Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Interview with Our New Provincial

Interview with Our New Provincial

Last Friday veteran, award-winning religion reporter Gary Stern of the Journal News, our local Gannett newspaperdid a telephone interview with Fr. Tom Dunne. The JN serves several counties just north of NYC. Back in January, when Fr. Tom's appointment was announced, Gary also blogged about it (using material that I'd forwarded to him--doing my job).

[If you'd like to check out a good general religion blog, go to "Blogging Religiously" at http://religion.lohudblogs.com/ ]

Here's the column Gary published in yesterday's paper:
Catholic order appoints province leader
The Salesians of Don Bosco, the worldwide Catholic order dedicating to
serve youth and the poor, will install the Rev. Thomas A. Dunne as its new
leader for the eastern United States and all of Canada on Wednesday at Salesian High School in New Rochelle.

Dunne, a Brooklyn native, was ordained in 1972 and has served the Salesians in numerous posts. He is beginning a six-year term as provincial superior and will be based at the Salesians' Eastern Province offices in New Rochelle.
"You're never really prepared for something like this," Dunne said. "It's about taking each step as it comes and staying focused on the mission -- with a spirit of faith."
Dunne faces the challenge of taking on Salesian operations in Canada, which have just fallen under the purview of the Eastern Province. The move represents a tightening of resources at a time when fewer men are become priests and brothers.
"We're looking at it more as a stimulus package than a downsizing," he said. "By bringing all of our resources together under one community heading, we might be able to do a better job at what we're supposed to do."
In addition to facing a decline in vocations, the Salesians are still dealing with the fallout from the Catholic Church's sex-abuse crisis. Several Salesian provinces around the world have faced accusations of abuse -- including the transfer of abusive priests -- and the order's San Francisco-based Western Province reached a $19.5 million settlement with victims last year.
Asked if the Salesians have begun recovering, Dunne said: "I don't know if we ever will.
"There has been a wound inflicted upon the young people by some of our members and a wound we have inflicted upon ourselves," he said. "It will take a process of healing that will come in God's own time. I don't know when that will be. In the meantime, our heart goes out to those who have been so severely damaged."
He said the order is now trying to be diligent about preventing future abuse and carrying out its mission to protect the young.
From 1992 to 2006, Dunne served as director of the Office of Youth Ministry in the Archdiocese of Boston, the nexus of the sex-abuse crisis.
"You hear more and more people ask how we could have missed so much," he said. "That's something I'll be thinking about for the rest of my life."
Dunne, 66, will become provincial superior as the Salesians -- the
second-largest Catholic order in the world -- celebrate their 150th anniversary.

And he'll finish his term in 2015, the year of the 200th birthday of Don Bosco, the Salesians' founder.
He said the Salesians have to rely more on laypeople as the numbers of priests and brothers declines. He noted that Don Bosco worked only with laypeople from 1841 to 1859, when he founded the religious community.
"If we're going to be true to our founding, it has to be contextualized within a larger group of people serving the young," Dunne said.
"More laypeople and young people are collaborating with us, and they
have a wonderful spirit."

The Eastern Province includes 165 priests and brothers running five schools, including Salesian High School, and 13 parishes, including Corpus Christi and Holy Rosary in Port Chester. The Salesians also operate the well-known Marian Shrine and Don Bosco Retreat Center in Stony Point.
The Canada Province includes 30 priests and brothers who oversee one
school, seven parishes and a camp. Dunne plans to visit the Canadian operations soon.

"I've spent 40 years in youth ministry, working mostly with laypeople
working with kids," Dunne said. "Now it's working with the whole Salesian
community. It is a different way of looking at the same reality."

Wednesday's installation service will take place at 5 p.m.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Homily for 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
13th Sunday of Ordinary TimeJune 28, 2009
Wis 1: 13-15; 2: 23-24
St. Michael, Greenwich
St. Timothy, Banksville

“God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living” (Wis 1: 13).

Last Sunday, using the story of Job and the episode in which Jesus calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee, we reflected on the problem of evil in the world and on the ultimate nature of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Today’s readings affirm that God is a God of life and of complete salvation.

The Book of Wisdom, sometimes called the Wisdom of Solomon, dates from the 1st century B.C. Like the Book of Job, part of this book is a sustained reflection on evil in the world, and like Job it places the blame for suffering and death on the devil (cf. 2:24). Unlike Job, Wisdom presents a belief in the immortality of the soul and even in the resurrection of the body, and thus of God’s vindication as the Lord of life and salvation.

The passage we read today states that God made living creatures for life. Death wasn’t part of his plan. Alluding to the 1st chapter of Genesis, Wisdom reminds us that human beings are made in God’s image; therefore he intended us to be imperishable (2:23).

Our bodies do perish, of course. Writing in the last 50 years or so before Christ, the author couldn’t have known how God was going to redeem creation. He could only maintain that God would vindicate his own plan: “for justice is undying” (1:15). God would finally defeat wicked men and even the devil. It’s more than evident that justice isn’t fully served on earth, in our present human experience. Therefore, the Book of Wisdom teaches —as does Christian theology—justice must be served, good people rewarded and the evil punished, in an afterlife.

