Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Walk in he Woods

A Walk in the Woods

Bill Bryson wrote a well known and highly entertaining book called A Walk in the Woods about his hiking of part of the Appalachian Trail.

Bro. Tom taking a breather. The woods
are lush after all the rain we've had
this summer.

Today (Sunday, Aug. 30) Bro. Tom and I did a little hiking--near the AT, as a matter of fact. Specifically, we started at the lower end of the Camp Smith Trail and headed up toward Anthony's Nose, which is at the eastern end of the Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River. The AT crosses the river via the bridge, then climbs up the back end of the ridge that Anthony's Nose is part of.

It was a perfect day for hiking, after a couple of rainy days related to the passing by of tropical storm Danny. But the Camp Smith Trail, which runs uphill from an old toll house (now a visitors' center) parallel to U.S. Route 6 (along the edge of the N.Y. National Guard's Camp Smith--hence the name!), is a tough trail, narrow in spots, with many steep spots, clambering up rocks; so we made it only about halfway to Anthony's Nose. We're not in the best of shape. After two and a half hours, lunch and various scenic views included, we turned around.
One of the scenic views, looking down the Hudson as a large barge comes upriver, against the current of course, pushed along by a tug. You can see other river traffic, pleasure boats. At the left is the city of Peekskill, at right center Indian Point nuclear power plant. Beyond the power plant, where the river is in view again above the trees, is Haverstraw Bay, with High Tor visible in the distance.

We were surprised to meet very few hikers (unlike my previous excursions on this trail)--just 5 in all, not counting a dog. Here are 3 of them, with dog, and Bro. Tom. It was their first time on the trail, and they were glad of a little guidance, like how to read the trail blazes and the identities of some of the things they were seeing.

This is where we turned around, with Bear Mountain in full view (the big thing on the left side of the photo--maybe you can spot the Perkins Tower on top of it), rocky Popolopen Torne in the center (tho not as high as Bear Mt., a rigorous climb in its own right), and the top of the piers of the Bear Mountain Bridge at the right. Anthony's Nose is the mountain at the right.

Besides our being out of shape, the other disappointment of the hike was the lack of blackberries and blueberries. They were rife the last time I was up there, also in August.

The Camp Smith Trail is part of Hudson Highlands State Park.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Homily for 22d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
22d Sunday of Ordinary TimeAug. 30, 2009
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Christian Brothers, Iona College

“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7: 6).

After our long meditation upon John 6 and the bread of life, we return to St. Mark. To refresh our memories: Jesus has sent the apostles out on mission, and they’ve returned to him. In the meantime, Herod has killed John the Baptist (yesterday’s liturgical memorial, incidentally). Jesus has taken the 12 aside for some rest and reflection, only to be pursued by the crowds, whom he has then fed miraculously.

Now Jesus re-enters the public arena, so to speak. As the state authorities have opposed the word of God—Herod vs. John the Baptist—so do the temple authorities oppose it: “When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of the disciples ate their meals with unclean…hands. So they questioned him…” (7:1-2,5).

It’s not that washing one’s hands before meals is a bad idea. The Centers for Disease Control and other public authorities are encouraging us to do lots of hand-washing. Nor is it that careful observance of all the commandments of the Lord is a bad idea; God explicitly commands it, as we heard in the 1st reading (Deut 4:1-2,6-8).

Rather, the issue is that the religion of Jesus’ critics is focused on externals: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Their hands may be clean; their cups and dishes may be clean; but their hearts, their souls—that’s another question altogether. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God…is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27 [2d reading]). Elsewhere Jesus faults the Pharisees for their greed and love of money (Luke 16:14-15), faults the rich for making a show of their contributions to the Temple (Luke 21:1-4), damns the rich for ignoring the poor at their doorstep (Luke 16:19-31). The religious leaders of Israel who were concerned about their social and political status, who resented Jesus’ assault on their financial arrangements in the Temple (Mark 11:15-18), persecuted Jesus and finally handed him over to the Romans for execution. In one of his best known parables (15:11-32), Jesus presents the pathetic figure of a son who meticulously obeys every command of his father—the parable is aimed at the Pharisees and scribes (Luke 15:1-3)—but whose obedience is empty and loveless and whose place at the heavenly banquet is left open to question.

“Pure and undefiled religion before God” has its external practices, to be sure: simplicity of life, lack of ambition for wealth and power (“unstained by the world”), care for the poor, the sick, the foreigner, the widow. But such external practices flow from hearts “pure and undefiled,” from hearts “close to the Lord our God” (cf. Deut 4:7). Real uncleanness isn’t an unwashed cup or unwashed hands but hearts full of “evil thoughts,” full of the capital sins (Mark 7:21-23).

Our self-examination at the start of each Mass, at the end of the day, and the sacrament of Reconciliation includes specific external behaviors. It also needs to look at our hearts, at the thoughts and motives (cf. Heb 4:12) for what we do and say. Some of our thoughts and motives need purification, and some are “pure and undefiled before God.”

Hence our Opening Prayer today included a prayer that our hearts be filled with love for God (1st form), with desires to please God (alternate form). The Responsorial Psalm sanctifies the person “who thinks the truth in his heart” (15:2), who therefore demonstrates external piety by respecting the reputations, lives, and property of others (15:3-5). St. Paul advises the Christians of Philippi to concentrate their thoughts on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise” (4:8).

