Saturday, February 26, 2011

Homily for 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
8th Sunday

in Ordinary TimeMarch 1, 1987
1 Cor 4: 1-5
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

An "oldie"...

“Men should regard us as servants of Christ and administrators of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4: 1).

Last week the question of true wisdom and of factions within the Corinthian church came up again. Paul, of course, didn’t divide his letter into chapter and verse—medieval printers did that—but here in his 4th chapter, he tries to tie these ideas all together—the ideas that we’ve been hearing for the last 7 weeks or so—before he heads into a new section on specific moral questions, and before we abandon 1 Corinthians and head for Lent.

Paul’s said a lot about wisdom: the true wisdom that comes from Jesus Christ and is revealed to us by the Spirit; the false wisdom propagated by the power of this world. God is the only judge of true wishes.

Here in Fairfield and Bridgeport, we’ve just had a chance to see these contrasting wisdoms. Last Sunday we had a pastoral letter on chastity from Bishop Curtis. On Wednesday, the story at the top of the newspaper was full of people finding fault with it. Here are the two wisdoms; we have to choose one of them.

And God’s wisdom has built him a temple, the Church. Just as God is the true judge of wisdom and of folly, so is he the true judge of the men and women who make up the Church, and their motives.

Instead of arguing over the merits and credentials of Peter, Apollos, and Paul (cf. 1:12-13; 3:4), the Corinthians ought to be looking to Christ. As for the various apostles and other ministers of the Church, “men should regard us as servants of Christ and administrators of the mysteries of God” (4:1). Paul and the others don’t replace Christ; they serve him. They’re his business managers. They’re all accountable to Christ the master, Christ the Lord.

In a new age in which each of us realizes that he or she is called to be, in some manner, a minister of God’s mysteries, it’s good for us to remember that we do so in Christ’s name and as his servants.

Even more, we have to remember what else Paul has told his bickering Corinthian friends, especially the ones who found fault with him: the Lord alone is our judge (4:4). Our role is not to judge others but to serve them. Each of us has plenty on his hands just to mind his own conscience. Sr. Anna Marie gave me a little desk calendar for Christmas; it’s got a little quotation for every day, and the one it had for Feb. 28 is this: “Keep your heart with all diligence, and God will look after the universe” (A.W. Tozer). It seems to fit quite well with what Paul’s telling us.

Those few people who must, by God’s calling, exercise concern for the consciences of others, like parents for their children in the formative years, confessors, catechists—how often we’d like to dodge such a serious duty! God help us.

In any case, God alone can truly read our hearts. And both Paul and Jesus sternly warn us not to try to judge others.

Paul ends this passage, today’s 5 verses, with an encouraging word that almost slips by us. At the final judgment, “everyone will receive his praise from God” (4:5). He might have said everyone will get his recompense, his just deserts, what’s coming to him. It sounds a little more ominous that way. And probably most of us kind of expect that, for ourselves even, not to mention all those other creeps in this world.

But Paul doesn’t use a negative or even a neutral word. “Everyone will receive his praise from God.” Wow! Does the Gospel sound a little more like “good news” now? Paul seems to be saying that the all-knowing and all-wise judge, the reader of our hearts, will find something to approve in everyone when most people would not.

If you’ve ever had people misinterpret your actions or your motives, you may have thought, “Thank God that I’ll be judged at the end by Jesus and not by my neighbors.” I sure have. And here Paul apparently is saying pretty much the same thing. Which goes, again, to tell us, “stop passing judgment before the time of Christ’s return” (4:5). We’d be much more Christ-like to try to do as St. Francis de Sales did. He said, if there are 99 bad interpretations for someone’s actions and 1 good one, I’ll choose the good 1.

Painting of St. Francis de Sales in the apse of the Church of St. Francis de Sales, built by Don Bosco in 1852, at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales in Turin
Top photo: Ancient statue of St. Paul preserved in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blessed Louis Guanella to Be Canonized

Blessed Louis Guanella to Be Canonized

This report is condensed from one published by ANS on Feb. 23.

On February 21 Pope Benedict XVI approved the canonization of three blesseds. One is Fr. Louis Guanella (1842-1915), apostle of charity, who was a close friend of Don Bosco and, for three years, a member of the Salesian Congregation. The canonization ceremony will take place on Sunday, October 23, in St. Peter’s Square.

