Friday, December 31, 2010

Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Advent
Dec. 19, 2010
Matt 1: 18-24
Rom 1: 1-7
Boy Scouts, parents at Camp Seton, Greenwich, Conn.

“Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary our wife into your home” (Matt 1: 20).

When Joseph is shocked to discover that the woman he’s legally married to—altho, according to the practice of the time, they’re still not living not living together as man and wife—God intervenes by sending him an angel with a reassuring message: “It is thru the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” (1:20).

Jesus is conceived by the power of God and not by any human power except Mary’s consent, which St. Luke speaks of in his gospel (1:26-38). By the power of God, this child will indeed be “Jesus,” which means “Yahweh saves.” (Yahweh is God’s own name, which he revealed to Moses when he appeared in the burning bush [Ex 3:1-3,13-14].) By the power of God, his disciples will discover that he has truly been “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us” (Matt 1:23).

God could do that in order to save human beings from their sins. But he needed some human cooperation. Obviously, he needed Mary’s help for Jesus to be conceived in her womb and for her to bring him to birth.

He also needed Joseph’s cooperation. According to the prophecies of the Old Testament, the Messiah had to come from the house of David, had to belong to the dynasty of King David. Have you ever noticed how often in the gospels Jesus is referred to as “the Son of David”? Joseph, who was descended from David, therefore had to acknowledge Jesus as his son. Apparently, Mary’s family origin had no legal bearing in the matter, and she may not have been from David’s family at all. But if Joseph takes Mary into his home and accepts her son as his own son, legally then Jesus becomes Joseph’s son, and David’s son. That’s the plan that God has for Joseph, which is part of God’s plan for our salvation.

In the reading from St. Paul today, he addresses the Christians of Rome as “the beloved of God, called to be holy” (1:7). He’s speaking to ordinary Christians, and he’s saying that God loves them and God calls them to be saints! You know there are only 2 alternatives in life: either you’re a saint and go to heaven with Jesus, or you’re not a saint and you go to the other place.

God calls us to be saints, all of us. Paul mentioned the Holy Spirit who “established [Jesus] as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” (1:4), and then he said that we also are “called to belong to Jesus Christ” (1:6), which means that Jesus shares that same Holy Spirit with us. That outpouring the Spirit makes us the brothers and sisters of Jesus; it makes us, too, children of God according to the plan that God has for our redemption.

God needed St. Joseph to help execute the plan of redemption. Joseph had to obey what the angel told him and take Mary, who by any human appearance had been an unfaithful wife. Joseph had to believe otherwise, and obey. How do we know what God’s plan is for us, what God expects of us, that we might become saints?

1st, we find it in the Bible. The Bible is God’s word and reveals to us what Jesus teaches, reveals how we are to live.

2d, in particular, we have the 10 Commandments, which are guides for Christians just like the Scout Law is a guide for being a good Scout.

3d, we listen to what the Church teaches us about what’s right and wrong.
4th, we carry out our own responsibilities as sons, as brothers, as students, as Scouts, and so on: by obeying, by being kind to our siblings, by studying, by being helpful in the troop, etc.

By doing all that, we’ll be imitating St. Joseph, listening to God, taking Jesus into our hearts, acting like God’s beloved children, becoming holy.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fr. Hector Poulin, SDB

Fr. Hector Poulin, SDB (1932-2010)

Fr. Hector Gilbert Poulin, SDB, died of a heart attack on the afternoon of Dec. 27 in Brandon, Fla. He was 78 years old.


Fr. Hector was born in Nashua, N.H., on April 22, 1932. After U.S. Army service during the Korean War, he entered Don Bosco Seminary at Newton, N.J., in September 1956 and was admitted to the novitiate in September 1957. He made his first profession of vows as a Salesian of Don Bosco at Newton on Sept. 8, 1958.

