Monday, January 31, 2011

Rector Major Announces Plans for DB's Bicentennial

Rector Major Announces
Plans for Don Bosco's Bicentennial

This comes from ANS, the Salesians' international news agency based at our GHQ in Rome.

Fr. Pascual Chavez, Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco, announced on January 31 the process of preparation and the celebration of the bicentennial of Don Bosco’s birth (1815-2015). The process will follow the life, pedagogy, and spirituality of the saint of youth.

The Rector Major addresses the Salesians: “It is a very special event for us, for all the Salesian Family, and for the whole Salesian Movement, which requires an intense and profound process of preparation, so that it may prove fruitful for all of us, for the Church, for the young, and for society.”

The process is based on the first key issue from the 26th General Chapter, “Starting afresh from Don Bosco”: “Putting into practice GC26, which asks us to strengthen our charism and revive in the heart of each one of us the apostolic passion, is therefore the first practical way of preparing for this bicentennial celebration.”

The various stages start and conclude on August 16, Don Bosco’s birthday: “Each stage is meant to focus on one aspect of the charism of Don Bosco. The theme for each of the three stages of preparation will coincide with the theme of the strenna for that year.”

The program is as follows:

• Knowledge of Don Bosco’s history, August 16, 2011 - August 15, 2012: “a systematic plan for the study and assimilation of Don Bosco…. The study of Don Bosco is an essential condition in order to be able to communicate his charism and propose his current relevance.”

• Don Bosco’s pedagogy, August 16, 2012 - August 15, 2013: “Nowadays a deeper understanding is needed of Salesian pedagogy. In other words we need to study and apply that updated Preventive System desired by Fr. Egidio Viganò … developing its great implicit principles, modernizing concepts, guidelines, and interpretations so as to express the basic ideas in a modern manner.”

• Don Bosco’s spirituality, August 16, 2013 - August 15, 2014: “Perhaps this is an aspect of our founder that has not been studied at sufficient depth. He is a man totally intent on work. We have no descriptions of his interior development, nor has he left us any explicit reflections on his spiritual life.”
“The celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Don Bosco will take place after the 27th General Chapter. It will begin on August 16, 2014, and end on August 16, 2015,” and the theme will be “Don Bosco’s mission with and for the young.” There will be two international events:

• the International Congress of Salesian Studies on “The development of the charism of Don Bosco” at the Salesianum in Rome in November 2014;

• the Bosco Camp of the Salesian Youth Movement, with the theme “Young people for the young” at Turin in August 2015.

“This year needs to be planned in good time in the provinces so that we can concentrate on the process of spiritual and pastoral renewal that we intend to pursue as the Congregation, the Salesian Family, and the Salesian Movement, emphasizing the importance and relevance of the messages we intend to communicate.”

Concluding his letter, the Rector Major offers an updated version of the prayer to Don Bosco, inviting the Salesians to make it their own and to recite it during their daily practices of piety.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bro. David Tierney, SDB

Bro. David Tierney, SDB

Bro. David Tierney died late on the night of January 28, 2011, in Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg after a short illness. He was 93.

Bro. Dave was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on December 23, 1917, the son of David and Helen Reilly Tierney. He emigrated to the U.S. as a young man and entered Don Bosco Seminary in Newton in 1942. He made his religious profession as a coadjutor brother on September 8, 1944.

Bro. Dave initially carried out humble tasks such as doing laundry, office work, and general chores of all sorts in Salesian houses in Suffern (1945-46), Newton (1946-48), Paterson (1948-49, 1954-55), New Rochelle (1949-52), and DBT Boston (1955-58).

Eventually he began to teach: at St. Michael’s School in Goshen (1952-54) and Mary Help of Christians School in Tampa (1958-59); served in the province’s vocations office in New Rochelle (1959-66), and was a tour guide at the Catacombs of St. Callistus in Rome (1967-69).

In 1966 Bro. Dave undertook studies at Don Bosco College toward a bachelor’s degree in English, which he completed at Cal State in Los Angeles in 1971 while assigned to Don Bosco Technical Institute in Rosemead (1969-75). Returning to Don Bosco Tech in Boston in 1975, he taught English and earned an M.A. in education from Suffolk University in 1976.

In 1980-81 Bro. Dave taught English at Salesian High School in New Rochelle and then joined the staff of the Salesian Boys & Girls Club of Columbus (1981-83), where he tutored children, especially in reading and basic English skills. He offered ESL courses while in residence at the provincial house in New Rochelle (1983-87, 1988-2000) and Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester (1987-88).