In the gospels we see God’s redemption begin to unfold. In today’s reading from St. Mark, for instance, Jesus—who incarnates God’s love for humanity—shows us in several ways God’s will to save us. Mark skillfully weaves together 2 cures, and he subtly also indicates God’s liberation of the oppressed, or if you prefer, of 2d-class citizens.

The cures involve victories at Jesus’ hand over human illness—persistent, incurable illness—and over even death. Illness of course is related to death; the frailty and deterioration of our bodies foreshadow death. Jesus’ power over illness betokens his power over anything that afflicts the body. His power over death foreshadows his own resurrection, and as “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18), “the firstborn of many brothers and sisters” (Rom 8:29), as St. Paul says, he will bring all his followers, as well, to resurrection and everlasting life. And that will be the ultimate victory for God’s “fashioning all things that they might have being,” the final triumph of God’s “undying justice” (Wis 1:14-15).

Human beings aren’t just disembodied souls. Angels are disembodied souls, purely spiritual creatures. (So are devils.) We don’t change our nature at death, don’t become something that God never made us to be. For God fully to redeem us, fully to vindicate or justify his own creation, he must save us as we are, the way he made us: as embodied persons. Jesus thruout his public ministry and thru his resurrection shows God’s intent to do that, as well as his power to carry out what he intends.

But wait—there’s more! as certain TV commercials alert us. There’s the part about liberating the oppressed, dignifying the underclasses.

It’s a fundamental of Christian theology that every human being has an equal dignity before God, coming from God himself. The Wisdom reading alluded to our being created in his image. You know well that that verse from Genesis refers not only to male persons but also to females: “God created man [homo sapiens] in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).

While all people are oppressed by sickness and death, and by sin, which underlies sickness and death, some people, to turn around George Orwell’s famous phrase, are less equal than others, have less standing as human beings created in the image of God. You know that in most early human societies, and certainly in Jewish society in our Lord’s time—as thruout the Middle East still, except in Israel—women were and are 2d-class persons. And children had even less standing, less dignity, in society.

But whom do we see Jesus redeeming today? A woman and a child. Not only a woman, but a woman who is unclean because she has some unspecified “flow of blood” (Mark 5:29); she’s perpetually excluded from the worshipping community of Israel. Not only a child, but a female child; and she too is unclean because she’s dead.

By touching or being touched by these unclean persons, Jesus becomes unclean himself. That ritual uncleanness doesn’t bother Jesus. For he has come precisely to save the unclean: thru his incarnation the Son of God touches humanity and takes upon himself our uncleanness—not in a ritual sense but in a moral sense—he bears our sins, pays the price of our sins. And in doing so he makes us clean.

But back to these specific persons, the woman and the child. Jesus comes to save these persons too, to remove their ritual uncleanness—as he removes the moral uncleanness of our sins—and to restore them to the community of Israel, just as he restores lepers and possessed persons. He’s the Savior of all, without discrimination—which he indicates also by addressing the healed woman as “Daughter,” i.e., a child of God as much as any other believer (5:34).

In both gospel stories, the way to salvation is opened by faith: “Daughter, your faith has saved you” (5:34); “Jesus said to the synagogue official, ‘Do not be afraid; just have faith’” (5:36). Have faith in the power of Jesus to save from the devil and all the evil the devil has brought into the world.

That message of faith, fearless faith, is one thing for us to take home today, faith that God wills our good, our health, our life; and he will effect it.

A 2d message to take home is Jesus’ addressing human illness, human suffering. As his disciples, concerned like him for the welfare of human persons in their entirety—bodies and souls—we do what we can to relieve suffering, stave off death, comfort the dying and the bereaved, offer hope of God’s mercy and love.

A 3d message to take home is God’s universal love for all human beings, his recognition of the dignity, the worth, that he himself has bestowed on women as well as men, on children as well as adults, and on our own responsibility to treat every person as a son or daughter of God.

May God bless you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Changing fo the Guard

Changing of the Guard

In the spring of every year, the provincial announces personnel changes for the coming pastoral year, generally meaning from July 1.

Our provincial residence community is affected this year: we'll be getting a new director (superior of the local community), Fr. Steve Dumais (left).

Fr. Steve and I have been classmates since we entered novitiate on August 14, 1966, altho we've never been stationed together except as students (novitiate, 4 years of college, 4 of theology). We came close during our first year as priests, 1978-79, when we were both in Louisiana--I at Archbishop Shaw HS in Marrero and he at St. Rosalie Church in Harvey, a mile away.

Fr. Steve will be wearning 2 other hats on behalf of the province: vice provincial and councilor for communications (and in this last responsibility my direct "boss" in my work of editing, publishing, and PR).

We're getting a new director because our old
one, Fr. George Hanna (right), has been re-assigned to Nativity Church in Washington, D.C. , as pastor. Fr. George was here only one year. He's spent most of his priestly life of more than 40 years in parishes, and he'll do well at Nativity.

Fr. George will also be the director of the SDB community in Washington, which includes not only the parish priests but also our confreres on the staff of Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS in Takoma Park, Md. They reside at the parish.

Fr. George left us yesterday to start his new job.

He'll have a very big pair of shoes to fill, following in the steps of Fr. Steve Schenck (right), who was pastor and director for the last 6 years. Fr. Steve's a very talented and pastoral man with whom I was privileged to serve twice in Paterson (1982-84 and 1999-2002).

