Sunday, October 31, 2010

Homily for 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Oct. 31, 2010
2 Thess 1: 11—2:2
Scouters taking Woodbadge Course, Camp Alpine, N.J.

“We pray that our God may make you worthy of his calling” (2 Thess 1: 11).

Paul was the 1st to preach the Good News in Thessalonica. But it wasn’t he who called the Thessalonians to accept God’s mercy and change their way of living. The call came from God: “May our God make you worthy of his calling.” Paul is just God’s instrument.

We too may serve as God’s instruments for his calling others, for reinforcing that call, for helping others to discern the call and answer it. Scout leaders are God’s instruments in helping young men find their way in life. That search for their way includes their search, usually unawares, for life’s meaning—for God’s purposes in their lives, for their proper relationships with him and with the rest of his children. We help young men understand reverence, and practice it.

Conversion of St. Paul: painting in the basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome

Paul is uttering a prayer in this passage of his letter. The prayer is that God will make the Thessalonian Christians worthy of his call. God doesn’t call people because they are worthy. We see that clearly in today’s gospel story (Luke 19:1-10), as well as in many others, notably Jesus’ calling of the apostles and very notably in Paul’s own call (Acts 9:1-19; cf. Gal 1:11-24). You may have seen the evangelical slogan—on a bumper sticker or going round the e-mail circuit: “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” He makes us worthy of his calling. We Catholics offer a prayer at every Mass just before Communion that God will make us worthy of himself: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” The healing action, the spiritual cleansing, the sanctification, is always God’s.

St. Augustine says the same thing in a sermon that we find in the Office of Readings: “We have been saved by his grace, says the Apostle, and not by our works…. It is not as if a good life of some sort came first, and that thereupon God showed his love and esteem for it from on high, saying: ‘Let us come to the aid of these men and assist them quickly because they are living a good life.’ No, our life was displeasing to him; whatever we did by ourselves was displeasing to him; but what he did in us was not displeasing to him. He will, therefore, condemn what we have done, but he will save what he himself has done in us.”*

St. Augustine painting: basilica of Mary Help of Christians, Turin

God didn’t call any of us on account of our goodness, our intelligence, our charm, our good looks, our artistic talents, etc. He called us to be his at Baptism, which means he called most of us when we were infants, totally helpless. About the only thing we could do by ourselves was give our parents a mess to clean up! God didn’t call us to be his children because we were worthy of such love, any more than our parents co-created us with God because we were worthy of love. Both God and our parents called us into existence as an act of love on their part, and freely offered that love to us—thereby making us lovable, making us worthy, and in God’s case, making us holy.

Paul’s prayer continues: “May our God powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith” (1:11). In some rituals of religious profession, when a sister or a brother makes vows, we find a similar prayer from the presider: “May God, who has begun this good work in you, bring it to perfection” or “to completion.” May God finish the job he’s started in us! Our pursuit of Christ as disciples, as believers, is a lifelong pursuit, a lifelong journey, a lifelong pilgrimage. (You know what Yogi says!) In the 17th century, John Bunyan reminded Puritan readers of that with The Pilgrim’s Progress. But it’s an age-old Christian image, as old as Luke’s gospel in which Jesus sets out on a long journey toward Jerusalem, leading the disciples with him. Like the apostles, who said things like, “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16) and “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you” (Luke 22:33), but fled like cockroaches when the light goes on, we need divine help to stay with Jesus when temptation comes, when our faith is challenged by adversity: “May our God powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith.”

Our perseverance in faith, in living out our faith and not just mouthing it, glorifies the name of our Lord Jesus, Paul says. We’re linked to Jesus by our Baptism. We belong to him, and he belongs to us. When God’s grace works in us, producing good, it gives glory to Jesus in whom we live, in whose name we act (at least implicitly)—just as our evil deeds are a scandal, reflecting poorly on the name of Christian. But the good we do is a partaking of the goodness of Jesus, reflects his goodness (we’re mirrors of Jesus, so to say), and so offers praise to the Father.

The 2d paragraph of our reading today takes up the rather different subject of “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him” (2:1). That “assembly” will be the ultimate “fulfillment” of our journey with Christ toward the heavenly Jerusalem. The latest “end of the world” fad in our time seems to come from the Mayan calendar, which, so it’s said, ends with 2012. I think there was a movie about that a few months ago, which I didn’t see. But these fads of “the end is near” come repeatedly, and the fads fade, of course. Paul was dealing with one ca. 50 A.D., when, Scripture scholars generally believe, the Christian community expected Jesus’ imminent 2d coming.

Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians is, “Don’t be shaken out of your minds suddenly or be alarmed” (2:2)—“Don’t worry about it.” Not in our reading today is his bottom-line advice later in this chapter: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the tradition that you were taught” (2:15). Then, as Jesus says, we’ll be awake and watchful and won’t be caught off guard whenever he does return (cf. Matt 24:43-44).

The Last Judgment, by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel
I draw your attention to one word in Paul’s reference to the Lord’s coming: “our assembling with him.” In his Greek, that’s επισυναγωγής (episunagoges), in Latin congregationis: synagog, congregation. When we assemble as a “synagog” or congregation each Sunday, we’re “assembling with our Lord Jesus Christ,” doing a dry run, as it were, for his 2d coming. We who meet with him regularly, faithfully, we who are familiar with him, will have nothing to cause us to fear his glorious return on the Last Day. Indeed, we look for his coming again in power, to “bring to fulfillment powerfully every good purpose and every effort of our faith” that we’ve been striving at on our long pilgrimage with him toward Jerusalem.

* Sermon 23A; Liturgy of the Hours, 4:188.