Fr. Tom Dunne praised Bro. Dave’s “unwavering passion for education as the heart of our Salesian charism.” He was impatient with his own aging, said Fr. Tom, because it took him out of day-to-day contact with the young. It was inspiring, then, Fr. Tom said, to see him work with immigrants in his later years by tutoring them in English.

Bro. Dave retired to the Marian Shrine at Haverstraw in 2000; from there he moved to St. Philip the Apostle Residence, the Salesians’ retirement home in Tampa, in 2004.

After funeral celebrations in Tampa and the New York area, Bro. Dave will be buried in the province cemetery at Goshen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Homily for 3d Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
3d Sunday
in Ordinary Time
Jan. 23, 2011
Matt 4: 12-23
Christian Brothers, Iona College
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4: 17).

Unfortunately, the 4 evangelists weren’t historians in the vein of Matt or Joe [Sr. Irene], and so they give usvery little in the way of a time frame. Jesus has come to the Jordan and been baptized by John the Baptist, and he’s spent some time in the wilderness, praying and undergoing temptation. Then—what? At some unspecified time, Herod the tetrarch arrests John, and Jesus leaves Judea and returns to Galilee—“withdraws” is Matthew’s word, more suggestive than the phrasing of his source, Mark, who says merely that Jesus “came into Galilee” after John was arrested (1:14). The suggestion is that he “withdraws” to escape danger, but I don’t know why he would “withdraw” into the territory under Herod’s direct rule. St. John gives us the most interesting reading, indicating that Jesus, like John, had been “making and baptizing disciples” along the Jordan before departing Judea for Galilee because the Pharisees had learned of the extent of his ministry in Judea (4:1). St. Luke, on the other hand, makes no mention of John’s arrest or of Pharisees, indicating only that the Spirit led, or directed, Jesus into Galilee (4:14).

What’s of interest to us is that Matthew, like Mark, begins on the ominous note of John’s arrest. The public ministry of Jesus begins with the powers of evil having struck a blow that, we know, will be deadly. If we were teaching literature, we might see foreshadowing here: Jesus is going to walk toward the same fate as John and various other prophets. In fact, Matthew has already given us a strong hint of that in the story of King Herod’s attempt to slay the infant Jesus.

Matthew links the ominous note about John’s fate with darkness. “Galilee of the Gentiles” is a place whose “people sit in darkness…a land overshadowed by death” (4:16). What’s happening to John even as Jesus begins his ministry is representative of the general state of humanity. Into this state of darkness and death comes Jesus as a “great light” (v. 16).

Jesus attacks the darkness and death at their root: he begins “to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (4:17). If mankind lives in darkness, it’s because of sin. If mankind is doomed to die, it’s because of sin. The cure, the light, the way to life is repentance, opening oneself to the King of Heaven rather than to the Prince of Darkness. If Herod the tetrarch, ruler of this “land overshadowed by death,” would open himself to the light, then neither John nor any other of Herod’s subjects would be in physical danger, and Herod himself wouldn’t be in danger of spiritual death.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus has already begun to gather followers from among those who’d been disciples of John the Baptist, including particularly Andrew and Simon Peter, as well as Philip and Nathanael (1:35-51), and he’s brought these followers with him into Galilee (2:1-2). The Synoptic Gospels, however, have it that he came to Galilee alone—we could read them as if he came directly from his bout with Satan in the desert—and he “went to live in Capernaum by the sea” (Matt 4:13). There he began to preach, to travel about, to go into the synagogs, alone, for an unspecified time. Since almost the beginning of Christianity, the followers of Jesus have tried to reconcile these variant stories about Jesus. I guess that’s partly because the human heart naturally seeks truth: scientific truth, historical truth, philosophical truth, religious truth. We know instinctively that events and the world around us can help us understand meaning: what happened, and what does that mean for us?

It’s hard for us to believe that the story as Matthew tells us happened in a vacuum. Jesus is just walking by the shore, sees Simon and Andrew, calls them to follow him and become fishers of men, and they drop their nets and go along with him (4:18-20); likewise, the sons of Zebedee who, moreover, abandon their father (4:21-22). (Wouldn’t you like to know what Zebedee had to say about that?) How does this account square with John’s Gospel? Did these 4 already know Jesus from time spent around John the Baptist? Is it simply that they’d already heard Jesus in the Capernaum synagog? Were “their hearts burning within them” already from listening to Jesus’ commentaries on the Scriptures, like the hearts of Cleopas and his companion later on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:32)? What was it that made Andrew and Simon, James and John leave everything and follow Jesus?

