Sunday, April 25, 2010

Called to Brotherhood

Called to Brotherhood

A couple of years ago the Knights of Columbus put together some videos on priestly and religious vocations. They invited Bro. Tom Dion, a member of our community at the provincial house (he's the province's treasurer), to be part of the one on men's vocations. Today the USCCB (the U.S. bishops conference) launched a new vocation website using this material. You can check it out at
or you can go directly to the segment with Bro. Tom on the vocation of a religious brother at

Saying Yes When God Calls

Saying Yes When God CallsBy Fr. Franco Pinto, SDB
Eastern Province Vocation Director

The Church has set April 25, 2010, as world day of prayer for vocations.
Why is it so difficult for some people to say “Yes” to Jesus in responding to a call to priesthood or religious life? I had been contemplating that question for quite some time when a young man, who had just two weeks prior expressed strong interest in the priesthood, e-mailed me to say he could not go on the planned trip to visit the seminary because he got a job watching a dog that weekend.

I had to laugh a little because I imagined Jesus calling forth a prospective disciple to come and follow him only to have the person say, “Not now. I have a dog to watch!” While that may seem a little funny today, I am sure that Jesus had to face the rejection of many invitations in his day, and he faces many rejections of his invitations to priesthood and religious life today.

The Scriptures tell of many stories of those who willingly said “Yes” to the call of discipleship despite their doubts and unworthiness. The fishermen, Andrew and Peter, James and John, reportedly left their nets, let go of their family relationships, and immediately became Jesus’ disciples to be fishers for the kingdom. Matthew, too, immediately left his post at the tax-collecting stand to follow Jesus. Mary, in the midst of her uncertainty in hearing the call through the words of the angel Gabriel, eventually trusted in the fulfillment of God’s promises and said, “Let it be done unto me as God says.” The pages of Scripture and church history are filled with example after example of saints who said, “Yes,” even in spite of some great hardships. There are only a few stories, however, of would-be-disciples who just could not say, “Yes.” It is not surprising that we do not know their names. Perhaps the most famous is the rich young man (Matthew 19) who desired to be a disciple and had lived a righteous life following all the commandments.

Jesus calls the first disciples from their nets (Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1255-ca. 1319)
When Jesus instructed him to sell what he had, give to the poor and then come and follow him, the Gospel reports the young man went away sad, because he had many possessions. Indeed money, possessions, and worldly things do get in the way of saying, “Yes.” Whether it is the temptation to have lots of expensive things or the fact that debts to pay for possessions have weighed a person’s life down, materialism remains a big reason why people reject the call today. There is a series of stories in Luke 9 that tell of another prevalent reason for not saying, “Yes.” One man is invited to follow Jesus and he responds, “Let me go first and bury my father.” A second man invited to discipleship says, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” Jesus sternly responds, “Let the dead bury the dead.... No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Perhaps Jesus seems overly harsh with these would-be-disciples. After all, they didn’t say, “No,” they merely said, “Not now.” Yet Jesus was not pleased with their, “Not now.” Why? Well, he was indicating that in each life there is a critical moment when we either respond positively to Jesus’ call or we don’t.

There is no incident in the Gospels where Jesus says, “Come away next year to follow me,” or, “Follow me when you think you’re ready.” There is immediacy to the call that demands a response now, because there is no guarantee that Jesus will be knocking on one’s door or calling one’s name tomorrow or next week or next year. One needs to say, “Yes,” whenever and wherever Jesus calls.

There Is a great number of men, young and not so young, who have been called to religious vocations, and yet they have responded with the excuses of today that led them to say, “Not now. Maybe later, Jesus.” To some extent good Catholics have encouraged these delay strategies. They say things like, “Test the call. If it is authentic it will be there after college or after a few years of work. There’s plenty of time; you’re still young. What’s the rush?” While these might be well-meaning bits of advice, they can mislead a young man into thinking that he should put aside a religious call and pursue other paths because the religious call, if authentic, will always be there.

I have spoken with more than a few men who believed this way when they were younger. They felt called to priesthood as young men, but instead they pursued other paths. Some have married and then tragically divorced, and now they feel a desire for priesthood. They realized too late that the call really never left them, but they chose to say, “Not now.” Many of them have gotten themselves into situations where they can no longer say, “Yes,” in a priestly way.

After seven years of vocation work and helping men consider the path of priestly service, I am convinced that, if we are to make a mistake in interpreting the call, it is better to err on God’s side. It is far better to say, “Yes,” now, perhaps discover that seminary life and priesthood or religious life are not good fits, and move on to something different, than to say, “Not yet,” now, and then discover too late that priesthood or religious life was the right thing to pursue. Their lives would have been so different had someone instead said to these men, “Don’t be afraid. Go now to serve Jesus. Give God the First Chance with your life. The Lord will never disappoint or abandon anyone who steps out in faith to serve Him.” These are the kinds of words with which we must encourage young people. These are words that inspire them to dream big dreams, to live with courageous spirits, and to love with generous hearts.