Lo! I-malay! from Soddo, Ethiopia

Lo! I-malay! from Soddo, EthiopiaBy Stephen Lilly

Mr. Lilly, a 2008 graduate of the University of Illinois from Berwyn, Ill., was commissioned as an SLM last August and shortly after left for his assignment at Don Bosco Catholic School in Soddo, Ethiopia. He sent this e-mail on Oct. 9 to Adam Rudin, the SLM program director.

Lo! I-malay! (Hi, how are you!)

I hope that this letter finds you well. These happen to be greetings in the language of Wallaytigna. While the national language of Ethiopia is Amharic, here in the region of Wolaita the mother tongue of most of the population is the one that has been spoken in the area for many centuries. Certainly people here have an identity of being Ethiopian; however, the Wolaita language, culture, and heritage are still living, even in the midst of the influx of national and global influences. So while I expected that most people would speak Amharic fluently, I am discovering to my surprise that the students at Don Bosco Catholic School here in Soddo are struggling to learn it just as I am.

It is difficult to believe, but school has been in session for a nearly a month already. If children were apprehensive or anxious during the first days of the semester, those feelings have long past.

Students are now fully immersed in the year’s curriculum of English, Amharic, Wallaytigna, science, mathematics, ethics, computer skills, music, and physical education. Every school day begins with an assembly in the central courtyard in which all 290 students line up according to grade and height. With each student sporting a new uniform consisting of a yellow shirt, brown vest, and brown pants or capris, for boys and girls respectively, they practice a small marching exercise to wake up and stretch their legs. Then, after singing the national anthem and listening to the day’s announcements the students march into the classroom to participate in another full day of learning and recreation.
Don Bosco Catholic School in Soddo (right), with the youth center at the left. In the foreground is the soccer field. (Photo by Stephen Lilly)

The days are full for me as well. While I only teach two periods of Spoken English each day, all the staff is with the children during thirty minutes of recess in the morning and the hour for lunch as well. For a school managed in the spirit of Don Bosco that means plenty of running and playing with the children. They are very fun, and they always have tons of energy to play soccer, volleyball, jump rope, or other games. In addition to teaching and being present with the children, I have been working continuously on the school’s library, which is now taking shape. All the books have been categorized, assigned call numbers, and organized on the shelves. Now remains the still daunting task of imputing all the books’ information into an electronic card catalog. Days will soon become even more packed when the youth center opens in a few weeks.

We do have time though to step away and relax a bit here and there.

In the evenings Abba Jose, Brother Kidane, and I will often sit out on the front steps and talk while watching the lightning flash in the distance or scanning the sky to look for the plane from Nairobi that passes overhead around 8 pm. On Sundays or holidays we have also been climbing a small ridge across the road from us. After passing a waterfall, crossing the small stream, and hiking a few minutes to the summit, we’ll find comfortable rocks from which to soak in the sun and to view the valley below. Many metal roofs reflect the light, but an equal amount of homes and structures made from mud and sticks adorn the landscape. Crops pattern the terrain and livestock roams. If you strain your eyes you can even see a sliver of Lake Abaya in the hazy distance.

Occasionally we will travel into town. The streets are always alive, but especially around dusk many families and friends will walk to say ‘hello’ to their neighbors or to hear the latest news. People greet each other with a small bow, or if they know each other well they will join right hands and lean together so that their right shoulders meet. Women will also greet each other with numerous kisses on the cheek.

Soddo was especially busy during the days leading up to Meskel, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Meskel is the biggest holiday of the year in the Wolaita region, and at night large fires blazed along all the roads as families celebrated.

I am attaching a photograph of the Don Bosco compound to this e-mail. On the left-hand side is the youth center, and the buildings on the right comprise the school. In the foreground is the large soccer field, and the green mountain in the distance is named Da Mota, which is the title of a king. An Ethiopian Orthodox church sits on top and pilgrims will climb to the summit over a period of a few days to visit it and pray.

There is always much more to write; however, I must leave it at this.

Thank you again for your thoughts and prayers. I appreciate them very much. Also, I am sorry that I have not been very good at returning correspondences. I have limited access to the internet.

Ah muh suh ge na lo! (I give thanks)


P.S. My parents have informed me that there might be some people interested in donating to the school. If you are, send me an e-mail, and I will speak with Abba Jose and provide a list of small things that would be helpful for the school and youth center. Thanks!
Top photo by Fr. Mike Mendl. Bottom Photo by Adam Rudin.

All the Things I Didn't Say...

All the Things I Didn’t Say…
By Margaret Stortz

Miss Stortz was commissioned as an SLM in August 2009 and served as a at an orphanage in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for one year beginning in September 2009. Shortly after her return to her home in Denver, she wrote this reflection, which is posted at the Salesian Lay Missioners Web site (

Margaret and her mom on the day of her SLM commissioning
“…I stood awed and bemused between two realities and two dreams.” So says Charles Ryder, a character in Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, as he is startled down memory lane by an unexpected visit to a familiar place. So has been the experience of the last few weeks in Bolivia and my first few days in America: I have crossed the divide and what was held the dream has become the reality and the year-long reality has become a far away dream.

