Sunday, December 27, 2009

Homily for Feast of the Holy Family

Homily for the Feast
of the Holy Family

Dec. 27, 2009
Ps 84: 2-3, 5-6, 9-10
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord” (Ps 84: 5).

Being in the house of the Lord is the evident theme of the Sacred Scriptures today. Hannah brings her child, the boy Samuel, to the shrine of the Lord at Shiloh—this is before King Solomon has built the great temple in Jerusalem, and the Ark of the Covenant is kept in a tent a Shiloh; so Hannah brings the son for whom she begged the Lord to serve there in Shiloh for the rest of his life. He’ll grow up to become judge over Israel, unofficial leader, ruler, and anointer of kings (Saul, David).

In the 2d reading St. John reminds us that God has given us the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t say it, but we remember from the catechism that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are dwelling places of God as long as we live in his grace.

In the gospel we heard that very familiar story of the child Jesus separating himself from his parents in order to remain in his Father’s house, the great temple in Jerusalem. This story goes so far back in Christian tradition, in the pre-history of our written gospels, that it seems to be unaware of the tradition of the virgin birth, since St. Joseph is 4 times referred to as Jesus’ father. While we understand why Mary would lament publicly, “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (Luke 2:48), it is less clear why St. Luke would narrate that “each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem” (2:41), “his parents did not know the boy had remained behind” (2:43), and “when his parents saw him” (2:48). Possibly Luke lacks the nuanced vocabulary that we’d use; perhaps he’s acknowledging the legal status of Jesus, as distinct from his genetic origin, as the son of Joseph.

Be that as it may, Jesus feels drawn to his heavenly Father’s house. Like the psalmist, his soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord; his heart and his flesh cry out for the living God (84:3). There he can pursue his calling of studying the Scriptures with the priests and rabbis who serve and teach there, and of praying and learning his Father’s will for him, of giving due praise to his Father for his love for Israel: “Happy they who dwell in your house! Continually they praise you” (84:5). What better place for God to “look upon the face of his anointed” (84:10), i.e., upon his Christ?

The boy Jesus learned that he could serve his heavenly Father by going back to Nazareth with his mother and foster father and obeying them, growing up into manhood with them. He “advanced in wisdom, age, and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52) in Nazareth, not in Jerusalem, going to the synagog and not to the Temple, living among his relatives and fellow citizens of a very small village, not among the rabbis of the big city.

God can be found, known, studied, and adored wherever he has placed us. The Holy Spirit already dwells with us. The Scriptures are in our homes, and not only in church. We can pray at any time. The Father’s house is more than a physical building. It’s the entire world. It is also the company of our fellow Christians, who are temples of the Spirit just as we are. It is the company of his chosen people Israel, who are his children according to the covenant with Abraham. If we should be able to get out and go to a parish church, that’s a good thing. But even here at Willow Towers we can dwell in the house of the Lord. We have ample opportunity to meet God and be with God and serve God and pray to God all day long: in our Bibles, our practice of kindness toward one another, and our prayer in our own apartments.
Stained glass: Jesus amid the doctors in the temple, cathedral of the Holy Savior, Bruges.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Homily for Christmas Midnite Mass, 2009

Homily for Christmas
Midnite Mass, 2009Pope Benedict XVI
Dear Brothers and Sisters! “A child is born for us, a son is given to us” (Is 9:5). What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly “God with us.” No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28:20). For you the Savior is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God’s incarnation have to tell us?

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His “self” is locked into this dream world that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one’s own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence. There are people who describe themselves as “religiously tone deaf.” The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today’s world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us “tone deaf” towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly. In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear “tone deaf” and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself. The great theologian Origen said this: if I had the grace to see as Paul saw, I could even now (during the liturgy) contemplate a great host of angels (cf. in Luke 23 :9). And indeed, in the sacred liturgy, we are surrounded by the angels of God and the saints. The Lord himself is present in our midst. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!

Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel’s message, the shepherds said one to another: “‘Let us go over to Bethlehem’; they went at once” (Luke 2:15-16). “They made haste” is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Savior is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think. The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God’s work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: “Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)”. For monks, the liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place however important they may be so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbor is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.

Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to “come over” (cf. Luke 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbors. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbors and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell among us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: “Come on, ‘let us go over’ to Bethlehem to the God who has come to meet us. Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has traveled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here. Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path toward him, but also along very concrete paths the liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbor, in whom Christ awaits us.

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: “Let us see this thing that has happened.” Literally the Greek text says: “Let us see this Word that has occurred there.” Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself. This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12; cf. 2:16). God’s sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist’s sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God’s love. Origen says of the pagans: “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood” (in Luke 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: “Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)” (in Luke 22:3).

Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this holy night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Christmas isn't quite here yet, but "white" came last nite in the form of a winter storm and about six inches of almost-powder snow. I didn't get out this morning with my camera before Bros. Andy and Tom and Fr. Terry were out with the trucks and plows, but here are some almost pristine views of the house and the mission office.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Advent
Dec. 20, 2009
Luke 1: 39-45
Willow Towers, New Rochelle
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” (Luke 1: 39).

On the last 2 Sundays we’ve heard the preaching of John the Baptist: prepare for the coming of the Messiah. In today’s gospel he comes, borne in Mary’s womb as she visits her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth. John the Baptist still figures in the reading—even in his own mother’s womb he recognizes the presence of the Savior in Mary’s womb and leaps with joy.

But the gospel no longer centers on John. Now our attention goes to Mary, who will bring the Messiah to us; Mary, who provides for God’s Son a human body so that, as our 2d reading said, God the Father might prepare for his Son a body to be offered as the ultimate sacrifice pleasing to God for the redemption of the world (Heb 10:5,10).

When Mary comes to Elizabeth’s home in the hill country of Judea—a good, long walk from her home in Nazareth—Elizabeth prophesies, i.e., speaks God-inspired words. For she recognizes the presence of God, of “my Lord,” within Mary: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb! How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43).

As an aside, note that phrase “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” which the Church incorporates, along with other scriptural phrases, in our favorite prayer, the Hail Mary. So many of our prayers are soaked in the Bible, and we hardly realize it.

Elizabeth continues her prophecy by exclaiming, “Blessed are you who believed that what the Lord spoke to you would be fulfilled” (1:45). Not only is Mary’s child blessed, for he is the Lord, but the mother, too, is blessed—our Blessed Mother. Why? Because she believed God’s word. Not because she’s Jesus’ mother, but because she believed. Without believing, she couldn’t have become his mother. Without her believing, God’s plan as we know it couldn’t have unfolded.

This isn’t to say that God wouldn’t have done something else for our salvation, but to say that Mary cooperated with this plan thru her faith, a faith with real-life consequences.

For Mary’s belief in God’s word meant that she said “yes” to the message of the angel Gabriel; the verse with our “Alleluia” today quoted her words: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Faith begins in our minds or our hearts, but it has to carry into our wills, our decisions, our words, our actions. Without a “yes,” Mary’s faith would’ve been meaningless, and there’d have been no incarnation of the Son of God, no redemption of the human race. When Mary said “yes” to God, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), the eternal Son of God became the human being Jesus Christ our Savior, to be born in time, to die on a cross, to raise us up to God’s grace and immortal life—that divine plan recalled in our Opening Prayer (which, some of you may have noticed, was a variation on the prayer that concludes the Angelus): “lead us thru his suffering and death to the glory of his resurrection.”