Calling of the Disciples by Duccio di Buoninsegna

Of course we know what it was, ultimately. “Master, you have the words of eternal life,” Simon will reply to Jesus when many of his followers desert him after the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:68). Maybe Andrew and Simon, James and John had already come to see in Jesus the “great light,” the presence of the kingdom of heaven. Certainly they came to see that in him eventually.

As have we, which is why we’re here, worshiping God thru Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The world in which we live is still very much “overshadowed by death” in countless ways. So many people still “sit in darkness.” And we know that Jesus is the light for those people, the life for this world. So we, too, have left family and other possible livelihoods and followed him. Our own responses to Jesus can give us some idea of why those young men answered Jesus’ invitation the way they did. How much more eager to go with him than we were X number of years ago, must they have been, seeing and hearing him in the flesh, sensing his charisma, feeling his personal warmth and interest in them!

So we have agreed to go with Jesus, eager to be forgiven whatever moral failings we have, eager to be assured of God’s love and acceptance, eager to walk in the light, eager to find a secure way to God’s kingdom. We’ve agreed to be fishers of human souls, like the apostles, and we’ve spent many years doing that.

(Unfortunately, I didn't note where I found this or who painted it.)

How much have we done what Jesus did to Simon and Andrew, James and John: called others to “come after” us, come with us, in this fishing enterprise, to be our partners, to be our place-takers, as the apostles took Jesus’ place after the ascension? It’s not enuf that we be with Jesus, that we lead others to Jesus thru education, catechesis, service. We have to be in our own lives advertisements for the following of Jesus in close discipleship, in joy, in fellowship. We also have to invite men and women to join us because the mission of Jesus must continue after we get old, after we pass away. We have to offer a warm and welcoming atmosphere, especially to young people, making them feel comfortable around religious men [women]. When we spot someone with potential, we have to issue an invitation—not to become one of us right away, but to consider it, and in the meantime to draw closer to Jesus and pray for guidance, and we have to accompany that young person with our own prayer, interest, and warmth.

There are a lot of young men and women who want a deeper relationship with Jesus, who are willing to live lives of sacrifice and commitment and service. They need help in figuring out how to do that. That’s not only for guidance counselors. It’s also for us. And for some of those young men and women when we’ve come to know them and have their trust, the suggestion that they might become fishermen will be appropriate. As much as Jesus needed to gather disciples around him who would not only be his mission but also would continue his mission, so do we need to find those who will carry on his mission of enlightening the world, combating the shadows of death, announcing God’s kingdom.

Into the Klondike

Into the Klondike

An annual winter event for many, if not most, Boy Scouting districts is the Klondike Derby.  Troops compete in demonstrations of various Scouting skills, including one that really isn't part of most troops' normal activities:  dragging a sled around with their gear on it.

It helps to have at least a few inches of snow for a Klondike Derby.  I remember one a few years ago when the boys were literally dragging their sleds over dried grass at Camp Smith in Cortland, N.Y.--and had to be extra cautious about fire-starting.

Not a problem yesterday at Camp Alpine (along the New Jersey Palisades).  We even had had another snowstorm since my previous post.  The daytime temperature, moreover, was at the lowest it's been so far this winter, approximately 15 degrees F.  OK, that's not really a Klondike winter temperature, but close enuf for our purposes.

Here are some photos:

A partial view of Scouts at their various activities

Troop 2 from Bronxville had the most colorful sled.  This troop, by the way, is the "Presidential Troop"; John F. Kennedy belonged to it from 1929 to 1931, when his family lived in Bronxville (1928-1942).

The Scouts rig emergency shelters with ropes, tarps, and pegs

They show that they can build a fire--more easily no doubt, under the circumstances, than the unfortunate traveler in Jack London's famous story

They practice their lashing skills

Closely monitored, a couple of Scouts learn how to use a two-man saw

Don't ask me what they Scouts are doing here, other than crawling together up the blue tarps.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wintry Weather

Wintry Weather

As most of the country knows, the Northeast has had a wee bit of snow in the last three weeks. This isn't to make comparisons with any other part of the country. No one would mistake us for International Falls!
By my count we've had 4 winter storms, the last of them last nite--nasty enuf to keep 2 of us home early this morning when the Notre Dame Sisters in the Bronx and the Christian Brothers at Iona canceled their Masses.