May the Lord “fill our minds with insight into love, so that every thought may grow in wisdom, and all our efforts be filled with [his] peace” (Collect).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Troop Forty Goes to Camp

Troop Forty Goes to Camp
Troop Forty, Mount Vernon, N.Y., took their annual trip to Camp Yawgoog ( Rockville, R.I., from August 9 to 16. They seem to have had their customary excellent time. Asst. Scoutmaster Ed Maselli shared some photos from the week with the troop chaplain, who was unable to be with them.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Homily for 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
21st Sunday of Ordinary TimeAug. 23, 2009
Collect; Eph 5: 21-32
Christian Brothers, Iona College
Ursulines, Willow Drive

“Father, help us to seek the values that will bring us lasting joy in this changing world. In our desire for what you promise, make us one in mind and heart” (Collect).

The world is changing faster than ever, and the older we get, the faster it seems to be changing: politics, science, technology, pop culture, slang, fashion, the climate, etc., etc., etc.

Amid all that, our Collect or Opening Prayer speaks of “lasting joy”—“lasting joy in this changing world.” Is there something that lasts amid all the change, and the turmoil and confusion linked with change, amid the faster and faster pace of life? Our faith is based, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, on Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8). The prayer speaks of “values that will bring us lasting joy,” suggesting they’re within our reach, attainable, but perhaps not readily evident. They’re the values of Jesus Christ, of course, those values we pursue and treasure as his disciples. They’re the values we “desire,” quoting the prayer again, the values that are related to God’s promises.

The prayer links all this—values, lasting joy, our desires—to oneness in mind and heart. So does St. Paul in today’s second reading.

I opted for the longer, politically incorrect form of that reading. We don’t serve our discipleship well or grow in our relationships with God and one another by dodging passages that are difficult, especially when the difficulty is so superficial.

Unity, love, reverence are the keys to that reading. Nothing superficial.

Of course it’s true that Paul refers to the cultural mores of his time. Those are superficial. Our cultural mores are different, and they too are superficial. The essence of Paul’s message is the same now as it was when he wrote it: a lasting value. Spouses are to love each other as Christ loves the Church, to give themselves for each other as Christ gave himself, to serve each other as Christ serves the Church. There’s a reason why marriage is a sacrament: it’s a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church. “This is a great mystery” (Eph 5:32), and mystery is another word for sacrament. In fact, sacramentum is the Latin translation of Paul’s mysterion, which signifies the deep or hidden meaning of certain realities, in this case the realities of our life in Jesus Christ.

To be one with Christ, to act with and in Christ, is the goal of all of us, not only of married couples, of course. For several weeks we’ve been reading from John 6 on Sundays: the Johannine version of the institution of the greatest mysterion of our faith, the Eucharist. (You’re well aware that John’s account of the Last Supper takes up 5 chapters, including the washing of the apostles’ feet and Jesus’ long discourse on the great commandment, union with him, the Advocate, and more, but without any reference to the Eucharist. We suppose that’s because he gives so much attention to the Eucharist here.) The emphasis in John 6 is not on the memorial nature of the sacrament, as it is in the Synoptics (“Do this in memory of me.”), but on becoming one with Christ so that we might live with him. Our becoming one with the Body and Blood of Jesus is a step toward becoming “one in mind and heart” with one another and with the Holy Trinity.

Fortified by the Body and Blood of Christ, we religious also become sacramenta or sacred mysteries. Religious profession isn’t one of the 7 sacraments, as you know. Yet it is truly sacramental. Our lives are signs. By our lives in community, in our apostolates, in our chastity, obedience, and poverty, we give testimony to our union with Christ, to the primacy of Christ in the life of the Church and in our own lives. We religious also are to love each other as Christ loves the Church, to give ourselves for each other as Christ gave himself, to serve each other as Christ serves the Church. Built up by the Body of Christ, we too build up the Body of Christ—as do married couples, according to their own vocation.

The married with their families create “a domestic Church,” in that priceless phrasing of Vatican II (Lumen gentium, n. 11; cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 48). The two who become one flesh (Eph 5:31) are generative of life both physical and spiritual. The religious also is generative, perhaps in a social manner thru his or her educational or other apostolate, but especially in a spiritual manner by fostering in people a desire for the promises of God, for lasting joys that have no material basis but a basis solely in God’s own life, shared with us so that we “might be holy and without blemish … because we are members of his body” (Eph 5:27,30).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two Salesians Make First Vows

Two Salesians Make First Vows
The Salesians of the Eastern Province of the United States welcomed two new members on August 16 when they made their first profession of the religious vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty.

Brothers Minh Duc Dang, SDB, and Paul Phuoc Trong Chu, SDB, professed their vows during the 10:15 a.m. parish Mass at Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester, N.Y. Fr. Tom Dunne, SDB, the provincial, presided and preached. A large number of Salesian priests and brothers, other clergy, family, friends, and parishioners filled the church so that there was standing room only.
Bro. Paul Chu, Fr. Tom Dunne, Bro. Minh Dang
The two newly professed Salesians completed a year of novitiate at St. Joseph Novitiate under the guidance of Fr. Bill Keane, SDB, master of novices. The novitiate is based at Holy Rosary.

Music was provided by a mixed choir of parish youths and Vietnamese youths.

The parish provided a reception in the church hall after Mass.

Both of the new brothers were born in 1982 in Ho Nai, Bien Hoa province, Vietnam. But they did not know each other until they joined the Salesians.