After practical training at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., and Don Bosco Tech in Boston between 1960 and 1963, then-Bro. Poulin went to Italy for theological studies at St. Anselm Salesian Institute in Bollengo, near Ivrea in Piedmont, from 1964 to 1968. He was ordained in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin on April 6, 1968.

Fr. Hector’s first assignment as a priest was to teach at St. Dominic Savio High School in East Boston (1968-1969). From this year Fr. John Nazzaro, now the director of the Salesian community in East Boston, remembers: “I had Fr. Hector in high school at Savio. He loved to talk about the military, and believe me none of the kids would ever mess with him. He was strict, fair, and always around the kids. He was a person whom you could confide in with your problems, but a priest who was not afraid to give you a kick in the pants. Many alumni always have spoken highly of his time in East Boston, and he will be missed by many. He was a good Salesian priest and a good friend.”

At Don Bosco Tech in Paterson, N.J. (1969-1971), Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y. (1995-97), and the Salesian Boys Club in Columbus, Ohio (1971-1974), Fr. Hector served as a competent and caring treasurer. Fr. John Serio, director of Salesian High School while Fr. Hector was there, writes: “Fr. Hector knew how to make people feel at home and make visitors comfortable. I never had to worry about the treasurer’s responsibilities being taken care of—Fr. Hector was very meticulous with the books and records, and he was a ‘Martha’ in the dining room, especially when we had students for dinner (which was very often). He did all the shopping, and wanted to be sure that the confreres wanted for nothing. He was quick to volunteer as confessor for the students. Fr. Hector was very down to earth, a good priest, a fine confrere.”

Fr. Hector was a much appreciated and beloved assistant or pastor of five parishes in the Bahamas for 15 years: Mary Star of the Sea in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island (1974-1978), St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Nassau (1978-1979), St. Agnes in Eight Mile Rock, G.B.I. (1979-1983, 1988-1991), St. Michael in West End, G.B.I. (1985-1988), and St. Vincent de Paul in Hunter, G.B.I. (1988-1991).

Fr. John Puntino served with Fr. Hector in the Bahamas for several years. He recalls: “Fr. Hector was very sensitive to the plight of the poor and disadvantaged. He did not hesitate to offer funeral services even for non-Catholics if other churches refused to perform the rites because the family lacked funds. In one instance he bought a pair of shoes for a lady so she could attend her husband’s funeral. When a group of Haitian refugees drowned, he arranged for their burial and did the graveside ceremonies. On the other hand, whenever he sensed an unjust situation, he would confront it, calling at times on his soldier’s vocabulary for emphasis. Even in those cases, though, it was easy to see his sensitive and caring nature coming through a seemingly rough appearance.”

The Bahamas were a lonely outpost of the province when the Salesians served there, sometimes on different islands. So when they could get together, Fr. Hector made sure they enjoyed themselves, says Fr. Puntino: “He valued the times that the confreres in the Bahamas got together, and he made sure we had a good meal.”

Between and following his Bahamas assignments, Fr. Hector was administrator of the Sacred Heart Center in Ipswich, Mass. (1983-1984, 1994-1995, 1997-2001), and chaplain of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Ipswich (1997-2005).

Sister Mary Farren, the sisters’ provincial, writes that Fr. Hector “was much loved by the sisters at Ipswich.” The love is revealed by their recollections of him, which go beyond his chaplaincy among them to include his service to local parishes and at the retreat center. They discerned in him numerous virtues and human qualities: “extraordinarily zealous, holy, dedicated, gentle, thoughtful, loved his vocation as a priest, a compassionate confessor, always ready to accommodate himself to the needs of others, flexible in giving service, meticulous about the use of vestments/vessels to celebrate the liturgy, rejoiced in his privilege to ‘celebrate’ (not ‘say’) Mass, loving, caring, faithful and faith-filled, valiant in his struggle with Alzheimer’s.”