Here is where we’re called to be blessed, like Mary: in our faith. We can’t conceive God’s Son physically within our bodies. But we can say “yes” to God’s will for our lives. Angels don’t come to us to ask us to undertake extraordinary roles in the plan of salvation. But God speaks to us in the Sacred Scriptures that we read—daily, if possible; in the teachings of Christ’s Catholic Church; in the daily events of our lives, both good and bad. God is constantly revealing his will to us, his hopes for us, his love for us, and asking us to respond with faith and then action, like our Blessed Mother.

For instance, God asks us to believe that our families and the people we live with are his children, and we should treat them with kindness, patience, and respect, should help them when we can, should safeguard their reputations by how we speak of them. God asks us to believe that everyone on this planet is his child, and we should support public policies that respect the life and dignity of everyone, and hold our public servants accountable for such policies, and vote for candidates who support human life and dignity. God asks us to believe that he cares about us, and we should read his word, ponder his word, pray to him, thank him, praise him. God asks us to believe that his Son rose from the dead, and thus illness and death are not to be feared but to be withstood and resisted as far as we may reasonably do so, and then accepted as transition stages to the immortal life that comes us thru Mary’s Son: thru suffering and death to the glory of resurrection. Blessed are all who believe that what the Lord has spoken to them will be fulfilled (cf. 1:45)!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Salesians of Don Bosco 150 Years Old

Salesians of Don Bosco 150 Years OldMillions (of Poor and Abandoned Young People) Served since 1859

The largest religious order that Catholics in the United States have never heard of is named after St. Francis de Sales. This year it is celebrating its 150th anniversary. We wonder how many readers of the Salesian Bulletin can guess its identity?
Probably most of them. In case not, here are two more hints: it was founded in northern Italy, and its founder, canonized in 1934, is hugely popular all over the world.

That religious order is the Society of St. Francis de Sales, or the Salesian Society, or the Salesians of Don Bosco. The Salesians, with a membership of 16,092 bishops, priests, brothers, and novices on Jan. 1, 2009, are outnumbered only by the Jesuits (18,711). There are more Salesians worldwide than Franciscans (15,130), Capuchins (11,092), Benedictines (7,558), or Dominicans (6,002)—orders that are from 325 to 1,330 years older than the Salesians.
In their relatively short lifetime the Salesians have risen to great heights in the Catholic hierarchy with 13 cardinals, 5 of whom are living, and 225 other bishops. The 5 living cardinals include the “vice Pope,” i.e., the Pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone; human rights champion Cardinal Joseph Zen, retired bishop of Hong Kong; and Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez of Honduras, often listed as papabile (a potential Pope). Among the 112 other living Salesian bishops (2008) are a Nobel laureate, retired Bishop Carlos Belo of East Timor, and a rising star of the Asian episcopate, Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, India.

The Salesian Pontifical University, founded in 1940 in Turin and located in Rome since 1965, is highly regarded with schools of theology, philosophy, canon law, education, communications, and Christian and classical literature—the last established at the explicit request of Pope John XXIII.

Six members of the Salesian family (Salesians, Salesian Sisters, Cooperators, pupils) have been canonized as saints, and 114 beatified.

Hierarchical status, however, is neither the glory of the Salesian Society nor the reason for its astounding growth across six continents. Both the reason and the glory lie in its charism: care for the poorest and most abandoned young people, a care exercised in 136 countries through schools, hostels, orphanages, youth centers, catechetical centers, medical clinics, outreach to street children, defense of the rights of child workers, activities against the “sexploitation” of the young, and more.

BeginningsIt all began, Don Bosco said, with a Hail Mary and a simple catechism class in the sacristy of Turin’s St. Francis of Assisi Church on Dec. 8, 1841. But what developed out of that simple catechesis into the apostolate of the oratories in Turin eventually needed to be regularized, to be put onto a solid, permanent foundation. And so on Dec. 9, 1859, Don Bosco invited 19 of his most dedicated staff at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales to think about making a permanent commitment to the work of the oratories, to the care of needy youngsters, by joining him in a religious society to be called, like the first and principal oratory, after St. Francis de Sales.

Nine days later 17 of those helpers responded by meeting with Don Bosco in his tiny room. Aside from Fr. Victor Alasonatti (age 47) and Don Bosco himself (44), the others were all callow youths, none older than 24; Francis Cerruti was only 15. Angelo Savio was a deacon, Michael Rua a subdeacon, the others seminarians except for Louis Chiapale.

The expressed aim of the new religious society was to “promote the glory of God and the salvation of souls, especially of those most in need of instruction and education, while providing the members with mutual help toward their own sanctification”—a twofold aim, really: the salvation of souls, including their own, through apostolic-educational work on behalf of needy youngsters.

It was not an auspicious time for founding a religious order. The Piedmontese government had just gone about suppressing most religious houses and was about to extend that suppression to the rest of the Italian peninsula (most of which was in the process of union with Piedmont to form the united kingdom of Italy). But even the anticlerical government recognized the value of schools and oratories that offered academic education, training in trades, and moral upbringing to the poor, including the orphans of Piedmont’s own war dead. Minister of the Interior Urbano Rattazzi, author of the law suppressing the religious orders, personally advised Don Bosco on how to organize the Salesians so that they would be left alone.

Nor was the government alone in appreciating what Don Bosco was doing and in concern for the future of his work. Pope Pius IX, too, had asked him in 1858 what his plans for its continuation were. That Don Bosco, as well, had been thinking of the future is evidenced in his presenting to the Pope at that time a draft rule of life for his followers—what would eventually develop into the Constitutions of the Salesians.

GrowthThe demand for what Don Bosco and his men had to offer was great, and within 25 years the Salesians were spreading to the rest of the Italian peninsula, to France, Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. He founded a parallel congregation of sisters in 1872 to work for the souls of girls and young women. The expansion would proceed relentlessly, so much that vocations could scarcely keep up with it.

What was the secret of such growth? Fr. Pascual Chavez calls it Don Bosco’s intuition for youth—not just to serve the young, but to use the young themselves as apostles. Don Bosco was guided in this direction by his dreams in which he gathered lambs around him, and the lambs themselves became shepherds, in which he gathered crowds of boys and young seminarians and brothers around him as his helpers.

Another secret was Don Bosco’s conviction that the Virgin Mary herself was guiding his work through such dreams and through her protection. She wanted those lambs gathered, sheltered, and nurtured for her Son. If St. Francis de Sales was the patron of the work, she was truly its inspiration, foundress, and patroness, and Don Bosco took no step without seeking her assistance.

ContinuityIn this 150th year of the Salesian Society, the Rector Major has called upon all of Don Bosco’s sons to reconsecrate themselves to his ideals: to the pursuit of personal holiness, to dedication to the young and the poor. For instance, at last April’s send-off of a glass and steel casket containing a relic of Don Bosco on a worldwide pilgrimage (2009-2015), he said: “Love the young, but above all let them know they are loved. This is the task awaiting us. Now as yesterday the young often experience disappointment, a lack of confidence in themselves, the enormous difficulties in the workplace, a feeling that adult generations and society around them are far removed from them. Like Don Bosco, who modeled himself on the Gospel, and incarnating the Church’s maternal concern for education, today we too are called to organize our lives according to the needs, the aspirations, the rights, and the expectations of the young, praying for them and with them, with a friendly presence sharing with them the various stages of life, in order to free them from harmful experiences and accompany them on their way to Christ.”

