Monday, September 16, 2019

FMAs Break Ground for New Chapel

FMAs Break Ground for New Chapel in North Haledon

(North Haledon, N.J. – September 16) – At Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, the Salesian Sisters broke ground—in symbolic form—on Saturday, September 14, for the reconstruction of St. Joseph Chapel. The old chapel was destroyed by fire on May 18, 2018. In the photo, l-r, are Sr. Domenica DiPeri, who has seen the dedication of three different chapels on the school campus; Sr. Joanne Holloman, provincial; and Sr. Marisa DeRose, MHCA head of school, along with North Haledon’s Mayor George and officials involved in the new construction.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Homily for 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Sept. 15, 2019
Ex 32: 7-11, 13-14
1 Tim 1: 12-17
Luke 15: 1-10
St. Anthony, Bronx, N.Y.

“Moses implored the Lord, his God, saying, ‘Why, O Lord, should your wrath blaze up against your own people…?” (Ex 32: 11).

Our Scriptures this morning present us with sin, repentance, and intercession.

Sin:  The Hebrews, just recently liberated from slavery in Egypt, turn to gross idolatry at the very time when Moses is conversing with God their liberator on Mt. Sinai.  You may be familiar with the scene from watching The Ten Commandments.

St. Paul recalls his proud, self-righteous past when he persecuted Christ’s followers:  “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant” (1 Tim 1:13).

Jesus tells parables about a straying sheep and a lost coin, and if we were to read the rest of Luke 15, of 2 lost sons.

We may not be blasphemers or persecutors of Christ’s people, as St. Paul describes himself.  But perhaps we have been idolaters like the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai, worshiping something that isn’t God, making something else the priority of our lives, such as career, money, physical beauty, pleasure, national pride, even such goods as family.

Certainly all of us have at times been straying sheep, foolishly wandering away from the ways of Christ and needing him to come looking for us, to bring us back to safety and good pasture.  We may stray by harboring grudges, speaking ill of a neighbor or a colleague at work, being lazy at work or school, driving recklessly, not taking care of our health, ignoring the needy around us, being indifferent to immoral public policies promoted by politicians and special interests—so many ways in which we may be lost!

Repentance:  But Christ comes looking for us, like the shepherd in the parable, like the woman in the 2d parable, like Jesus knocking Paul onto his tail end and rattling his conscience into a conversion.  Repentance from our sins is always possible while we breathe, and indeed is what God truly desires.  The prayer of Moses turned away his wrath against the idolatrous Hebrews and gave them another chance.  When we examine our behavior and our attitudes, we also get another chance from Jesus our good shepherd, who truly loves us and wants us to be close to him, to be among his flock.  In fact, whoever we are, we’re in constant need of conversion, of fresh repentance and return to God.  Even the Pope goes to confession every other week!

Intercession:  Moses interceded for his people, and God listened to him.  True, Moses enjoyed a very special relationship with God.  The Bible says they talked with each other “face to face, as one man speaks to another” (Ex 33:11).  But God also called sinful, blasphemous, arrogant Paul into an intimate relationship with himself and made him a minister of divine mercy (1 Tim 1:12,16).  Every one of us is invited to a close relationship with Jesus.

We celebrate and nourish that relationship thru the Eucharist.  Because of that relationship, we, as much as Moses and Paul, have the power of intercession before God.  In fact, that’s exactly what we do in the general intercessions at Mass.  If any of you pray the Liturgy of the Hours, you do that daily at Morning and Evening Prayer.  Listen to the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, which is full of intercessions after the consecration, when all of us unite ourselves to our Lord Jesus present on the altar and pray for the Church and the entire world.  How often someone asks us to pray for her or him—that’s intercession.

So, sisters and brothers, we have great power before God to pray for our friends, for people in need, for the advancement of peace and harmony, for the prevention of or recovery from natural disasters, for countless other causes—not just for the forgiveness of sinners after the example of Moses or for the finding of lost souls as in Jesus’ parables.