The worst storm was the blizzard Dec. 26-27, which dumped about 12" here, and that was blown all over the place by strong winds. In fact, after plowing it for several hours neither Bro. Andy nor Fr. Terry could say for sure how much they thought we'd gotten, because of the drifts. There were big piles against some walls, and on the front lawn the grass was visible in some spots. Here are some pix that I took around 6:30 p.m. on the 26th.

Shot thru our back door

Shot toward Boston Post Road from the front porch

On my way to chapel on the morning of the 27th, I took this one around 7:00 a.m. You can see where Bro. Andy has already piled up the snow with his plow on either side of the garage.

I went out between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. and took these:

From in front of our house, looking toward Salesian HS, with wind whipping up the snow across our front "lawn"

The parking lot of Salesian HS, mostly unplowed,
with the new gym at the far end
(note the drifts on the steps and to the right)

The front of the mission office building

Main entrance of Salesian Missions

Back of the provincial residence

All of that wasn't nearly melted when we got hit again by about 7" on the 11th of this month. You know that old saw, "Red sky at nite, sailor's delight"? This is what the westward sky looked like from our side porch on the evening of the 10th:

And this is what the house looked like about 20 hours later:

Some of the neighborhood kids were having a grand time on the slope below the house, as they usually do after a moderate or heavy snow.

I took a walk out to Five Islands Park behind our property and got these shots, among others:

Sun lowering over New Rochelle's marina

From Clifford's Island across an inlet to Premium Point

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Homily for 2d Sunday in Ordinary Time

I didn't have an assigned Mass this weekend, since I was supposed to be away on a Scout trip (which trip didn't come off, but that's another story). So I don't have a fresh homily. The following one, on today's epistle reading, is 24 years old.

Homily for the
2d Sunday

in Ordinary TimeJan. 18, 1987
1 Cor 1: 1-3
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

We’ve been using the new lectionary for 17 years, with its 3 readings each Sunday instead of 2 and its 3-year cycle instead of the same readings year after year.

You may have noticed that the 1st and 3d readings are always thematically related, usually more clearly than today’s theme of Jesus as God’s servant for bringing salvation to the world. But in Ordinary Time—the “green season”—the middle reading is almost never related to the other 2. The 2d reading, instead, presents a week-by-week sequence from the letters of the NT. Thus today we begin a 7-week series from St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, which will take us up to the beginning of Lent.

We have selections from St. Paul all year long, and students of the Scriptures probably know him better than any biblical personality except Jesus. Yet I suspect that few of us really understand Paul. I propose, then, to take us into Paul and 1 Corinthians during my homilies in these 7 weeks.

The 1st thing we want to know is who these Corinthians were. They were a small group of Christian converts living in Corinth. Corinth was a thriving commercial center, a major crossroads of the Roman Empire, the largest city in 1st-century Greece. It was built on a narrow peninsula connecting the northern and southern halves of Greece, separating the Adriatic Sea and Italy from the Aegean Sea and Asia. Its people came from all over the Roman world: traders, craftsmen, merchants, sailors, soldiers, government officials, priests, athletes, slaves, and even tourists and refugees. The city was famous for its shrines, above all the great temple of Aphrodite, which was a center of worship and of tourism.

You know that the pagan Greeks and Romans were not Puritans. But even in the ancient world, Corinth was notorious for its licentiousness; its name was synonymous with pleasure and vice. The term “Corinthian girl” meant a prostitute; “to live like a Corinthian” was to lead a depraved life. Aphrodite’s temple was served by 1,800 slave girls, and you can bet they sold more than incense! How better to commune with the goddess of love and beauty than through the ministrations of her servants?

Into this social setting came Paul of Taurus in 51 A.D., preaching Jesus Christ. He received a warm welcome and stayed a year and a half. A substantial number of Corinthians, both Jews and Gentiles, mostly lower-class, became believers—but only a tiny minority of the total population.

St. Paul preaching. Painting (part of a large series) in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.
But soon after Paul’s departure, serious problems and theological questions arose—problems so serious that they would still be plaguing Corinthian Christians 40 years later. Indeed, some of them are with us still. As soon as Paul became aware of the problems and the questions, he wrote a letter to try to straighten things out; eventually he had to go in person, and between 54 and 57 wrote as many as 4 letters to the Corinthians.

What sorts of problems did the Corinthians have trouble with? Their church was divided into 3 or 4 factions. They argued over various charismatic gifts and ministries. They asked about the relative value of marriage and of virginity and about the role of women in the Church. They disputed the relationship between their pagan culture and their Christian faith. The rich and the poor were at odds. They wanted to know how to celebrate the Eucharist and what the resurrection was like. They had serious problems and even scandals concerning sexual morality.