Minh Duc Dang comes from a large family. His parents were at the profession Mass, along with other family members. He has five brothers and three sisters. Minh and most of his family were able to immigrate to the U.S. in 1992, after a year in a Philippines refugee camp—they had escaped from Vietnam by boat—with the assistance of an Amer-Asian half-brother of Minh who was already in the U.S. At this time the entire family is in America.

A family in Urbana, Ill., sponsored them, and they lived in that Midwestern city for a year before settling permanently in Burke, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Minh attended public schools, graduating from Lake Braddock High School in 2001. For college he returned to Urbana to attend the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana; he completed his B.A. in philosophy at Seton Hall University in 2007 after entering the Salesian formation program.

In 2006 Minh had the opportunity to return to Vietnam for the ordination of an uncle. There he met another uncle who is a Salesian priest. Since he had been thinking about his own possible vocation, this uncle took him to visit the Salesian house of formation at Da Lat.

On his return home, Minh contacted the Salesian vocation office in South Orange, N.J., paid a visit there and to the Salesian summer camp in New Rochelle. And he applied for the formation program immediately and was accepted.

During his two years in the formation community at Orange, N.J., and his novitiate year, Bro. Minh has been most impressed by learning that consecrated Salesian life involves more than the vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty. It also involves living in community and carrying out an apostolic mission. He says that he has found wonderful examples in the men who have guided his formation, and he cites those who staff the novitiate: besides Fr. Keane they are Frs. Rich Alejunas, Phil Pascucci, and Peter Granzotto and Bro. Sal Sammarco.

Bro. Minh Dang with his parents

Now Bro. Minh will return to the formation community in Orange. Since he has already earned a B.A. in philosophy, he will work toward an M.A. in education and psychology. He thinks that he may eventually work as a guidance counselor in one of the five schools that the Salesians run in the New Rochelle Province. But he also has an interest in the foreign missions and after his eventual ordination to the priesthood may offer himself to the Rector Major for overseas service.

Whether in the house of formation, a school, or the missions, Bro. Minh expects to deepen his Christian faith and Salesian spirit.

Paul Phuoc Trong Chu writes that in Vietnam he was a mischievous boy but, still, already very attracted to the altar. He remembers: “During Mass, I was always fascinated with what happens on the altar, even though I had not a clue what it was about. I wanted to be an altar server. Often, I went to Mass early to hang out at the sacristy, hoping someone would invite me to serve Mass. Unfortunately, there was never a shortage of servers at our church, so I was never called on to serve. However, my yearning to be closer to the altar has stayed ever since.”

Sponsored by Catholic Charities, Paul and his family came to the U.S. in February 1992. Although they were already Catholic, this sponsorship by the Catholic Church made a great, positive impression on them. In addition, when they settled in Springfield, Mass., they lived for some time with a nun before getting their own home.

Paul was delighted that he was finally able to become an altar server a few weeks after arriving in the U.S. Some time later a young Vietnamese priest, Fr. Quynh, suggested to him that he might have a priestly vocation; he and his family began to think about that.

Paul attended public schools and graduated from Springfield’s High School of Science and Technology in 2001. From there he went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he double-majored in computer science and math and graduated in 2005. He took a job with a good salary near Boston. During drives back and forth to visit his family, he would pray the Rosary and other prayers. He always listened attentively to the Scripture readings and homily at Mass.

At some point Paul attended a retreat with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. “During this retreat,” he writes, “I seriously began to contemplate the meaning of my own life. Then the thought occurred to me: I want to offer myself totally to God.” [his emphasis]

The scene in Holy Rosary Church during the homily
In 2005 Paul met a Salesian for the first time, although he did not know it at the time. Paul was very active in a youth group, the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society, which—coincidentally—has St. Dominic Savio as its patron. He was attending a camp with their leadership when Fr. Dominic Tran, SDB, came to speak to them, making a delightful impression on all.

The next year Paul visited Vietnam with his family for three weeks. Already discerning a possible priestly vocation, he went to the shrine of Our Lady of La Vang and prayed for guidance. Then he visited his mother’s native parish in Pleiku, where he met a visiting priest who had a most impressive way of interacting with young people. Paul recalls: “There was much love and compassion in the words and sound of his voice as he talked to them. I thought to myself, I want to be this kind of priest.” The priest was a Salesian, as it turned out. The pastor in Pleiku suggested to Paul that he get in touch with the Salesians.

Paul had remained involved with his youth group while in college, serving first as treasurer and then as president. Now, on his return to the U.S. from Vietnam, he felt inspired to do research on Don Bosco. He stumbled upon the Salesian Web site, which led him to the vocation office in South Orange. He visited the formation program in September 2006 and loved it. He entered the formation program at Orange the following August.

Already possessing a college degree, Paul could concentrate just on Salesian formation, getting ready to enter the novitiate in August 2008. Studying, living, working, and praying in the Salesian way has strengthened his conviction that God is calling him to be a priest and to work with the young and the poor.

At Holy Rosary Parish, Bro. Paul has been most impressed by the variety of ministries that the Salesians conduct within the parish context. He has thoroughly enjoyed his own ministry and other interactions with the parishioners. Community life is sometimes a challenge. The Salesian who has made the biggest impression on him this year is Bro. Sal Sammarco, who is deeply spiritual and always joyful, according to Bro. Paul. Bro. Paul also appreciates the guidance he has gotten from his confessor, Fr. Peter Granzotto.