Brothers and sisters, examine yourselves and recommit yourselves to follow Christ our Savior.  Then intercede as one of Christ’s faithful followers, that the whole world may be preserved in God’s love.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Interview with Abp. Cristobal Lopez

Abp. Cristobal Lopez, SDB
“The Church of which Francis speaks excites me; it’s my Church”

By Ruben Cruz

(ANS – Rabat, Morocco – September 12) - When Abp. Cristobal Lopez Romero greeted the Pope for the first time in Rome as the newly appointed archbishop of Rabat, Francis told him in a playful tone: “I nominated you after having studied well who you were, but without knowing your face. When I saw your picture in the magazine Vida Nueva, I calmed down a bit.” That initial joke was the starting point of an exercise in trust that was reinforced by the papal trip to Morocco last March, which the Salesian organized in various stages, having acquired a good knowledge of his adopted country.

After just one and a half years as archbishop, you now go on to the scarlet garb of a cardinal. How do you interpret the speed of Pope Francis’s movements?

The Pope wants to strengthen interreligious dialog, and this is another small gesture. The Pope has learned about this Church and wants to make it visible. Even if we are small, we are significant and want to put ourselves in the spotlight so that the other Churches can see what we do and how we live here, and who knows whether they might be able to draw some lessons from it. A third reading is to send us a message of encouragement and approval for our work with all those who are in a state of migration. The fourth interpretation, perhaps more diplomatic, is a wink to the Moroccan people, who showed him their country and are working to spread an Islam that’s open to dialog.

But there must have been something related to you personally.

This appointment, being archbishop of Rabat—the Pope broke with tradition and made Rabat a cardinalate to bring to light a Church that operates silently, but relentlessly.

Your Salesian brothers will be happy for this appointment.

The truth is that it is a joy for the Congregation. If this appointment is in any way my own, I will transfer it to the Congregation, because I am the son of Don Bosco. Every personal glory must be reoriented toward the Congregation.

Finally, what do you want to bring to the Church? What sort of Church do you dream of?

I dream of the only Church that exists: that of Jesus Christ. And I want to contribute through my experience of the Gospel in the most authentic way possible, because I am not the one who draws its lines. The Church of which Francis speaks excites me; it’s my Church, so that I can only collaborate with him to help it become a reality in the best possible way. A poor Church for the poor is the one I endorsed when I made my vows, a Samaritan Church. I’m just a collaborator of the Pope.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Salesian Abp. Lopez Romero Named Cardinal

Salesian Abp. Lopez Romero 
Named Cardinal
“My highest title and diploma is to be ‘son of God’”

(ANS - Vatican City – September 2) – After praying the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, September 1, Pope Francis announced a consistory for the creation of 13 new cardinals. Among them, the Pontiff appointed Salesian Archbishop Cristobal Lopez Romero of Rabat, Morocco.

Abp. Lopez’s comment on the appointment was: “I repeat what I already explained when I was appointed bishop: my highest title and diploma is to be ‘son of God,’ and I obtained it through Baptism. Like most of you, I’ve already attained the highest honor; I can’t go higher or be promoted, because one can’t be more than a child of God.”

Abp. Lopez Romero was born May 19, 1952, in Velez-Rubio, Spain; he made his novitiate in Godelleta, professed his first vows on August 16, 1968, followed by perpetual vows on August 2, 1974, after which he was ordained on May 19, 1979.

He served the Salesian Congregation in multiple ways and in various geographical areas. Following ordination he provided pastoral ministry to the marginalized in Barcelona; he was director of the Salesian Bulletin of Asuncion, Paraguay (1991-1992); then superior of three different provinces: Paraguay (1994-2000), Bolivia (2011-2014), and Seville, Spain (2014-2017). In between, from 2003 to 2011, he also gained the experience of director of the community and head of the parish and school ministry in the vocational training center in Kenitra, Morocco. Precisely in virtue of this service, and of the good relations he developed with the Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Morocco, on December 29, 2017, Pope Francis appointed him archbishop of Rabat. In this capacity, he accompanied the Holy Father throughout his apostolic journey to Morocco last March.