"You are a priest forever" (Ps 110:4); stained glass in the chapel of the provincial residence, New Rochelle (originally in the Salesian novitiate at Newton, N.J.)
More important, help some young person you know say, “Yes.” May we help young people follow after the heart of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, as priests and brothers!

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Easter

April 25, 2010
Rev 7: 9, 14-17
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (Rev 7: 9).

During the weeks after Easter this year, Year C in the cycle of lectionary readings, we’re reading from the Book of Revelation—not a whole lot, since obviously you can’t cover much out of 22 chapters (that’s how long the book is) in 6 short selections.

You may remember that last week John, the visionary who has recorded what he saw in this book, spoke of a heavenly liturgy, with a numberless crowd of angels and with elders (in Greek, that would be “presbyters,” from which we get our English word priest) gathered around the throne of God and of the Lamb, worshiping (Rev 5:11-14).

"Love has sacrificed himself"; stained glass in the chapel of the Don Bosco Retreat Center, Haverstraw, N.Y. (orignally in the Salesian novitiate at Newton, N.J.)
This week the vision expands. In the 1st verses of ch. 7 (1-8), which we didn’t read, he speaks of 144,000 marked with God’s seal, marked for salvation: 12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel. That is to say, a great and perfect number saved from God’s people of the Old Covenant. In that connection, note that the elders who were mentioned earlier are 24 in number (4:4, 5:8), symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles—thus the peoples of both the Old and the New Covenant.

The verses that we read tonite take up from the 144,000 to speak of “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” This speaks of the vast crowd whom Christ has saved who aren’t from the tribes of Israel but from everywhere, from everyone. It suggests that these are the new children of Abraham, whose descendants God promised would be as numberless as the stars of the sky or the sands of the seashore. It also suggests the very real world in which John the Prophet lived, the world of Asia Minor (what is now the western coast of Turkey), where the seaports and the marketplaces were a crossroads of the Greco-Roman world, where scores of languages were spoken, where merchants and sailors from everywhere crossed paths and exchanged goods. God has called all these people, all the world, to be saved in Christ Jesus.

And, John continues, “they stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands” (7:14). They wear the white robes of innocence, the white robes of those who have been baptized as followers of Jesus and have been faithful to their baptism. They have been washed and made clean by Christ’s death and resurrection: “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). The white vestment that all liturgical ministers wear—the alb—suggests this baptismal robe of innocence, of worthiness to come into God’s presence. It’s true that in the ancient world the gods could be approached only by someone wearing clean garments; with reference just to Judaism, there are many references in the Old Testament to this. And I guess that’s why so many people, except in our de-civilized Western world, take pride in wearing their “Sunday best” to church.

Christianity is a religion of strange paradoxes, isn’t it? How can something be cleaned by being washed in blood? But it’s true: we are made clean of sin by the blood of the Lamb of God. The cross, that horrible instrument of torture, is the instrument of our salus (the Latin word, or salute in Italian), of our health, of our safety, of our salvation. We are saved by death, by the death of God’s Son.

That white robe of baptismal innocence, of fidelity to Christ, recalls one of Jesus’ parables, the parable of the wedding guests. You remember that the king came into the banquet hall and found that one of his guests didn’t have a wedding gown on. And he ordered the man to be thrown into the outer darkness, to wail and gnash his teeth. No one enters the kingdom of God without being cleansed of sin by the grace of Jesus Christ, and keeping himself clean by walking in Jesus’ way.

Those who have been so washed “hold palm branches in their hands.” The palm is a symbol of victory: athletic victory, military victory, victory in the great combat of good vs. evil. Those who are with Christ triumph with him over the devil, over sin, and finally over death. They’re the ones who assemble around the throne of the Lamb to praise God’s goodness and mercy forever, who “stand before God’s throne and worship day and night in his temple” in heaven (7:15).

John the Visionary’s time was a very difficult time for Christians, with harassment and persecution, with hundreds of martyrs. He alludes to that by speaking of “the time of great distress” (7:14), which seems to be the end of the world. Christians at the end of the 1st century were horribly persecuted, and so have Christians been all thru the 2 millennia since Christ himself was horribly persecuted. Christians still suffer and die today to be faithful to Jesus and win the palm of victory.

