Monday, May 24, 2010



Getting Hawkish

For well over a year we've had several red-tailed hawks in the vicinity. The pigeon population has been just about annihilated; haven't seen any rabbits this year. The squirrels survive.

They like to perch on the weather vane on top of the tower of the house--either surveying their manor, or watching for some unwary prey.

Sunday after lunch two of them were perched on the chain-link fence of the ball field for a few minutes. I got some shots thru the windows.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Habemus Diaconum
Yesterday morning, May 22, Bro. Michael Leschinsky, SDB, was ordained a deacon in the presence of hundreds of members of the Salesian Family. Bishop Dominic Marconi, a retired auxiliary from Newark, presided over the sacred rite, which took place in the chapel of the Marian Shrine at Haverstraw, N.Y. (street address in Stony Point).

Bro. Mike is from Youngstown, Ohio, where his vocation was nurtured in his family and in his parish, St. Matthias. He made is first vows as an SDB in 2002, his perpetual vows in 2008. He taught at Salesian HS in New Rochelle before starting his theology studies, first in Mexico and currently at Seton Hall University in South Orange.
Deacon Mike with his parents, Anne and Tom, Bp. Marconi, and Fr. Tom Dunne, the SDB provincial

Bro. Mike is a "transitional" deacon, meaning that we hope he'll be ordained a priest next year after completing his studies.

Bro. Mike will continue to serve the young in the ranks of Don Bosco.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Homily
for the 7th Sunday of Easter

May 16, 2010
Rev 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates” (Rev 22: 14).

The Book of Revelation’s sustained encouragement of the disciples of Jesus to stick it out thru persecution and all the other trials of life ends with the Lord’s promise to come soon (22:12,20) and the prayer of the Lord’s bride, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:17,20). The Christian’s sole hope is that the Lord lives and will come again, bringing with him the recompense “to each according to his deeds” (22:12), including eternal life for the faithful (22:14) and exclusion for the wicked (22:15, omitted in the reading).

The voice that addresses John the Seer isn’t the same voice that he heard at the beginning of his visions, when he was instructed to write down his visions and pass along messages to the various churches of Asia. Now it is Jesus himself speaking: “Behold, I am coming soon” (22:12). This message is a constant of the Gospels and of Paul’s letters; hence, of Christian teaching, incorporated also in our Creed. The problematic part is the word soon. That, of course, is a relative term. What’s a human lifetime in the scale of human history, or of the age of the earth, not to mention the “length” of eternity? Even if today our average life-spans—at least in the First World—are double those of the 1st century, they’re short enuf. If the Second Coming and the consummation of all things isn’t really just around the corner of time, the end of our own individual time is, and if Jesus isn’t “coming soon,” we’re soon going to him. Be faithful, whether it’s an age of persecution or one “merely” of day-to-day struggle to live virtuously.

“I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.” Judgment, accountability, reward or punishment follow death. It’s the ancient Christian message of the Last Things. Nothing new or shocking there, but a message seldom heard any more, and perhaps one that too many Christians, even priests and religious and bishops, have stuck away in a far corner of their minds. Why do we do some of the things we do? “What was I thinking?” Maybe it wasn’t of eternity.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13). (If you’ve read Teilhard, you love this line.) As far as St. John’s concerned, Christ is laying claim to divinity. He can judge humanity because he’s God, from whom all things have come, to whom all things are going. The disciples’ loyalty in the face of the demands of the Roman State, or our loyalty today in the face of any earthly authority, is not just to some teacher, to some prophet, but to Jesus Christ the Son of God—not “son” as metaphor of some sort, as when you and I call ourselves God’s children, but Son as an equal to be worshipped, to be obeyed, to be loved unto death, even as he has loved us unto death, to be regarded as the beginning and the end of our existence, as our purpose in life, and to whom we must answer for our lives.

“Blessed are they who wash their robes…” (22:14). Washed in the blood of the Lamb, as we heard in a reading a few weeks ago (7:14), washed in the waters of Baptism. Apparently it was a well known refrain among the early Christians, known even to their pagan neighbors. We read, for instance, in the Acts of the martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity that the crowd in the arena chanted, “Washed and saved, washed and saved,” when the beasts drew blood from the martyrs, “giving evidence of a second baptism.”*

Being so washed—by the Lamb, perhaps also by bloody testimony to the Lamb—entitles one to eternal life: “…so as to have the right to the tree of life” (22:14). This reverses the penalty of our 1st parents, who were driven away from the tree of life because of their sin. The Lamb of God leads us back to the tree of life, for he’s the Lord of life (“the first and the last, the beginning and the end”).