Fr. Steve is moving to Port Chester to become pastor of Holy Rosary Church, where he'll have his own big pair of shoes to fill, those of Fr. Tim Ploch, who in February became provincial in San Francisco after 9 years at Holy Rosary.


Fr. Steve Dumais comes to New Rochelle from the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, where he was director for the last 7 years. He'll be replaced there by another theology and ordination classmate, Fr. John Puntino (left). Fr. John's moving in from Columbus. He was director at the Marian Shrine once before, almost 10 years ago.






The change of pastor and director isn't the only one taking place in our Washington community. Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS needs a new principal, and Fr. John Serio (right), a very experienced schoolman, is moving from our New Rochelle community to fill that post.

Fr. John will also continue to serve the province as superintendent of schools.





A couple of our directors were re-appointed for new terms. Fr. Dennis Donovan (left) will start a 2d three-year term as director of Mary Help of Christians Center in Tampa, which includes a unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa, a parish, a retirement residence for Salesians, and sundry other pastoral/youth programs.

Fr. Jim McKenna (not pictured) will start a 3d three-year term as director-president of Archbishop Shaw HS in Marrero.

Finally, Fr. Bill Keane (right) was re-appointed to a 3d three-year term as master of novices. Our novitiate is located at Holy Rosary Church's rectory in Port Chester. Fr. Bill has also been vice provincial for the last 6 years, but he's stepping aside from that (probably very happily) and will instead serve the province as councilor for formation.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Homily for 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 21, 2009 Year B
Mark 4: 35-41
St. Michael, Greenwich
St. Timothy, Banksville

“He asked them, ‘Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?’” (Mark 4: 40).

The story of the apostles in the boat with Jesus during the storm reminds me of the fellow who was trapped on his roof during a big flood. Before long, a National Guard truck came by, almost swimming thru the deep water in the street. The soldiers called for him to come down. “Nope,” he said. “Jesus is going to take care of me.”

The water rose higher, reaching the eaves of the house. A boat with Red Cross volunteers came along, and they invited the man to get in. “Nope,” he said. “Jesus is going to take care of me.”

The water rose further, leaving the man straddling the peak of his roof. A guy came along in a canoe and eased his way over to the house. He urged the man to come with him, for the river was still rising. “Nope,” the man said. “Jesus is going to take care of me.”

The water continued to rise. And the fellow was swept from his roof and drowned.

He arrived at the Pearly Gates, where Jesus was waiting for him. Now the man was pretty upset, and he lit into Jesus. “Where were you when I needed you?” he shouted. “Didn’t you care?”

“Now, wait a minute,” Jesus said. “I sent you the National Guard. I sent you the Red Cross. I sent you a canoe. What were you waiting for?”

Sometimes we just don’t recognize how Jesus comes to us, how he’s present to us, how he’s guiding our lives. We can be just as oblivious as the 12 apostles or the fictitious fellow on the roof.

Certainly we’d all like to have our lives fully under control, to be safe at all times, or at least to understand all that happens to us.

To some limited extent, things are under our control. In the last couple of weeks, air disasters have been much in the news. We don’t know much yet about the Air France tragedy off Brazil. We do know a lot about the flight called “the miracle on the Hudson” and the Colgan Air flight that ended so horribly near Buffalo last winter.

The Continental plane that ditched in the Hudson could just as easily have had a horrible end. I don’t know whether Capt. Sullenberger or his copilot prayed, but they certainly followed their training, didn’t panic, and made the right decisions. We do know that some of the passengers prayed, if not before their splash landing, immediately after. We thank God for the happy outcome.

The evidence from the Buffalo flight indicates a tired, ill-trained, and inattentive pilot and copilot who apparently made the wrong decision to rectify their loss of air speed. We don’t know whether they prayed, but in the face of all that, it would truly have taken a miracle of divine intervention to save them. May all who perished rest in peace.

Mark’s story of Jesus and the apostles in trouble on the lake spoke in one fashion to 1st-century Christians facing persecution—not a natural storm but one of terrible human origin, one from which they must have prayed for deliverance: “Master, don’t you care that we’re perishing?” (4:38). Surely they did their best to deserve God’s blessings, and surely they tried to present themselves well to their pagan neighbors. In the 1st century Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles seem, at least in part, to have been attempts to explain Jesus and Christianity to the pagan public; and in the 2d century St. Justin the Martyr, among others, did the same. People did what they could—like Capt. Sullenberger—and then trusted themselves to their Savior.

Our concerns are different. We may ask how was God present at Auschwitz or in Rwanda or during Katrina. We may ask why God doesn’t seem to care about our dying parent, our child with an incurable illness. Why does God allow crooks to prosper while the economy tanks?

Our 1st reading today was from the 38th chapter of Job. For most of the preceding 37 chapters, Job has been demanding that God explain all the misfortunes that have befallen him. We know from having read chapters 1 and 2 that Satan has inflicted them as a test of Job’s integrity, but of course he doesn’t know that. Meanwhile, Job’s friends have been at his side, and they’re blaming him, telling him to examine his conscience and admit his sins—he must deserve everything that’s happened to him. And his wife, who presumably knows how uprightly he has lived, advises him just to curse God, denounce God, who seems to be unfaithful to Job.

That wifely approach is the approach of many modern people, as you know, who say that a good God could never have permitted Auschwitz, Katrina, or my personal unmerited tragedies.