But we who aren’t being persecuted unto death, we also need encouragement, don’t we? Why should be work so hard to keep our robes white when there’s so much dirt around us, when so many people seem to be having a grand time living as if there were no God, as if there are no moral standards?

Other people ask quite a different question, and maybe you’ve asked it yourself. How can we follow a God who allows so much suffering in the world? It’s one disaster after another: earthquakes, tornados, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, droughts. So many people suffer undeservedly from illness, from the sins of others. Where’s God?

And some people ask why they should be Christians, or why they should be Catholics in particular, when so many Christians, so many Catholics, priests even, do some terrible things. People have stopped going to church on account of the abuse of children, just as in earlier times people stopped going to church because some priest spoke harshly to them or treated them unfairly or abused their trust.

So even in our time, even in the U.S., it requires a lot to be faithful to Jesus, to keep our robes white, to strive for victory. Our fidelity isn’t toward Father So-and-So but to Jesus—a Jesus who suffered unjustly, as so many people do, but a Jesus who rose on the 3d day because God is ultimately faithful and good and life-giving. That’s why we stay with Jesus. He’s the evidence that God loves us, that God will have a palm of victory for us too.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Scout Emblem Sunday at St. Patrick's Cathedral

Scout Emblem Sunday
at St. Patrick's Cathedral

Each year shortly after Easter the archdiocese of New York honors Catholic Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from thruout the archdiocese who've fulfilled the requirements of certain programs involving study of our faith and service to others: Ad Altare Dei and Pope Pius XII programs for boys, and Marian and Spirit Alive for girls. Adults who have made notable contributions to the spiritual development of Scouts may be given the Bronze Pelican, St. George, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, or St. Anne award.
Scout Emblem Sunday this year was last Sunday, April 18, at the 2:00 p.m. Mass.
Five Scouts from Troop Forty in Mt. Vernon, whose chaplain I've been since 1995, completed the Ad Altare Dei (Latin: "to the altar of God")program, which studies the seven sacraments. So did another 111 Scouts. I was part of a team of six who taught the course for the Four Rivers District this year, almost every Wednesday nite from mid-September through February. Sixteen Scouts, including our T40 five, were in this course.
Since I wasn't going to be in a very good position to take photos while concelebrating Mass, I gave my good camera to Sabina, our Scoutmaster's wife. Photos below credit the photographers if they weren't me.

Just going to St. Patrick's Cathedral is a treat in itself.

The Scouts assembled in the International Building, across Fifth Avenue from the cathedral (directly behind the statue of Atlas) and then processed across the avenue into the cathedral while New York's Finest stopped traffic for them. (photo: Sabina Awooner)

On the back wall of the cathedral, to the left as you enter the nave is a bas-relief of St. John Bosco, placed there in 1988 on the occasion of the centennial of his death. We Salesians had a hugh celebration at the cathedral on that occasion, over which Cardinal O'Connor happily presided.
The cathedral, begun by Abp. Hughes in the 1850s and completed by Abp. Corrigan around 1900, is a Gothic masterpiece; this shot of the sanctuary will give you some idea. You may be able to notice the hats of deceased cardinals hanging from the ceiling (that's an old custom which, I think, is no longer carried out). (photo: Sabina Awooner)
On the left side of the main altar (as you're facing the altar from the nave--but I shot this photo from the concelebrants' seats opposite) is the archbishop's cathedra (whence the name cathedral for his church), or official chair as the chief pastor, teacher, and priest of the archdiocese. Only the bishop or archbishop may use the cathedra in his cathedral.
But the jewel, perhaps, of St. Patrick's Cathedral (as of many cathedrals) is the Lady Chapel, in the apse directly behind the high altar. It serves now, also, as the Blessed Sacrament chapel of St. Patrick's.

Msgr. Anthony Marchitelli, chaplain of the Archdiocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting, presided at the Mass. Usually the archbishop does so, but Abp. Dolan was in Italy on business connected with the cause of canonization of Cardinal Cooke. Eight priests concelebrated with him, including our superior at the provincial house, Fr. Steve Dumais. He's just to the monsignor's left in the photo, and I'm to his left. (photo: Sabina Awooner)

My friend Ed Maselli, an assistant scoutmaster, used his cell phone to "shoot" me during the distribution of Holy Communion.

After Mass, Msgr. Marchitelli presented awards to the Boy and Girl Scouts, 141 of them in all, according to the lists published in the program. Here some of the Ad Altare Dei recipients are lined up, including (third in line) Franklyn Mateo, the SPL of Troop Forty and a future Eagle Scout (awaiting his board of review).

The lay leadership of Catholic Scouting took seats in the sanctuary opposite the concelebrating priests--and outnumbered us considerably.