Those who’ve washed their robes also have the right to “enter the city thru its gates” (22:14). The city is the new and eternal Jerusalem, the subject of our 2d reading last week (21:10-14,22-23) and of the last 2 chapters of Revelation. One who enters thru the gates belongs to the city. Others have to attack the city, besiege its walls, like Joshua assaulting Jericho, or sneak in thru secret passages, like David capturing Mt. Zion from the Jebusites (2 Sam 5:6-9). “Whoever doesn’t enter a sheepfold thru the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). Those who belong to Jesus, however, come and go thru the gate, for he’s their shepherd and calls them by name (John 10:3). The only way into the kingdom of God is thru the gate, which Jesus opens for his own.

“I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches” (22:16). The “you” is plural, so it’s not only John the Seer being addressed here but all the disciples of Jesus, all the churches of Asia—and of course all the other churches who’ve received this testimony thru the ages.

“I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star” (22:16). This is a messianic claim: Jesus is the Christ. He’s the son of David, but also his Lord (“root”) (cf. Ps 110:1). He’s that star which rises out of Jacob in the vision of Balaam who shall smite the enemies of Israel (Num 24:17). He’s the light that overcomes the darkness, the sun of justice, life arising from death. Christ’s association with the morning star also explains the orientation of most churches toward the east, i.e., placing the altar at the east end of the church, so that the congregation worships facing east, looking toward him who is our light, our life, our hope, the one to whom we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

And that’s the conclusion, the culmination, of John’s Revelation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let the hearer say, ‘Come’” (22:17). The Spirit speaks in the Church, the bride of Christ, calling for him to come to her. She longs for her Spouse. Every disciple longs for the Master’s return.

“Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water” (22:17)—this echoes one of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water,” come and feast on grain and wine and milk, all without cost, and have life (55:1-3). An angel says to John as part of his vision, “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (19:9). And it’s all a gift; it’s all grace, freely offered by God to anyone who desires it and will come to Jesus, come to Baptism, come receive the Holy Spirit: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’ He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive” (John 7:37-39). And the gift of the Spirit is the gift of eternal life (cf. John 6:63).

“Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).
_____________
* “Death of the Holy Martyrs of Carthage,” Liturgy of the Hours, 2:1702.

Oh, Agony!

Oh, Agony!

The description of the Appalachian Trail in the trail guide for Harriman State Park ends something like this (quoting from memory): "The trail passes by the Elk Pen parking area, crosses over the New York State Thruway, and reaches Rte. 17. Agony Grind lies just ahead."

The description ends there because it's the park boundary. And what an ominous sounding conclusion!

Last Sunday (May 9) Bro. Tom Higgs and I accepted the challenge. It was a lovely day for hiking, tho very windy (winds continuing from the day before--see the previous posting--but not as strong). Having been to Saturday evening Mass, we left the house a little after 8:00 a.m. Sunday, stopped at the bookstore on the Palisades Parkway to purchase a trail map for Sterling Forest ($8.62 with the tax), dodged some fallen branches on Arden Valley Rd., and were at the Elk Pen a little after 9. There were about 5 other cars there. (There are no elk at the parking area. It's just a name.)

We got ourselves organized and were on the trail at 9:15. Easy going across the Thruway, the Ramapo River, and the commuter railroad by bridge, and a short walk to Rte. 17--which we had to cross without benefit of a bridge; but at least traffic was light. Then into the woods--and the ascent began almost at once.
At first it was moderate; but then the great cliff came into view. And the real climbing began. It wasn't as bad for us as one hiker has described it in his blog (http://www.thebackpacker.com/articles/inspir/art32.php), but we could see how it got its name.

We were overtaken on the 1st ascent by another day hiker who was kind of zipping along. Later, when we got to the Arden Mt. register, we think he was the guy who was heading to Wildcat Shelter for the day--which would be about a 20-mile round-trip from the Elk Pen. Nice little jaunt!
Thru the leaves you can see a little bit of the guy who breezed past us on this ascent.
So we huffed and puffed our way up to the 1st viewpoint and got a nice look at Arden Road and the buildings there, the Arden Valley Road bridge that we'd crossed 15 or 20 minutes previously, and the hilltops of Harriman Park to the east.
And we climbed some more. And some more. If I read the trail map correctly, the total elevation from Rte. 17 to the top comes to some 500' of ascent in less than half a mile of distance. But there were some more spectacular views of the Thruway, especially southward, before the trail sort of leveled off (still a lot of ups and downs) and headed into the woods.You come to the top of one cliff and figure you've done it. Then you look ahead and--oy vey! Yes, we had to get up (not directly, but indirectly) that THING behind Bro. Tom.