Obviously this isn’t a new issue. The Book of Job is at least 2,500 years old, and no doubt people asked much earlier than that why the innocent suffer. No doubt people asked, like the apostles, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?” Where is God’s justice? Where is our safety, our salvation (in all the Romance languages, that’s the same word: salus, salute, salut, etc.).

Our reading from Job 38 was chosen for its description of the might of the sea, in symmetry with the events in the gospel reading. It’s part of a long passage wherein God assures Job that he’s master of the entire universe, and Job’s just one small part of that universe. Job hasn’t got a clue about how he fits into the entirety of God’s doings, God’s concerns. When Job admits his ignorance and submits to God’s wisdom, God heals him and restores him to his previous wealth and happiness. In other words, he finds salvation, as understood in the Old Testament, by placing all his trust in God.

And that complete trust is also what Jesus demands of the apostles in the boat: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”; what he demanded of persecuted Christians in the 1st century; what he demands of Christians in every age in the face of any difficulty, any danger.

If we call God the Creator and Lord of the universe—and really mean it, really believe—we can certainly wonder what he’s up to, why he allows evil to flourish. But in the end we can only confess that we don’t know what he’s doing or why. It’s not a satisfying answer, to be sure.

If we call Jesus our Lord and Savior—which puts us a few steps beyond the apostles in Mark’s 4th chapter—we can only trust that he’s mightier than all the storms of the world, all its evil, stronger even than death, stronger even than my own personal sins and all the harm they do to me and to others. Why be terrified? He’s in charge. That was the repeated message of John Paul the Great, you remember, from the moment of his election: “Don’t be afraid”: trust in Jesus.

Do you remember the Bible song that was popular in the ’70s? (I wish I could sing it for you, but you don’t deserve that punishment:)
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who stilled the water.
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who calmed the sea.
Put your hand in the hand of the man
From Galilee.


I may not like or understand how he answers my prayers for help, for deliverance, because I don’t understand much about God’s ways. I can only try to cooperate with those ways, do my little part right, like Capt. Sullenberger, and then trust Jesus to pull me thru.

For the New Testament believer, “pulling me thru” means thru all of life’s storms and finally thru death—not around death, not without death, but thru death. For we all have to perish, as did Jesus himself. The only escape from the grave, the only deliverance from the final peril, the only safety and salvation, is in the hands of the One who rose from the grave and who assures us that he will raise up all who believe in him. “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come” (Creed).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Homily for Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi
The Body & Blood of Christ
June 14, 2009

Ex 24: 3-8
St. Michael, Greenwich, Conn.
St. Timothy, Banksville, Conn.

“The people…all answered with one voice, ‘We will do everything that the Lord has told us’” (Ex 24: 3).

The scene described in our 1st reading is the conclusion of a scenario—or from another perspective is leading up to the climax—that you’ve all watched at the movies: Moses, looking like Charlton Heston with a great gray beard, has led the Israelites out of Egypt, out of slavery, thru the Red Sea, to the foot of Mt. Sinai. Moses reminds them of all those spectacular events, and he assures them that God promises to remain their protector, their redeemer, their champion (more reliable than Johan Santana or Mariano Rivera) if the Israelites will remain faithful to him, to him alone, as their God. And the people agree: “Everything that God commands us we will do.”

Then Moses offers a sacrifice of young bulls and splashes half the blood of the sacrifice on the altar, half on the people. If you thought it was bad to be splashed with holy water… but there’s a serious theological and liturgical purpose here. The altar represents God (as our altar here represents Christ, which is why it’s treated with great reverence). So God and the people are bound together by blood. They have committed their lives to carry out the terms of their covenant. “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.” “Everything” will shortly be detailed when Moses ascends Mt. Sinai and returns with the 10 Commandments and all the other regulations of family life, social ethics, and common worship.

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the solemn feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. The blood of Christ ratified a new covenant between God and humanity, a new covenant of salvation wrought by God and of commitment by God’s people.

God, in Christ, commits himself to forgiving our sins and adopting us as his children, members of his family, for eternal life. Christ, in the words of our 2d reading, “is mediator of a new covenant [that] those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15).

What do we commit to? Like the Israelites in Moses’ time, to doing what God commands. His commands, in Christ, are 2. One we’re doing right now, for he commanded us, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19), i.e., celebrate the Holy Eucharist, by which he becomes present to us. The Eucharist isn’t a symbol, isn’t a sign: it is our Lord Jesus Christ in his risen body, the same body offered for us on the cross, the same blood shed to covenant our salvation. As Moses sprinkled sacrificial blood on the altar and on the people, we take the real body and blood of the Lord from his altar to our own lips and our own hearts, ratifying our participation in this new covenant of salvation.

The other command also comes from the Last Supper, as recounted in St. John’s Gospel, where Jesus tells the disciples to love one another. The Eucharist covenants us with one another as God’s children in Christ and therefore commits us to one another, makes us—in the ironic words of the murderer Cain—our brother’s and sister’s keeper (cf. Gen 4:9), makes us responsible for one another; or, in the words of one of John Paul the Great favorite expressions, puts us in solidarity with one another.