Louis Guanella was born in the Italian province of Sondrio. In 1866 he was ordained and said: “I want to become a flaming sword in the holy ministry.” His pastoral work was similar to Don Bosco’s, whom he met in Turin.

He made his Salesian temporary profession in 1874. In his first two years as a Salesian he was the director of the oratory of St. Aloysius Gonzaga in Borgo San Salvario, Turin. In November 1876 he was given the task of opening a new oratory at TrinitĂ  di Mondovì. In 1877 he was entrusted with the care of the adult vocations which Don Bosco called “the work of the Sons of Mary.”

His bishop recalled Fr. Guanella to the diocese, where in 1881 he founded the Servants of Charity and the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence. From the diocese of Como they quickly spread throughout Italy and then in the Americas, Asia, and Africa.

Fr. Guanella and Don Bosco, both friends and priests living at a time of great social change but also inequalities, responded as apostles of charity and spent their whole lives involved in the work of the salvation of every person and in the building of a better society.

The close link between the two, and Fr. Guanella’s devotion for Don Bosco, is reflected in a prayer that Fr. Guanella wrote in his foundation’s monthly magazine, Divine Providence, in August 1908: “May the great soul of John Bosco, who from on high protects the Congregation of his sons the Salesians, now too numerous to count, be pleased to turn his gaze on the Institutes of Divine Providence and extend the kindness of his protection on all those who belong to these works and especially on his devoted admirer and student, Fr. Louis Guanella.”

Fr. Guanella was beatified in 1964. Almost at once his memorial was placed on the Salesian proper calendar; it’s observed on October 24.

Arrest Made in Murder of SDB Priest

Arrest Made in Murder of SDB Priest

This story comes from ANS, dated Feb. 22.

The Tunisian police have arrested Chokri Ben Mustapha Bel-Sadek El-Mestiri, suspected of being the one who murdered Fr. Marek Rybinbski. He was a handyman working at the Salesian school in Manouba and is believed to have killed Fr. Rybinski because he could not repay a sum of money.

The arrest was reported by the Tunisian authorities Monday evening, February 21.

Inquiries indicated that El-Mestiri, a 44-year-old Tunisian employed as a handyman at the Salesian school in Manouba, had received a sum of 2,000 dinars, about 1,000 euros ($1,350), three months ago from Fr. Rybinski, to buy material for some maintenance work to be done in the school. He did not purchase the material, however, and afraid of being found out, killed Fr. Rybinski.

According to the official inquiry, the circumstances of the crime indicate that on the day of the murder, the accused asked Fr. Rybinski to go to the storeroom in which the body was eventually found. The killer took the Salesian by surprise and stabbed him in the back of the neck and in the throat, causing his death.

The Tunisian minister of the interior, denouncing the cowardly attack, expressed his own appreciation for the fact that there was no sign of any political or religious involvement in the crime.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Homilies for 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homilies for the
7th Sunday 

in Ordinary TimeFeb. 20, 2011
Lev 19: 1-2, 17-18
1 Cor 3: 16-23
Matt 5: 38-48

The homily here was given in 2 forms, 1 to the Boy Scouts and Scouters at NYLT program, 1 to the Ursuline nuns. The first version was for the nuns. The Scout version follows (it was too long--timed by 1 lad at 17+ minutes, counting the ad-libs)

Homily for the
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev 19: 1-2).

It’s unusual that a single theme is clearly present in all 3 of our Scripture readings on a Sunday in Ordinary Time. Today is one of those rare Sundays.*

That single theme today is holiness—specifically, God’s invitation, his call, his command that we be holy. We are to be holy, the readings tell us, because we belong to God; we’re related to God: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” “You are the temple of God, which is holy. You belong to Christ, and Christ to God” (1 Cor 3:16-17,23). “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).

 Sermon on the Mount by Gustave Dore'

These words are addressed to the entire community of Israel, to the entire body of Christians at Corinth, to all the disciples gathered around Jesus on the hillside (in Matthew we’re still reading from the Sermon on the Mount). These are the words to which we responded when we were initiated in the Christian community, counted among the people of Jesus. We renew this commitment at each Eucharist: to transform our lives in holiness as the body and blood of Christ transform our flesh and blood into “the temple of God,” as Paul says.