Bro. Paul’s father died in 2005; his mother was present for his religious profession. He has two younger sisters.

Bro. Paul Chu with his mother
Bro. Paul will return to the house of formation in Orange and take philosophy courses at Seton Hall University. And he will continue his journey in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, bringing the Gospel to young people wherever the Salesians will ask him to do that. “The Salesian way of life encourages me to pray and live in union with Jesus Christ, ever to strive for holiness,” he says.

In his homily at the profession Mass, Fr. Tom Dunne traced the similarities in the vocation stories of the two novices about to make their vows. He saw in those stories how God had pursued them, and this religious profession is the culmination of that pursuit.

Religious profession, said Fr. Tom, fulfills the call that Brothers Paul and Minh first answered in Baptism and deepened in Penance and Confirmation; that call reaches its highest point in the Holy Eucharist, of which Jesus spoke in the day’s gospel (John 6:51-58). He said that the Lord’s promise of his presence will have to be the center of their lives. The Eucharist is a symbol of the exchange that they are making with God this day: mutual self-giving. In the last analysis, he said, that relationship of self-offering by and to Christ is the beginning and the end of our religious consecration.

Fr. Tom observed how many family members, priests, and Salesians had made their vocation journey with the two new brothers—many of them present at the Mass, including their parents.

Fr. Provincial hands one of the newly professed brothers
a copy of the Salesian Rule, which will guide his daily life from now on.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Rochelle Province Has Two New Novices

New Rochelle Province Has Two New Novices

Fr. Tom Dunne received two young men into St. Joseph Novitiate of the Eastern Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco on the evening of August 15, 2009.

Philip (P.J.) Ehling, from Ohio, and Juan Pablo Rubio, from Mexico by way of Michigan, began their year of novitiate at a parish Mass at Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester, N.Y., where the novitiate is located.

In his homily at the Mass, their master of novices, Fr. Bill Keane, noted that in the gospel of the day (John 6:51-58), people ask a “wrong” question of Jesus. In the rite of acceptance P.J. and Juan Pablo were asked, “What are your deep desire and motives for your request” for admission? That, said Fr. Bill, is the right question. And their answer must be that they are undertaking a journey that will complete the commitment they made when they were baptized; or, as the ritual puts it, “We think that God our Father, after giving us life and the gift of faith, is now inviting us to follow his Son more closely, in Don Bosco’s spirit, through the total gift of ourselves.”

P.J. was attracted to the Salesians while visiting the Boys & Girls Club in Columbus and seeing how Salesian priests and brothers interacted with kids. Juan Pablo met the Salesians at a convention at Notre Dame and in a visit to the formation community in Orange found himself perfectly at home.

During the year of novitiate, Juan Pablo and P.J. will live in Salesian community, practice Salesian apostolic work, study the Salesian Constitutions, be instructed in the meaning of the evangelical counsels (obedience, chastity, and poverty), and continue discerning their vocation with the assistance of their master/spiritual director, their confessor, their brother Salesians, and indeed the entire parish community of Holy Rosary Church.

New novices P.J. Ehling and Juan Pablo Rubio with Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial

Homily for 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
August 16, 2009
John 6: 51-58
Proverbs 9: 1-6
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6: 54).

At noon on Friday Fr. Mark, whom you all know, the director of our mission office, ordered out for a spectacular luncheon on the grounds for all the mission office employees, in honor of three of the Salesians who work in the office. They’re celebrating this year their 40th, 50th, or 60th anniversary of their religious vows—40, 50, or 60 years as professed Salesians of Don Bosco. And Fr. Mark made sure that all the rest of us in the community were invited, so we could come and celebrate the lives of these brothers of ours along with the people they work with every day. Fr. Mark had his meats and his salads and his anniversary cake ready, and water and soda but no wine (cf. Prov 9:2). Sort of like Lady Wisdom in today’s 1st reading, he told all his staff and the SDBs, “Come, eat of my food, and drink” (cf. Prov 9:5). And those spare ribs and chicken were good, I’ll tell you!

Our Old Testament reading today speaks of a banquet with fine meat, and wine too. Wisdom—Wisdom personified—builds a seven-columned house and sets out a huge banquet for any passer-by who wants to stop in and feast with her. Her presence, her feast, is an offer of understanding and of life. As our SDB brothers have found joy and contentment in giving their lives over to follow Jesus Christ, so Wisdom invites everyone to find truth, goodness, beauty—life!—in following Torah, the law of God, in living out the special relationship between God and his people (which is what the Old Testament means by “wisdom”).

That passage from the Book of Proverbs may remind us of one of Jesus’ parables (Matt 22:1-13), wherein a king has prepared a wedding banquet for his son. When the invited guests refuse to come, the king sends out his servants to bring in anyone they can find on the roads and in the fields. And these unexpected guests have a grand feast. That parable is one of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of heaven, of God’s invitation to men and women to receive his gift of eternal life.

The Bible often uses the image of a feast, a banquet, for heaven, for eternal life, for deep friendship with God. Nothing symbolizes joy and contentment for people like a good party, a fine meal, as all of us know from our family lives and even here at Willow Towers.