As God’s people, today we acclaim, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.” We will celebrate the Eucharist, which makes him truly present to us, makes us participants in his passion, death, and resurrection. And we will live the Eucharist, treating all our brothers and sisters in the human family, all for whom Christ shed his blood, with love, with respect, with dignity, with honor: the born and the unborn, the young and the old, male and female, native and foreign, black, white, and brown, Christian and non-Christian.
For a beautiful reflection on the Holy Eucharist, see Mary DeTurris Poust's blog Not Strictly Spiritual: http://www.notstrictlyspiritual.blogspot.com/

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Oswego, part II

Oswego, part II

If you've already looked at the pictures of the St. Mary's Church (previous post), you know it's a perfect place for a wedding. God also blessed Fred and Michele with a nearly perfect day as regards the weather on Saturday, May 23.

Michele Joyner is Fred's love, and his family has very happily received her as one of their own (and her family has received him just as happily, it appeared to me).

I was privileged that Fred and Michele invited me to officiate at their wedding. We were also very fortunate that their pastor at St. Mary's, Fr. Richard Morisette, was on hand to guide us thru the rehearsal on Friday evening. I don't do this very often!

Some reflections to introduce the sacramental liturgy:
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this beautiful church of St. Mary. In case you’re wondering, Fr. Morisette says it’s in English Gothic style, with yellow brick to give a feeling of warmth—which, however, doesn’t help much with the heating bills. All of us Catholics are invited to return and admire the church again tomorrow morning for Sunday Mass.

We’ve come to this beautiful church for the beautiful occasion of Michele and Fred’s wedding. [To Michele and Fred:] The time for nerves is over, guys: all you have to do is follow directions and not step on any dresses. So take a deep breath and relax.

We come to a church because this is also a sacred occasion. Marriage involves this wonderful couple—and each of the families is very blessed in the in-law they’re gaining—and it involves God. For God is part of an authentic marriage and part of our lives as disciples of Jesus.

Marriage takes place before the community. It involves not just Fred and Michele but all of us. Their marriage is for the strengthening and enrichment of the community, and we in turn must support and pray for them.

It’s most fitting that we perform this rite in the context of the Eucharist, of God’s greatest gift to us, his Son for our salvation.

I gave my camera to Fred's brother-in-law Steve to take a few pix during the rite. Here Fred and Michele are either exchanging their vows or one of them's getting a ring. Michele's sister Erin is the maid of honor, and Fred's brother Pete is the best man.

After Mass, a very long reception line outside church.
The groom, yours truly, and the bride: the proverbial thorn between two roses!

The Vigeants have been dear friends ever since I baptized Ben (back row, center) in 1986. Fred and Pete (behind Michele) were my altar boys at Holy Cross Church in Fairfield, and Pete asked me to be his Confirmation sponsor. Fred Sr. (back row, 3d from left) and Anita (front row, 3d from left) asked me to be godfather for Mark (back row, 2d from right), a very great honor for me (for him too, I hope). Margot (front in green) and Steve (front, far right) asked me to preside over their wedding in 1996 and later to baptize Gabe (between them). And we've done countless meals together, museums, the theater (The Fantastiks), a ball game, lots of e-mail, a funeral, and more. God bless them all!
For a lot more on the wedding, including many photos, go to Margot's blog: http://web.me.com/mvigeant/Site/Blog/Blog.html
And here's the homily, based on these texts: Songs 2: 8-10, 14, 16; 8: 6-7. Rom 15: 1-3, 5-7, 13. Mark 10: 6-9.
I haven’t done many weddings in 31 years as a priest—it’s a good sacrament not to be officiating at for high school students, who’ve been half of my priestly ministry; the other half has involved mostly books and such. So my wedding experience has been mostly with family, a few former students, and Vigeants.

Let’s reflect on the readings that Fred and Michele chose and see what they tell us about their aspirations, and what God’s telling us about this holy sacrament of Matrimony.

“Hark! my love—here he comes, springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills” (Songs 2:8). This leaping lover of course is Fred as Superman (at least in Michele’s eyes; not in his sister’s eyes, for sure, and, Lord knows, not in his brothers’). He leaps tall buildings, such as Oswego may have. Perhaps it’s more serious to say he’s crossed great distances—the state of New York, and not a few mountains and hills, to find his beloved.

“My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag” (2:9). He’s athletic, handsome, and strong: noble qualities, to be sure. Now we know why Fred’s blog is always talking about looking for good ski slopes.

“Here he stands behind our wall, gazing thru the windows, peering thru the lattices” (2:9). In fact, a few minutes ago Fred was looking thru a peep hole back there to see whether the moms had come up the aisle yet. But it sounds like this lover has a habit that could get him into big trouble. More positively, he longs to see his beloved, to be with her.

“My lover speaks: he says to me, ‘Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!’” (2:10). And a lot of sweet words follow, such as lovers coo to each other—or so I’ve heard. Their hearts speak to each other thru words, looks, gestures, and they respond to each other. The words, looks, gestures should be drawing them always closer to each other: “My lover belongs to me and I to him” (2:16).

Then the lover speaks to his beloved—and we ought to read these words as belonging to both husband and wife, addressed to each other: “Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm. For stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away” (8:6-7).

As I’ve walked around Oswego, I’ve come to realize that the city’s main business isn’t the port or the university. It’s tattoo shops. This seal on the heart or on the arm is more than a tattoo. For many centuries, letters and public documents were sealed with wax and a signet ring or an official stamp to show their authenticity. We still do something similar with official documents like diplomas, transcripts, marriage certificates, anything that has to be notarized.

