prophetic and hopeful gaze for an especially significant commitment: “responsibly guiding and animating a charism of the Church, for the Church and for the world, aroused by the Spirit.”
And it is with this focus and this task that Salesians are challenged to renew “the responsibility of guiding communion and unity of life in the Congregation” with a single interest: taking care of the interests of God.

As Fr. Luigi Ricceri stated at GC20: “Ours is not an assembly of shareholders of an industry; it is not a political assembly with factions with conflicting interests that are economic, prestige and ambition. We are here as Church – better, as an assembly of consecrated men, gathered in the name of the Lord, totally devoted to a supernatural ideal.”
Moving on to the specific theme and objectives of the GC28, the Rector Major focused on a few objectives.

First of all, by underscoring that we must “give absolute priority to the Salesian mission with today’s young people, and among them giving priority to the neediest, poorest, and most abandoned.
Who is the Salesian who goes to meet young people today? What is his profile? The one that has Don Bosco as a model.

With Don Bosco as a model, saying “Salesian” today should be the same as saying:
- consecrated man of deep faith;
- apostolic passion for young people;
- son of God who knows he is and feels like a father to young people;
- charismatic identity of everyone who enriches the Church with the charism of Don Bosco and creates ecclesial communion;
- always faithful apostle of young people, always flexible and creative;
- always educator, always friend of young people.
Today, even more than in other times, the Salesian lives together with the laity in mission and formation. And in this area we have further to go, and Fr. Angel hopes that the general chapter “will perhaps consider some of these points on which to push our discernment,” to overcome resistance in the mission shared with the laity, to grow in reciprocity in relations between Salesians and lay people, with a joint formation.

GC28 is a great appeal or summons at this hour, as already indicated in its convocation letter: “We shall be called to discern with realism, courage, and determination the orientation of the path to embark upon in this 21st century, in a very special ecclesial moment of renewal and purification.”
The “business” started by Don Bosco has to be continued, as he himself said to Fr. Julius Barberis in 1875: “You will complete the work which I begin. I sketch; you will spread the colors.... I make a rough draft of the Congregation, and I will leave it to those who come after me to make the good [beautiful] copy.”

Fr. Angel concluded: “I think that with GC28, which we start today, we will clean up other parts of the sketch that Don Bosco left us, since the Holy Spirit continues to illuminate us even today to be faithful to the Lord Jesus in faithfulness to the charism of the origins, with the faces and music and colors of today.”

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Homily for 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Feb. 23, 2020
Lev 19: 1-2, 17-18
1 Cor 3: 16-23
Matt 5: 38-48
Christian Brothers, Iona College, New Rochelle

(Library of Congress)
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:  Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy’” (Lev 19: 1).

This verse, v. 1 of Lev 19, introduces a detailed section of laws, part of Israel’s moral and ritual code, including elements of what we call the 10 Commandments and some rules concerning care for other members of the community, each particular injunction concluding with “I am the Lord.”  Observance of these laws is an expression of Israel’s holiness, of their close relationship with the Lord God.  In our abbreviated passage today, these laws are summed up in “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord” (19:18).

The responsorial psalm (103:1-4,8,10,12-13) immediately follows with a confession of the Lord’s mercy.  The psalmist knows he has sinned, and so do we know we have.  Our sins might be directly against God, e.g., by abusing his holy name, by failing to honor him with prayer, or by presuming on his willingness to pardon us.  More often, probably, our sins are against our neighbor.  I don’t need to suggest examples because we know them too well from both our own failures and our experiences of being sinned against.  But the reading from Leviticus does make a suggestion or 2.

Whatever our sins, against God or against neighbor, they separate us from God’s holiness.  St. Paul warns the church at Corinth about this.  God’s Holy Spirit makes us temples of God (I, 3:16), but sin destroys the temple and earns God’s destructive wrath (3:17).  Paul encourages his disciples, therefore, to embrace the wisdom of God, which they’ve learned from Christ thru Paul or Apollos or Cephas, i.e., Peter (3:18-23).