You’d never guess all that from the 1st and 3d verses of 1 Corinthians, would you?

When we write a letter, we follow certain forms. We begin with the date and then greet the addressee, “Dear So-and-So.” At the end, we put a closing, “Yours truly,” and sign our name. Ancient letter writers had forms too: “Sender to addressee, greetings.” That’s what Paul’s doing here: “Paul…to the church of God in Corinth…grace and peace.”

But Paul expands the usually simple “X and Y, greetings” formula considerably. When we read his introductory formula, we already begin to understand Paul and his message.

1st, the sender, Paul, identifies himself—reminds his readers that he’s more than a friend or acquaintance or business partner: Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ, called by God. Paul speaks with divine authority, apostolic authority. Today we have to remember, further, that Paul’s surviving letters are sacred Scripture, the inspired Word of God.

We also find out that Paul has a coworker, Sosthenes—one of many people who collaborated with Paul.

2d, the addressees are identified in several ways. They are “the church of God which is in Corinth.” They are God’s church, his people, his assembly. But they aren’t the whole Church, only the part of it that’s in Corinth, a part related to a whole. It seems to me that we American Catholics need to remember this point. We belong to a universal Church, a Catholic Church. From a lot of the nonsense that you read in the papers or hear on TV, you’d think that the universal Church were oppressing us or that 2 men, the Pope and Cardinal Ratzinger, were tyrannizing over 52,000,000 American Catholics. The reality is, rather, that the universal Church, speaking through the Holy Father and his assistants, is reminding us that we are God’s people, not the lords of our own destiny; that we’re his universal people, and not just his American people.

Paul continues with that theme of connectedness or catholicity by sending his greetings not only to the Corinthian Church but to “all those, wherever they may be, who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). He must have supposed that other Christians from the area would read the letter as well as Christians passing through the city on business.

Paul further identifies his correspondents as men and women “consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be a holy people.” All the Christians of Corinth have been consecrated and sanctified in Baptism. God has called all of them to lead holy lives, to be saints. And if Paul were to address us, my brothers and sisters, he would also address us as God’s holy people, consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be saints.

Sometimes I’ve been around people and someone’s used a vulgar word or said something improper. Then realizing I’m there, he’s said, “Sorry, Father.” Now there’s nothing in the NT about priests or brothers or nuns being holier than any other Christian. Paul is reminding us that all of us are consecrated, sacred, holy; all of us deserve respect and consideration. If someone has to say, “Sorry, Father,” or “Sorry, Sister,” what he said was inappropriate for any Christian to hear—or to say. Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of us all.

Finally, Paul gets to the greeting. In classical Greece, the normal salutation was χαίρε (chaire), literally “rejoice.” That’s what the angel Gabriel said to Mary, the word we usually translate as “Hail.”

But Paul’s Greek doesn’t say χαίρε. He uses a new, Christian greeting, more intense even than the typical Latin salve or salus, “good health.” He wishes the Corinthians “grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the ultimate form of health, the ultimate cause for rejoicing. Paul invokes God’s favor and good will, as in that phrase we heard from the angels on Christmas Day, “Peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). It is God’s favor, his grace, that bestows forgiveness and peace upon us and makes us holy in his sight.

So we have in these 3 verses a miniature Gospel, a synthesis of Paul’s theology. And we begin to see how relevant his preaching remains today.

Grace and peace be with you!



Tonite, without explanation, photos reappeared at this site and the other Blogspot sites that I follow. I hadn't been able to see pictures at Whispers in the Loggias, Not Strictly Spiritual, Da Mihi Animas, or various other sites since early December.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Homily for Feast of Baptism of the Lord