Msgr. Marchitelli places the St. George Award over my head. Seven men and women, including two priests, received this national Catholic Scouting award for having made "significant and outstanding contributions to the spiritual development of Catholic youths through the Boy Scouting program." Standing behind me is Donna Ragusa, who has been teaching Ad Altare Dei for many years in our Four Rivers District, and with whom I just co-taught the course. Donna also is the District program chairman and works with various training programs, including Cub leadership, NYLT, and Woodbadge. St. George is the patron saint of Scouting, and the award's a great honor. (photo: Sabina Awooner)
I got Fr. Steve to take this photo of me with the St. George medal in the sacristy after Mass.

Six Scout troops and four Cub packs were awarded the Pope Paul VI quality unit award "for providing outstanding religious and educational programs." Scoutmaster Mr. Renner of Troop Forty is third in line to accept the award on behalf of Troop Forty.
Assistant Scoutmasters Ed and Pete Maselli (back) and Bill Schaffer (front) pose with Tunji and the National Catholic Quality Unit Award given to Troop Forty. (photo: Sabina Awooner)

On the front steps of the cathedral, Scouts David Ford and Adrian Renner, just awarded Ad Altare Dei, pose with Asst. Scoutmasters Ed Maselli and Bill Schaffer, District Commissioner Marge Nonni, and Scoutmaster Tunji Renner. (photo: Sabina Awooner)

Don Bosco's Vocation Dream

Don Bosco's Vocation Dream
When John Bosco was 9, going on 10, he had a dream that made a remarkable impression upon him and that seems to have recurred later. Looking back at it many years later, he saw in it his calling to be a priest and an apostle for the young, or a "father and teacher of the young," as Pope John Paul II designated him. (JPII grew up in a parish in Krakow that was staffed by the SDBs and so was more than casually familiar with Don Bosco.)
Mike Massey of the New Rochelle Province's youth ministry office has put together Don Bosco's text narrating this dream with images done by Italian artist Nino Musio in this YouTube posting:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Homily for 3d Sundayof Easter

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Easter
April 18, 2010
Rev 5: 11-14
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

Bruges claims to be the most beautiful city in Belgium and perhaps in all of northern Europe, and it is indeed a beautiful and charming city with its canals (it calls itself “the Venice of the North”), medieval churches and monasteries, museums, public squares, and windmills. But Ghent could lay an equal claim to beauty and charm. It may not have any more working windmills, but it does have the 11th/12th-century Gravensteen, the castle of the counts of Flanders. Every bit as much worth a tourist’s visit as the castle or a ride thru Ghent’s canals is the artistic treasure of St. Bavo’s Cathedral, a multi-panel altarpiece painted in the 15th century by Jan van Eyck.
Titled The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, it’s a magnificent medieval rendition of the scene described in our 2d reading today, transposed to the Flemish countryside, with the Lamb standing on an altar, blood pouring from a wound in its chest, surrounded by angels, prophets, martyrs, priests, and burgers—a fair reading of Eyck’s contemporary society included among the whole of humanity, biblical and otherwise, paying their worshipful tribute to the Lamb of God. Right now I wish I had one of the handsome post cards they sell in the cathedral gift shop!
Our little tour of the Book of Revelation in this Easter season is necessarily an abbreviated one; we have 6 Sundays to get thru 22 chapters. Your homiletic tour will be even shorter since, like Jesus, I am going away (cf. John 13:33,36)—next Sunday to Willow Towers, and the following weekend with the Scouts—and I will come back to you (whenever next assigned to you).
In ch. 1 John saw “one like a son of man” dressed in the garb of a royal priest, standing amid the golden lampstands representing the churches of Asia. The 4 verses of ch. 5 that we just heard laid before us a vision of the heavenly liturgy, in which John sees Christ as the Lamb that has been slain yet lives, enthroned next to God the Father and receiving the tribute of all creation: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever” (5:13).
John’s vision links past and present by bringing together 24 elders (4:4, 5:8), who represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles, the old Israel and the new Israel, all adoring the living God and the redeemer of humanity. The living creatures of John’s vision evoke the prophecy of Ezekiel (ch. 1), and these creatures with their faces resembling a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle (Rev 4:6-7) suggest to us, if not to John and his hearers, the testimony of the 4 evangelists.
It has been suggested that this vision resembles the Christian liturgy of John’s time, at least in the hymns being sung and the presence of elders (presbyters), in the 1st ranks of the worshipers. Some also think that the hymns resemble the cult of the Roman emperors, which would weigh mightily on the consciousness of John’s communities because the rejection of that cult was cause for exile and martyrdom. Instead, these communities are bringing their “blessing and honor, glory and might,” their “riches, wisdom, and strength” (5:12) to the Father and to the Son, co-equals in the heavenly kingdom. This entire Book of Revelation is an extended encouragement to these communities to persevere in their faithfulness to Jesus in the face of the hostility of the Roman state.
Not only the heavenly kingdom adores the Enthroned One and the Lamb. “Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe” (5:13) adores God. The Christian Church in its earthly liturgy speaks for the whole of creation and shares already in the heavenly liturgy. That link reminds me inevitably of the well known (and probably legendary) story of Prince Vladimir of Kiev’s search at the end of the 10th century for the most satisfactory religion for his people. He sent ambassadors to Islamic lands, to Jewish populations, and to Constantinople. Those who returned from the Byzantine capital asserted that when they witnessed the Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia they seemed to be transported to heaven itself. And so Vladimir and the people of Rus adopted Orthodox Christianity.
Unfortunately our liturgy, whether the Eucharist or the Hours or any of the sacraments, scarcely seems so to transport us. At least it usually doesn’t in any psychological, emotional, or mystical sense. It’s hardly unheard of for some parishioner—or even an Ursuline—to glance at her watch in the middle of a homily! But does the liturgy not transport us to that reality we call the supernatural life? When we celebrate the sacred mysteries, don’t we really take part in the eternal worship of the Mystic Lamb, with all the angels and saints? The beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer always assures us that we do: “We praise you, Lord, with all the angels and saints”; “The joy of the resurrection renews the whole world, while the choirs of heaven sing forever to your glory”; “We join the hosts of heaven in their triumphant song”; “United with the countless hosts of angels who look upon your splendor night and day, and in the name of every creature under heaven, we too praise your glory”; etc. And then we launch into the “Holy, Holy,” the hymn of the seraphim, according to Isaiah (6:2-3). We are indeed part of that “countless number” (Rev 5:11) whom John the Visionary saw. Our celebration here, always led by an elder—a presbyter—or by one of the successors of the 12 apostles anticipates our celebration for all the days of eternity, blessing and glorifying with heartfelt joy the Lamb who was slain for us but lives forever, and “the one who sits on the throne.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Directors Announced