Jesus teaches us divine wisdom, and as Paul writes, it’s assuredly not “the wisdom of this world” (3:19).  Jesus counsels us to suffer evil—at a personal level—and to give generously (Matt 5:39-42), to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (5:44)—to imitate our heavenly Father by wishing good to all and striving to do good to all (5:45-48).  All of this runs counter to the wisdom of the world, which urges us to do unto others before they do unto us, and to retaliate when they have done unto us.  Where this leaves the world you can see by observing the cycle of violence and vengeance in the Middle East.  But it’s just as destructive at the personal level.

When Jesus tells us, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48), he’s echoing Leviticus with different words; he’s telling us to be holy because God our Father is holy.  Leviticus commands us not to bear hatred in our hearts for a brother or sister—meaning a fellow Israelite (19:17).  As we know, Jesus has expanded the meaning of “brother and sister” to include all the children of God, all who have been made in the divine image and likeness.

To suffer evil inflicted upon us—“turn the other cheek” is Jesus’ metaphor, and accepting an unjust legal judgment (5:39-40)—is very hard.  And we must note that this is personal, not communal; we’re obliged to defend the rights of the oppressed, the weak, and the defenseless among our brothers and sisters.  In fact, Pope Francis has just reaffirmed that obligation by recognizing the martyrdom in El Salvador of Fr. Rutilio Grande and 2 peasants assassinated with him in 1977 for teaching “peasants to read using the Bible, [and helping] rural workers to organize so they could speak against a rich and powerful minority that paid them meager salaries and confront the social maladies that befell them because they were poor.”[1]  This recognition of martyrdom means that Fr. Grande and his companions will be beatified in the near future.  They were imitating the Father’s holiness thru their “compassion on his children,” as Ps 103 says (v. 13).  They were trying to let the rain of the Father’s goodness fall on the poor as well as the rich.  They were practicing Jesus’ teaching to “give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow” (Matt 5:42), i.e., one who’s in need.  Many believe that Fr. Rutilio’s life and death inspired Abp. Oscar Romero to come out strongly in defense of El Salvador’s poor and oppressed. 

As for us, when we find it hard to forgive, we have 2 avenues to follow that are consistent with Jesus’ words.  1st, we can—and must—ask the Lord to open our hearts, to soften our hearts, so that we may eventually come to forgiveness, even if we can’t do so at this moment.  So we acknowledge our need for divine assistance, “that … we may carry out in both word and deed that which is pleasing to” God (Collect).  We desire a more complete conversion to the Lord Jesus, to become better likenesses of him.  Unless we bear his likeness in our soul, it’ll be hard for us to gain admittance to the kingdom of heaven as children of God.

2d, we can—and must—pray for those who’ve offended us or who are our enemies, either personally (we’re all tempted to hold grudges against someone) or on some larger scale (think politicians pushing repugnant policies, sexual predators, right-wing fanatics, terrorists, those who persecute religious or ethnic minorities, etc.).  Don’t we desire that our enemies undergo a change of heart, a conversion?

May God bless us all with his grace.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Homily for Tuesday, Week 6 of Ordinary Time

Homily for Tuesday
Week 6 of Ordinary Time

Feb. 18, 2020
James 1: 12-18
Provincial House, New Rochelle, N.Y.

Yesterday we changed channels, from the Hebrew royal network of David, Solomon, and their successors to the New Israel network on which St. James addresses “the 12 tribes” of dispersed Christians (1:1) across the Roman Empire.

His 1st concern is with how we handle life’s trials (1:2).  Perhaps he’s referring the harassment and persecution that were constants in the life of the 1st-century Church.  Certainly he refers to the common trials of everyday life that we’re all acquainted with.

Today’s reading sums all that up with the assurance that whoever perseveres in his faith in Christ will attain a divine reward (1:12)—an assurance we need as much as James’s original readers.