When Jesus commands us to “be perfect” on the model of our “heavenly Father,” he’s not voicing the expectation of ontological or moral perfection, which are beyond the reach of anyone but God.

There’s one other instance in the gospels, in Matthew in fact, where Jesus calls someone to “perfection.” That’s the rich young man who asks he “lacks” (19:20) in his pursuit of “eternal life” (19:16). Jesus challenges him, if he wishes to be “perfect” (19:21), to sell all he possesses, give the money to the poor, and come with him as a disciple. That’s exactly what St. Anthony, the founder of monasticism in the 3d century, did when he heard this passage read in church. The call is not to an unattainable moral perfection but to complete commitment in discipleship. If you want to give a complete response to God’s commands, leave everything and everyone that might distract you from a single-minded pursuit of God, and come with Jesus, do as Jesus teaches.

In Luke’s parallel to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands his disciples not to “be perfect” but to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (6:36). Mercy is a key quality of the Lord our God. In today’s readings, it’s a quality linked to that holiness commanded of us: “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people” (Lev 19:17,18). Note the limitation expressed in Moses’ Law: “your people,” “your fellow citizen,” your Israelite brothers and sisters—only. In other parts of the Law, there’s a slight extension, to “the alien [non-Israelite] who dwells among you.” But there’s nothing universal in this OT command of mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus, however, commands us to go further than the proportionate justice allowed by the Law (no more than “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” [Lev 24:20]). No vengeance at all, no retaliation, Jesus says. Rather, patience, service, prayer, even love for our enemies. Whereas in the OT God is expected to smite his enemies (wicked Israelites and foreign enemies of Israel), Jesus points out that our heavenly Father actually gives even to the wicked and to the Gentiles the blessings of sunlight and rainfall—and Christians thus must love everyone, pray for everyone: That’s complete discipleship. That’s divine mercy.

We in religious life are committed to striving for perfection. That striving includes seeking, aiming at even moral perfection. The nuns and monks of old—Anthony in the desert, Benedict in his cave—referred to this striving as conversion of life, a constant movement from any manner of vice and selfishness toward every virtue and the surrender of our own desires in the spirit of losing one’s life in order to save it.

In terms of today’s readings, of imitating God’s holiness, such perfection calls us toward overcoming resentments, the aggravations and dislikes so inevitable when people live together in community. It calls us to be more patient on the streets and highways, for example, with the mistakes and the lack of consideration of other drivers—the ones who cut you off or who treat traffic signals as “suggestions.” Such perfection or completeness in our discipleship calls us to avoid any kind of factionalism, cliquishness, playing of favorites in the community, but to honor and listen to and take care of everyone. It calls us to serve others readily, without keeping track of whether someone owes us a favor or we owe them. Such perfection or completeness in our discipleship calls us, on an individual basis, to suffer evil rather than to overreact to evil or the perception of impending evil, much less to nurse a grudge and plot how to get even. It calls us to examine public policies, such as how readily we receive foreigners into our society and how we punish wrongdoers. Is there an element of vengeance in our sentencing laws, as there very often is in the spoken comments we hear and read after a crime or a trial? (I seriously doubt that Christian charity requires us to make society as a whole “turn the other cheek” and “offer no resistance to one who is evil” [Matt 5:39]. There’s no call to pacifism here except insofar as I alone am the one suffering the evil. Rather, charity requires us to come to the assistance of others who are suffering oppression; it requires civil society to protect life, limb, and property.) Such perfection or completeness in our discipleship calls us to pray for those who hurt us, whether individually—for our sisters in community whom we may not be especially fond of, for some superior in our past; or societally—for drug lords and slum lords and terrorists and egocentric politicians and dishonest businessmen.
There’s no limit on whom Jesus loves and whom he died for. “So be perfect,” just as Jesus, the perfect image of your heavenly Father, is perfect. “Be holy,” for your God is a holy God, and you are his temple.