New Directors Announced

Today (April 13), Fr. Thomas Dunne, SDB, provincial superior of the New Rochelle Province, announced the names of two confreres who will assume the office of director on July 1. He also announced the re-appointment of six directors to new terms.

The first new director is Fr. Thomas Provenzano, who will become superior of the SDB community at St. Anthony's Parish in Elizabeth, N.J.

Fr. Tom has been coordinator of youth ministry at Salesian HS in New Rochelle for the last three years. Previously he had been assistant pastor of St. John Bosco Church in Chicago (2002-2007) and vice director of the Salesian community there (2003-2007). He was ordained in Tuckahoe, N.Y., by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez in 2001 and spent his first year as a priest as assistant pastor at St. Anthony's Church in Paterson, N.J.

The other new director is Fr. James Heuser, who will assume Salesian leadership at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J.Fr. Jim has been on a sabbatical year at Don Bosco Hall in Berkeley, Cal., after completing a six-year term as provincial (2003-2009). He has also served the province as vice provincial, master of novices, director of the house of formation at Orange, and vocation director, among other things.
Frs. Stephen Leake, John Nazzaro, and Timothy Zak were re-appointed for second terms as director of, respectively, the house of formation in Orange, the Salesian community at Salesian Boys & Girls Club in East Boston, and St. John Bosco Parish in Chicago. The director's term in three years.
Fr. Leake, Fr. Nazzaro, and Fr. Zak
Finally, three directors were re-appointed for third terms: Fr. Patrick Angelucci at Salesian HS in New Rochelle, Fr. George Harkins for the Salesians in the (Canadian) province of Ontario, and Fr. Joseph Santa-Bibiana for the Salesian community at St. Philip Benizi Church in Belle Glade, Fla.
Fr. Angelucci, Fr. Harkins, and Fr. Santa-Bibiana

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Homily for 2d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
2d Sunday of EasterApril 11, 2010
Rev 1: 9-13, 17-19
Ursulines, Willow Dr.

“Write on the scroll what you see” (Rev 1: 11).

I’m sure that over the last 50, 60, or 70 years you’ve heard more than a few homilies on today’s gospel (John 20:19-31): on doubting Thomas, on Jesus’ gift of peace, on forgiveness and Reconciliation, on the mission of the Church. You probably haven’t heard a lot of homilies on the 1st chapter of Revelation.