Sometimes Scripture commentaries see in the passage from Proverbs about Wisdom a kind of foreshadowing of Jesus, Church, and sacraments. That’s not what the sacred author had in mind, but it’s an apt metaphor or symbol for us—what the commentators call an “allegorical” interpretation of the Old Testament. From earliest times, starting from St. Paul (1 Cor 1:24), Christians have considered Christ to be the Wisdom of God in person, a natural theological offshoot of his title as the Word made flesh. According to the Old Testament, including Proverbs, the Word of God is wisdom. How much more, then, is the incarnate Word of God Wisdom in person. Referring to our passage from Proverbs, we can say that Christ has built himself a house, which is the Church, and this house depends upon seven columns, the sacraments.

Wisdom invites people to come and feast at her lavish table, and so to find life. Jesus invites everyone to come to his lavish table and find life, eternal life: “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:55,54).

The Eucharist isn’t just one column of Jesus’ house, just one sacrament among seven. The entire house depends on this essential structural support. If we were using a shipbuilding metaphor, the Eucharist would be the keel. As the Second Vatican Council says, the Eucharist is the source and the summit of the entire life of the Church. It is the very Body and Blood of Christ, our Lord and Savior himself. We—the Church—come from him and we’re going to him, accompanied along the way by him.

I noted a couple of weeks ago that the people in the synagog at Capernaum begged Jesus, “Sir, give us this bread always” (6:34), not realizing of course that Jesus would do exactly that: give us himself in the form of bread and wine to remain with us always, always to be available to us, so that we can absorb him into our corporeal and spiritual selves and make him, quite literally, part of our very being, be transformed into the Body of Christ. We are what we eat, as you know. And the Church is the Body of Christ, constantly nourished by this heavenly, this divine food. “Whoever feeds on me will have life because of me” (6:57).

None of us can live very long without eating and drinking. If that’s true of our physical lives, it’s also true of our spiritual lives, or if you dare say so, our divine lives. Our spiritual lives depend upon a relationship with Jesus Christ, and in the Eucharist we truly commune with him, become part of him, he part of us. If we avoid this essential food, we cut ourselves off from our source of life. That’s part of why the Church requires us to come to Mass. (Contrary to what jokesters might say, it’s not all about the collection! It’s about connecting at the deepest level with our Lord.)

And how privileged we are that God has called us to be his own by joining us to his Son, so that we might be raised to everlasting life on the last day, as Jesus has already been raised, so that we might have a seat at the eternal banquet in heaven, foreshadowed by this Eucharistic banquet on earth.

Friday, August 14, 2009

23 Lay Missionaries Commissioned

23 Lay Missionaries Commissioned

After four weeks of orientation at three sites, 18 young women and 5 young men were commissioned as Salesian Lay Missioners (SLMs) on Saturday, August 8.

Father Thomas Dunne, our provincial, presided over an early morning Mass at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point, New York. The Mass also marked the closing of the annual retreat for about 30 Salesians.

During the Mass the missionaries were presented with just-blessed crosses as a sign of their commitment to personal conversion and to the mission of carrying the love of Jesus Christ joyfully to their various sites.

The Salesian retreat coincided with the final week of the SLMs’ preparation, which had a retreat atmosphere and stressed Salesian spirituality, the Preventive System, and such specifics for their upcoming apostolic work. Mingling with Salesian priests and brothers at meals and recreation times, sharing the sacred liturgy with them, and listening to “good night” talks from Fr. Dunne and other Salesians, also helped the young people with their orientation toward Salesian mission.

Earlier weeks of orientation saw the future missionaries gather at Maryknoll in Ossining, New York, for training in culture, missiology, and the practicalities of going overseas, together with volunteers from Maryknoll and other groups. There was also a week of participation in the summer day camp program of the Salesian parishes in Port Chester, New York, in which the Salesian volunteers saw and practiced working with youngsters as Salesians do.

The 2009 class of SLMs come from 16 states (California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia), and from 19 dioceses (Allentown, Arlington, Boston, Camden, Dallas, Davenport, Denver, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Harrisburg, Jefferson City, Joliet, Los Angeles, Omaha, Philadelphia, Portland-Maine, Portland-Oregon, Sacramento, Santa Fe, and Tulsa).

Most of the SLMs are college graduates; one is just out of high school. Their colleges or universities include Alaska, Albion, Benedictine, Boston University, Catholic University, Coe, Dallas, Dayton, Holy Cross, Indiana, Los Angeles Valley College, Mt. St. Mary, New Hampshire, Northern Colorado, Notre Dame, Rutgers, St. Mary of the Woods, Shasta, Villanova, and Whitworth. They range in age from 18—the young woman just out of Bellflower High School in California; to 48—a woman with her own health care consulting business and experience as a college professor and hospital administrator.

Many of them also have some previous volunteer experience, including in foreign countries. One, Steve Widelski of Huntington, Indiana, will be taking part in his fourth voluntary service with the Salesians. He has previously had assignments in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Sierra Leone, as well as two and a half years in the Dominican Republic with the diocese of Orlando and six months in the state of Parana, Brazil, as part of a team from St. Louis de Montfort Parish in Fishers, Indiana. Not only does he love Don Bosco and the Salesian charism, but in 2008 he and another SLM veteran on their initiative even produced a promotional video about the program.