I knew I had been there for close to a year as I noticed the season repeating itself: the wind blew ferociously all the time, stirring up the sand that paves the streets so that I would walk around half-blind, rubbing my eyes and blinking wildly all of the time and feeling like a living sand castle. Half of the trees were barren and the sky had a strange orange glow due to the seasonal burning of the fields. The girls had started to steal salt and get their flip-flops stuck in the trees due to their insatiable desire to eat green mangoes that end up making them sick (they throw their flip-flops into the trees to make the mangoes fall). And as my time came to its close, I thought about all the things I had never written about: how the girls would reach out their hands out like baby birds, chirping “a mi, a mi”, when I gave out medications at night, regardless of whether or not they had any ailments. And there was the update partially composed in my head entitled “Chicken Soup for the Bolivian Soul” describing in detail the soup that the girls eat made with entire chicken feet, and what it’s like to watch them suck on the chicken toes, skin and all, and then spit out the little bones, leaving a small pile of pebble sized debris as the only evidence that they just ate the feet of an animal that spends most of it’s life walking through the dirty, feces infested streets of Bolivia. Which then reminded me about the update I was going to write called “On The Streets of Santa Cruz” characterizing the landscape of the city and its outskirts which portray a strange mix of poverty and progress, much like the country itself. Going down the same paved street in front of the hogar [home, i.e., the orphanage] at any given moment are a horse and carriage with the driver selling his wares announced by megaphone, a brand-new 4Runner with the driver on a cell phone, a ”rancher” with his cows grazing on the weeds and the torn-up bags of trash in the road, indigenous women with their baby tied to their back, loose chickens, stray dogs, drunk men and the hogar girls on their way to school. I could have written everyday about the adventures with Talia, who at moments brought tears of joy to my eyes to see how much she had improved and at other moments brought tears of stinging pain to my eyes after receiving one of her strong, unexpected, unprovoked slaps across the face.

Photo at right: Fr. Tom Dunne presents a missionary cross to Margaret at the SLM commissing Mass, Don Bosco Retreat Center, Haverstraw, N.Y., August 2009

The depth of my experience in Bolivia, however, apart from the crazy adventures of everyday life in a developing country and a poorly organized hogar, was the interior struggle to find my mission and to live it out each day. I didn’t come to the hogar expecting to accomplish great things. And I found that I did not go to Bolivia to be the missionary, but I was rather, the mission field. The girls evangelized me, enlightened me to myself and the love of God simply by living their lives while I was privileged to live amongst them. Through their constant rebellion, resistance and disobedience, I discovered those same sentiments buried deep in my heart directed towards life in general and God especially. Through their constant, oftentimes overwhelming affection of wet kisses, powerful hugs, overly inquisitive questions, and simply their daily presence, I discovered what it means to love unconditionally. Good moods or bad, they loved on me beyond my comfortable limits and reminded me that love is the true driving force behind all of our actions and we seek it out in whoever we can in whatever way we find possible. Through their constant joy, laughter and energy to play and have fun, in spite of their histories and their sufferings, they taught me what it means to forgive, to let go of the past and to let our wounds heal simply by living life fully, always moving forward and not looking back.

I had an important revelation several months ago when Sor Magdalena, the Japanese nun we were sometimes sure grew “special plants” in her room, invited me to do origami with her in order to break up the monotony of life at the hogar with disobedient girls. Origami was a childhood hobby so I was delighted to learn a new creation from a true Japanese master. She led me through all the intricate steps of bending and folding and creasing and it looked like we were almost done. “Now, undo everything”, she told me. “Really?” I thought, “I just worked hard on getting the bends and the folds perfect only to un-do the whole thing?” But I followed her obediently and unfolded the whole piece of paper only to fold it in nearly the exact same way just in the opposite direction to reveal the final creation. And it occurred to me that sometimes we are asked to fold in one direction, not because that is the way we are supposed to go, simply because it makes us easily bend-able towards our true path, and sharper creases one way make for easier folds in the opposite direction. As Fulton Sheen so clearly states, “We always make the mistake of thinking that it is what we do that matters, when really what matters is what we let God do to us.”

So I am home again, after a few days of vacationing on the beach in Miami, evaluating the ways I was asked to bend in Bolivia and looking to see what direction to fold myself into next. After the constant noise and rebellion of 120 girls at my side 24 hours a day for a year, there is a tangible emptiness to my days. I feel the loss of not being poked and prodded and hugged and laughed at and kissed and loved by all my girls, girls that became like my own children, like my sisters and my true friends. My first day back in the states, I was out in the ocean fighting with the waves, feeling the powerful rhythm of the force of the water, feeling intensely the loss of leaving all their beautiful faces behind, and wondering, in the end, what it was all for. I could hear echoes of their voices whining and laughing and asking me for something and telling me their scores on their tests as they came home from school and I realized how deeply I had come to love them. And I realized that’s just the point: love is what it’s all about (how many times in our lives we have to re-learn that simple lesson!). I have nothing to show for my year abroad, nothing, that is, apart from a wrist full of mangy friendship bracelets, and a pile of beautiful cards and letters written on crumpled and wrinkled notebook paper, given to me by an hogar of girls that I will always love.

Thank you to all of you for following along on this journey with me this year and most of all for holding me in your thoughts and your prayers, it truly gave me strength to face the most difficult of days. I look forward to seeing you and filling you in on the rest of the stories.

Blessings and Prayers,

PS – I am lice free now!

Salesian Lay Missioners Program Transformed My Life!

The Salesian Lay Missioners
Volunteer Program Transformed My Life!
By Miriam Hernandez

Miss Hernandez was commissioned as an SLM in August 2009 and served for a year in Tijuana. After returning to her home in Bellflower, Calif., this summer, she wrote this reflection, which has been published in the Western Province's newsletter and shared with the Eastern Province's communications office.
Ever since I was six years old, my family and I have been a part of Saint Dominic Savio Parish. Here is where I grew up attending Mass and other activities. As I got older I entered youth ministry and “Savio,” as we call it, became my home. I got involved as much as I could in all events, retreats, workshops, and of course Camp Savio. I spent more time at Savio then I did at home. Here I made lifelong friends and learned a lot. I learned how to be a good leader, negotiate, practice good communication skills, and I had lots of responsibilities. Most important, I was having fun! My family wasn’t very functional, and the high school I attended wasn’t the best; but I was lucky to have a place like Savio. Here Don Bosco’s Preventive System made a difference in my life.
I didn’t realize at the time that I was living Don Bosco’s dream. I was just having fun with friends and taking challenges and responsibilities. J.C. [Juan Carlos Montenegro], the youth ministry director, took us on short missionary trips to Tijuana and Miami every year and promoted volunteer service. Gio [Giovanni] Garcia became an SLM volunteer the year before I did, and after hearing about his experience I felt the call. Something inside me told me that this was for me. I wanted to go and leave everything to make a difference, so I talked to J.C. He then put me in touch with Adam Rudin [at Salesian Missions in New Rochelle], and I began my SLM application.