We'd figured on catching an unnamed blue-blazed trail that heads south from the AT and runs down to the Indian Hill loop trail in Sterling Forest. It seemed to take a long time before we came to our 1st marker, the Sapphire Trail (also blue-blazed) running north from the AT. Then another good while before we finally came to a large cairn and the blue trailhead on the south side of the AT. The Arden Mt. register was just a few feet farther down the AT. I registered us.

And then we met our 2d and 3d hikers of the day--a couple coming up the blue trail. They were out for the day with their very large poodle--large enuf to be geared with saddlebags! Too bad I didn't take their picture! But they obliged by taking one of us.

Are we there yet?
By this time it was 11:30--way longer than we'd gauged to reach this unnamed trail. We forged on, downhill (and I'm thinking--oh boy! we have to come back up this) till after about 15 minutes we finally reached the yellow trail blazes. By then we were looking for a spot to sit down and eat our sandwiches; we went a distance along the Indian Hill Trail before finding something suitable (a fairly level rock in my case, a large boulder to lean against in Bro. Tom's case) and enjoyed a slow lunch. And I read a few pages of the paperback I'd toted with me.

No way we were going to be able to do the Indian Hill loop and get ourselves back home in time to clean up before Evening Prayer--maybe not even for prayer. So we made our return--considerably faster than we'd come up, and with fewer rest breaks.

Back up to the AT, we sighted one hiker at the register, and then 2 others at the trailhead. One with a full pack moved right on. The 2d stopped to chat with us; he told us the other fellow was from Norway and was going to be hiking for a month. He observed that while lots of people park at the Elk Pen, almost all of them go the other way (staying in Harriman). Sure enuf, when we got back to our car, Bro. Tom counted 28 other cars in the lot. And we met a grand total of 6 hikers, 2 of whom had come up from Orange Tpk. and 1 obviously wasn't parked (the month-hiker).

It took us maybe a little over an hour to hike out (after lunch). But, as we always find, it was in a sense harder to go down a steep climb, being careful not to lose one's balance and fall, looking for good foot grips on sharply sloping rocks, and straining one's knees a lot. (I really expected to be sore on Monday, but wasn't.)

For some excellent photos of the climb up Agony Grind and the views from there, as well as some shots taken further than we went, see http://www.danbalogh.com/agony.html

Those have the advantage of having been taken in late winter, without foliage to get in the way of the vistas. (Of course foliage adds a lot to vistas, too.)
Windstorm
A few weeks ago Westchester County suffered a devastating storm of wind and rain that left trees fallen everywhere, and lots of power outages, including here in N.R. We were fortunate at the provincial house, losing only a mid-sized cherry tree by the seawall that was blown over and a fair-sized maple near the baseball backstop that took enuf damage that it had ot be removed.

On Saturday, May 8, we experienced very strong wind all day--no rain; lots of sunshine, in fact--and during our spiritual reading were startled by a great crash near the house. A very large maple had come down alongside the garden wall--doing no damage except to a little tree or two in its immediate vicinity.

The fallen tree measured 10 feet in circumference (5 feet up the trunk)--and was completely hollow. So--healthy looking as could be outside, thoroughly rotten inside.

It took Bro. Andy and a couple other confreres 2 days to get it all cut up and the smaller segments chipped up.

Firewood, anyone?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Facelift for the Provincial House
The provincial headquarters of the Salesians' Eastern U.S. Province, a.k.a. the province of St. Philip the Apostle, is a handsome granite house built in the mid-1860s by industrialist John Stephenson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stephenson_(coachbuilder)) and used as his summer home. It passed thru several hands before the SDBs bought the property on New Rochelle's Echo Bay in 1919.

Besides province headquarters, i.e., the site of the provincial superior's office, over the years the house has served as the novitiate, the residence for part of the staff of Salesian High School, the school's cafeteria, the residence of various Salesians with province jobs, and their offices.