The SLMs this year will be missioned to five sites in Bolivia; three in India; one each in Brazil; Cambodia; Ethiopia; Mexico; Rwanda; and South Africa. They may be helping in orphanages, teaching catechism or academic courses or agriculture, doing manual work, providing medical assistance, or offering other forms of spiritual and material apostolic work. Some of the American volunteers are looking forward to collaborating with Salesian volunteers from Austria, Italy, and Poland.
The 2009 “class” of Salesian Lay Missionaries, with Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial (back row, center), Fr. Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle (far right in alb and stole), and Adam Rudin, director of the lay missionary program (next to Fr. Mark).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bro. Matthew DeGance Makes Perpetual Profession

Bro. Matthew DeGance Makes Perpetual Profession

In an ancient, solemn ritual in the chapel of Don Bosco Prep High School in Ramsey, N.J., Bro. Matthew Michael DeGance, SDB, professed his perpetual vows on Saturday, August 8, before about 200 Salesians, family members, and young people.

Bro. Matt, 32 years old, is a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where his parents, Joseph and Jacqueline DeGance are still members of St. John the Baptist Parish. They, as well as his numerous siblings, nieces, and nephews were present at the profession rite.

Bro. Matthew with his parents, Joseph and Jacqueline.
Bro. Matt is a graduate of the University of North Florida (Jacksonville), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy. He began working as a therapist after graduation.

The DeGance family have known the Salesians for many years, having counted as friends the late Frs. Peter Lappin, SDB, and August Bosio, SDB. That friendship nurtured in Matt a love for Don Bosco and a vocational seed—the seed already having been planted in his family. Consequently, after giving some thought to the diocesan priesthood and the Franciscans, Matt decided in 1999 to enter the Salesian formation program at Orange, N.J.

After a year of novitiate at Mary Help of Christians Church in New York City, Bro. Matt made his first religious vows on August 16, 2001, in New York.

Bro. Matt lies prostrate on the floor as the Litany of the Saints is sung.

After additional postnovitiate formation, he was assigned to Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey from 2005 to 2007. He taught biology and theology, directed an intramural sports program, and was an assistant coach of varsity, JV, and freshman volleyball. With Fr. Steve Leake he cofounded a faith-centered student group called Kepha that was a kind of Salesian oratory program, including prayer, service opportunities, study, and recreational outings. Although not specifically trained as a teacher, he found himself well prepared for his apostolic work in and out of the classroom at Ramsey and has grown to love the school apostolate.

Since the fall of 2007 Bro. Matt has been studying theology at the Ratisbonne in Jerusalem. He finds it fascinating to be so close to such sites as the Holy Sepulcher and to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and the earliest Christians. He appreciates being able to connect the Scriptures with his daily life experience.

Another great advantage to studying at the Ratisbonne, according to Bro. Matt, is the international experience. Besides a teaching staff from around the Salesian world, the student body includes 49 Salesians from 21 countries. That offers many cultural perspectives on Salesian life.

Bro. Matt is among seminarians at the Ratisbonne installed as lectors or acolytes at a Mass in the spring of 2008.

Pastoral work in Jerusalem pays a lot of attention to the numerous Filipino workers who are there. The seminarians offer them adult catechesis, days of recollection, liturgical assistance, as well as youth ministry. In his first year, Bro. Matt also had the opportunity to help the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul in their work for abandoned handicapped youngsters of all faiths.

During the last two summers Bro. Matt has served in the summer programs of St. John Bosco Parish in Chicago, whose population is mostly Hispanic.

Bro. Matt looks forward to diaconal ordination next June and priestly ordination in 2011. After that he would be pleased to return to the classroom, sports programs, and young people in general. The turnout of youngsters at his profession Mass on August 8 indicates that young people, too, would be pleased if he returned to them as Fr. Matt.

Fr. Thomas Dunne, SDB, superior of the New Rochelle Province of the Salesians, told the province earlier in the week that Bro. Matt’s “act of total self-giving and divine consecration is a powerful sign of God’s grace to the professed members of our province, to those in initial formation, to the entire Salesian Family, and to the young in our province.”

Fr. Dunne presided over the profession Mass at Ramsey. In his homily, using readings chosen by Bro. Matt (Gen 12:1-3; 2 Cor 4:7-15; Matt 16:24-27), Fr. Dunne connected this year’s 150th anniversary of the Salesians of Don Bosco with Bro. Matt DeGance’s answer to God’s call to serve God by serving the young. He noted that the self-emptying required of a professed religious as he lives the vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty is an imitation of the paschal mystery of Christ, who emptied himself for sake of human salvation. He said that the earthen vessel of which St. Paul speaks is an image of the sinful frailty of human beings, including consecrated persons. The religious brings his own brokenness to his mission, to his community, and to his consecration as he tries daily to die to sin and to his human frailty.

Bro. DeGance pronounces his vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty before Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial, and the witnesses, Fr. Pat Angelucci and Bro. Jim Wiegand. He holds a lighted candle to show that his religious profession is a continuation of the commitment that he made in Baptism to follow Christ, the light of the world.

For his part, Bro. Matt finds that being a consecrated Salesian is “a great gift” from God, one that he would encourage any young person to accept without fear. The Salesian vocation is rich in peace and in the happiness of doing God’s will, and Bro. Matt cannot think of any spirituality that is more attractive than Don Bosco’s.
At a reception for Salesians, family, and friends following Mass, Bro. Matt says thank you to God, the Blessed Mother, Don Bosco, his parents, his confreres, and many others.