The visit of the relic of Don Bosco in every part of the Salesian world will link this 150th anniversary with the coming 200th anniversary of his birth (Aug. 16, 2015). More important, it will remind all the members of the Salesian Family that they are to imitate him in their love for Christ and for young people and are to continue Don Bosco’s mission of working for the salvation of the young: “Da mihi animas.”

The 150th anniversary will culminate on Dec. 18 with celebrations in each Salesian community around the world, which will include their renewal of their religious profession—their personal commitment to Jesus Christ within the Salesian Society on behalf of the young.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In the Name of Jesus (and Mary and Joseph)

In the Name of Jesus (and Mary and Joseph)

Also today (Dec. 9), The Anchoress, who was watching Bishop Sheen on What's My Line (courtesy of The Deacon's Bench)--today is the 30th anniversary of the good bishop's death--offered this nostalgic note:
"But I was touched and a little amused to watch Sheen, in his perfect Catholic-school penmanship begin his signature with JMJ. That’s one of those odd things Catholics used to do – put a cross, or the initials of Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the top of anything they were about to write. It was a small act, but one packed with meaning. It said, in essence, “Let my communication be worthy of Your Holy Names.”

"On retreat about ten years ago, an aged nun gave me a schedule for our meetings. At the top of the page: JMJ. At the bottom, below her signature, a cross. The whole note was wrapped in prayerful intention. I still have it. Sometimes I remember to put a cross at the top of my page, but I just sent out 50 Christmas cards, and didn’t remember to do it, even once. It is a habit I
would like to cultivate."

Church in Transformation

Church in Transformation

The Journal-News's Gary Stern blogs today: "We all know that the Catholic Church in the U.S. is quickly becoming an Hispanic church, but how much attention has been given to what this really means?" He then points to some attention being given to the matter. See

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hiking Anthony's Nose

Hiking Anthony's Nose

That's it in the photo above, at the eastern end of the Bear Mountain Bridge, rising some 1,200 feet above the Hudson River (according to the Britannica). In any case, it's a long way up (or down--see photo below, which was taken from an overlook before we reached the summit).

Last Sunday was a perfect day for being outdoors, so Bro. Tom and I went out for a hike after Mass. We wanted to do the rest of the Camp Smith Trail, which we started on Aug. 30 (blogged way down below) but couldn't finish on account of time. Well, that was ONE reason we couldn't finish.

So on this perfect Sunday late morning-afternoon we drove up Rte. 6 to the 2d hiker's parking spot along the trail. When we arrived around noon, the little lot was already jammed, so we parked on the shoulder (as did others after us) and hit the trail.
We had plenty of company, both human and canine. It took us a good hour to reach the summit, what with stops to enjoy some views and stops to catch our breath/rest our legs a little. The 2d part of the trail isn't as difficult as the 1st part (up from the visitor's center), but it's still a good climb, including some downs and ups, not just ups. In fact, about halfway toward the summit from that 2d parking lot, you get this view of what you still have to surmount:Unlike the last time I hiked this part of the trail (Aug. 2005), it was pretty wet in places, and all the fallen leaves made footing treacherous often. Plus, there were no blueberries and raspberries!
We didn't count, but we must have met 2 dozen people coming or going, and at least 5 dogs. Two of the former and 1 of the latter are enjoying their lunch at the summit:
The dog subsequently tried also to enjoy Bro. Tom's lunch but left disappointed. (I couldn't get the camera fast enuf to catch the better action!)
Another hiker (also accompanied by a pooch) obliged us by shooting us. You can get an idea of the rugged terrain altho the better view, of course, would have been over the river somehow. But the sun was in a bad spot for that.
When you see the views, you want to soak them in, even photograph them, and that appeals also to youngsters:

It took us a good 45 minutes to get back down to the van (without any significant rest stops, but being very careful of our footing), and we had time to clean up before Evening Prayer!

You can read about Anthony's Nose, including speculations about the origin of the name, on the Web at see and

2d Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent

I didn't have to preach today. But there's a fine homily from Deacon Greg Kandra at his blog:

Monday, November 30, 2009

Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent

Homily for the 1st Sunday of AdventNov. 29, 2009
Jer 33: 14-16
Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah” (Jer 33: 14).

We begin a new church year, a new year of grace, on this 1st Sunday of Advent, returning to the front of our missals, turning in our lectionaries to a new cycle of Scripture readings, the so-called C cycle, which features the Gospel of St. Luke.

We just heard from Luke, his account of the words of Jesus foretelling the end of the world: “nations in dismay,” nature in turmoil, people dying of fright (21:25-26). It’s not a pretty picture. And then the Son of Man—Jesus—will come on the clouds of heaven (21:27), his 2d coming, which we profess every Sunday in our Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

The last couple of Sundays the readings turned our attention to that 2d coming, and our attention remains there as we begin Advent, this season of expectation of the Lord’s coming. Next week our attention will start to shift to the coming of the Messiah in history, the coming that has already taken place to start our redemption. But for now our attention remains on his future coming at history’s end.

Luke’s description of that coming, as I noted, strikes a note of fear. “It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” the Letter to the Hebrews cautions us (10:31). Yet Jesus, speaking thru Luke, also says to us, “When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (21:28). If we believe that Jesus is our Savior, should we not be happy to see his coming? Should we not stand erect, jump to our feet like sports fans as an exciting play unfolds? Should we not raise our heads and look our Redeemer in the face and exclaim, as the Book of Revelation does, “Come, Lord Jesus!”? In the opening prayer moments ago we asked that Christ might “find an eager welcome at his coming.” Don’t we want to be among the welcome party? When he comes in his glory, we don’t want to be like cockroaches running to hide under the cabinets, do we?

Advent reminds us that the Lord has promised us redemption, salvation. So our 1st reading begins with the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” The Lord’s promised to save us, and he’s going to do what he’s promised.

Jeremiah, the prophet of doom to an unrepentant kingdom of Judah, also promises that after the Lord has punished Judah for her sins, he will deliver her. “In those days I will raise up for David a just shoot [these words resemble Isaiah’s prophecy (11:1) of a sprout from the stump of Jesse, from the family tree of King David]; he shall do what is right and just in the land” (33:15). David’s descendants have made royal mess out of their kingdom thru their idolatry, their injustice, their infidelity; that’s why Jeremiah rails so angrily against the leaders of his time. But God will redeem their kingdom thru one of David’s descendants.

Jeremiah couldn’t have imagined how the Lord would do that, thru Jesus of Nazareth, a son of David, the Son of David, who truly did “what is right and just in the land” and fulfilled the promise that the Lord would be our justice (Jer 33:16), that is, the Lord would make us all just by destroying our sins.

One of the big, big issues of the Protestant Reformation was the question of justice. How does God justify us, make us holy in his sight in spite of our sins? I read somewhere, a long time ago, that Martin Luther used an image something like this: Imagine a big pile of manure (Luther liked to use stronger words than that) in a barn yard or a field. It snows, and the pile of manure is covered over and looks gloriously clean and fresh. But underneath, it’s still a pile of manure. When the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ comes to us, it covers over our sins, our guilt, and makes us look clean and fresh before God, who accepts us again as his children. But under Christ’s grace, we’re still dirty sinners, only “pretend” saints, which however is good enuf for us to be saved.

Catholic theology, tho, says that the grace of Jesus Christ transforms us entirely. Our sins aren’t covered over but wiped out, destroyed, zapped! The pile of manure becomes a pile of gold, something pure and lovely in itself, just as if King Midas had touched it. There’s no make-believe necessary. By God’s grace, we’re no longer sinners but saints.