John the Seer or John the Prophet narrates his calling, rooted in a vision. His account echoes some of the prophetic calls of the OT. Whether this John is John the Apostle, and whether John the Apostle is John the Evangelist, and whether any of these Johns is the “beloved disciple” of John’s Gospel; and the relationship between John’s Gospel and the Book of Revelation—all that’s much debated among scholars but need not concern us this morning. (Whew!) Whoever this John is, he’s received a prophetic revelation from Jesus Christ, which he’s instructed to share with his fellow Christians, and does.

John the Seer identifies himself with the local Christian communities, specifically with the 7 major churches of Asia Minor centered around Ephesus. These 7 churches are in fact listed in a half verse omitted in our passage today (1:11) and, as you know, the revelation John receives includes messages for each of them individually, which make up ch. 2-3. The 7 golden lampstands amid which the “one like a son of man” stands (1:12-13) represent these 7 churches; that verse indicates that Jesus is present in and among the communities of his disciples.

John the visionary identifies himself with these churches: he is their brother; he shares with them “the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance we have in Jesus” (1:9). If we accept the tradition that this John is the beloved disciple and that he settled in Ephesus with Jesus’ mother, that kinship with the 7 churches is readily understood. Regardless of that, we know that the provenance of Revelation—the end of the 1st century—was a difficult period for Christians, a period of hostility from society and public authority, sometimes of outright persecution. John states that he received the vision “on the island of Patmos,” where he was “because I proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus” (1:9). Patmos, a small island off the western coast of Asia Minor, was a penal colony where criminals or enemies of the state were sent. John was there because he was preaching the Gospel.

Hence the reference to “distress,” or in other translations, “tribulation.” Hence the need for “endurance,” or “patience” in some translations. Of course even in good times a disciple of Jesus needs patience or endurance, because the world, the flesh, and the devil are always part of our lives, seeking to lure us away from the straight and narrow path that leads to life (Matt 7:14). The tribulations of daily life can distract even well-intentioned people from a focus on Jesus and on his kingdom.

John notes that he and his sisters and brothers in the churches already share in the kingdom. Serious Christians participate actively in the life of Christ—including the cross of tribulation that demands patience—and they make real that saying of Jesus, “The kingdom of God is within you” or “among you” (Luke 17:21). Christ claims them, lives in them, acts thru them, has an effect on the world thru them; and on a certain level, the level of their relationship with Christ, they already dwell in heaven. Christians also hold that the new creation, the age of the kingdom of God, has already begun with Jesus’ resurrection.

The voice that speaks to John is “as loud as a trumpet” (1:10). It’s the voice of God, the voice of revelation, like the sound of trumpets that accompanied the Lord’s presence on Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:16), like the sound of the trumpet on the Last Day (1 Cor 15:52). Not that this vision is related directly to the Last Day; but John’s visions do include plenty of references to the vindication of God’s saints and the damnation of the wicked.

The “one like a son of man” whom John sees and hears is, of course, Christ. The “ankle-length robe” he wears suggests his priestly office, and the “gold sash around his chest” bespeaks kingship (1:13). Christ is priest, king, and prophet. As priest, he offered sacrifice for the sins of humanity, and that sacrifice was himself. Revelation will go on to refer to Christ as the victorious Lamb. As king he rules the universe in his Father’s name, and he passes judgment on the good and the evil. As prophet, he delivers the Father’s message of eternal life.

John falls down “as though dead” (1:17), the reaction of any mortal coming into contact with the divine. But Christ tells him, as he so often said to his disciples and to others during his earthly ministry, “Don’t be afraid” (1:17). Altho he now wields awesome power in heaven, he wants to be near his people. He’s on the side of those suffering distress and enduring faithfully on his account, those who have identified themselves with his kingdom. He has conquered death—“I am alive forever and ever” (1:18)—and opened the way to life, a way on which he wants to lead all his followers: “I hold the keys to death and the netherworld” (1:18). John should write down his vision (1:19) and share it with the churches, for in this vision Christ is offering encouragement to the persecuted, the promise of life to those who undergo harassment, imprisonment, torture, and death.

Such an encouraging vision still speaks, I would think, to our brothers and sisters undergoing the trials of active persecution—let us say, in Pakistan or Iraq. It speaks to us who experience cultural discrimination because we follow Jesus, because we don’t bow to political correctness, or because we’re Catholics specifically. It speaks to us who oftentimes find life difficult because of personal pain and suffering; because of distress that so much goes wrong in life especially the lives of innocent people, like coal miners and the poor of Rio de Janeiro’s slums and of Haiti; because of anger at the injustice in the world. It speaks to us who are of a certain age and might be nervous about death and judgment—a fear that priests and religious aren’t immune to. As the Lord Jesus stood among the 7 lampstands, he stands still with us. He is still priest, offering himself for our sins. He is still king, ruling the universe and passing judgment on evildoers and on Satan himself. He is still the one who conquers death and offers us life. In the words of our opening prayer today, the Father of Jesus is still the “God of mercy” who “washes away our sins in water, redeems us in Christ’s blood, gives us new birth in the [Holy] Spirit,” “renews [his] gift of life within us.” No need to be afraid, either for the ultimate fate of humanity or for our own eternal destiny, so long as we listen to and cling to Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God (cf. John 20:28).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Going Bald

Going Bald
I have no idea why Harriman State Park's Bald Rocks Shelter got its name; the site isn't much different from dozens of other places in the park.