I have to admit that when I got accepted I was nervous. Not only that—I was both excited and scared. I was excited because I felt like I was going to apply everything I had learned and knew, and I was doing God’s will. This decision also meant leaving my family, my friends, and my whole comfort zone. Not all of my friends were very supportive because I was going to take a break from school, and they just knew I wouldn’t be the same person when I got back. I was going to the unknown. Most of all, I was scared of failure. What if it was too much and I wasn’t able to handle it. All I could do was offer it all to God.

While I was in Tijuana, I didn’t feel as lonely as I thought I would. At times I did miss my family and friends, but there was so much going on that I was focused on the now. As a volunteer I wore many hats. I had to make sure the oratory stayed clean, I had to assist in making sure no one tagged, smoked, or drank. I helped prepare for Mass, etc. I taught two English classes and helped with catechism. In the mornings I helped in the office with printing or typing and took the kids out for recess. I was also the one who held all the keys and lent the playing equipment.

Being in Tijuana gave me many gifts, especially growth in my faith and a big reality check. I grew in faith by trusting in God that I wasn’t alone, that he was there with me even when times were rough.

It has been a month since I came back home. I wish I could have stayed longer. One year went by so fast, and I feel that it’s too short of a time to make a real, noticeable difference. After this year I feel that I can do anything and that I need to do more. I am back in school planning to major in psychology. My biggest plan is to be committed to Savio again and promote missionary service. J.C. and I have talked about starting a missionary group at Savio, and I am really eager to start.
Photos supplied by Miriam Hernandez.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don Bosco Takes New York

Don Bosco
Takes New York
After tropical storm Nicole tried to drown out the youth rally centered on the relic of Don Bosco at the Marian Shrine on Thursday, Sept. 30, she (or some wet, howling sister of hers) made a similar attempt on Friday, when Don Bosco paid his respects to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. (The rain did finally abate in late morning, although the skies remained a gloomy slate gray.)

Weather notwithstanding, uncounted thousands of Don Bosco’s friends, and thousands of visitors to St. Patrick’s who stumbled upon him by chance, paid their respects to Don Bosco. From the moment when the reliquary was rolled into the cathedral until the cathedral was closed for the evening, there was never a moment when there was no one coming to or standing at the glass and metal casket, except during Mass. Sometimes the line stretched the length of the cathedral’s long center aisle.

Your faithful blogger with camera and sopping poncho,

in front of St. Patrick's

The truck bearing the relic was due at St. Patrick’s at 9:00 a.m. Even with a police escort (and use of the parkways) all the way from Haverstraw, it arrived 50 minutes late. Don Bosco may have brought rain to Montemagno during a drought (BM 7:433-435), as noted by Catholic New York’s reporting, but on this day the rain was a hindrance, all the more when combined with the morning rush hour. That wasn’t a major issue, however, because the rite of reception was scheduled for 10:00.

While we waited, reporters from the Brooklyn Diocese—one from the Tablet and one from Channels (TV)—took in the scene and interviewed various members of the Salesian Family. Other media were present during the day and at the evening Mass. Of course, Rudy Gomez was a busy videographer for the SDBs once he arrived with Fr. Lou Molinelli from Haverstraw.

Under the supervision of New York’s Finest, the truck pulled up right in front of the cathedral’s main entrance on Fifth Avenue.

Drivers Mauro and Tino saw immediately—without even getting out of the truck—that the lower ramp provided by the cathedral for mounting the first set of steps was too narrow for the carriage supporting the reliquary. But, to be certain, they pulled out a tape and did the measurements. Then, directed by the Finest, they pulled the truck right up onto the sidewalk while Plan B was devised.

Plan B entailed backing the truck up to the bottom of the steps and then using the two slender ramps ordinarily used to winch the carriage in and out of the truck to span the gap from the truck to the first landing. Fortunately, the cathedral’s upper ramp was wide enough to accommodate the carriage. Bishop Emilio Allué, SDB (a retired auxiliary bishop from Boston), Msgr. Robert Ritchie (rector of the cathedral), and the other ministers were in place, ready for the rite of reception.

But first there was more waiting. The traffic and the weather had delayed not only Don Bosco but also Don Bosco Prep’s choir, coming from New Jersey. They finally arrived at 10:15. At that point, the truck backed across the sidewalk to the cathedral steps, to the consternation of passers-by, and the two drivers and our seminarians muscled the reliquary and carriage up the ramp and into the cathedral around 10:30.

By then Salesian HS’s band

and the Prep’s choir
were in place. Hundreds of the faithful, including the entire student body of Salesian HS, crowded the cathedral’s vestibule and the adjacent pews. Msgr. Ritchie welcomed Don Bosco to St. Patrick’s, the bishop prayed, the band played, the choir sang, and the bishop sprinkled the relic with holy water.

Led by Salesian HS senior James Picone playing the bagpipes (“a great touch,” according to many witnesses), everyone processed up the center aisle, and the relic was centered in front of the sanctuary. The liturgy of reception continued with Scripture readings and a homily.