But a seal also could indicate ownership. Some valuable household item could have a seal; trade goods could be sealed. People still place fancy bookplates in their more valued volumes. In ancient times slaves were branded, like cattle on the open range.

In sacramental theology, you may have heard—I know the older generation of Catholics did—that 3 sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders) imprint an indelible seal or character on one’s soul, marking one forever as belonging
to Jesus Christ in a most personal way, which is why those 3 sacraments can be received only once.

And this image of the seal is what you, Michele and Fred, are evoking now in this sacred scripture that you’ve chosen for your wedding: that your hearts and your whole selves will belong exclusively to each other from now until death. Your hearts will burn with fire and devotion for each other, unquenchably. Nothing can break the bond of your relationship except death: “Stern as death is love; relentless as the nether world is devotion.”

Such everlasting devotion of husband and wife for each other, Fred and Michele remind us, is God’s will, God’s plan, for marriage. The gospel reading they chose, in its 4 simple verses, quotes Jesus our Lord quoting Genesis: the two, wife and husband, become inseparably one, and no human power can alter that. By their physical union, the bodies of husband and wife say: we are also one of heart and mind and soul, for each other and before God. Jesus reminds us that this is God’s doing at least as much as it’s Michele and Fred’s or any couple’s. At the beginning of creation God made male and female, and a man and woman leave their parents to become one with each other, to form one new entity, one new family, one new household of God—what the 2d Vatican Council calls a “domestic church,”* a little image of the universal Church. “They are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:8).

We regard Matrimony as a sacrament because it’s a sign or image of a sacred reality, that reality we call the Church, the assembly of God’s people. Husband and wife replicate the union between Jesus Christ and his bride, the Church (cf. Eph 5:25-27; Rev 19:7,9; 21:2,9). That bond is unbreakable and everlasting, destined even to carry over beyond death into eternal life. Jesus can never forsake his bride, nor she him. Every sacramental marriage is a sign of that bond between Jesus and the Church. And so husband and wife in this sacrament can’t be separated by any human law, any court, or any public opinion. Michele and Fred, when you say, “all the days of my life,” that’s exactly what it means.

Is marriage hard work? Does it demand sacrifice? As a certain politician said on other subjects last year, “You betcha!” But couples do in fact persevere until death, whatever spats and difficulties they’ve faced; countless millions of couples have done so. You, Fred and Michele, are very fortunate because you’ve had the example of your parents before yours eyes all your lives: over 40 years for Fred and Anita and 30 years for Edie and Dick. Thank you for that healthy and holy example!

The 2d reading, from St. Paul, gives some advice on how to make a marriage work. The advice is good not just for marriage but for all manner of relationships.

“We ought to put up with the failings of the weak” (Rom 15:1). Fred, some day you’re going to be shocked to find out that Michele isn’t the goddess you think she is. Michele, some day you’re going to be shocked to discover that Fred’s not Superman, after all. You already know that in theory, I know. (We all know thru hard experience the difference between theory and reality.) But eventually some habit, some mistaken judgment, some failing from human weakness is going to upset you terribly. That’s when you’ll need to remember Paul’s advice, or even the example of our Savior, who’s so patient with us. Forgive each other as often as necessary. Paul says, “Welcome one another as Christ welcomed you” (15:7).

Paul goes on: “We ought…not to please ourselves; let each of us please our neighbor for the good” (15:1-2). And your first neighbor is your life’s partner, your best friend, your heart’s desire. Seek not to find fault but to please—and as Paul adds, to encourage, to think in harmony (15:4-5).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13). As disciples of Jesus, you have the power of his Spirit to draw upon and to give you joy and peace in whatever lies ahead, so that your lives may give glory to God and good example to your children and to all of us, and lead you in God’s good time to a place at the heavenly banquet, where we shall all celebrate with our Lord Jesus Christ, forever and ever!

* Lumen Gentium (Constitution on the Church), n. 11.

Oswego, part I

Oswego, part I

I returned from Rome at 5:20 p.m. on Thursday, May 21, and at 6:30 a.m. the next day I was on my way to Oswego, New York, a 300-mile, six-hour drive north by northwest (hey, there's a movie in there somewhere) from the NYC metro area. It was a picture-perfect day for a long drive, and I took a very scenic route: up Route 17 to Binghamton, then up I-81 thru Syracuse, whence it's another 35 miles to Oswego.

I was in Oswego once before as part of my annual vacation in September 2006. At that time I took one of my favorite photos:

The waters of Lake Ontario break over the (appropriately named) breakwater protecting Oswego harbor. At the breakwater's end is a lighthouse. The harbor is a very busy one, at the northern terminus of a canal and the Oswego River, which link to the Erie Canal.

The river, with its entree to central New York, made Oswego a natural outpost for the nations contending to control America in the 17th century. So a fort was built there by the French, and they and the British fought over it and the fur trade until the 1760s. Subsequently it became a base for British and American fighting in the War of 1812. And there was an active fort (see below) at the river's mouth thru WWII. Now Fort Ontario is a national monument.
Fort Ontario, atop the bluff at the mouth of the Oswego River. Lining the river are warehouses that serve the Great Lakes and inland trade routes.