Homily for the Feast
of the Baptism of the Lord

Jan. 9, 2011
Matt 3: 13-17
Willow Towers, New Rochelle
“Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him” (Matt 3: 13).
The 1st thing we might notice in this evening’s gospel is that Jesus goes way out of his way to be baptized by John the Baptist. He “came from Galilee,” i.e. from his village of Nazareth, and walked about 40 miles to get to the place along the Jordan River where John was preaching and baptizing, according to St. John’s Gospel (3:23), or some 90 miles to a different place near Jericho marked by Christian tradition. As our gospel a few weeks ago, on Dec. 5, we heard the passage in Matthew describing John’s preaching and baptismal ministry (3:1-12); the passage immediately precedes tonite’s gospel.
The 2d thing we might notice is John’s hesitance to baptize Jesus. Matthew may be dressing up the scene a bit to reflect what we as Christians know: that Jesus was without sin and certainly didn’t need to repent—that was the topic of John’s preaching and what his baptism symbolized. (Note that John’s baptism wasn’t sacramental like Christian Baptism; it was only symbolic.)
Jesus responds: “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). That’s a puzzling response. Jesus isn’t going to be made righteous—restored to God’s good graces—by being baptized. As John’s objection suggests, Jesus has no such need (3:14): he is the Mighty One whose coming John preached, who will baptize the repentant “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (3:11), as we heard on Dec. 5.
We could say that by submitting to this symbolic baptism Jesus is indicating his total submission to his Father’s plan, his Father’s will, for his life. Our submission to God’s will is the measure of our righteousness or our good standing with God. Jesus’ obedience—even unto death on a cross, as St. Paul says (Phil 2:8)—carries us, our human nature, along with him to eternal life; it redeems us from death.
We can also say, as the Fathers of the Church did, that Jesus’ baptism does the opposite of what John’s baptism symbolized and what Christian Baptism actually does. In Christians, Baptism effects a spiritual cleansing of the person baptized. That is, Baptism makes us righteous, or just, or holy, before God. In the case of Jesus at the Jordan, however, it’s the water that’s made clean, the water that becomes holy, thru its contact with Jesus Christ. It’s Christ who makes the water into a sacramental instrument for our salvation.

For example, St. Maximus, bishop of Turin at the beginning of the 5th century, says in a sermon: “Why would a holy man desire baptism? Listen to the answer: Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and by his cleansing to purify the waters which he touched. For the consecration of Christ involves a more significant consecration of the water. For when the Savior is washed, all water for our baptism is made clean, purified at its source for the dispensing of baptismal grace to the people of future ages. Christ is the first to be baptized, then, so that Christians will follow him with confidence.”[1]

Thus Jesus “fulfills all righteousness” by investing the water with his own holiness as the Son of God, in order that baptismal water may sanctify us who follow him into the water of the sacrament.

How is that possible? Because the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus (3:16), upon his humanity, which means that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, represented the whole human race, and we are all filled with the Holy Spirit by God’s gift thru our association with him. “A voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (3:17). Similarly, the Father acknowledges all who receive the gift of the Spirit thru this beloved Son, Jesus, as his adopted sons and daughters—which is what happens to us in Baptism and is reinforced or renewed in all our sacramental encounters with our Savior Jesus Christ.

[1] Sermon 100; LOH 1:612-613, emended.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Homily for Solemnity of the Epiphany

Homily for the Solemnity 
of the Epiphany
Jan. 2, 2011
Matt 2:1-12
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“After Jesus’ birth … magi arrived in Jerusalem inquiring, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage’” (Matt 2:1-2).

Many of you are familiar with O. Henry’s famous short story “The Gift of the Magi.” In that turn-of-the-last-century tale of working-class New Yorkers, the young couple Jim and Della both sell their most prized possessions in order to buy Christmas gifts for each other. Della sells her long brown hair to buy Jim a fancy fob chain for his gold pocket watch. Jim sells his watch to buy Della a handsome set of tortoise shell combs for her hair.

At the end of the story, O. Henry calls them 2 foolish children for sacrificing for each other the greatest treasures of their house. In the next sentence he tells us these 2 were the wisest of gift-givers. All such givers and receivers are wisest. They are the magi.

O. Henry doesn’t tell us why Jim and Della are so magi-like. We’re supposed to figure that out. And it’s not hard. They’re wise because they give what’s most precious for the sake of the one they love.

The magi of old brought precious gifts to Christ, the newborn king of the Jews. Were those gifts motivated by love? by scientific curiosity? by lust for power? I think St. Matthew means for us to see love in what they do: recognition by the wise people of the non-Jewish world that God will save the world thru this child, who is therefore wiser than they. He is wisdom. He is the light.

The magi show their wisdom in several ways. They are wise in watching and interpreting the heavens. In the ancient world, it was commonly believed that significant events were indicated by heavenly signs. You may remember the meteors and other omens associated with the murder of Caesar, at least in Shakespeare’s play. You surely remember the darkening of the skies when Jesus died on Calvary. So these star watchers—perhaps they were priests from Babylonia or Persia, tho we can only guess—note a bright new star and understand its meaning.