Transformed by Christ’s grace, by the forgiveness that he offers us, we really do become saints, “God’s holy ones,” as St. Paul calls Christians over and over again—for instance in today’s 2d reading, where he prays that “the Lord make you…blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones” (1 Thess 3:12-13).

Until the moment of death, of course, we remain all too susceptible to sin. We need God’s healing grace, God’s transforming forgiveness, over and over. So Paul does urge us, “Conduct yourselves to please God” and follow the instructions he gives us in Jesus’ name (4:1-2). Jesus warns us against carelessness: “Beware that your hearts don’t become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of life…. Be vigilant at all times…that you may have the strength…to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34,36). Be on your toes to live out your belief in our Lord Jesus day by day, so that when he comes for you you’ll be ready and waiting and glad to see him. If you haven’t done your best at that up till now, now is a new day, and Christ comes to you today with his forgiveness, his grace, so you can start afresh on his path.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Remembering the War Dead

Remembering the War Dead

Hautrage Military Cemetery, Belgium
Just outside the village of Hautrage, Belgium, on the road to St.-Ghislain, there's a small military cemetery. On Nov. 5, a few days before what's called Remembrance Day in those parts, i.e., Nov. 11, I stopped in there.

Here in the States we remember our war dead on Memorial Day and honor all our military and naval veterans on Nov. 11, once called Armistice Day. Nov. 11 is of course the anniversary of the day the armistice ending World War I took effect: at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

At the gate (above) it is marked simply in 2 languages "Hautrage Military Cemetery 1914-1918." This being Belgium, you might expect those 2 languages to be French and Flemish. Hautrage, by the way, is in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium--just a few miles from the French border, in fact. But the 2 languages are German (left post) and English (right). And all of the war dead within are German and British.

In what was called at the time "the Great War," death didn't care what uniform a man wore. I didn't count the graves, but it seemed to me that the numbers were about equal. The small, dark crosses are all German graves, and the large white stones are all British.

At what appears to be an official Web site for the cemetery (, which I discovered thru Google in mid-December, I found this information:
For almost the whole of the war Hautrage was in German hands and this cemetery was started by them in August 1914, it was later used in 1918 when they concentrated the graves of many British soldiers killed in 1914 and buried on the surrounding battlefields or in local cemeteries here. After the armistice, graves were brought here from other cemeteries in the area.

That Web site also gives these stats: there are 773 graves, of which 538 are German, the rest U.K. So much for my impression of "about equal" numbers!
Inside there's a memorial from the Belgian people (above), reading in 3 languages (English and German on the front, French on the back): "The land on which this cemetery stands is the free gift of the Belgian people for the perpetual resting place of those of the Allied armies who fell in the war of 1914-1918 and are honoured here."

In case you don't remember your history, Belgium attempted to remain neutral while most of Europe was rushing fearfully, unwillingly, and witlessly into war in August 1914 (read Barbara Tuchman's classic, The Guns of August). But that didn't work because the Germans invaded anyway in order to attack the undefended border with France since their own border with France was heavily defended. The Belgians paid an awful price--every city, town, and village has its own war monument with a long list of the dead--and appreciated their defense and eventual liberation by the Allied armies, as they would in a later and much worse war.
As you can tell, the cemetery is well tended. I think that's always the case, and not just in the week before Remembrance Day. But there were fresh flowers at several grave sites of both nationalities (above, below), and in at least one case, a photo.

All of the British gravestones with names on them indicate the regiment to which the fallen soldier or officer belonged, and most also have a short phrase, probably selected by the family, such as "His glory is eternal," "There is no death; what seems so is transition," and from Job, "There the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest."
If you're able to enlarge this picture of German grave markers, you'll see that they're anonymous: "Ein Deutscher Soldat." It seemed to me--again, without my having counted anything--that perhaps as many as half of the German were similarly marked, and a third of the British graves, "A Soldier of the Great War...Known unto God."

Not that that anonymity was anything new. You can visit any of our Civil War cemeteries and see the same, or the War of 1812 cemetery at Sackett's Harbor, N.Y. I guess we became more sensitive to the question during WWI, which is when the idea of a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier arose. Happily, the problem has been resolved in so-called modern warfare (would that we could resolve THAT problem) by DNA testing, and there haven't been any unknown American casualties in the Gulf Wars or Afghanistan.

All of these German and British dead fell in two battles, one in late August 1914 as the Germans were driving thru Belgium toward France, and one in early November 1918 as they were being driven back to the Fatherland. Some of the men actually died after Armistice Day, presumably from wounds suffered earlier or from illness.

It is of course striking to see these enemy soldiers lying in peace together, and both British and German memorial books kept at the cemetery gate. Needless to say, I uttered prayers throughout my visit that they might be enjoying eternal peace.

Requiescant in pace!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Homily for Solemnity of Christ the King

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the KingNov. 22, 2009
Dan 7: 13-14
Catholic Scout Retreat, JFK HS Somers

I was asked to be available in case the chaplain of the Archdiocese Catholic Committee on Scouting, Msgr. Anthony Marchitelli, was unable to make it to the retreat. So I prepared the following homily but didn't have to use it because Msgr. Marchitelli did make it. Monsignor gave a fine homily based not only on his faith in Jesus Christ but also on his expertise in the world of Harry Potter.

“Almighty and merciful God, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe” (Collect).

Liturgically speaking, it’s already Sunday, Nov. 22. Our Christian calendar has its roots in the Jewish calendar, where the day begins with sundown, as you know, and not at midnite like our Western calendar. That’s just one of many traces of Judaism within our faith, which grew out of Judaism. We sing alleluia and hosannah, Hebrew words, in our liturgy. We call Abraham our father in faith. What we call the Old Testament, the Jews call the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Eucharistic celebration grew out of the Passover seder. And of course, as the bumper sticker says, our boss is a Jewish carpenter.

Ask people of my generation—Mr. Collins or Mr. Gervat, for example—what Nov. 22 means, and they’ll tell you it’s the day Pres. John F. Kennedy, for whom this school is named, was shot 46 years ago. (Heavens, it’s hard to believe it was that long ago!) And they’ll tell you what class they were in when the principal announced the news, the reactions teachers and students had, how everyone was glued to their TVs for the next 4 days, how people cried—and maybe what they had for lunch that day.

Ask an older generation—like Mr. Kelly’s—what happened on Dec. 7, 1941, and you’ll hear how their Sunday rest was disrupted by the news interrupting whatever they were listening to on the radio, news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor—a place few Americans had even heard of—news that the U.S. was now part of what turned out to be the worst war in history.

Many of you guys are old enuf to remember 9/11. If you don’t remember it vividly because you were too young 8 years ago, you’ve certainly heard about it from your parents, teachers, Scoutmasters, the news.

These kinds of days that stick in our national and individual memories—Dec. 7, Nov. 22, 9/11—are exactly what Pres. Roosevelt called Dec. 7, 1941—“date[s] that will live in infamy.” Infamy, as you know, is fame for all the wrong reasons. The dictionary defines it as “evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal.” Hitler and Stalin aren’t famous; they’re infamous. Likewise Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray and Osama bin Laden. Days like Dec. 7, Nov. 22, and 9/11 are symbols of evil because horrible events took place on them, events that were planned and executed by deliberate, evil human choices.