Some specific comments from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur: “Fr. Hector accommodated his schedule to the needs of the surrounding parishes whenever needed, regardless of inconvenience to himself. His homilies were short, with a clear message, related to the gospel of the day. He was very zealous in visiting the sick and/or counseling troubled teenagers or consoling families who were experiencing some sorrow. Fr. Hector was very community-minded. If the kitchen staff was short-handed, Father would help arrange the meat on the platters and put them at the serving stations. In retrospect, Fr. Hector was happy fulfilling his priestly ministry, and his example was an inspiration to all who were touched by his life.”

Fr. Hector’s parochial assignments also included Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester, N.Y. (1984-1985, 1991-1994), and St. Anthony Church in Elizabeth, N.J. (2005-2010), as an assistant pastor.

Suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, on Jan. 14, 2010, Fr. Hector retired to the Salesians’ St. Philip the Apostle Residence in Tampa. In recent weeks his condition worsened, requiring hospitalization and then placement in Superior Residences of Brandon.

Fr. Hector is survived by two sisters and two brothers in Nashua, N.H.

Funerals for Fr. Hector Poulin were to be celebrated in both Tampa and Elizabeth. He’ll be buried in Salesian Cemetery in Goshen, N.Y.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Not Blogging

Not Blogging

I haven't posted lately for a couple of reasons.  One has been frustration about the photos (see below).  I've spent a lot of time cruising thru various queries and answers in the "Help" section, to no avail.  Another reason is that I've been ailing with bronchitis, roughly since the week after Thanksgiving.  I've spent more time than usual in a horizontal position.

Change at the Provincial House

Change at the Provincial House

Change doesn't come easily here.  Most of us tend to honor tradition.  Most of us are senior citizens.

But just as I was finishing the previous post, change of a sort was thrust upon us.  One of the two large oil paintings that has adorned the central hall of the house for some 40 years crashed to the floor.  Fortunately, the only damage was to the picture frame, which is made of plaster (!).  When he took a look, Bro. Andy discovered that the steel screws holding it to the wall had rusted thru.  The painting hung over a radiator, and he hopes that was the source of whatever moisture led to the rust--because there's a matching painting on the wall on the other side of the door leading to our reading room and chapel.

I put up a picture of the picture, but I'm unable to post photos.

(Many months later, after restoration of photo capacity...)

Painting as it landed on the hallway floor
Bro. Andy restoring the damaged frame. Dec. 30, 2010
Painting and frame on back of pick-up for transport from Brother's ground-floor office at back of the house to main floor, front door (where the central hallway is, of course). Jan. 19, 2011

A large crew of confreres at work to rehang the painting

Only Half a Blogspot

It's about 3 weeks now since I've been able to post photos to the blog, and since all the photos disappeared from my earlier posts.  I put a query up in the "Help" section, but that's produced nothing.

Yes, I know that all the old photos are cached at Picasa.  Hasn't helped.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homily for 3d Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
3rd Sunday of Advent
Dec. 12, 2010
James 5: 7-10
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5: 7).

In the 2d half of the 1st century, when most of what we call the New Testament was written, many, if not most, of the disciples of Jesus expected his return, his 2d Coming, soon. More than a little bit of the epistles and of the gospels is taken up with addressing the nature of his return, its timing, and its apparent delay. That seems to be what St. James is talking about today, at least in part.

If Christ is supposed to come back soon and complete our redemption, what’s taking him so long? “Be patient, brothers and sisters.” Like a farmer waiting for his crop to mature, “you too must be patient” (5:7-8). Patience doesn’t come easy to us; but God requires our patience while his plans unfold. Whatever he does, he does in his way, in his manner, in his time (if we can speak of time in his regard), and not on our schedule. If we judge by today’s gospel reading (Matt 11:2-11), even John the Baptist had to learn this lesson, for the Christ didn’t come in the way that John had preached about, e.g. last week, with ax in hand to hew down the barren trees or with a firebrand to incinerate the chaff of wickedness (Matt 3:7-12).