On the day of his appointment, in which the liturgy recalled, “The greater you become, the more humble you should be” (Sir 3:18), Abp. Lopez wrote on his Facebook page: 

Dear friends ... I would have wanted to answer all the messages I received.... But I give up: they are so many! ... I would like every greeting to become a prayer for the Pope, for the Church, for this diocese of Rabat, and for my person. I thank Pope Francis for the deference he has shown me, and I intend to continue to serve the Church by helping her with everything she needs....

I reiterate what I already explained when I was appointed bishop: my highest title and diploma is that of being “son of God,” and I obtained it in Baptism. Like most of you, I’ve already attained the highest honor; I can’t go higher or be promoted, because one can’t be more than a child of God.”

Being bishop, priest, cardinal, Pope ...  is nothing but a concrete service rendered to the Church and in the Church.... But it doesn’t put you above anyone....

The responsibility received overwhelms and overcomes me, but I’m counting on the One who began his work in me to bring it a happy end.

Let your kingdom come!”

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Homily for 23d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
23d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Sept. 6, 1998
Luke 14: 25-33
Provincial House, New Rochelle, N.Y.

“Will he not first sit down and calculate the outlay?” (Lk 14: 28).

One of the many images that has stuck with me from my months on Grand Bahama[1] is the unfinished cement-block house:  the walls halfway up or even all the way up, no floor poured, scrub brush starting to sprout within.  Every time I saw one—and there were many—I thought of today’s parable about building.

Bro. Andy, I’m sure, can appreciate its architectural angle.  Before he draws up plans, he wants to know what’s budgeted for the project.  (Or he tells the provincial what the project will cost, and the provincial tells the treasurer to find the money.)

We’ve all seen happens in the province when we don’t calculate our outlays and our income honestly and realistically.  Secular history provides plenty of examples of leaders who miscalculated their abilities to win a battle or a war, e.g., Hitler’s invasion of Russia or our efforts in Vietnam.

Jesus uses these 2 little parables to illustrate his main point.  Before becoming his disciples, we ought to calculate what it will cost us and whether we’re willing to pay the price, whether we have the strength.

In 1939 a young Lutheran pastor and scholar from Germany, previously a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York, was on a speaking tour in America.  He had already been speaking out against the Nazis, and in 1937 published a book called The Cost of Discipleship.  With war imminent he decided to cut short his tour and return home, to the consternation of his New York friends.  He had to take a stand in Germany as an authentic disciple rather than remain here safely.  Before the war was over, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested and executed.  He took his discipleship and its price absolutely seriously.

When Thomas Aquinas wanted to become a Dominican, his family tried every means available, including imprisonment and gross temptation, to turn him away from his vocation.  Many another saint, like Francis of Assisi, has been disowned by his family for becoming a religious or, like Elizabeth Seton, for becoming a Catholic.

Such choices lay very much before the people of the 1st century, the people for whom Luke undertook to write down in an orderly sequence whatever Jesus had done and taught (cf. 1:1-4).  Both pagans and Jews who accepted the Gospel risked being cast out by their parents and families.  “If anyone comes to me without turning his back on his father and mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and sisters …, he cannot be my follower” (14:26).

Every Christian knew how Christ had borne his cross and been nailed to it.  Many of the faithful must have witnessed criminals on their way thru the streets or along the roads to execution.  All of them knew they risked being imprisoned and put to death if the emperor put out an anti-Christian decree or if some wave of hysteria caught up the community where they lived.  “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (14:27).

Jesus speaks to you and me, brothers, on 2 levels.  He addresses us as disciples, as his followers who have been baptized and confirmed, who commune with his Body and Blood.  He addresses us also as religious, men who have turned our discipleship into a profession.

As disciples today we don’t have to turn our backs on our parents and relatives, and gone are the days when Don Bosco would caution us against returning to our families and native places lest our vocations or even our salvation be imperiled.[2]  But the point remains:  Is Jesus the 1st person in our lives?  Is there any personal attachment that distracts us from following him wholeheartedly?  any person or family more important to us than Christ’s Church and the Salesian Society?  any office or habit or object of which we are so possessive that it impedes our discipleship or our practice of obedience, chastity, or poverty?