They are wise in asking for assistance when they reach Jerusalem. (You’ve all heard the joke about why the Hebrews spent 40 years wandering in desert—because Moses wouldn’t ask for directions.) Quite naturally the magi looked for a new prince in the capital city. They admit their puzzlement; they adjust their thinking. They haven’t mastered the Hebrew scriptures, and they ask for help, direction, guidance.

They are wise in paying homage to Christ, acknowledging him as their lord, bestowing on him truly worthy gifts. If Matthew understands the magi to be pagan priests, their actions show that Christ surpasses the pagan gods, and the mystery of God-made-man surpasses all pagan rituals and mythologies.

They are wise, finally, in heeding a heavenly warning and not heeding the cajolery of King Herod. Perhaps they already know his murderous reputation. At any rate, they wisely avoid him on their way home.
At Christmas we imitate the magi by giving gifts. In itself that doesn’t make us wise. We are wise, like Jim and Della, only if we give with love, only if we give ourselves as part of our gift.

We are wise like the mysterious astrologers only if we act in faith. The magi read the heavens and sought in the stars indications to guide their decisions. Once they found signs, they acted on them. Ralph Waldo Emerson advised us to hitch our wagons to a star. We can read his signs, his indications, in the gospels and the rest of the holy scriptures, which we accurately call the word of God.

The magi asked for help in finding the newborn king. Very often we put our demands on God and don’t even think of adjusting our expectations to fit God’s plans. When we don’t understand God’s directions, indications, or plan, we have to look for guidance. Wise Christians have someone to turn to for help and advice—a regular confessor, a spiritual director, a spiritual friend, spiritual writers in addition to the Bible.

The magi paid homage to Christ and gave him gifts. We are wise when we pay our homage to him in daily prayer; when we give him the gift of ourselves. To give ourselves to Christ means to seek his will for us and to try to follow it each day in the circumstances of our own lives: at home, at ministry, doing errands.

The magi avoided Herod and found another way home. Many temptations try to lure us to disaster. In our traditional act of contrition, we promise to “avoid the near occasion of sin.” The magi weren’t fooled by Herod’s soft words or the glitter of his court. If we are wise, we will not be fooled by the empty promise of the world around us, the glitter of materialism and consumerism. Yes, we religious are susceptible to those temptations, too. The magi took another road home after finding Christ. When we have found Christ, we must take a different road than the pagans take if we want to reach our heavenly home.

In the opening prayer of the Mass, we ask God our Father to lead us to his glory in heaven by the light of faith. May Christ his son enlighten us with faith and guide us with love in this world until we live with him forever in the next world.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Homily for Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Homily for the Solemnity 
of Mary, Mother of God
Jan. 1, 2011
Luke 2: 16-21
Christian Bros., Iona College
Ursulines, Willow Drive, N.R.

“The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found … the infant lying in the manger” (Luke 2: 16).

Following the Savior’s birth, secret, unknown to anyone in David’s city, angels announce the Good News to “shepherds living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock” (2:8). Since, in truth, we know nothing about the social or economic status of Mary and Joseph, this is the 1st announcement of the Good News from God to “the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing” (1 Cor 1:28). For that is who the shepherds were—perhaps not on the very lowest rung of the social ladder, but definitely near the bottom.

Unlike the social elite and the political powers on whom Matthew reports—King Herod, the chief priests, and the scribes in Jerusalem, who were “greatly disturbed” by what the magi told them (2:3-4)—these social outcasts in the fields near Bethlehem respond positively to the Good News and hasten to the manger, themselves, not sending someone in their stead. This will be the theme thruout Luke’s gospel, the positive, personal response to Jesus of the poor and of sinners.

Commenting on Luke’s narrative, Fr. Raymond Brown sees in the shepherds’ response, hastening to the manger, a reversal of a complaint of the prophets: “An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger; but Israel does not know, my people has not understood” (Is 1:3)—a passage that, incidentally, seems to be the origin for our traditional placement of an ox and an ass in our manger scenes, there being no reference to them whatever in Luke’s story. So Israel of old didn’t recognize their Lord; but now the poor and the lowly of Israel do so recognize him and hasten to him—in a manger.

The shepherds do more than come and “find Mary and Joseph and the infant” (2:16). “They made know the message that had been told them about this child” (2:17). If we wish to call Mary the very 1st evangelist on account of her hastening to visit Elizabeth, then the shepherds are the 2d evangelists, announcing the Good News.