Yet, in spite of what seems like delay, James also assures his readers that “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:8). He adds, “The Judge is standing before the gates” (5:9). Those are relative statements, certainly from our perspective if not from the writer’s. St. Paul also wrote to the Romans, “Our salvation now is nearer than when we first believed” (13:11). The Lord’s coming again is closer at hand than in the days of the patriarchs and prophets, than in the period immediately after Pentecost, than when the various churches 1st believed in Jesus. We are in the last days, the final stage of God’s plan for our redemption. The Judge—he who “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”—is already “before the gates,” possibly a reference to where the town elders gathered and decided any disputes that arose among the citizens, i.e., the place of judgment. Christ is at your town gates already, passing judgment on your life.

While we await the Judge’s appearance, we have to carry on with our lives. James today offers 2 specific bits of advice, 2 ways of living the virtue of patience while we wait: “Make your hearts firm” (5:8) and “Don’t complain about one another” (5:9).

“Make your hearts firm,” following the example of the patience of the prophets in bearing hardship and persecution (5:10). James is aware that the followers of Jesus were a despised minority in most of the towns and cities where they lived. Firm hearts and patience were necessary not only in the day-to-day strife of family life and earning their livelihood, but also in being faithful to Jesus when that was unpopular if not dangerous and potentially fatal. We can imagine James offering the same advice today to Christians in Pakistan, China, parts of India, among other places, maybe even to young Christians on a lot of college campuses and in the boardrooms of our country.

“Don’t complain about one another.” Since he adds “that you may not be judged” (5:9) James evidently means more than mere complaining. He means don’t pass judgment on one another’s words and actions. Don’t condemn your brothers and sisters. He echoes Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not, that you not be judged” (Matt 7:1). A huge part of the patience that we’re called to practice has to do with bearing with one another’s faults, one another’s weaknesses, one another’s sins, one another’s differences of style, one another’s different gifts, one another’s different charisms. Yesterday we heard Jesus lamenting the different, always critical reactions that he and John the Baptist received from many of the people of their time: John was criticized because he was austere, Jesus because he wasn’t austere. We’re so quick to judge and condemn those who are different, who disagree with us. I’m not talking about Democrats and Republicans in Congress or Albany. I mean in our own households, in our own families, in our own community. James is warning us to prepare for the Lord’s coming by being more patient, gentler, more tolerant, more understanding of one another.

Besides God, besides others, we also have to be patient with ourselves. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is the edifice of our sanctification. Well and good for St. Paul to call us “God’s building…God’s temple” (1 Cor 3:9; cf. 3:10-17). But it takes time—a lifetime—for that building, that temple, to be erected and brought to the perfection of holiness. Our failings, our sins, are apt to discourage us if we’re in any wise serious about Jesus Christ. So we need patience—the patience that doesn’t give up, the patience that keeps working at the virtues we need to practice…and practice…and practice, as much as any athlete or musician.

Jesus defined his messianic mission for John the Baptist and his disciples as one of healing and good news (Matt 11:4-5), echoing the words of Isaiah prophesying Israel’s redemption from the Babylonian exile, e.g. in our 1st reading today (35:1-6,10). That mission of healing and good news is addressed also to us. The Divine Physician is working to heal us, and we’re all old enuf to know that healing takes time. While the ailments of our bodies may turn out to be incurable, it’s not so with our souls, with our characters, with our very selves. So we who are the patients of that Physician must indeed be patient, take his prescriptions, and let his healing power work in us—however long that takes, even our whole lives. “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it….” (Jas 5:7).

For a different take on today's readings, see Deacon Greg Kandra’s homily at http://www.patheos.com/community/deaconsbench/2010/12/11/homily-for-december-12-2010-3rd-sunday-of-advent/

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Homily for 2d Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Advent
Dec. 5, 2010
Matt 3: 1-12
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” (Matt 3: 8).