Once the rite had concluded, people came steadily all day long to venerate Don Bosco’s relic and pray. Unfortunately, no one thought to try to count the visitors (so I was told late in the day); they came from all over the world, of course. But someone on the cathedral staff did tell Fr. Pat Angelucci, coordinator of the day of pilgrimage there, that they estimated 1,000 people an hour had passed by the casket.

I looked at five pages of the visitor’s log in the back of the cathedral, covering roughly three afternoon hours, and noted that tourists and/or pilgrims who had “signed in” had come from 18 states, 6 Canadian provinces, Puerto Rico, and 17 countries in Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Those of course were only the ones who registered their visit. At two points during the long day, I spoke with visitors from New Orleans, representing a 19th state, and Montreal, representing a 7th province.

School kids came from all over the metro area—Annunciation and St. Paul in Manhattan, St. Jerome in the Bronx, among others—and even from Rochester (St. John Bosco Middle School, not affiliated with the Salesians). So did various groups of sisters. Especially prominent at both Haverstraw and St. Patrick’s were the Sisters of Life and the Missionaries of Charity—the latter, Mother Teresa’s sisters, are devoted to our Founder because in Calcutta the SDBs have been their chaplains, I understand, since the beginning of Mother’s work. The Salesian Sisters were present in force at St. Patrick’s. There were many Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, too, at both the Marian Shrine and the cathedral, and at the latter also a numerous delegation of their female counterparts. Salesian sisters and novices, Missionaries of Charity, and other sisters at the evening Mass

Don Bosco’s charism resonates across “party lines.” So-called “traditional Catholics” (followers of Abp. Lefevre) came to both the Shrine and the cathedral to pray to the patron of youth. I guess they’re “cafeteria Salesians,” akin to “cafeteria Catholics,” however, when it comes to Don Bosco’s teachings about the Papacy.

There were also Protestants. These, I’m sure, hadn’t come to the cathedral for Don Bosco; certainly, one Presbyterian couple whom I spoke with hadn’t. But they had come up to the relic out of curiosity about this strange Catholic fascination. They seemed to have an “aha moment” when I explained the idea of pilgrimage to the tombs of the saints, referencing The Canterbury Tales (who hasn’t read parts of them in high school?), and pointed to this as a reverse pilgrimage, the saint coming to the faithful who can’t travel to his tomb. (Fr. Dennis Donovan spoke eloquently of that in his homily in St. Pete, published in E-Service on Oct. 14, p. 3:

All day, all the men in SDB initial formation—candidates, prenovices, novices, and young professed brothers—were present, greeting people, answering questions, and passing out literature. This made a great impression on people, including the vicar general of the archdiocese, Bishop Dennis Sullivan, who mentioned it to Fr. Pat two weeks later.
Knights of Columbus formed a guard of honor all day (in shifts) by the reliquary. This is a relatively quiet moment toward 2:00 p.m.

The only time the veneration was shut down was during the three midday and the 5:30 p.m. Masses. The cathedral staff presided at these but had asked for Salesians to preach, which Frs. Jim Heuser, Steve Leake, Pat Angelucci, and Tom Dunne did. It was a trick to give a five-minute homily on such a momentous occasion, and Fr. Jim did so very neatly, managing to link the saint of the day, Therese of Lisieux, to Don Bosco. Fr. Steve also linked the two saints. I missed the other two homilies while having lunch and supper in the burger and sandwich restaurant across 51st Street.

During the afternoon Fr. Dominic Tran approached and asked me whether I knew that Don Bosco is portrayed in a stained glass window in the cathedral. Of course I knew about the bas-relief in bronze on the back wall, placed in 1998 when our province celebrated its centennial. But if I’d ever heard about the window, I’d long forgotten it. Fr. Dom pointed it out, hoping that I might be able to photograph it. I could, and did, with some difficulty on account of its elevation. As you stand in the nave facing the sanctuary, it’s in the top rank of windows on the left, third set forward from the back. Each of those top windows is a sort of triptych, none of the images very large, at least when viewed from the floor.

For the 7:00 p.m. Mass honoring St. John Bosco, we had “only” three bishops (in contrast to D.C.’s five): Abp. Dolan, Bp. Emilio, and Bp. Jude Arogundade of Ondo, Nigeria, who is extremely happy to have SDBs in his diocese. I think he just happened to be in NYC, where he’d served as a parish priest before his appointment as bishop, and wanted to celebrate with us.

Bp. Jude also asked to meet Bro. Bruno when I told him we had a brother present who’d worked in Nigeria, and they had a nice meeting after Mass.

I didn’t count the concelebrating priests, but I’d put them at about 40, mostly SDBs. On account of traffic several others arrived after Mass had begun and, observing sound liturgical principles, didn’t vest and duck into the sanctuary.

All the seminarians from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers were present, arranged on both sides of the sanctuary in cassock and surplice.

The cathedral, which seats 2,200, was nearly full—a few empty seats in the back, but also a good number of people standing on the sides and in the back. So we had about 2,000 in the congregation. The congregation fills the center sections of the nave during the homily at the evening Mass

The Mass was televised live by EWTN.

The Latino choir of Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester provided the music, lively and enthusiastic. I think my favorite visual from the entire celebration came at the very end, as the choir sang, the musicians played, and those in the congregation who were able sang “Su Concerto Han Entonado” (to the melody of “St. John Bosco, O Loving Father”): that visual was Abp. Dolan standing at the altar, waiting for the other ministers to clear the sanctuary and beating time with his crosier.

It's a photo and not a video, so you can't tell that Abp. Dolan is beating time with his crosier. Too bad EWTN missed that while focused on the departing concelebrants.
Abp. Dolan clearly was having the time of his life, smiling, applauding, and shouting, “Viva Don Bosco!” throughout the celebration. (Actually, he seems to enjoy his job immensely most of the time.) He was thrilled with a gift of a relic of Don Bosco in a small monstrance, presented to him by Fr. Tom at the end of Mass.