Rear of the provincial residence

In addition to the sturdy stone of the exterior, the house is graced with some fine woodwork. That, of course, is less durable than the stone. One might suppose that it's also vulnerable to the salt air associated with proximity to Long Island Sound. So every once in a while that wood requires quite a refurbishing. It was last done in preparation for the visit of Fr. Juan Vecchi, the SDB Rector Major (1996-2002), in 1998.
On May 6 we undertook the work anew: having all the exterior woodwork scraped down, repaired as needed, and repainted. Here are a couple of photos of the first day's work.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb

Back on the 3d Sunday of Easter (April 18), I referred in my homily to Jan van Eyck's masterpiece in the Ghent's cathedral of St. Bavo (http://sdbnews.blogspot.com/2010/04/homily-for-3d-sunday-of-easter-april-18.html).

The painting made the news a week ago, the NYT reporting that it's going to be restored. See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/05/arts/design/05getty.html The print edition even has a nice color photo of the complete painting (12 panels--well, that's not quite complete because 2 were stolen several decades ago and never recovered).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Centennial Camporee

Centennial Camporee

The Westchester-Putnam Council of the BSA held a camporee April 30-May 2 to celebrate the centennial of the BSA. It took place at Blue Mountain Reservation, a county park in Peekskill, N.Y., and attracted some 1,280 Boy Scouts, Venturers, and adult Scouters. We had a lot of assistance from the New York National Guard for both security and activities.

The whole bunch of us were divided into 8 “encampments” made up of 7-8 troops each based on where they were camped. Each group wore a distinctively colored camporee T-shirt.


Troop Forty assembled after setting up camp.
The camporee was quite an experience. Troop Forty got up to Peekskill in stages on Friday afternoon (25 boys and 5 adults), and we started easily enuf with camp set-up and supper. Soon after dark, things got rolling with encampment campfires (flag raising, announcements, skits, and songs around the fire, flag lowering). After these opening campfires, we all gathered in the dark (under somewhat dim field lights) in a large field (the “parade ground”) for tug-o-war, encampment vs. encampment (picture 40 or so Scouts on each side doing tug-o-war). At least 2 ropes broke during this endeavor, until eventually 1 encampment was declared the winner after all the eliminations. Finally, Scouts were sent to their camp sites, while most of the Scoutmasters and senior patrol leaders gathered for a "cracker barrel" (assessments and the latest announcements). We went to bed around 11:30, I guess, and naturally some of Troop 40 had to talk for an hour or 2 after that--which did not make happy campers of the adults, and probably not of our nearest neighbors.


It was surprisingly cool overnite, and Saturday started cool but warmed up soon enuf. Eventually it got to be about 90˚, and the only shade was in the camping areas (not in the large fields—doh!). I got up at 5:45 and said Mass on one of the picnic tables at our site, but before I was finished quite a few of our boys and many others were stirring.

We had another encampment flag raising and a few announcements around 8:00, and then everyone returned to the parade ground for assembly. A N.Y. Army National Guard unit provided a band, which played music while we got together. One Scout from each encampment carried his encampment’s flag as part of the color guard, and 2 soldiers joined them to present the colors and raise the flag while the band played the national anthem. We all recited the pledge of allegiance, the Scout Oath, and the Scout Law (as we do at every Scout gathering). Various intros and announcements followed; and then we were sent to the day’s activities, rotating on schedule among 4 venues (2 encampments at a time at each venue).














Top: Army band performing during the morning assembly (by Anthony Jenkins). Bottom: The color guard raises our flag.

View of part of the huge crowd (over 1,000) assembled on the parade ground for flag raising and other morning rites.
Troop Forty started at the waterfront, where there were canoeing and kayaking, fly fishing, scuba, and nautical knot stations. The scuba was strictly theoretical, and I don’t think any of our boys took that in. They listened to a little about fly fishing, and a few stuck around there a bit longer. Almost all of them tried canoeing or kayaking, and 1 had the “honor” of the 1st baptism, i.e., tipping over in a kayak and having to swim/wade ashore. (There were a few others later in the day, I heard.) He said the water was quite cold; fortunately, he had a change of clothes in camp; and during a break I rigged my clothes line and hung up his wet stuff, which till then had just been draped over a picnic table.

The 2d activity was field sports, which included a 30’ climbing tower, an obstacle course, 2 forms of tug-o-war, and dodge ball. That kept them busy for a couple of hours, until lunch. By then it was good and hot, and we were all seeking whatever shade we could find around the edges of this big, dusty field (the only one that was dusty). One younger Scout challenged me to tug-o-war—no contest. Then 3 or 4 of them jumped on the other end of the rope, and a couple on my end—that was a contest. Fortunately, before this could go to far (i.e., do too much physical damage to me!), lunch arrived. The Scouts were very good about separating garbage from recyclables at the end of lunch, and also thruout the camp. Not so the county workers, at least on Sunday morn; I saw them throwing everything together in a garbage truck.