Monday, August 10, 2009

From Proctor Estate to New England Biolabs, via the Oblates and the Salesians

From Proctor Estate to New England Biolabs, via the Oblates and the Salesians

From 1955 to 1999 the Salesians owned a grand old estate along Rte. 1A in Ipswich, Mass. (part of the property was also in Hamilton). We bought it from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who had been using it for a novitiate, and after a life cycle with us that included a junior seminary, a novitiate, and a retreat center, we sold it to New England Biolabs.

During the Salesian Old Boys reunion, July 24-26, we had the opportunity to visit on Saturday afternoon, July 25. Several of the SOBs had gone to high school seminary here or served on the staff.

NE Biolabs has done a marvelous job maintaining the property and restoring the old buildings, as you'll see below. They've made some significant changes, too--especially by putting up 2 modern steel-and-glass buildings that don't blend at all with the Proctors' Jacobean architecture.

From a distance--none of the Salesian Old Boys went up close--the old servants' quarters looks very good. This building served as a convent while the junior seminary was here, and later as the SDB residence.

Some of the Salesian Old Boys (Tom Lennon, John Bosse, Vic Smith, and Pat Kemple) pass in front of the Proctors' carriage house and stable. For the Salesians it was the junior seminarians' residence, classrooms, gym (a supremely low-ceilinged one), and (eventually) chapel.
Where once seminarians shagged fly balls, perhaps trout now shag flies. Be that as it may, the baseball and softball fields are gone, supplanted by an extension of the wide spot in the Miles River into a pond. Beyond the pond, where there used to be basketball, handball, and tennis courts is now a structure that looks like a greenhouse. (But it's not; it's a wastewater treatment facility, which treats all of the campus' wastewater--see the comment left by Tanya from NEB.)
I have no idea whether this is now the main building on the NE Biolabs campus, but it's big and modern. Since it was Saturday when we visited, we had no opportunity to go inside.
Site of the seminarians' swimming pool, which the townsfolk of Ipswich also enjoyed very much in season. The Salesians maintained excellent relations with the town by sharing our recreational facilities (and natural spring water).

The main house or mansion looks much as it used to on the outside.

A lot of the lawn has been planted with gorgeous flowers, and if you look you can see that the back porches have been opened up on both wings of the house. In the seminary days they were enclosed and used as offices.

We could peer in thru the glass doors and even shoot pictures. This is what used to be the seminary and retreat house chapel.

The little court behind the great hall of the house seems to be overrun with flora. A huge statue of Mary Help of Christians stood here in SDB times; that now graces the front lawn of the provincial house in New Rochelle.

The back porch of the south wing of the house, which when it was enclosed housed the spirituals office of the seminary. Here ex-seminarians Nick Ciranni, John Gushue, John Bosse, and Greg Sand check it out, as well as the room within that used to be the superiors' dining room.

A Look at "Don Bosco Tech" in Boston

A Look at "Don Bosco Tech" in Boston

During my visit to Boston during the last weekend of July (blogged below), we stayed at the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets (across from the Common). It was just a short walk of about 3 blocks straight down Tremont to come to the buildings that housed Don Bosco Tech from 1955 to 1998.

As you approach the buildings on Tremont (photo, right), they look the same as they used to--except for the big hotel sign in the upper right, and the YMCA sign at the lower right.

In the parking lot--not much change there--the building looks pretty much the same too, except of course there's no "Don Bosco Technical High School" sign.

But on closer inspection, you notice something of the building's history. It was a public school before the Salesians bought it in 1954, after the public school had closed. In this close-up (left) you can read "City of Boston Girls Unit Continuation School." Sure enuf, if you go back around to the Tremont St. side (right), you see the boys' side of the school. I suppose one can find out something of the history of that school with a Google search. According to an unoffical history of the SDBs in the USA (Service for the Young, 1973), it was the Brandeis Vocational School at the time the SDBs acquired the building.

The most noticeable change in the DBT exterior is the facade on Washington St., where the DoubleTree Hotel entrance is (right).
A little further down Washington St., "YMCA" shines in neon (below).

And when you turn the corner onto Oak St., there's the entrance to the Wang YMCA of Chinatown (right), where there used to be a school entrance to the gymnasium and swimming pool complex. Good site for the Y, obviously.

One other notable change: the electronics building across Washington St. is long gone, replaced by a section of Tufts University hospital (below).

Homily for 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
19th Sunday of Ordinary TimeJohn 6: 41-51
August 9, 2009
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die” (John 6: 49-50).

Last Sunday our 1st reading told how God gave manna to the Israelites in the desert, and in my homily I quoted this verse about the Israelites dying. The manna was called heavenly food because it seemed to have been miraculously provided, almost as if appearing out of thin air. It was really a natural phenomenon in the Sinai desert, but the Israelites didn’t know that after spending their whole lives in Egypt. As far as they were concerned, this food was providentially available to them.

The manna enabled them to survive in the wilderness, and it enabled them to continue their long journey toward the Promised Land; but it didn’t offer them eternal life. Eventually most of them, including Moses, died before they got to the land of Canaan, the land of milk and honey, the Holy Land. In the books of Exodus and Numbers, God makes it clear that they wander in the Sinai wilderness for so long, 40 years, unable to enter the Promised Land, in punishment for their many rebellions against God’s leadership and authority, until almost that entire generation had died.

Jesus compares himself to the manna by calling himself “the bread that came down from heaven” (6:41). But he also contrasts himself with the manna: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven…so that one may eat it and not die. Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (6:50-51). Whoever eats this bread will reach the Promised Land, will not die as a sinner in rebellion against God’s lordship.