Not every evil choice has such world-shattering impact, of course. We’re all aware of awful things people do on a somewhat smaller scale: drug dealing, child abuse, piracy, human trafficking, abortion, genocide, broken families, irresponsible sex, racism, sexism, environmental pollution—we could go on and on, couldn’t we?

We’re also aware of evils we’ve done ourselves. How many people, including ourselves and our families, have we hurt by deliberate, evil choices we’ve made? by using abusive words or actions, by lying, by stealing, by cheating, by laziness, by breaking a promise, by disobedience, by disrespect, and so on?

Yes, without doubt, there’s a powerful lot of evil in the world around us and within our own hearts. I’m reminded of a cute—and clean—limerick:
God’s plan made a hopeful beginning.
But man spoiled his
chances by sinning.
We trust that the story
Will end in God’s glory.
But at the present the other side’s winning.
Yes, to a very great extent, the world appears to be in the hands of the wicked, or we might say, in the power of the Evil One. Who’s the Evil One? Obviously, I don’t mean Voldemort or Darth Vader!

Do you remember the 3 temptations of Christ? One of them is Satan's offer to him of “all the kingdoms of the world” with all their power and glory, claiming that these were his to give to whomever he wished. All Jesus had to do to possess them was to worship Satan (Luke 4:5-7). Satan has staked a claim on the world, and all the evils we see, all the evils we experience—some of which we’re guilty of ourselves—give some validity to Satan’s claim.

But today we’re celebrating the claim of Someone else. In our opening prayer we praised God for “breaking the power of evil and making all things new in Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” The 1st reading promises the coming of “a Son of Man on the clouds of heaven” who will receive “dominion, glory, and kingship” and the service of all mankind, receive them not from Satan but from Almighty God (Dan 7:13-14). The 2d reading tells us that Jesus Christ is “the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth” who “is coming amid the clouds” (Rev 1:5,7).

When Jesus Christ rose from the grave on Easter Sunday, the 1st human being ever to conquer death, he became “the firstborn of the dead,” and he broke the power of evil. Death is evil, the consequence of our sins. If death can be broken, evil can be broken. Now all things are made new; the world is recreated by God, destined to be brought back to life on the Last Day when Jesus returns in his glory. Altho we’re sinners, our sins don’t have to be our masters, death doesn’t have to be our master, Satan doesn’t have to own us any longer because Jesus Christ “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” and called us into God’s kingdom (Rev 1:5-6).

Those who’ve found new life in Jesus are already making the world new and breaking the power of evil. Those who’ve given their lives to Jesus—allowing him to be their king, the ruler of their lives—are making the world better by practicing justice, peace, kindness, purity; by healing, teaching, spreading joy, serving others instead of stealing, lying, making war, taking advantage of the weak. Do you want to see what the world can be when Christ rules? Look at the saints, at the world they created around them: St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine, St. Thomas More, Don Bosco, St. Dominic Savio, Mother Cabrini, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day.

If we’d imitate the saints, God would be breaking the power of evil thru us, making all things new thru us, by the power of Christ at work in us. Jesus answered Pontius Pilate concerning his kingdom, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). If we listen to Christ’s voice, if we act on his teaching, we’ll be acting on the truth: the truth that God created us and the whole world, and we all belong to him; the truth that God created us in love and has destined us for happiness; the truth that every human being is a child of God with immortal value and dignity; the truth that the power of Christ for goodness can work in us to make a better world.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Homily for 33d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the 
33d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Nov. 15, 2009
Daniel 12: 1-3
Mark 13: 24-32
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress…. Your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book” (Dan 12: 1).

I’m always amused a little bit by the link between the appearance of Michael, the great prince—St. Michael the Archangel, my patron—and “a time unsurpassed in distress.” But Michael appears as a guardian of God’s people, not the cause of the unsurpassed distress but the one who will help God’s people escape the distress and horror of “that time.”

“That time” is vaguely defined, but it’s a cataclysmic period—rather like those disaster movies that come out every so often (one called 2012 is about to hit the theaters). We Scripture readers often associate it with the end of the world, the end of history, the 2d coming of the Messiah and the Last Judgment.

Jesus, too, seems to speak in those terms in today’s gospel. It’s no accident that we read such passages at this time of year. As the days shorten in the Northern Hemisphere, as darkness and gloomy days fall upon us, as temperatures drop, as leaves fall and flowers fade, as various animals go into hibernation—as nature seems to die—the Church has us reflecting for several weeks on the End, the Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, hell. Next week will be the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar, and the feast of Christ the King, “the Son of Man who will come with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26) on the Last Day to establish his everlasting reign over his elect and to pass judgment on the wicked, who “shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace” (Dan 12:2). On the following Sunday we shall pass into the Advent season, again reminding ourselves that he who came once in history to save us will come again at history’s end to judge the living and dead.

In many biblical passages, like those we read today, the End is described as terrifying, as horrible. Signs and portents are given that might be read as indications that the end is at hand. In fact, Christians have read those signs and portents for almost 2,000 years and often have interpreted them to mean the 2d Coming of our Savior is at hand. What generation of humanity hasn’t experienced natural disasters, famine, plague, and war? A few days ago I was reading about Pope Gregory the Great, who died in 604, and was convinced during his pontificate, a time unsurpassed in terrors (famine, plague, foreign invasions, political and ecclesiastical corruption) that the End was at hand. And aren’t these sorts of horrors magnified by our modern technology —nuclear weapons surely are more terrifying than the crossbow—and by our mass media, which let us all know almost instantly of every tsunami, Ebola outbreak, terrorist bombing?

Those sorts of terrors—the unfortunately “normal” events of human history, many of them the results of human sinfulness, of deliberate human choices—are however only prelude to the terrors of divine judgment, to the Day when Jesus Christ will “trample out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,” as one of our favorite national hymns puts it. That men and women will be judged, will be held accountable by our Creator on that Last Day, is what the Scriptures are teaching us—not the signs and omens, as such.

How can we avoid the terror of that Day? How can we assure ourselves that our names will be “found written in the book” of God’s people, what the Book of Revelation (passim) calls “the book of life,” so that we “shall escape” the disaster, the distress, the disgrace, and we “shall awake from the dust of the earth to live forever” (Dan 12:2)? The readings, you note, are not about only “unsurpassed distress” and “everlasting horror”—eternal damnation—but also about deliverance and salvation: “The wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament” (12:3). (You have to understand that “wisdom” in the Bible isn’t an intellectual quality; it means obedience to the Law of God.) How can we be sure that we’ll be among those whom St. Michael comes to guard (12:1), that we’ll find ourselves among the elect whom the angels of God “will gather from the four winds,” from every part of the earth (Mark 13:37)?

The Responsorial Psalm provides us with an answer: “I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed” (16:5,8). We turn to Jesus Christ our Savior, to the example of his life and to his teaching, and we set this ever before our eyes, before our minds, before our hearts as the model and the basis for our own lives: for our desires, for our decisions, for our words, for our actions. We journey thru life arm in arm with the Lord—“with him at my right hand.” WWJD: what would Jesus do? Insofar as we can know that, we do it: we forgive, we attend to the needs of our neighbors, especially the sick and the poor, we speak the truth, we respect the good name of people we know, we honor marriage between one man and one woman, etc. What we can’t know —how would Jesus vote today in a particular election, exactly what kind of immigration laws would he write, what kind of curriculum would be plan for our schools—those sorts of things we try to figure out and act on as best we can in the light of more general principles in the life and teachings of Jesus. But in all things, Jesus is the standard of our life; we set him ever before us.