During Advent we look to 3 comings of our Lord Jesus Christ: his glorious coming at the end of history, to reward the just, punish the wicked, and complete his work of redemption; his humble coming in history as a babe born in a stable and as a wandering Galilean preacher, to start his work of redemption; and his coming in the here and now to us by grace, carrying on his work of redemption.

The Scriptures of the last 2 Sundays—feast of Christ the King and the 1st of Advent—focused entirely on his glorious coming. This Sunday the focus starts to shift: our 1st reading (Is 11:1-10) and the responsorial psalm (72) continue to look toward the 2d Coming, when God will make all things right, put all things into the original order of creation; our 2d (Rom 15:4-9) and 3rd readings turn to the here and now, to our response to the message that Jesus of Nazareth announced in the days of his 1st coming among us.

For the 1st time in this Advent season, today we meet John the Baptist, 1 of the 3 dominant figures of every Advent. (The others are the prophet Isaiah, source of most of our 1st readings at both Sunday and weekday Masses, and the Virgin Mary.) John appears suddenly out of the desert, out of nowhere, preaching repentance (3:1). He comes dressed like the great Old Testament prophet Elijah, who also lived in the desert and called upon Israel to repent of their sins.

There’s no doubt that John is calling for Israel to turn away from sin: People from everywhere “were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins” (3:5-6). He addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees, the leaders of Israel, as a “brood of vipers … fleeing from the coming wrath” (3:7), and he warns them that an ax is about to hack them down as barren trees (3:10). It’s not nice, polite language, and the prophet doesn’t regard them as nice people, as friends of the Lord God Almighty whose kingdom is about to burst among them: “the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (3:2).

In the last week we’ve heard a lot about a presidential commission charged with addressing the nation’s financial woes. The commission came up with a lot of recommendations. And no one was surprised that those who’ve been paying attention aren’t happy with some of the recommendations. Everyone thinks that the humongous deficits of our federal government should be eliminated by someone else’s pain: don’t raise my taxes, and don’t cut back the spending from which I benefit. The source of the problem lies elsewhere, not with me.

It’s like that when prophets show up and call for repentance. All those others, all those sinners—they’re the ones he’s talking to. Remember the parable of the 2 men who went up to the Temple to pray, which was our gospel on the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 6 weeks ago (Luke 18:9-14)? The Pharisee, one of the “good people,” the “nice people” of Jesus’ time, prayed to God by thanking him that he, the Pharisee, wasn’t like the rest of men but did so many good deeds that—he almost says—he really deserved God’s gratitude. So many of us tend to think like that.

But it’s exactly those “good people,” those “nice people,” those “respectable people” whom John the Baptist is addressing today. The call to repent is addressed to everyone. “Don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” (Matt 3:9). Don’t think that just because you’re a Catholic, just because you go to church, just because over the years you’ve put a few bucks into the collection, that God’s pleased with you. John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees, and everyone else who comes to hear his preaching and to be baptized in the river, to “produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance,” as evidence that you’re God’s children. If you’re turning away from sin, it’s got to show in how you act!

Because the one who’s coming to introduce God’s kingdom is coming in judgment. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (3:11). The Holy Spirit will reveal hearts, showing men and women in all their reality. The fire will purify the just and burn to cinders the wicked. Those who’ve produced good fruits, godly fruits, will be reaped into the barn of God’s harvest, and the wicked, the barren, will be incinerated in an eternal fire (3:12).

So what fruits does God expect? What are the fruits of repentance? St. Paul today mentions “harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus” (Rom 15:5). The responsorial psalm spoke of “pity for the lowly and the poor” (72:13). Elsewhere Paul speaks of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (cf. Gal 5:22-23). How we treat one another, how we forgive one another, how we live with one another is the fruit of our inner selves, of our virtue or lack of it. It’s to growth in such virtues that John the Baptist is calling us today, to prepare the way in our hearts for the Lord’s coming.
Photo: Painting of St. John the Baptist, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Turin