Like a kid on Christmas morning! Abp. Dolan shows off the small relic of St. John Bosco that Fr. Provincial has just given him.

There was also a small gift for Sr. Mary Bosco Daly, the archbishop’s retired second grade teacher, presented by Fr. Tom and Sr. Phyllis Neves: a medallion of her patron saint.

The archbishop’s homily resembled his remarks at the Marian Shrine the previous day but weren’t identical. He explained that relics of the saints are important for helping us to pray and come closer to God.

He offered three lessons from the example of St. John Bosco:
(1) Dare to dream; never stop dreaming, hoping, daring. Don Bosco was like both the patriarch Joseph and St. Joseph. Yesterday, he said, “the dream prevailed” for 2,000 young people amid the rain and the mud. Today’s world can be discouraging; Don Bosco tells us to keep dreaming. (2) The Church needs to be wherever people are hurting and struggling, like the young boys of Turin in the 19th century, because Jesus would be there. “Where does the Church need to be today?” he asked. “With the unborn, the immigrants, the sick, elders, atheists, secularists,” he answered.
(3) The center of Don Bosco’s life was Jesus, who is particularly alive and present in three ways: in the arms of his Mother—stay close to Mary; in the Blessed Sacrament and at Mass; in the person of the Holy Father.
The staff of St. Patrick’s—Msgr. Ritchie, Fr. Joe Tyrrell, and everyone else—were wonderfully, wonderfully cooperative in every way (just as the staff of the National Shrine in D.C. had been)—in the planning, in the execution, and of immediate interest to Rudy Gomez and me, giving us free rein to go just about anywhere to take pictures. (I don’t think either of us asked to get upstairs, which we were invited to do in the National Shrine and did.) I got to tease Fr. Joe a bit about that, because back in April, when I was concelebrating at the annual Scout Mass, he “busted on” me for taking some surreptitious photos from my place in the sanctuary. As soon as the concelebrants cleared the center aisle, there was a mad rush to get up to the relic. The line stretch the length of the cathedral--and was just as packed approaching from either transept, as well.

At the solemn Mass in the evening, the ushers were students from Salesian HS and Don Bosco Prep, who made an positive impact on visitors and cathedral staff. And, Fr. Pat noted, the staff at the cathedral does not readily give up their ushering responsibility!

During the long hours of veneration, many SDBs were on hand to answer questions, offer advice, and hear confessions. Here's Fr. Steve Ryan at the altar rail, near the relic, during the post-Mass crush

Around 9:00 p.m. the Vietnamese friends of St. John Bosco, under the leadership of Fr. Dominic, offered a prayer service. That service featured young people dressed in traditional garb doing a touching and quite elegant liturgical dance with candles and incense. The Vietnamese were followed by a mariachi band that Fr. Rich Alejunas brought from Port Chester; they played and led singing until 10:45. Veneration of the relic concluded at 11:00 p.m., well past the cathedral’s usual hours.

Veneration resumed on Saturday morning, briefly, before Bp. Emilio presided over the closing of Don Bosco’s pilgrimage to New York. The SDBs who were present for the closing gathered around Don Bosco’s casket and renewed their religious profession.

The New York celebrations of “Don Bosco Among Us” also included a program at the Italian consulate. On the afternoon of Oct. 1 an educational symposium was held there, sponsored by the consulate in conjunction with Fordham University. Professors from different universities spoke about the educational methods of Don Bosco, Maria Montessori, and other Italian educators. Fr. Lou Molinelli presented a paper on Don Bosco. The entire program, which the consulate plans to publish, culminated in a showing of Leandro Castellani’s 1987 film Don Bosco, which starred Ben Gazzara. Mr. Gazzara himself was present to talk about his experience portraying Don Bosco.

In addition, the Westchester (County) Italian Cultural Center ran a week-long program on Don Bosco and other outstanding Italians, including the “first run” of Fr. Lou’s paper on Sept. 28 and a showing of Goffredo Alessandri’s 1936 Don Bosco with introduction and commentary by Fr. Javier Aracil on Oct. 5.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Homily for 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Oct. 17, 2010
2 Tim 3: 14—4:2
Provincial House, New Rochelle

“Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it” (2 Tim 3: 14).

Paul’s letters to Timothy are sustained pastoral instructions, addressed to a disciple who’s been given care of one of Paul’s churches, specifically the Christian community at Ephesus. Paul writes from prison, as one who has “competed well, finished the race, kept the faith” (4:7). Now Timothy is in the contest. It’s his task to carry on what Paul has begun: “teaching, refutation, correction, training in righteousness” (3:16).

Paul reminds Timothy of the 2 sources from which he is to work, carrying out his pastoral responsibility: Paul himself and the sacred Scriptures. Paul, of course, couldn’t realize that part of his own writings would soon be recognized as sacred Scripture (cf. 2 Pet 3:15). What he taught was the Gospel that he had received from Jesus, and what he wrote in his letters was commentary on that Gospel in various forms of explanation, exhortation, and correction.

Paul’s words to his disciple remind me of what the Congregation has been saying to us for the last several years: return to Don Bosco—“Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it.”

And like St. Paul, Don Bosco points us toward the ultimate source of his teaching: Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. So the Congregation has been telling us not only to return to Don Bosco but thru him to return to Christ, in order that thru him we might lead the young to Christ.

It’s the Scriptures that give us “wisdom for salvation thru faith in Christ Jesus” (3:15). To find Jesus, to meet Jesus, to know Jesus, we have 2 sources: the sacred liturgy and the sacred Scriptures. To lead others to Jesus—whether the young or the no longer young—we have those same 2 sources.