And if we’ve set Jesus ever before us, if we’ve always done our best to have him at our right hand, then when he returns in his heavenly glory, when he comes again to judge the living and the dead, we shall not be disturbed. We’ll be part of the welcoming party! You know, the earliest Christians didn’t live in fear of the Lord’s return; they prayed for it: “Come, Lord Jesus!” You read that in the Book of Revelation. If we’ve lived for him, then we shall live with him. No fear, no terror, no everlasting disgrace.

Ah, but we don’t always set Jesus before us. We’ve all sinned, and each of us in his or her own heart knows the awful details. What then? Listen 1st to the verse preceding today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews: “We have been consecrated thru the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10). And then listen to what follows, from the reading we heard a short while ago: “This priest [Jesus] offered one sacrifice for sins….  By one offering [of himself on the altar of the cross] he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated” (10:12,14). He has consecrated us thru his self-offering, a consecration that touches us in the sacraments, and so he takes away our sins, makes us perfect forever—provided only that we turn to him in repentance and commit ourselves to him. Perfection is a lifetime journey: we “are being consecrated” day by day as Christ works in us, as much as we let him do that, as much as we set him ever before us. Have confidence in him, in his mercy, in his forgiveness, and recommit your life to him, to his teachings, to his way of life. Have confidence that he’ll finish the job he started on the cross, which is our salvation.

Bulging in Belgium

Bulging in Belgium

Following the (almost) week in Turin, I spent a week in Belgium with my sister Rita and her husband David. I haven't had a chance yet to process the photos that I took in Bruges, Ghent, Tournai, Mons, or their little village.

David and I also visited some of the places where the Battle of the Bulge was fought in Dec. 1944-Jan. 1945. We were accompanied by his unit commander, who is familiar with the area and the topic, which added immensely to our visit.

Since David has already blogged very competently about the day, I'll refer you to him:

Celebrating Blessed Michael Rua

Celebrating Blessed Michael Rua (1837-1910)

It's 3 weeks since I've posted, and that's because I was in Europe for 2 of those weeks with limited computer capability.

The main reason for this trip was the Fifth International Convention of ACSSA, the association for Salesian historians. It took place at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales, the Salesian motherhouse in Valdocco (Turin), from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1.

That venue was chosen because the meeting was all about Blessed Michael Rua, Don Bosco's first successor, whose centennial will occur next April 6--the centennial of his "heavenly birthday," i.e., the day he entered eternal life.

Rua was a native of Turin and began coming to the Oratory around 1846, about the time it settled at its permanent home. From the beginning Don Bosco marked him as special, and eventually he became his hand-picked vicar. The meeting brought together more than 90 Salesians, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMAs), other religious, and lay people who are interested in Salesian history either professionally or as a hobby. (Most of us are pictured above, in the courtyard of the Oratory below Don Bosco's rooms. I'm seated in the front row, 7th from the right.) We came from every continent--Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America. By far most of the folks were from Europe and Latin America, where the Salesian presence is strongest; and of course the meeting was in Europe.

One of the best parts of these kinds of meetings is just being with other Salesians from all over the world--and in this case, one's fellow historians, many of whom I've met at previous such gatherings. One of the special features of this particular meeting was the presence of so many FMAs(Salesian Sisters).
41 papers were presented on almost as many topics about Fr. Rua. I was asked to give one on his dealings with the Eastern U.S., and so I did. It was the only one given in English and, as far as I know, the only one not given in Italian. (We had two afternoons with split sessions, so it's possible some papers that I missed were given in Spanish.)
The topics included Fr. Rua's relationship with the FMAs and with various parts of the SDB world; sacred music; hearing confessions; the theater as an educational tool; the 1st and the most recent biographies of him; the beatification process; and more. Strong themes that emerged from the papers and discussions included the differences between Don Bosco and Fr. Rua, despite the latter's nickname as "another Don Bosco," and the fact that Fr. Rua's personality was not nearly as stark or stern as it has sometimes seemed to Salesians: too much emphasis on him as "the living Rule," and not enuf on his fatherliness, patience, flexibility, practical side, and so on.

Celebrating his centennial, an exhibition on Blessed Rua opened in some side rooms of the basilica of Mary Help of Christians. Fr. Adriano Bregolin, the SDB vicar general, inaugurated the exhibit on the 28th.
Since Blessed Michael's liturgical memorial falls on Oct. 29, we were able to celebrate that--along with very many Salesians from the 2 local communities of Valdocco and perhaps elsewhere. Fr. Bregolin, who is Fr. Rua's successor as the vicar of the rector major, presided at the Mass and preached. After Mass, we all descended to the crypt of the basilica to pray at Blessed Rua's tomb.

A variation from the days of presenting and listening to research came on Oct. 30, when most of us got into 2 large buses and went to the hamlet of Sant'Anna di Caselle, not far from Turin, where Fr. Rua was ordained in 1860.
We received a royal welcome from the locals, including the mayor and the pastor (our arrival at the village entrance, above), celebrated Mass (literally filling the tiny church),
and then had a huge feast in town (Caselle proper) at the oratory that these devoted lay Salesians run.

The hospitality of the Salesians of Turin was wonderful.

On the final day of the convention, we elected a new board of directors ("presidency") for the association. Outgoing president Fr. Norbert Wolff of Germany is pictured above, presiding at that general assembly. The new president is Sr. Grazia Loparco, FMA, of Rome.

Painting of Blessed Michael's "first Mass," in the church of St. Francis de Sales at the Oratory, assisted by Don Bosco.

Since I arrived in Turin about 26 hours before the start of the convention and, due to airline schedules, was compelled to depart about 16 hours after it ended, and since we had one free afternoon (the 30th), I was able not only to visit the Salesian sites of the Oratory (the basilica, the church of St. Francis de Sales, the Pinardi chapel, Don Bosco's rooms) but also to visit some sites in the city. I opted particularly for Turin's cathedral, linked to Don Bosco's archbishops, the Holy Shroud, and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. At left (I hope!) is the memorial in the cathedral to Abp. Louis Fransoni, who ordained Don Bosco and was a great supporter of his work in its difficult beginnings.

I also opted to visit the Consolata, the church of Our Lady of Consolation, patroness of Turin, where Don Bosco often went to pray and where his mentor, St. Joseph Cafasso preached and heard confessions (including Don Bosco's every week) for some 20 years, and where Cafasso is entombed.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Homily for 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the 
30th Sunday of Ordinary TimeOct. 25, 2009
Mark 10: 46-52
Christian Brothers, Iona College

“On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, Bartimaeus began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, son of David, have pity on me’” (Mark 10: 47).

Jesus has come to the last 15 miles of his journey up to Jerusalem, passing thru Jericho and starting the ascent toward the holy city. He’s a pilgrim going up for Passover. He’s the Son of David en route to David’s city. He’s the Son of Man “on the way” to his destiny (10:38,45,52).

The blind man, the son of Timaeus, interrupts his begging for alms from the crowds of pilgrims following this age-old road to beg for something better than alms. Evidently he knows Jesus is a healer. No pressure from the people around him—including the disciples, probably—will deter him from calling out to Jesus to have pity on him, to be allowed to come close to Jesus and be saved.