Oswego River and the last canal lock before the harbor. Bridge Street, the city's main drag, crosses the river here. Some of the old warehouses along the river here have been transformed into eateries. The silos are for cement storage--part of the river-lake trade.
A little further upriver, a look at the part of the city on the western side. Further west is the campus of SUNY-Oswego, the other "main business" of the city besides the port.
My reason for visiting Oswego in September 2006 as part of my historical vacation trip (historical in the sense of visiting historical sites like Saratoga, Auriesville, Johnson Hall, Sackets Harbor, and Seneca Falls) was to visit a friend of 20 years, Fred Vigeant--once my altar boy in Fairfield, Conn., then a student at Oswego, and now station manager of NPR's WRVO at the university.
My reason for visiting Oswego this fine May weekend was to preside over Fred's wedding, which was celebrated at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church (above).
What a magnificent church! It's in the English Gothic style, built between 1917 and 1924, altho the parish itself dates to the 1840s. It's done in light brown brick with a lot of dark wood and gorgeous stained glass.

The windows lining the nave are dedicated to heroes and heroines of the Old Testament. This one portrays King David with his harp.

There are numerous statues of the saints in alcoves along the nave, handsomely carved from wood. How do you like this image of St. Patrick?

Next entry: the wedding.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Via della Pisana, 1111

Via della Pisana, 1111

Officially, that's the address of Salesian general headquarters in Rome. Or, to be technical, somewhat beyond the city limits; it's not even in the diocese of Rome.


The entrance, guarded by a large rolling steel gate (open here). The 808 bus stops inbound just to the left of the photo, and outbound on the right-hand side of the crosswalk.

Naturally, most of us think of Rome as a very old place. And it is. But the generalate or HQ is well away from downtown (about a half hour's drive from St. Peter's in normal traffic), and having been built in the early '60s is a lot newer than most of Rome! We moved our HQ here from the motherhouse in Turin (the place were Don Bosco founded the Salesian work) around 1965. It's one of about a dozen houses or communities that we have in or on the outskirts of the Holy City, including a pontifical university, schools, parishes, student residences, and the Vatican press.

When the site was chosen, we were given to understand that that the city was going to expand in this direction and there would be pastoral opportunities for the generalate staff. It's pastoral all right, but in a quite different sense! There are farms all around our property, and a sand quarry. And we have a lot of agricultural acreage of our own, cared for by some of the Salesian brothers on the generalate staff.

Some of our vegetable fields, greenhouses, and pasture land.


One of our hay fields. Via della Pisana is just beyond the trees.

Some of the non-professed (not in religious vows) members of the generalate community!

On a hill opposite the generalate buildings is a large olive grove, and beyond that a pine grove with a statue of Mary Help of Christians between the two, overlooking the house and community.
One of the old jokes about the Pisana (as Salesians usually refer to GHQ) is that the only kids to be found on the property are these two with Don Bosco:
Actually there are now signs that the rural character of the area is about to change drastically. As you head down the beltway toward the airport (DaVinci, also called Fiumacino), about 20 minutes away, you see building going on everywhere.

And there are evidently some kids now on the Pisana grounds. I don't know whether these particular ones that I observed were part of a group using the conference center or are children of some of the employees.
The building--it's all one big, monstrous interconnected labyrinth--is done in a very modern style (see photo below), all brick, marble, and cement. It's terrible to navigate, with constant turns and stairs. Except in the office corridors and those of the Salesianum (see below), you can't walk 50 feet without either having to turn a corner or go up/down a flight of stairs.
The main entrance to the generalate.
The main chapel is adjacent to the main entrance. There are about four minor chapels of varying sizes.
The grounds around the buildings are beautifully landscaped.


A driveway about a kilometer around circles the building, and at any time of the day you're likely to find Salesians or guests of the Salesianum taking a stroll.
Attached to the generalate is a large conference center called the Salesianum (its entrance and parking lot pictured below). It's used for large and small meetings by Salesians and others, for retreats, for general chapters (our own and other congregations'), as guest quarters in general (40 euros a nite, meals included). During our Bulletin editors' meeting we were billeted here, as were the province treasurers meeting at the same time. Before the meeting I was a guest in the generalate proper.
The Salesian community of the generalate numbers about 55 priests and brothers, besides the Rector Major and general council (numbering 14) and 3 priests with Congregation-wide responsibilities. The community is the immediate support staff of the RM and council and those who take care of the general running of the house--keep the food on the table and the cars running, manage the farms, handle the mail, etc.

Interior of the main chapel, where the community gathers twice a day for prayer and the sacred liturgy, and of course individuals pray at other times.
The center of the community: the tabernacle.
Its design incorporates the burning bush of Exodus, the 4 evangelists, and on the base a wheat sheaf.

There are, naturally, dozens and dozens of offices and meeting rooms in the building. This is the most important one: the Rector Major's.

Of interest to me, as the New Rochelle Province's communications officer, is the office of the Salesian News Agency (ANS). This shot thru the door shows only a very small part of it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Salesian Bulletin Editors Meet in Rome

Salesian Bulletin Editors Meet in Rome

On Monday, May 18, we came at last to the primary reason for my trip to Rome. The editors (direttori in Italian) of 23 Salesian Bulletins from five of the six inhabited continents met at Salesian headquarters (“the Pisana,” from its address at 1111 via della Pisana) from the 18th to the 20th. The week before there had been a separate meeting in Munich just for editors of European editions of the SB.