That's where Fr. Jim Mulloy and I headed, directly from our Easter dinner (previous posting), for a too short hiking and camping trip. We'd have gone to the Catskills for 3 days and 2 nites, but I had to be home for the visitation of the community by the provincial.

We parked in one of the designated spots, where the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail crosses Rte. 106. It was about 4:30 p.m. when we started up the trail--quite literally up, as it immediately starts to ascend, and soon makes a couple of pretty steep climbs that left both of us huffing and puffing because we're so out of shape. As we headed in, we met 20-25 hikers in several parties coming out of the woods at day’s end.

The first real ascent goes right up this.
We got some fine views once we were up on the ridge of Black Rock Mountain, and I took several photos. There were also a lot of hawks "making lazy circles in the sky," and I managed to capture a couple in pixels (almost said "on film")--one of them quite accidentally because I was only shooting the view. (That would be the little smudge a little right of center in this photo.) Off in the distance you see a lot of houses, which I suppose are part of Central Valley, N.Y.

After over an hour of hiking, pausing for the scenery, and huffing and puffing, we came to one last couple hiking out, about 20 minutes from Bald Rocks Shelter. They told us someone was already there. Bummer!
Bald Rocks Shelter, Sept. 2005. The hole in the chimney has since been patched; it's a fine little fireplace.

So when the shelter came into view, we confirmed that it was indeed occupied, then went down to a little pine grove on the opposite side of the trail where there was ample firewood and even a little bit of water. (We'd both toted in about ¾ gallon of water, which would be about 5 pounds in our backpacks.) We ate our of leftover beef from dinner, and in my case also leftover asparagus, cooked with the beef in olive oil over my backpacking stove.
While we were gathering our firewood and eating, I went 3 more times to check the shelter and see if maybe the guy who was there--I'd seen only one person--had maybe been a late day hiker and packed up; no luck on that.

Then, lo and behold, he came down to us, exclaiming, “I thought I heard voices.” He Was a friendly chap, also named Jim, from Glens Falls who was tired of hiking in the Adirondacks (has done it for years, apparently) and has started coming down to Harriman a couple of times a year; he was on a 6-day jaunt from shelter to shelter this time.
Jim from Glens Falls invited us up to the shelter; he was using his tent anyway because the shelter was “dirty and stinky” of smoke. Actually, it wasn’t any dirtier than any of the shelters usually is, and less so than sometimes (see my post from last Oct. 9)—but it did indeed smell of campfire.
There wasn’t any wood left at the shelter--people had been there for lunch and made a fire; so the 3 of us hauled up what Fr. Jim and I had gathered, and around 9 o’clock I made a fine fire.

But first there was a glorious sunset. Jim from G.F. had his tent (and a bear bag of food way, way up in a tree) near the shelter. Fr. Jim wanted to sleep out on the rocks under the stars--he pleaded with God to clear away the clouds that had covered the sky late in the afternoon, and once the sun set the stars came out galore.

So I had the shelter to myself once Fr. Jim retired to his rocks and stars. It was fine weather, and not as cold as I expected (probably got down to the upper 40s in the wee hours). That it wasn’t colder meant that I'd over packed—more layers of clothing than I turned out needing. Better than the other way around—but I wouldn’t have minded my pack’s being 3 pounds lighter!
We all got up between 6:15 and 7:00 on Monday a.m., packed ourselves up, ate breakfast, and hiked out together, since G.F. Jim was going in our direction and was happy to have the company. What took Fr. Jim and me an hour and a half on Sunday afternoon took only an hour to hike on Monday morning, altho we had to be extremely careful on a lot of the downhill portions of the trail.
The excellent weather also meant that the confreres back home can’t rag on me about rain. Both of us came back in one piece, so they can’t heckle us about that. (I still get ribbed a lot about nearly cracking my head open last year in the Catskills, and one of the brothers and I both get it about tackling West Mountain in the middle of violent thunderstorm a couple of summers ago.)