Jesus tells us that we must turn our backs on our very selves in order to follow him.  How often the practice of Christian charity or fraternal love for a confrere requires that we swallow our pride, submit our opinions to the judgment of another, lay aside our own convenience to serve someone!  Persecution is no longer the order of the day for Christ’s followers in most parts of the world.  But, as the Introduction to the Constitutions used to say, “the merit of one who takes the vows is equal to that of one who undergoes martyrdom, because what the vows lack in intensity is made up by duration.”[3]  I think the same is true of day-to-day self-denial, trying daily to put aside our own egoism and desire for comfort in order to live with and love one another.

We admire a confrere who assists someone who is sick or who gives his time or energy to perform some community service or who spends himself tirelessly for young people.  This is not because we admire philanthropy but because we see the confrere carrying the cross with Jesus.  Someone who’s never satisfied with the food or the furnishings or the fraternity displeases us because he doesn’t know how to deny himself.

So each of us needs from time to time to remember what our Baptism means and why we signed up with Don Bosco.  We can add up the outlay and recalculate the odds of victory.  The cost hasn’t changed in 25 or 50 years; but now it’s real and not theoretical.  The odds of victory haven’t changed either.  Jesus is still our Risen Savior, and Don Bosco still promises us bread, work, and paradise.

         [1] As acting pastor of St. Vincent de Paul, Hunter, and St. Agnes, Eight Mile Rock, from Nov. 30, 1993, to the first week of June 1994—a very happy exper-ience which at this time (early September 2019 after Hurricane Dorian) leaves me feeling for and praying for my friends there.
[2] See, e.g., BM 12:7, 259; cf. “Introduction to the Constitutions (1957), pp. 12-15.
[3] Ibid., p. 24.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Homily for 22d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
22d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Aug. 29, 2004
Heb 12: 18-19, 22-24
Provincial House, New Rochelle

I'm moving on Sunday from my old community, the "Washington" Salesians (living in College Park, Md.), to my new-old one at the provincial house in New Rochelle.  So--an old homily delivered at that venue.                             

“You have approached Mt. Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12: 22).

Moses with the 10 Commandments (Jose de Ribera)
When Moses and the Hebrews came to Mt. Sinai after God had brought them out of Egypt, the signs of the divine presence at the mountain inspired awe, even terror, in the people, and they were forbidden under penalty of death even to approach the mountain, except Moses.  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews alludes to all that in the 1st 2 verses of our reading today—and he need only allude to it because his readers were Jewish Christians, thoroughly familiar with the exodus story, as well as with the story of Abel, which he mentions later—as all of us ought to be familiar, too.

The author recalls that scene and the fearful attitude it inspired in the people of God to contrast the Old Covenant of Mt. Sinai with the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.  The God of Mt. Sinai had struck Israel’s oppressors hard with plagues, with the angel of death, with the waters of the Red Sea.  He had likewise struck down all the unfaithful of Israel:  those who rebelled against Moses, those who had worshipped the golden calf.  This was the God who spoke in thunder, who flashed lightning bolts, who glowed in fire atop the mountain, who warned the people and even the livestock to keep their distance lest they die.

The people of the New Covenant, on the other hand, have been summoned to come closer to God, and in “Jesus, the mediator” of that “new covenant” (12:24), we’ve already done so.  We “have approached Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”  Jesus, flesh of our flesh, has gone to the throne of God, taking our human nature with him.  He has left the earthly Jerusalem for the heavenly one; the stone and cedar temple on Mt. Zion that is an image of God’s court for the real heavenly city where God in fact dwells.  And he promises to take all believers there to be with him; in him we’re already there by anticipation.

The Triumph of Christianity
(Gustave Dore')
In the heavenly Jerusalem we have approached, drawn near, joined “countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven” (12:22-23).  The angels of the heavenly court we understand.  They are those pure spirits who have served God faithfully from before the material universe was created, his occasional messengers to the world of human beings, sometimes our protectors and patrons.  With the “assembly of the firstborn” we may be less acquainted; it’s God’s faithful people.  “Assembly” is εκκλησία in the Greek text, ecclesia in Latin, “those called out,” the usual New Testament word for “Church.”  Here it may mean the people of the Old Covenant who were faithful to the covenant given thru Moses—the “firstborn” of God’s people in relation to the followers of Jesus; recall that Pope John Paul has called the Jews our “elder brothers.”  Or it may mean the followers of Jesus themselves.  In Jesus, the “firstborn” of God, “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18), all of us have become God’s favored children; St. Paul calls Christ “the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom 8:29).  In Christ we lay claim to the inheritance rights of firstborn sons.  We on earth are on our way to becoming “the just made perfect” by God’s grace, as the elect before the throne of God are already made perfect.