* [On-line version only!] If you need a reminder: Our lectionary for Ordinary Time is structured so that we have a semi-continuous reading of one of the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew this year—and an OT reading that’s related to it thematically. It seems that the link for today intended by the designers of the lectionary is how we are to treat our neighbor, and who that neighbor is. The NT readings are semi-continuous readings from the letters of Paul, James, or Peter without any intended reference to the particular Gospel reading. So presently we’re reading from 1 Corinthians. And there isn’t anything directly to do with neighbors in today’s passage.

Homily given to
National Youth Leadership Training (BSA), Putnam Valley
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev 19: 1-2).

It’s unusual that a single theme is clearly present in all 3 of our Scripture readings on a Sunday in Ordinary Time. Today is one of those rare Sundays. That single theme is holiness—specifically, God’s invitation, God’s call, God’s command that we be holy.

We are to be holy, the readings tell us, because we belong to God; we’re related to God: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” “You are the temple of God, which is holy. You belong to Christ, and Christ to God” (1 Cor 3:16-17,23). “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).

These words are addressed to the entire community of Israel, to the entire body of Christians at Corinth, to all the disciples gathered around Jesus on the hillside (in Matthew we’ve been reading from the Sermon on the Mount for 4 weeks now, and we’ll be doing so for 2 more weeks).

“Be holy” and “You are the temple of God” are words to which we responded when we were initiated in the Christian community by Baptism and Confirmation, when we were counted among the people of Jesus. This is the commitment we renew at each Eucharist—the 3d sacrament of Christian initiation (those 3 sacraments that initiate us into the life of Jesus Christ): the commitment to transform our lives in holiness, as the body and blood of Christ transform our flesh and blood into “the temple of God,” as Paul says.

When Jesus commands us to “be perfect” on the model of our “heavenly Father,” he’s not voicing the expectation of moral perfection, which no one can attain in this life.

There one other instance in the gospels where Jesus calls someone to “perfection.” A rich young man comes to him and asks what he “lacks” (Matt 19:20) in his pursuit of “eternal life” (19:16). Jesus challenges him, if he wishes to be “perfect” (19:21), to sell all he possesses, give the money to the poor, and come with him as a disciple. The call is to complete commitment in discipleship, not to an unattainable moral perfection. If you want to give a complete response to God’s commands, leave everything and everyone that might distract you from a single-minded pursuit of God, and come with Jesus, do as Jesus teaches. That’s what holiness consists of.

In the 19th century in the big industrial city of Turin (where the winter Olympics were held in 2006), St. John Bosco spent his life teaching boys to make their way in life as “good Christians and honest citizens,” as he put it. To be a good Christian is to be a good disciple of Jesus, and that’s holiness. He founded a youth center and a hospice, and later many schools, for them. The first youth center and hospice for young students and apprentices was called the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales.

In 1855 one of the boys at St. John Bosco’s Oratory was Dominic Savio. St. John Bosco—“Don Bosco” he’s popularly called, using the Italian term for a priest—tells Dominic’s life-story. He writes: “Dominic had been at the Oratory about six months when he heard a sermon on the easy way of becoming a saint. The priest [it was Don Bosco himself] stressed three points which deeply impressed the lad’s soul: it is God’s will that we all become saints; it is not hard to become a saint; there is a great reward in heaven for those who become saints. The talk fell like a glowing spark on Dominic’s heart, setting it afire with intense love of God.”

A few days later, Don Bosco writes, he had a conversation with Dominic, who told him: “I feel a yearning, a need, of becoming a saint! I never knew I could sanctify myself so easily, but now that I know I can be happy and holy too, I most willingly want it! I must become a saint! Tell what to do.”

Dominic was 13 years old at this time.

And Don Bosco’s advice was “first of all, a steady, moderate cheerfulness. I advised him not to weaken in his duties of study and prayer, and I suggested that he never skip recreation.”

So the 1st thing to do if you want to be holy, is to cheerful, not sad and grouchy. St. Francis de Sales is supposed to have said that a sad saint is a sorry saint. The 2d thing is to do whatever it is you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it—whether that’s play or study or work or prayer. That’s excellent advice not only for a teenager like Dominic Savio but for grown-ups too.