Top: Scouts tackling the climbing wall. Bottom: A race thru the obstacle course.











Top: Just before a mob dash to either end of the rope, one Scout and Fr. Mike tug against 3 or 4 Scouts (by Anthony Jenkins). Bottom: Two lads from T40 give a mighty go at tug-o-war. Scoutmaster Tunji Renner and some other members of Troop Forty enjoy a little shade while eating lunch.

3d activity was labeled “Scouting Future” and took place in another large field, this one not dusty but grassy and on the muddy side. That included a National Guard display with vehicles, firearms, and another climbing wall; Segway demo (they all gave that a try, and so did I); a Smart Car; ham radio (I didn’t actually see that one); and geocaching, including a practice “hunt” for a cache in the woods.












Top: Scout learns how to handle a Segway. Bottom: Members of the N.Y. National Guard demonstrate skill at ascending a wall in quick time.
Thence we moved to “Scouting Past,” which included a spectacular display of old patches, programs, posters, etc., mostly from the Westchester-Putnam Council and its predecessors, fittingly; some antique autos; archery and tomahawk throwing (no T40 casualties from either of those!); and ice cream making. And by this point in the day, I was very glad I’d brought my little tripod stool with me, altho I still moved about quite a bit with my camera. All told, I took 225 photos from camp set-up on Friday to the start of Mass on Saturday; and 4 other participants have given me another couple dozen.









Top: learning to use bow and arrow. Bottom: learning to throw a tomahawk.

Mass was back in the semi-muddy field. The 1st troop to arrive decided we should grab what shade we could and moved a picnic table and small marquee to the west side, where many of the congregation would have the advantage of the trees on that side. So we were set up at the fence of the National Guard depot, just outside the park, to the amusement of Scouting executive Roger Stewart when he came around with his camera shortly before Mass: “You know, Fr. Mike, that doesn’t look very good—you, with the tanks behind you!” We laughed about that for the rest of the weekend. (Actually, there weren’t any tanks, just personnel carriers.) Roger took some nice photos of me. I estimate that we got about 270 Scouts and Scouters for Mass, based on the number who took Communion (we had to count out the hosts beforehand). What was, in effect, a draft of my homily is posted below.
Photo above: Instructing Scout Nick Kristensen, Troop 1 Katonah,
about the 1st reading for Mass (by Roger Stewart)
Part of the congregation assembled for Saturday evening Mass.

From there it was off to supper, which we didn’t have time to finish before assembly in the parade ground for flag lowering and the camporee campfire, with the best skits from each of the Friday nite encampment campfires, various corny jokes, tributes, and a long presentation by the Order of the Arrow (Scouting’s honor society)—at which point my body had enuf, and I checked out with the 3 other adults still with the troop and went to bed. When the Scouts came to camp before much longer—evidently no one from T40 wanted to stay up for the movie that concluded the campfire—there was no extended talking. I wonder why?

We were up before 6:00 again on Sunday, broke camp, had breakfast—and waited a long time for our rides back to Mt. Vernon. We were the last troop out of the park, around 11:00.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the 5th Sunday of EasterMay 2, 2010
Acts 14: 21-27
Boy Scouts Centennial Camporee
Peekskill, N.Y.

This was the base text for my homily at Mass on Saturday evening, May 1, at the Westchester-Putnam Council of the BSA's centennial camporee. There were about 270 Scouts and Scouters present, out of 1,280 participating in the camporee. I adapted this text somewhat and abbreviated it considerably in view of the schedule and the lack of shade on a very warm day.

“Paul and Barnabas strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith” (Acts 14: 22).

All thru the Easter season—which lasts 7 weeks—we read from the Acts of the Apostles. Acts describes how the Good News of Jesus Christ spread from Jerusalem across the Roman Empire thru the courageous preaching of the apostles and the power of the Holy Spirit. A great deal of that power comes from the message expressed in our 2d reading today: “God’s dwelling is with the human race…. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Rev 21:3-4).