Display of Salesian Bulletins from all over the world, at Salesian HQ in Rome. The signs say "131 Nations" [where the Salesians minister] and "29 Languages." Like Heinz, the Bulletin comes in 57 varieties (editions).
The meeting was prepared and presided over by Fr. Filiberto Gonzalez, member of the general council responsible for communications media, and Fr. Giancarlo Manieri, editor of the Italian SB. The key topics were self-evaluations since the last general meeting of SB editors (Rome, September 2005), the nature and essential components of the SB, and approaches for improving and expanding the SB in the next few years.

The editors met in three language groups (Italian, Spanish, English) on the first morning to critique their magazines: how have we improved them since 2005, and what do we still need to do? We met again on the last morning to discuss follow-up from this meeting.

One of the Latin American editors speaking at the first session of our meeting.

In Monday afternoon Fr. Vito Orlando, communications professor at the Salesian Pontifical University, and the Rector Major addressed us—all in Italian. But Fr. Orlando had a good PowerPoint outline that made him easy enuf to follow, and the RM’s Italian isn’t complicated. Plus, he stopped now and then to invite questions or comments.
Fr. Vito Orlando speaking to us, with the aid of a well-presented PowerPoint
Both Fr. Orlando and Fr. Chavez presented the SB as an instrument of the entire Salesian Congregation (not of the editor alone or even of a single province/country). Its job is to present the authentic face of Don Bosco and the Salesian Family to the world, and the world to the Salesian Family through a Salesian prism—to give a Salesian slant to events and issues of concern to Church and society. It is to link everyone who believes he or she is a part of the Salesian world. Both stressed that the SB editor represents Don Bosco himself to the magazine’s readers. The editor has to have a keen awareness of the present situation of the Church, of the modern world (issues like globalization, communication, education), of modern society (multiethnic, multireligious, multicultural). Everything in the world is in some sense Salesian. They also pointed to the need for a clear mission statement and editorial policy known to all who contribute to the SB.
The Rector Major, Fr. Chavez, didn't need a PowerPoint. He speaks with both authority and fatherly familiarity--and in a fairly simple Italian, which of course isn't his own first language.
It's pretty automatic at any gathering to pose with the Rector Major at the statue of Don Bosco in the Generalate's foyer. The photographer needed to take a step back to get us all in--and of course everyone wanted a shot of this sort. Fr. Filiberto is to DB's right. I'm third from the right. A lot of us also got small group or individual shots with the RM; I posted one such earlier.
In his presentation on Tuesday morning, Fr. Julian Fox, Fr. Gonzalez’s executive assistant in the communications department, used PowerPoint and a lot of Italian and English to describe the new media (e.g., the Internet in all its varieties: the Web, blogs, chat rooms, FaceBook YouTube, Twitter, and all such things) as a new social event using a new language with its own grammar and syntax. He made numerous suggestions on how to use it more effectively. He recommended getting the SB on-line in an active (note merely archival) edition, commending the Argentine provinces for their version that’s already up and running (http://www.boletinsalesiano.com.ar/).
Fr. Fox fields a question on computer technology and its uses.

We had an afternoon field trip to the Vatican Polyglot Press, which prints the Holy See’s L’Osservatore Romano and various books and programs and which is directed by the Salesians.

In this room the plates are produced that will be set into the presses--no more "hot lead" to be set in this business.
In one of several very large press rooms, a press swallows a huge amount of paper in very little time and then spits out pages of books, pamphlets, or L'Osservatore Romano.

Some of our group admire the finished product: tonite's paper!

The small square (largo) between two of the Vatican Press buildings is named for St. John Bosco. Eight Salesians live in a community within the Vatican, seven of them involved with the publishing and printing. (The eighth works in the secretariat of state with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB.)

We also had some free time for sightseeing in or near the Vatican. Yours truly and Fr. Fox visited Castel Sant’Angelo, which used to be the papal fortress but is now a state museum (photo below).


The castle takes its name from the large statue of St. Michael the Archangel at its top.
From the roof of the castle you get some fine views of the city--not to compare with what you'd see from the dome of St. Peter, to be sure (I've never gone up there). This view focuses on another dome, that of the very large church of St. John Bosco in the Cinecitta' section of Rome.

Much closer at hand is the Tiber, which is a rather scuzzy-looking river. The closer bridge is the Victor Emmanuel Bridge. The hill at the right rear is the Janiculum, at the top of which is the North American College, the Roman seminary of the U.S. bishops where our new archbishop of New York was rector from 1994 to 2001.

At meeting’s end, Fr. Filiberto summed up by urging the SB editors to involve the entire Salesian Family in their magazines; continue to improve our design, e.g. by making it more graphic, more pictorial; remember the universal dimensions of its contents; prepare an editorial policy; develop working and evaluation teams; evaluate our product regularly; undertake what Benedict XVI has called “the journey of the ‘digital continent’” in small but steady steps to evangelize that continent where the young live; remember that the SB is the public face of the Congregation, and the editor is the image of Don Bosco.
Most of the English-language group on the last morning, with Fr. Giancarlo Manieri (standing). We were an eclectic group, for sure: Korean, Slovenian, Maltese, French, American, Thai, and Chinese!