Unlike the Israelites in the desert, we can dare to approach “God the judge of all” (12:23).  The Letter to the Hebrews doesn’t call him Father here, but Jesus always calls him Abba, and he taught us to do the same.  Judges not only find guilt and declare sentences.  They also vindicate and declare awards.  Those who by God’s grace are just have been vindicated; their reward is a place before God.  They aren’t afraid of the judge, for they’re confident of his love for them.

This New Covenant given to us from Mt. Zion to replace the Old Covenant of Mt. Sinai has been mediated by Jesus.  Moses went up into the fire and thunder of Mt. Sinai, Jesus into heaven itself.  Moses brought with him no sacrificial offering, but when he came down from the mountain had to offer up bulls and goats and sprinkle the people and the altar with the blood of the sacrifice.  Jesus went up to the throne of God with the blood of his own sacrifice.  That blood, “sprinkled” upon the earth and upon the human race at Calvary and in the Eucharistic sacrifice, “speaks more eloquently than that of Abel,” says Hebrews (12:24).

You remember the story of Cain and Abel.  When God confronted the murderer, he said, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil!” (Gen 4:10).  Abel’s blood demanded redemption, which in the culture of the Middle East usually means vengeance, evening the score.  The blood of our Savior Jesus has certainly evened the score for all the sins of humanity.  It’s incomparably more eloquent than Abel’s blood, which cried out only for Abel.  The blood of Jesus cried out for all of us, and it continues to cry out, to intercede, to mediate for us before God.  It cries not for vengeance but for pardon.  Therefore we eagerly, even if unworthily, come to drink in his blood, and by the intercessory power of his blood to be made worthy of approaching “Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” worthy of joining “the spirits of the just made perfect, the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven.”

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Homily for Memorial of Passion of John the Baptist

Homily for the Memorial of
the Passion of St. John the Baptist                  

August 29, 2019
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

Writing to the Thessalonians—in the oldest component of the New Testament—St. Paul links his own “life” with these Christians’ “standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thes 3:8), i.e., that they “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (3:12), that they be “blameless in holiness before our God and Father” (3:13).

We celebrate today the faithfulness of St. John the Baptist.  He “stood firm in the Lord,” proclaiming in his preaching what God expected of every faithful Jew and denouncing public and private corruption.  Holding firmly to the truth is a form of love, as you know from your experience as children being raised by loving but firm parents, and then trying to be loving and firm parents yourselves.

Herod's Feast & the Beheading of St. John the Baptist
(Giovanni Baronzio)
In a homily for this feast, quoted in today’s Liturgy of the Hours, St. Bede preached:  “His persecutors had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth."[1]

St. John Paul II’s most fundamental encyclical is probably Veritatis splendor, “The Splendor of the Truth.”  If “truth” is nothing more than a mental concept, without connection to reality—that’s the premise of transgenderism, for instance—then we deny reality, we invite chaos and a life of “every man for himself” and the rule of those with the most power rather than rule by truth and right.

So it is that Christ’s Church continues to proclaim the truth even when it’s not politically correct, or when certain politicians and organizations would confine our opinions to our church buildings—truths about the human dignity of the unborn, of immigrants, of racial and ethnic minorities, of those in prisons; about the meaning of human sexuality and its expressions; about moral and immoral ways of conceiving human beings and issues related to that; about lab experiments on the genetic make-up of human beings; about war and peace.

On a much smaller scale, we who follow Christ must strive to know what’s true, what’s right, and then to live and speak that way as best we can—in our families, our work, our recreation and social interactions, in our voting.  Thus shall we, like St. John the Baptist, “make straight the paths of the Lord” (Prayer over the Gifts), who continues coming into our world as our redeemer.

                [1] Hom. 23; LOH 4:1,359.