We know, of course, how much Don Bosco insisted on the sacraments, on Eucharistic piety, on Marian feast days. We may not realize how thoroughly grounded he was in the Scriptures, even if he didn’t have the benefit of modern studies. We have to imitate him by reading the Scriptures, studying the Scriptures, seeking Christ in the Scriptures, praying with the Scriptures. St. Jerome advises us that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”* Or, to put it positively, knowledge of the Scriptures is knowledge of Christ.

Paul charges Timothy of proclaim the word—what he has learned from his reliable teacher and from the Scriptures. After the most important matter of our own salvation, our own souls—“wisdom for salvation thru faith in Christ Jesus”—our urgent task, as we know, our God-given mission, is evangelization: the preaching of that same Gospel which Paul handed over to Timothy, faith in Jesus Christ. Don Bosco’s work exists for no other reason—not for arts and trades, not for academic excellence, not for football championships—but for “the salvation of souls and the glory of God,” a phrase that was on our Founder’s lips or flowing from his pen even more than Da mihi animas.

Since nemo dat quod non habet [no one gives what he doesn't have], it’s absolutely necessary for us to have Jesus in our hearts, to be filled with him—and thus to encounter him daily in the Eucharist and regularly in Reconciliation; to take the Scriptures daily in hand, as our Rule urges us (C 87), in order to listen to him. Conversion begins in our meeting Jesus—and the 1st soul to be converted is always our own.

* Commentary on Isaiah, 1:2 (LOH 4:1448).

Friday, October 15, 2010

In Fields of Thiells...

In Fields of Thiells…
…the raindrops blew and the puddles grew. It rained and poured and sogged and mudded up, but without dampening Salesian spirits as the relic of our Father and Founder came on pilgrimage for the 5,000 members of the Salesian Family including, especially, 2,000 young people (according to the estimates of Fr. Steve Ryan, coordinator of the program).

(Thiells is the hamlet within the Town of Haverstraw where the Marian Shrine and Don Bosco Retreat Center are located, excepting the frontage on Filors Lane in Stony Point.)

Following Don Bosco’s pilgrimage stop in the National Shrine on Sept. 28 (see below), we were pleased to discover in the Washington Post a large photo of the reliquary in the center of the Metro section’s page 1.

On the 29th it was easier to get the reliquary out of the basilica than it had been to get it in; we finished by about 10:00 a.m. At Fr. Steve Shafran’s suggestion, we made an unscheduled stop at Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS, giving at least one class who had missed Don Bosco the previous day a chance to come out to the truck and venerate the relic.

Our caravan got going around 11:00, with Mauro Festa and Tino Luiselli handling the truck and Rudy Gomez and me leading in the car. Most of the way, Rudy was busy with his laptop, editing video from Miami. Without rushing but just keeping up with the traffic on Interstates 95 and 295, we made good time on our way to Haverstraw, stopping only once for gas/diesel and for lunch at a Cracker Barrel right after crossing the Delaware River into New Jersey. At Fort Lee we had to get off the highway, though, and take 9W, which is mostly a local road, the rest of the way up to Haverstraw. Still, we got in before 5:00 p.m. Fr. John Puntino, director of the Marian Shrine, had us “hide” Don Bosco in an out-of-the-way place until the local committee was ready to present him to the public.

At right, chapel of the Marian Shrine

As we arrived, Fr. Steve Ryan and his valiant volunteers were putting the finishing touches on their set-up of a half dozen tent pavilions for Thursday’s youth rally and outdoor Mass in the field next to the Shrine chapel. As Fr. Tom Dunne (our provincial) wrote: “Months of hard work by hundreds of Don Bosco volunteers had transformed the field into a youthful center of faith, food, fun, and fellowship. There were tents for Eucharistic adoration, Penance, formative literature, and religious-themed clothing. The [permanent] pavilion was set up as a food distribution area.”

Mauro, Tino, and Rudy got settled into rooms in the retreat house, and then Mauro, Tino, and joined the SDB community for supper. Rudy wanted to continue his editing work. Following supper, Mauro, Tino, and Fr. John moved the relic up to the Shrine chapel, where there was a formal reception ceremony around 7:30 p.m., followed by a prayer service and youthful fun. I didn’t stay for that, having work still to do back at the provincial house (which kept me up nearly till midnite)—chiefly to download 500 photos from Washington and get them to the folks responsible for posting at and in Sept. 30’s E-Service.

On Thursday, Sept. 30, tropical storm Nicole did its best to put a literal damper on the day, as rain soaked the fields where the tents and stage were set up. The entire student bodies of Don Bosco Prep and Salesian High School and many other young people showed up anyway, no one’s spirits dampened in the least.
A typical morning scene around the casket with Don Bosco's relic at the Marian Shrine
A crew of Salesian Old Boys (see–you know what they call themselves—led by Greg Sand manned a booth selling religious articles, books, T-shirts, caps, and other keepsakes. Greg also had a gang of students from Marist College helping out—a hands-on marketing experience. They all seemed to be pretty busy, weather notwithstanding (it was fairly dry under the roof of the tent, after all), and for sure “a good time was had by all.”
Salesian Old Boys Pat Kemple, Jack Hudak, and Tony Smaldone in the merchandise tent.
As Don Bosco had to adapt to circumstances for his “wandering oratory” in 1844-1846, so did the youth rally planners. The relic remained in the chapel, and the music, skits, etc., were moved therein. The pilgrims, both youths and adults, were shuttled (herded?) through in three very large bunches, cramming into every available seat, lining the side aisles and even the back of the sanctuary, sitting on the floor of the center aisle.