When Jesus has summoned Bartimaeus, he asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (10:51). This is exactly the same question that he asked the sons of Zebedee in the immediately preceding passage (10:36), which was our gospel last Sunday. Mark starkly contrasts the 2 favored disciples and this stranger, this beggar. James and John also are convinced that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah, and see him as a means to personal power and glory. The blind beggar sees Jesus as a teacher and personal savior: “Master”—Mark uses the Aramaic emphatic form of “rabbi,” rabbouni, meaning “my teacher”—“My teacher, I want to see” (10:51).

In calling Jesus the Son of David, Bartimaeus implicitly sees him as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah that was our 1st reading: “The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel. I will gather…the blind and the lame in their midst. I will console them and guide them. I am a father to Israel.” (31:7-9) The Son of David will restore Israel in joy, will gather the lost, will care for the weak, the ill, the helpless. Leadership and salvation aren’t about power but about service: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). As we saw last week, James and John haven’t grasped that yet; none of the apostles have.

This isn’t to say that Bartimaeus has grasped it. But his ambition is noble: “Master, I want to see.” In Mark’s gospel there’s a lot of blindness—very little of the physical kind, mostly of the spiritual kind. James and John and the rest of the 12 are blind. Jesus’ own family are blind (3:20-21). The Pharisees, the scribes, and the Sanhedrin are blind. The soldiers who will arrest Jesus and torture him, and Pontius Pilate, who will try him, are blind. The only ones who see are people like the woman with the hemorrhage, maybe (5:25-34), the Syro-Phoenician woman (7:24-30), the woman who anoints Jesus with “costly genuine spikenard” at Bethany (14:3-9), and most obviously the centurion at the crucifixion (15:39). All of these, incidentally, are outsiders, pariahs, as far as the chosen people, the elite, and the disciples are concerned. Mark is telling us something thereby. Asking to be able to see means knowing that Jesus enables us to see the created world and our relationships with other people in their true light. Asking to be able to see means seeing our own need, our own helplessness (“For human beings salvation is impossible, but all things are possible for God”—10:27). Asking to be able to see is akin to the prayer of the man who wanted Jesus to cure his possessed son: “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (9:24), having enuf faith to know that we still need a lot of healing, a lot of help on our way to salvation. Bartimaeus wants to see whatever this master, this teacher, has to show him.

You’ll recall that 2 weeks ago, linked to the gospel of the rich man who couldn’t part with possessions and follow Jesus—part of this same 10th chapter of Mark (vv. 17-22)—Peter said to Jesus, “We’ve given up everything and followed you” (10:28). It’s evident of course from the disciples’ earthly ambitions and their fears that they haven’t given up everything to follow Jesus. The blind man, however, does give up the last remnant he has as he responds to Jesus’ invitation to come to him: “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus” (10:50). He comes to Jesus with nothing, in utter need, even in desperation.

When Jesus summons the son of Timaeus to him, the people in the crowd tell the blind man, “Take courage. Get up; Jesus is calling you” (10:49). That sounds like what John Paul II used to tell us so often, doesn’t it? “Take courage” or “Do not be afraid” to answer the call of Jesus—the call to be his follower, even the call of a vocation to consecrated life. It takes courage to follow Jesus, to be sure, but what could be more encouraging than knowing that we are going to him, are going to be with him?—whether as a Christian disciple of this rabbouni or as a person totally consecrated to him by vow or ordination.

The insight that Bartimaeus has gained does something for him, again implied by our reading of Mark’s words. When Jesus came along, the beggar was sitting “by the road” (10:46). He’s not part of the disciples gathered around Jesus “on the road, on the way” but is apart from them. Once given his sight, tho “immediately he followed Jesus on the way” (10:52). Note this: Jesus told him, “Go your way” (10:52), he followed Jesus. He made the way of Jesus his own way. Bartimaeus willingly and with courage follows Jesus on this road.

The true disciples of Jesus, unlike the 12, know what following him on the way to Jerusalem means; they know what it means to be the Son of David who has pity upon all the wretched of the earth: not power and glory but death and resurrection. Now it’s up to us to have similar courage, to come to Jesus as he summons us, and to follow him to Jerusalem: the place of earthly passion and death, also the city of resurrection and eternal splendor (Rev 21:2).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cardinal Zen Leads Day of Recollection for SDBs, FMAs

Cardinal Joseph Zen, SDB,
Leads Day of Recollection for SDBs, FMAs
Last Saturday, October 17, Cardinal Joseph Zen, SDB, the retired bishop of Hong Kong, offered a day of recollection at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., for all the Salesian priests, brothers, sisters, novices, and candidates (aspirants) in the New York area. Almost 90 came (most of them are in the photo above) from the communities of Newton, Haledon, North Haledon, Kenilworth, Elizabeth, Orange, Port Chester, and New Rochelle.
The cardinal (right) met up with his old canon law professor from what was at the time the Salesian Pontifical Atheneum in Turin: Fr. Jerry Sesto, SDB, now 88 years old and still an active assistant pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Elizabeth.

In the Prep's auditorium the cardinal gave two conferences and, later, a Q&A session. He spoke of the devotion of his parents (especially his father); meeting the Salesians as a boy in Shanghai; the fatherly presence of the Salesians that enabled their students to survive the Japanese occupation of Shanghai and the dangers of war; the great Salesian missionary Fr. Charles Braga, who was the Don Bosco of China; the development of his priestly and religious vocation; of his long exile in Hong Kong and elsewhere after the Communists took over the mainland in 1949.

The cardinal showed how Salesian spirituality affected him thru all of that, and he quoted several articles of our Salesian Rule to make his points. (Those are the Constitutions he's holding above.)

In a separate session, Cardinal Zen met with all the young SDBs and FMAs in formation and the aspirants, as well as some of their formators. Mostly he took questions from them and answered very frankly, e.g., about how to discern their vocations and be faithful to them, about the Salesians in China, about hopes for becoming missionaries someday.

Of course the cardinal posed with the young (and less young) SDBs and candidates (above), and likewise with the FMAs and their aspirants (below).
The cardinal is very down-to-earth and approachable, as you can see from the photo below, where he, a priest, a brother, and a pre-novice are chatting easily while they wait in the school cafeteria for lunch to be ready.

One thing that impressed me besides the cardinal's easy manner and forthrightness about the Church in Hong Kong and the rest of China ("I am a troublemaker") when he spoke one-on-one or to the whole group, was his hands. They're the hands of a man who has worked in his life--and I don't mean with a pen or a computer.

The day concluded with Mass in the school chapel, where the cardinal presided and preached on the gospel of the day (James and John, suffering with Christ).

After Mass, Fr. Steve Leake on behalf of the province presented Cardinal Zen with a gift: the first five volumes of Fr. Art Lenti's magnificent study of Don Bosco (Don Bosco: History & Spirit, destined to be seven volumes).

Fr. Joe Tyminski, Part II

Father Joe Tyminski, Part II

At Fr. Tym's funeral in Ramsey on the 20th, Fr. Tim Ploch offered these reflections (sent from San Francisco):
In my life I have lost three fathers. My biological father, Ed Ploch, passed away in 1986. Long before that, I had a first encounter with a Salesian “father,” Bernard Justen, my “father” director in the four years of my high school aspirantate. Then at the other end of my initial formation, just before being ordained a priest, I was blessed with another example of a father like Don Bosco, Joseph Tyminski. Now all three are gone.