The people who are listening to Jesus in the synagog at Capernaum—that’s where this whole long conversation is taking place—these people listening don’t understand. They know him, or think they know him, as the son of Joseph the carpenter and Mary (6:42). This isn’t the only place in John’s gospel where people misunderstand Jesus’ origin, and consequently misunderstand him (cf. 7:40-43). If one judges Jesus only on what he sees, he misses the real Jesus, the Jesus who comes from our heavenly Father, the Jesus who gives eternal life. Naturally this concept of hidden reality also applies to the sacramental Jesus, the 1st hint of which comes in the closing line of today’s gospel: “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (6:51), which will be “fleshed out” (pun intended) in next week’s gospel.

The real Jesus isn’t Joseph’s son but God’s Son. Therefore the real Jesus can offer divine life to whoever is willing to accept it, to whoever will believe in him: “I will raise him on the last day” (6:44). Jesus offers us reconciliation with God, the forgiveness of sin, the restoration of humanity to our status as God’s children. Go back to the words of the Opening Prayer: “Almighty and ever-living God, your Spirit (which is the gift of Jesus to us) made us your children, confident to call you Father. Increase your Spirit within us and bring us to our promised inheritance.” Reconciliation, forgiveness, restoration are all the key to our inheritance, to resurrection unto eternal life and a place in our Father’s home.

Jesus is the bread of life: when we sink our teeth into his word, his teaching, the example of his life; when we digest it and make it part of us—then we claim a share in his divine life, and he will raise us up to live with him.

As Jesus continues this long discourse on the bread of life next week, he’ll develop his teaching still further, as I said earlier. He’ll give it a precious sacramental meaning. Jesus as “the bread of life” is more than a metaphor. It’s a priceless, life-giving sacramental reality.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Homily for 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
18th Sunday of Ordinary TimeAugust 2, 2009
Eph 4: 17, 20-24
For the Ursulines at Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“Put away the old self of your former way of life, … and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Eph 4: 22-24).

Once upon a time, we Salesians used to have a big, solemn ceremony about two months into the novitiate year, in which our so-called “clerical” novices were invested with their religious habit, to wit, a cassock and Roman collar, and our coadjutor brother novices were given a simple medal of Don Bosco to wear over their white shirts with their black suits and black ties. As each future cleric received his cassock, the provincial would speak to him those words of St. Paul—in Latin, of course: “N.N., exuat te Dominus veterem hominem cum moribus et actibus suis, et induat te novum hominem, qui secundum Deum creatus est in iustitia et sanctitate veritatis.”

Unfortunately, the future lay brothers received no such exhortation; they were just told to receive the sign of their vocation—in Latin, which they had never studied, tho I presume the phrase was at least explained to them.St. Paul, however, isn’t addressing clerics or novices but the Christian faithful of Ephesus: men and women, young and old, laity and deacons and presbyters—everyone. Everyone who has been baptized has put on Christ Jesus, has agreed to put away his or her past actual sins and past corrupting desires, and has committed him- or herself to living a life of continuing conversion: continuing “renewal in the spirit of your minds,” which means in context not just one’s mind or intelligence but also one’s heart and one’s will.

For the Christian has been created anew by the redemptive action of Jesus: “created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” God originally created human beings in his own image, but they corrupted that image by deliberately choosing sin. Now Christ’s disciples have chosen to respond to an invitation from the Father thru Jesus and had that divine image restored in them thru Baptism, thru the Eucharist, thru the gift of the Holy Spirit. And they have to continue to respond, continue the work of conversion.

We know well enuf how tempted we are to duck righteousness or justice by yielding to our corrupting desires: to selfishness and possessiveness, to greed and laziness, to anger and pride, to casual rather than heartfelt prayer. We know well enuf how tempted we are to fudge the truth, which Paul links with holiness and Benedict XVI with charity: to tell tales about our neighbors, to make excuses for ourselves, to convince ourselves that black is white if black is what we want at some given moment.

A lot of us are like the little boy who was overheard praying: “Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am.”

All that, of course, is how the Gentiles live, says Paul—meaning the pagans, those who don’t know Jesus Christ or his Father and don’t care about moral conduct. That kind of life isn’t consistent with the teaching of Jesus, not consistent with true discipleship.

The earliest nuns and monks committed themselves to conversion of life. The three traditional vows came later. Conversion meant a “personal transformation whereby a person lives by a profoundly new assessment of what is important and valuable,” and more particularly, values a “union or friendship with God.”* To that end, they lived lives of prayer, silence, penance, and solitude. When solitude gave way to living in community, the practice of brotherly or sisterly charity became even more important in this discipline of conversion, of personal transformation, of “putting away the old self” with its corruptions and deceitful desires and “putting on the new self” as exemplified by Christ.

Sounds simple; but it’s hard to do, day in and day out, as we well know. So it requires a constant renewal of our commitment, a daily nunc coepi, as I believe Blessed John XXIII regularly reminded himself: “Now I begin,” or “Now I start (over again).” The purpose of our lives of chastity, obedience, and poverty and of life in common is to guide us on the way of Christ, toward greater union and friendship with him, toward daily conversion. It’s what our religious life is all about. More basically, it’s what being a follower of Jesus is all about.

* Mark Miller, “conversion,” in The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, ed. Richard P. McBrien (San Francisco, 1995), p. 366.