Don Bosco always advised his boys that we have to do penance to follow Jesus. Jesus, after all, told us that to follow him we have to carry a cross, as he did. Dominic Savio decided that he should do some severe penances, as some grown-up saints used to do. For instance, Dominic decided that on some days he should fast on bread and water, and that he should put pebbles and wood chips in his bed so that he wouldn’t get too comfortable. When Don Bosco found out about these things, he forbade it. Then Dominic tried sleeping in winter with only a light-weight blanket. Turin gets bitterly cold in winter—it’s in the foothills of the Alps—and Don Bosco was extremely poor, so the house couldn’t afford a lot of firewood or coal to heat the dormitory. Don Bosco was a little upset with Dominic, who in turn was disturbed. “Our Lord says that unless I do penance I can’t get to heaven, and you won’t let me do any.”

So what did Don Bosco say to that? “The penance our Lord asks of you is obedience. Obey and you’ll be doing enough.” When that didn’t satisfy Dominic, Don Bosco added: “Do the penance of patiently bearing with injuries, pain, cold, tiredness, wind, rain, all the discomforts which God may send you. Offer all you have to suffer to God, and it will turn into virtue.”

Who finds it easy to be obedient? Who finds it easy to put up with injury, with a long, cold, and snowy winter, with a hot, humid summer? Lots of penance comes our way, doesn’t it? We don’t have to do anything unusual, strange, or weird—just live every day as God sends it to us, with a cheerful spirit and continuing to do what we have to do.

Dominic Savio did his best to follow Don Bosco advice, and also to be an effective, positive leader among his schoolmates, just as your aim is to be effective, positive leaders. But he wasn’t in very good health most of his life, and he died shortly before his 15th birthday. Today, tho, we call him “St. Dominic Savio, the teenage saint.”

Today’s readings do tell us one more thing that we have to do, and for most people it’s hard—it’s a penance. “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people” (Lev 19:17,18). “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). It’s human nature to want to get even with people, to retaliate. We want to do it in school; people do it in their families. It leads to road rage on the highways—someone cuts you off, you give him the finger, you try to cut him off, it escalates—there have been accidents and there have been shootings from road rage. Gangs fight each other not only over turf but over real or perceived injuries to their members. You “dis” someone on the street, and what happens? How many times, after some terrible crime do you hear the family of the victim say of the accused perpetrator, “I want to see him rot in hell,” or “I want him to fry.” Tribes and nations go to war, unending war, because no one will forgive, no one will forget. They did something to my family, my tribe, my people, and they’re going to pay; we’re going to wipe them out. A lot of what went on in the Balkans in the ’90s and a lot of what’s been going on in the Middle East for years and years can be explained that way. A lot of what goes on in most wars can be.

But those who follow Jesus must put aside vengeance, getting even. We must actually treat everyone with respect, including people we don’t like. We must actually pray for people who offend us, for people who aren’t very nice. All of us have the opportunity to practice what Jesus commands, what Jesus himself did.

There’s no limit on whom Jesus loves and whom he died for. “So be perfect,” just as Jesus, the perfect image of your heavenly Father, is perfect. “Be holy,” for your God is a holy God, and you are his temple.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Salesian Murdered in Tunisia

Salesian Murdered in Tunisia

The Salesian news agency in Rome, ANS, reports:

Fr. Marek Rybinski, a young Polish missionary in Manouba, Tunisia, was found dead, his throat cut, on Friday morning, February 18, in the Salesian school there. The motive is not known.

The other 2 confreres of the community had seen Fr. Marek the previous day around 10:00 a.m. Since he wasn’t at Evening Prayer that day or at Mass on the 18th, Fr. Lawrence Essery, the director, became alarmed. When he did not find Fr. Rybinski in his room, he contacted the local police. They arrived shortly afterward and began a search. His body was found in a storeroom.

Fr. Marek is the second religious to be found dead in the recent period of social unrest, which saw a revolution overturn the government.

At 9:30 a.m. on the 17th, Fr. Rybinski spoke by phone to Sr. Eva Siuda at the Salesian Mission Office in Warsaw and asked her to send a fax confirming that a sum of money had been transferred – transferred in fact in December. The local bank was causing difficulties for the release of the money.

On January 31 the Salesians in Manouba found an anonymous letter pushed under their door threatening them with death unless they paid protection money. The police have not given their official opinion about the motive for this -- possibly theft or religious fundamentalism.