If I love the priesthood, and I do, it’s because Fr. Tym instilled in me a deep and profound respect for this inestimable gift. He would cut right through the hypothetical arguments we used to have about whether being a Salesian or being a priest was the more fundamental part of our vocation. He taught me that being a priest is not an accident or a part time job. Salesian Priest is who I was to be. Salesian Priest is who I try to be. If Don Bosco always signed his letters with “John Bosco, Priest,” Joe Tyminski signed the letter of his life that way. No accident that he dies in the Year of the Priest. When I myself became director of those preparing for Salesian priesthood in Columbus, I took him consciously as my model, not very successfully, to imitate.

If I love the liturgy, and I do, it’s because of Joe Tyminski. Unlike some of my companions, I never got a hand slap at the altar for trying to be too trendy and thereby forgetting that the Mass is not about me the presider but about Christ the High Priest. I did however receive a few less-than-discreet liturgical coughs.

I wrote my Master’s thesis on how the act of liturgical preaching produced its effect in the congregation in a way analogous to the way the sacraments worked. He inspired me to write it, and to live it.

When I was asked to take on the role of provincial in our Eastern Province, he was one of the first ones I informed. He encouraged me all along, and corrected me often, saying, “Dear Father, I’ve been to three chapters. Now listen to me.” I know I was the benefit of his experience, wisdom, spirituality, and culinary skills on the provincial council in those years. And I know that the whole province was too.

Father Joe Tyminski was for me a walking example of Don Bosco’s advice to Michael Rua, and through him, to all of us: Make yourself loved. He could be fierce in his opinions, but he made you, he made me, love him. If we asked him to go out for a drink or something at night in Columbus, he would bark: “Stay home and read a spiritual book.” But still he had that something that Don Bosco tells us all: it’s not enough to love. They must know they are loved. Fr. Joe made us know that he loved us.

Rest in peace, dear Father. There in the heavenly liturgy, there are no more liturgical coughs, no more arrogant theology students, only the Jesus whom you served as his priest for more than 60 years. There you are with Don Bosco, whom you imitated as a Salesian for more than 70 years. Pray for us there. Pray especially that both U.S. provinces be gifted with sterling Salesian vocations like yours. Thank you for everything. To your face we never called you “the Polish prince.” But now we say, “Rest in peace, sweet Prince, dear Father.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Spiritual Father

Spiritual Father

I've been blessed with several true spiritual fathers in 46 years with the Salesians. I lost one of them this morning, Fr. Joe Tyminski.

Fr. Tym became director of the Salesian community in Columbus in 1974, shortly before my class of a dozen young SDB clerics arrived to start our theological studies at the Josephinum. Over the next four years he guided us spiritually, theologically, liturgically, pastorally, and in assorted other ways that had nothing to do with the book learning we were getting in our classrooms up the highway at the Joss in Worthington.

You can't describe the impact that he had on most of us--not just my class but all the classes of SDB priests that he helped form for six years at the Salesian Center, and on the brothers who were there too as part of the staff of the Boys Club or as students at Ohio Dominican or Franklin U. That impact continues--in me, certainly, as I exercise the priesthood of Jesus more than 30 years later, and, I think, also in most of my confreres who shared the experience.

Here's a version of what I wrote on this beloved priest-father (I have tears in my eyes right now) in my "official" capacity as the province's communications coordinator, and sent out to various Church and secular media:
Fr. Joseph Tyminski passed away quietly on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009, at 5:25 a.m. at Bon Secours-Maria Manor Nursing Care Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was three weeks short of his 90th birthday.

Throughout the province of New Rochelle, Fr. Tyminski was known simply as “Fr. Tym.” In Columbus he picked up another nickname among the seminarians, “the Silver Fox,” on account of his distinguished head of grayish-white hair—a name stolen, if you will, from the Cincinnati Reds’ manager of the time, Sparky Anderson.

Fr. Tym was born Nov. 3, 1919, in Orange, N.J. After graduating from Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., in June 1937, Joe Tyminski went to Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., in September as a Son of Mary (“late vocation”). He was admitted to St. Joseph’s Novitiate, also at Newton, a year later.

Bro. Tyminski made his first profession of vows on Sept. 8, 1939, and graduated from the college in June 1942 with a B.A. in philosophy. His practical training was carried out at St. Michael’s School in Goshen, N.Y. (1942-1944), and Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey (1944-1945).

Bro. Tyminski began theological studies at Don Bosco College in Newton in 1945 and completed them at the Salesian seminary in Aptos, Calif. in 1949. He was ordained a priest on June 29, 1949, in the chapel of Don Bosco College.

Fr. Tym’s first priestly assignment was at Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y., from 1949 to 1954, first as a teacher, then as "catechist” (campus minister), and finally as prefect of studies. Since the school was both a day and a boarding school, it entailed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week of academic, social, and spiritual

In 1954 he moved to Don Bosco Technical High School in Paterson, N.J., as the catechist. The school and community included day students, boarding students, aspirants to the Salesian brotherhood, and young Salesian brothers in their postnovitiate formation period. Five years later he was appointed director in Paterson, serving a single three-year term.

Fr. Tym became director of his alma mater, Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, in 1962. During seven years in that office he oversaw the school’s expansion, including the building of DeSales Hall, a classroom and administrative building which includes also science labs and a large auditorium.

A change in Fr. Tym’s ministry came in 1969 with his appointment as assistant pastor at Corpus Christi Church in Port Chester, N.Y., where he labored alongside the parish’s beloved pastor, Fr. Peter Rinaldi, for five years.

The six years from 1974 to 1980 probably were the highlight of Fr. Tym’s Salesian “career.” He brought his combined pastoral experience in schools and parish to the Salesian Center in Columbus, Ohio, to serve as director. The Center included a Boys Club (no girl members at the time) and the residence of the Salesian seminarians attending theological courses at the Pontifical College Josephinum and a few coadjutor brothers studying at other local colleges—all told, a community of some 50 confreres each year, a youth apostolate reaching several hundred children and staff, and an extensive apostolic program in parishes, hospitals, and the Juvenile Detention Center of Franklin County. The director’s qualities of fatherliness, experience, wisdom, availability, straightforwardness, and love for the liturgy, the priesthood, and the Church—not to mention his skill in the community’s kitchen—earned him the affection of virtually all the confreres, affection that he returned.

The high respect in which the entire province held Fr. Tyminski was reflected in his being elected as the province’s delegate to three general chapters of the Salesian Society: the 19th in 1965, 20th in 1971-1972, and 21st in 1978.

Fr. Tym joined the retreat house staff at Haverstraw, N.Y., for the year 1980-1981, after which he served for one year as dean of students for the candidates to Salesian life (“Sons of Mary”) at Don Bosco College in Newton before being named director of the entire college community (1982-1985), which also included the novices, young professed Salesians, and staff. He came to the provincial residence in New Rochelle in 1985 as director for a three-year term, which was followed by a three-year stint as pastor of Corpus Christi Church. He returned to the provincial house in 1991 for a year.

In 1992 he returned to New Jersey as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Mahwah. After seven years of dedicated ministry, he stayed a year with the candidates to Salesian life in South Orange, N.J. (1999-2000), then did another stint at Corpus Christi in Port Chester as an assistant pastor for two years.

Fr. Tym finally went into a quasi-retirement in 2002 at the Salesian Center in Columbus until the community closed in 2008. He moved to St. Philip the Apostle Residence, the Salesian retirement home in Tampa, briefly before poor health required him to move into Bon Secours-Maria Manor early in 2009.

Someone who Fr. Tym long before I did wrote in this afternoon: "Although he was never my director, I will always remember him from my two years as an aspirant in Paterson. He was a friendly, loving priest and a fine gentleman."

Requiescat in pace!