The youth program included a skit dramatizing the relationship between Don Bosco and Father/Bishop John Cagliero, acted out by Deacon Mike Leschinsky and Prenovice Kyle Zinno. Don Bosco Prep alum/Georgetown student Ryan Muldoon gave a witness talk about the importance of Don Bosco in his personal spiritual growth. Then two high school students, Kelly Finn from Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, N.J., and Joe Hadzovic from Brooklyn, gave testimony.

Kelly told how she had transferred into MHCA from another Catholic school as a junior because she wanted to find not only academics but also a passion for God in her school. That she did, and beauty, truth, and joy as well. She called the FMAs “the most beautiful group of women” she has ever met; they live Don Bosco’s message and bring her closer to God every day.
Students from Don Bosco Prep fill the center aisle of the chapel during one of the 3 "youth rallies" before the archbishop arrived.
Joe described how neat it was to find out through Don Bosco’s spirituality that faith and fun can go together. He’s in Kenny Wozanowski’s youth group (Ken used to work in the province youth ministry office) and has made at least one Salesian leadership retreat. He loves the Salesian way to holiness: cheerfulness, the sacraments, Mary, and service; and he wants to help others find that same path. So he’s become a youth leader himself.

Breakfast was served in the pavilion, as planned, and students huddled at the tables under its roof or stood under their umbrellas out in the rain (or even without umbrellas). Others walked up to the gym at the youth center without any definite plan except to try to stay dry.

Fr. Steve and Fr. Tom decided to cancel the Mass that Archbishop Tim Dolan was to have said outside. When the archbishop arrived shortly after 10:30, he graciously and happily agreed to address the young people and other pilgrims in groups in the chapel. So by turn once again, 2,000 or so people were shepherded into the chapel in three groups, and to each the archbishop spoke very warmly about Don Bosco and his message for us today. Having missed the Bosco-Cagliero skit, he called for a “command performance,” and Deacon Mike was hunted up from some corner of the property to do the act one more time with Kyle (who, like a good prenovice, was close at hand).
Abp. Tim Dolan of New York, in front of the reliquary of Don Bosco, speaking to a very crowded chapel about Don Bosco and his message for today.

The archbishop made three points: (1) Don’t be afraid to dream and to follow your dreams. (2) Always put God first in your life. (3) Don Bosco saw good in everyone; don’t let anyone tell you you’re not good. He added that, like Don Bosco, he loves the young very much. That certainly showed in his interaction with the youngsters at the Shrine. For that matter, it shows in his interactions with everyone. Patiently, he posed for photos and conversed with anyone who approached him.

At top, Abp. Dolan with some Don Bosco Prep boys. At bottom, with your sometimes humble blogger.

Later, Fr. Tom reported, the archbishop spoke of the impression made on him by “the joyful spirit of the young people in the midst of the downpour and disappointment.” Abp. Dolan “saw in that amazing spirit of joy in the face of great difficulty a sign of Don Bosco’s spirit of flexibility in serving the needs of the young.”

An unexpected treat was that Abp. Dolan had brought with him his second grade teacher, Sr. Mary Bosco Daly, who way back in 1957 in a St. Louis suburb had turned him into a huge Don Bosco fan. She came from her retirement in Ireland just for Don Bosco. She got a great round of applause, of course.

Abp. Dolan with Sr. Mary Bosco, his 2d grade teacher
After Abp. Dolan left, Fr. Steve Dumais presided over and preached at a Mass for a congregation that crowded the chapel, notwithstanding that by then most of the school kids had had to leave (buses to catch!). Nativity Church’s Gospel choir had extended their Don Bosco pilgrimage from D.C. to N.Y. and provided soulful music for the sacred liturgy, enhancing the experience of many another pilgrim.

Gospel choir from the Church of the Nativity, Washington, D.C.
With the rain mostly over with, although the wind kicked up somewhat, some of the youths who were able to stay—Fr. Steve Ryan’s dedicated crew, among others—managed to start up a game of Frisbee football in the field beyond the tents.
A sizeable delegation of youngsters from Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester got an extensive guided tour of the Shrine grounds from Fr. Rich Alejunas.

Fr. Rich Alejunas with dozens of his youngsters from Port Chester, stopping in front of the replica of Don Bosco's family home in Becchi.

Veneration continued in the chapel all afternoon with a constant flow of pilgrims: young people, old people, families, religious. People came from near and far. A third-hand report tells of a woman who requested a taxi to start her on her way to the airport; she had flown in from Wisconsin to see Don Bosco. People were awed to be in the physical presence of a saint, waiting patiently to get close to the reliquary, to take a picture of the effigy, to offer a long or short silent prayer, to touch the glass casing reverently. Abp. Dolan more emphatically kissed it.

Throughout the day small numbers of people also were celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation, both out in the tents and in the Shrine chapel. Hundreds of people filled out cards with petitions addressed to the Lord through Don Bosco.

Mom and 4 kids at the petition table
In the evening Korean and Hispanic members of the Salesian Family celebrated prayer services in the chapel, which included music, dance, prayer, and sermon.
With the Shrine chapel nearly full, a youth group performs a gesture-dance to musical accompaniment in honor of Don Bosco.

At the Korean service, which started at 7:30 p.m., Frs. Gus Baek and Dennis Donovan presided over the inauguration of a new, Korean unit of Salesian Cooperators. The first six Cooperators of this new unit made their promises and then were congratulated by all the Cooperators present, some two dozen. The chapel was pretty nearly full for this service, and not just with Koreans and Cooperators.
The first 6 members of the Korean Cooperators unit based in Stony Point make their promises in front of the relic of St. John Bosco.

The Hispanic service was scheduled to begin at 9:00 p.m., after I headed back to New Rochelle.