The 7 Deadly Sins (Bosch)
Then James shifts his thought from trial to temptation—which, also, we’re all familiar with.  Maybe some Christians blamed God for their temptations, or just blamed God for allowing temptations to afflict them (1:13).  Not so, James insists.  No, our temptations come from within, from our own desires (1:14).  Those 7 capital sins will always be lurking about, trying to snare us and “bring forth sin” (1:15).  But, James tells us, God’s good gifts—grace and truth and mercy—are always at hand, that we might be the 1st proofs of the new creation (1:17-18), in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Salesian's Mike Breen Elected to Basketball HOF

Salesian's Mike Breen Elected 
to Basketball Hall of Fame
1979 Graduate of Salesian HS

Echo 1979, Salesian HS Yearbook
Salesian High School in New Rochelle is proud of Mike Breen, Class of 1979, and congratulates him on his election to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's broadcasting section, as this year's winner of the Curt Gowdy Award.

Read about it in the New York Daily News:

See also

The 1978-1979 Eagles went 16-6 for the season, and Mike Breen (kneeling, far right)
 was voted defensive player of the year. (Echo 1979)

Mike Breen is a the bottom left. (Echo 1979)

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Homily for 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Feb. 16, 2020
Sir 15: 15-20
Matt 5: 17-37
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle, N.Y.

“O God, … you abide in hearts that are just and true…” (Collect).

Today’s collect pleads that God take possession of our hearts, that he come to dwell in them.  We ask this as a grace because it’s not within our natural powers completely to cast out sin.  Rather, we need the Holy Spirit to make his home within us.

In a sense, the Book of Sirach gives us false teaching today, shades of the Pelagian heresy in Christian theology.  The author tells us, “If you choose you can keep the commandments; they will save you” (15:15).  If only it were that easy!  Few are they who can keep the commandments flawlessly—especially when we take seriously Jesus’ commands about our hearts, when we hear him command faithfulness to every jot and tittle, every iota and dot of the Law (Matt 5:18.  Some older translations seem to me more elegant than the banality inflicted on us by the NAB).

Sermon on the Mount (Copenhagen altarpiece)
Jesus declares that the righteousness—or justice or holiness—of his followers must run deeper than what the scribes and Pharisees taught, or Sirach for that matter; or they “will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20).  He proceeds to address not our actions but our hearts regarding anger and lust before turning to the specific actions of divorce and verbal deceit.

A great many people who come to confession accuse themselves of getting angry.  In their self-accusations, at least, they don’t distinguish between their feelings of anger and perhaps of having been abused or misused by a spouse, a relative, or someone they work with, and acting on what they feel by nurturing resentment, making attempts to retaliate, planning revenge, and of carrying out some of that.  Jesus cites the example of verbal abuse, calling someone a fool (5:22)—something most of us are quite willing to do, in various phrasings, some of which we may think are semi-polite:  “He’s an idiot.”  “She’s a moron”; and other names or accusations we don’t voice in polite society.  Jesus finds verbal assault on someone as sinful as a physical assault.  Giving way to the anger one feels is what’s sinful.  Unchecked anger, anger that simmers, is only the start of something worse.

Jesus speaks in a similar vein concerning lust.  The problem isn’t finding a person physically or emotionally attractive, or even feeling temptation.  The problem is letting those feelings lead to willed imagination and desires, looking at the other “with lust in the heart” (5:28), and perhaps allowing such desires to lead to some form of lust-driven activity.

When Jesus turns to truthfulness in our speech or writing, he demands complete transparency, no fudging the truth.  Not many of us are 100% true in our speech or writing, preferring a “white lie” or an omission or a “yes or “no” of convenience.  Of course, there are polite ways to evade a delicate subject or tell someone, “Mind your own business.”  But how many times the evasion or the fib is to protect our own pride or self-image, or to cover up some failing.  We laugh when Flip Wilson explains, “The Devil made me do it,” but we offer similar excuses.

So Jesus requires of us a supreme degree of holiness.  So we beg the Lord that “we may be so fashioned by your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to you” (Collect).  We need the Holy Spirit to take control of our hearts, to guide our thoughts, our tongues, and our deeds.  “Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing,” Sirach says truthfully (15:18).

The Spirit who “scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor 2:10) scrutinizes us, too.  But not only to condemn the anger, lust, or deceit we’re sometimes guilty of.  St. Paul writes to the Romans, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness” (8:26) and “The Spirit intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will” (8:27).  For it’s God’s will to extend mercy to us who are weak, to us sinners.  “If you trust God, you too shall live”—again, Sirach is right (15:16).