This is a message of love and of hope. A message of love, because God dwells with us thru the incarnation of his Son Jesus Christ; i.e., the eternal Son of God became a human being 2,000 years ago, walked among us, taught us, made God’s love present; and ever since then has remained among us in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. A message of hope, because this God has called us to dwell with him forever in the life of the resurrection, like his Son Jesus Christ, who after suffering death like all of us rose from the dead—which is what we celebrate thruout this Easter season and, indeed, every single Sunday of the year because every Sunday is a “little Easter.”

Paul and Barnabas were chosen by God to bring this message of love and hope to many places in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, in places that we now call Syria, Cyprus, Turkey, and Greece. And while they won many converts to the one God and his Son Jesus Christ, they also ran into strong and violent opposition, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. They were sometimes arrested, beaten, jailed, run out of town. At least once Paul was nearly stoned to death (with rocks, wise guys!). Besides that, they encountered all the difficulties of travel in the 1st century: walking hundreds of miles on good, mediocre, and bad roads; good, bad, and indifferent inns and camping along the road (without tents and Coleman stoves); the danger of robbers and wild animals (wilder than turkeys and deer); storms on land and at sea; shipwreck; and more.

The apostles—not only Paul and Barnabas but all of them—risked all those dangers and that persecution because they were in love with Jesus and wanted everyone to know of God’s love for every person, brought to us in the teaching of Jesus and in his cross and resurrection. With this message “they strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith.”


St. Paul preaching--one of a series of paintings of the Apostle's life in the basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome.
Paul and Barnabas also reminded the disciples in all these different cities and countries that Christians must “undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (14:22). In that verse, the apostles echo Jesus’ words to his disciples in one of his appearances after he rose from the dead: “Wasn’t it necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Jesus tells us that disciples must be like their masters (cf. John 15:20), which means that we too will face challenges, difficulties, hardships sometimes because we follow a Savior who was persecuted, tortured, and crucified.

Last Wednesday I was speaking with a former student of mine, a man now about 50 years old who has been hospitalized with some serious medical issues. He’s been a good Catholic all his life. But he admitted to me that he’s scared. His health problems seem only to be getting worse. He could die.

Something like that could scare any of us. True, he’s not suffering because he’s a follower of Jesus. But it can help us to remember that Jesus, too, was scared of suffering and death, as he showed us in the Garden of Gethsemane just before he was arrested. Jesus, too, felt abandoned by God, as he showed when he cried out on the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). We all need our spirits strengthened with reminders that Christ remains with us, that God loves us, that God takes care of us long term—really, really long term, because he’s going to raise us from the dead and we’re going to live forever with him without any further pain, suffering, or tears, like Jesus himself, like the Virgin Mary, who has already been raised up and taken to heaven (our Catholic doctrine of the Assumption).

There are other hardships that we have to undergo as disciples of Jesus. Being faithful to Jesus means keeping his commandments. The gospel today speaks of the commandment to love one another (John 13:34-35). The 10 Commandments are practical applications of how we love God (the 1st 3 commands) and one another (the other 7 commands). The Scout Law also is the practice of love for God and one another.

There are a lot of people in our world who don’t believe in loving one another, people who practice hatred, vengeance, racism, sexism, jihad or holy war. It takes courage to stand for the dignity of every person and to forgive those who hurt us.

There are people who think the only rule of life is to look out for No. 1, and it’s OK, even necessary, to hurt other people if they get in your way, if they become inconvenient. That’s organized crime; that’s drug warfare, such as we see so much of in the news these days in Mexico; that’s abortion. It takes courage to respect human life and treat everyone with respect.

There are people who don’t believe in purity, in chastity, in cleanliness of mind and heart. They use other people as means for their own pleasure thru pornography and thru sex outside of marriage. It takes courage to resist our culture that doesn’t see sex as a gift from God for the giving of oneself to another person and sharing one’s life with another, turning sex into selfishness.

There are people who think it’s good to take advantage of others as long as you don’t get caught, as long as you make money. “Greed is good,” a famous movie character said. We’re not so happy when greedy politicians and businessmen ruin our government and our economy, however. It takes courage always to be honest and truthful.

Those are some examples of the hardships we might have to undergo to enter the kingdom of God: to persevere as disciples of Jesus Christ by living truth, honesty, chastity, forgiveness, respect for everyone. Not to mention being patient with your little brothers and sisters, doing your homework and your chores, obeying your parents, and not littering your campsite! But there’s a great deal of joy and satisfaction in doing our best to live like Jesus, in letting other people know that we’re his disciples—not by our words so much as by our actions, by the real, practical love that we have for one another.
Statue of St. Paul in the cloister of his basilica (built over his tomb) in Rome.