There’s another group who hear the Good News, namely “all who heard it [and] were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds” (2:18). Amazement doesn’t necessarily lead them to the manger or to belief in this child, any more than it will later induce faith and discipleship in those who hear the marvelous teaching of Jesus and see his miracles. We don’t hear anything further, in any of the gospels, about shepherds or other people from Bethlehem. Fr. Brown compares them to those who “hear the word, receive it with joy, but have no root” (Luke 8:13).

The 1st lesson for us to draw from what we hear this evening/morning is that each of us has heard the report that “a Savior has been born for” us in utter lowliness, and we have to decide how we’ll respond to that news, regarding it as either good news, like the shepherds; or bad news, like Herod and the Jerusalem elite; or hearing it with amazement but no action, like the people of Bethlehem. And it’s a response we have to make for ourselves; we can’t delegate it.

Our response, moreover, also involves a 2d choice: to spread the news, like the shepherds, or to keep it to ourselves. “Woe to me if I do not preach it!” St. Paul exclaimed (1 Cor 9:16). Jesus tells a parable of a servant who received a charge, a commission, but who buried it, kept it secret, and then was condemned by his master for not using it to increase the master’s wealth (Luke 19:11-26). So the Good News about this child isn’t ours to keep but to make known. This is the 2d lesson for us.

There is one who responds most favorably to all the marvels surrounding this child. “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (2:19). Mary has already shown her disposition to accept God’s word, confessing that she’s the Lord’s lowly servant (the Greek word that Luke puts in her mouth means “slave”) and will do whatever he asks (1:38). God’s actions are not only to be watched, to be marveled at, but to be absorbed, taken into the heart, and applied to one’s own life. When Jesus says during his public ministry, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it” (8:21), Luke gives us to understand that his biological mother is among these. He will also place her at the center of his brothers and disciples in the Upper Room waiting for the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:13-14)—who will lead them out to “make known the message that had been told them” about the “Savior born for [them] who is Christ and Lord” (Luke 2:17,11).

The 3d lesson of our gospel reading, thus, is to look upon Mary as the model disciple of Jesus: one who listens for God’s word, ponders what that word may mean for her, then acts upon what she has heard, pondered, and understood. This is why Gabriel can address her as “highly favored” of God (1:28), and it is the key to our own relationship with God thru Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Homily for Dec. 17 and Christmas Vigil

Homily for December 17
and the Christmas Vigil

Matt 1: 1-17 (+18-25)
Ursulines, Willow Drive, N.R.
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

You hear all that list of names, and you say to yourself, “Boring!”

From St. Leo the Great: “To speak of our Lord, the son of the blessed Virgin Mary, as true and perfect man is of no value to us if we do not believe that he is descended from the line of ancestors set out in the Gospel. . . . For unless the new man, by being made in the likeness of sinful humanity, had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance with his mother while sharing the Father’s substance and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan.” (Readings, Dec. 17, LOH 4:320-21)

Raymond Brown: this is a summary of the entire gospel.

1. “Genealogy” could also be translated as “beginning.” The Greek word (Matt 1:1; cf. 1:18) is genesis, a conscious hearkening to the 1st words of the Bible. J.C. is a new creation. It’s fitting that the NT begins with Matthew even tho Mark’s gospel is the 1st historically.

2. God’s plan of salvation begins with Abraham and runs up to the Christ.

3. The promises made to Abraham and David are fulfilled in J.C.

4. Abraham was called from among the nations to begin God’s work. At the close of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus sends his disciples to the nations to complete the work.

5. The genealogical roster includes heroes: Abraham, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, Joseph. It includes scoundrels: Jacob, Judah, David, most of the kings, whom R. Brown summarizes as “idolators, murderers, incompetents, power-seekers, and harem-wastrels.” It includes the famous and the unknown. All are God’s instruments. The roster symbolizes the Church (“here comes everybody!”), whose leaders and whose ordinary people are both saints and sinners.

6. Jacob-Israel, who gave his name to God’s people was the 2d-born; he was a deceiver and a liar. Judah, the father of the leading tribe of Israel, was the 4th-born son and refused to follow the law in regard to his daughter-in-law and consequently impregnated her thinking she was a prostitute.

7. The 4 OT women are all disreputable; 3 are foreigners (Tamar and Rahab Canaanites, Ruth a Moabite). Tamar displayed herself as a prostitute, Tamar was a prostitute, Ruth’s approach to Boaz may have been unseemly, Bathsheba was an adultress. They foreshadow the apparent disrepute of Mary’s pregnancy. The foreigners became part of God’s people and instruments of his redemptive plan, which reaches out to all the nations.

God’s ways aren’t our ways. We’re redeemed not by our own merits but by the graciousness of God.