Easter in New Rochelle

Easter in New Rochelle

We solemnized our Easter celebrations (the Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday's Mass of the Lord's Supper; Good Friday's Commemoration of the Lord's Passion; the Easter Vigil; and Easter Sunday) here at home, except for the priests who had to be out for services with the Christian Brothers or St. Augustine’s Church on Thursday and Saturday, and several venues on Sunday morning. We had 15 for the Easter Vigil—14 confreres and our annual Easter guest, Bill Fisher (who was an SDB seminarian back in the ’50s). Here's what our chapel looks like, thanks to our terrific job sacristan:

The SDBs from Salesian HS and the candidate who's living with them and teaching at the school joined us, so that we had 24 for dinner. Several of the confreres prepared Easter dinner, which featured cordon bleu and a fine piece of beef (not sure what the cut was), with ample trimmings and followed by a lot of desserts. Bro. Andy and others did their usual magnificent job of setting the tables for the feast:

Don Bosco used to insist that every important feast day be duly celebrated in both the chapel and the dining room. Our two N.R. communities did that this Easter. Alleluia!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Homily for Holy Thursday

Homily for Holy ThursdayApril 1, 2010
Ex 12: 1-8, 11-14
Christian Brothers, Iona College, New Rochelle

“Seeing the blood, I will pass over you” (Ex 12: 13).

With this liturgy of the Lord’s Supper we begin the Easter Triduum, our annual celebration of the Lord’s paschal mystery. That mystery is linked inseparably to the Jewish Passover. It begins with Jesus celebrating a seder with the 12 and our reading from Exodus the story of the first Passover meal. It ends with the ritual of Baptism in parishes that have catechumens, and the renewal of baptismal promises by the rest of us, recalling our passing thru the waters of salvation, as Israel passed thru the Red Sea—another Exodus reading of our Easter celebration.

One of the essentials of the seder is lamb. When meat is a rare part of the local diet, eating it makes a feast. So the Passover meal is a feast, specifically a feast of deliverance, of freedom. Lamb or goat would have been (and still is) the most readily available meat for the pastoral people of the Middle East.

This feast is different from others, tho. The lamb is slaughtered in a public ritual, “with the whole assembly of Israel present,” i.e., the entire household, and at a specified day and hour, “during the evening twilight” (12:6). The lamb is a stand-in for the eldest son of the household; all the lambs are substitutes for all the first-born of Israel. “For on this same nite I will go thru Egypt, striking down every first-born of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (12:12). The Lord YHWH saves his people, but the gods of Egypt are powerless to save theirs. The gods of Egypt are identified with the oppressors of YHWH’s people, and in his saving act he renders crushing judgment against them on this Passover nite.

The lamb, unknowing, gentle, innocent, dies in order that Israel, God’s son, might live and be free. The prophet Hosea remarks, “Out of Egypt I called my son” (11:1), which St. Matthew quotes in his gospel (2:15). God tells Moses to have each household smear the blood of the freshly slaughtered lamb on its doorposts and lintel (12:7), marking that house as protected against the angel of death, as belonging to the Lord.

John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36), and the Book of Revelation also does so. So do we at Mass during the Communion rite. This gentle, innocent Lamb offered himself—knowingly, willingly—as a sacrifice for our redemption. This Lamb, the only-begotten Son of God and the firstborn son of Mary, offered himself as a substitute for us—not just the firstborn, but all of us, all sinners who merit condemnation on account of the free choices by which we’ve aligned ourselves with the gods of Egypt. This Lamb died that we might live, that we might be called pit of Egypt, that we might be set free from our sins and the judgment against them. Thru this Lamb, the Lord YHWH has executed judgment on all the gods of this world: on power, on pleasure, on wealth, on pride, on wrath, on the hordes of hell—on everything that would enslave, debase, and destroy humanity.

On this evening when we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist, we thank God for the saving blood of the Lamb of God. We partake of the blood that the Lamb has shed for us, the blood that “marks the houses” (12:13) where Christ dwells. Commenting on that blood on the Hebrew doorposts, St. John Chrysostom writes: “If we were to ask…how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, [the] answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.”* God Almighty notes that blood as he passes judgment upon the world: “Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; …no destructive blow will come upon you” (12:13).

Drinking from the cup of salvation (Ps 116:13), we proclaim the death of the Lord (1 Cor 11:26). We proclaim that the Lamb has been slain for us (Rev 5:12) yet lives. We proclaim that we’ve been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb (cf. Rev 7:14). We proclaim that the Lamb now enthroned on high “leads [us] to springs of life-giving water” (Rev 7:17). We proclaim this Eucharist as “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9) to which we, however unworthy, have been invited, as the Hebrews were invited from the first seder to salvation in the Promised Land.

* Catecheses ch. 3, in LOH 2:474.