Fr. Rybinski, 33, originally from the Warsaw Province, was ordained in May 2005. In September 2007 he arrived in Manouba, where he became community treasurer.

“Fr. Marek was extremely efficient, and through his contacts with the Polish Missions Office, where he had worked before his arrival in Tunisia, he was able to help to finance various projects for the good of the school,” Fr. Essery told ANS in a message.

The archbishop of Tunis had made Fr. Marek chaplain to the Polish community, and he spent a lot of time preparing the youngsters for Confirmation.

On the evening of February 18 Archbishop Maroun Elias Nimeh Lahham of Tunis presided at a Mass for Fr. Rybinski in the cathedral.

As soon as he heard the news, the Rector Major, Fr. Pascual Chavez, expressed his consternation and sorrow.

The Salesian school and community in Manouba is sponsored by the Irish SDB province, to which it belongs.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Homily for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Times

Homily for the
6th Sunday 

in Ordinary TimeFeb. 13, 2011
Sir 15: 15-20
Matt 5: 17-37
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“Before man are life and death, good and evil; whichever he chooses shall be given him” (Sir 15: 17).

God’s plan for the human race lays out the path of virtue, which is the road to life. So the readings from God’s Word tell us this evening.

Freedom has been all over the news these last 3 weeks, as much of the world, and all the mass media of our country, have watched and listened to what’s been happening in Egypt. Tahir Square has become Liberation Square. A president perceived by a substantial portion of the population as a tyrant has been cast down in the name of democracy.
As happened only weeks ago also in Tunisia.

At least one commentator has wondered whether it’s 1989 in the Arab world. That’s the year when the Berlin Wall was ripped down and the Soviet satellites of Central Europe liberated themselves, followed over the next several years by many of the components of the Soviet Union itself.

How will these revolutions in the name of freedom turn out? Freedom isn’t the inevitable result. In the closing decades of the 18th century, our own revolution could easily have led to a military-backed government had Washington not been the selfless leader that he was. The French Revolution, on the other hand, led to a reign of terror and then to the authoritarian rule and wars of Napoleon.

In Europe democracy has been evolving reasonably well in many countries of the former Soviet Empire, but it has gone backwards in other countries, including Russia.

The revolution that liberated Iran from the Shah in 1979 brought in a worse set of tyrants who have destabilized the entire region.

So what will happen in Tunisia, Egypt, and perhaps other parts of the Arab world remains to be seen.

Freedom can open the way to good or to evil, to life or to death. Freedom is a struggle for nations, and it’s a struggle for individuals. Within us is always an inclination to make poor choices that lead us to slavery, slavery to our passions, to a downward spiral of our hopes and possibilities. To refer again to the latest news, you could ask Lindsay Lohan or ex-Congressman Christopher Lee about that. St. Paul also knew about it, when he wrote to the Romans, “I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin. What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. Miserable man that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” (7:14-15,24).

Jesus ben Sirach teaches the wisdom that the way of being truly free is to keep God’s commandments. These are liberating to us individually, and to all of us collectively. Behaving well is wise, and healthy to mind and soul.

St. Paul today speaks of God’s mysterious and hidden wisdom, i.e., his plan for the redemption of the human race from our enslavement to sin and to death. That wisdom has been revealed in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ doesn’t abolish the Law that Jesus ben Sirach so loved. He tries to help us see that the Law points to life, and we are called in fact to go even further in affirming life, e.g. not only by not physically killing our brother but even by respecting him in our language, in settling hard differences with him (Matt 5:21-26). St. James compares the tongue to fire: “It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3:6,8). Isn’t that something we need to be set free of? Isn’t someone who speaks truth and kindness and respect a person who liberates others?

It’s not enuf that we avoid a physical act of adultery; we are called to honor and respect other people also in our hearts and minds (Matt 5:28). We all know how pornography enslaves so many men, and women too, even when it doesn’t lead to a formal act of adultery. Ask the spouse of someone addicted to porn how free she feels. Ask someone in the so-called adult entertainment industry how liberated she is (not that I’ve asked; but I do read the newspapers.)

It’s not enough that we speak the truth when under oath. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to have difficulty even with that. No, Jesus Christ tells us always to be truthful, even in the most ordinary parts of our lives. “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’” (Matt 5:37). Any form of deception or equivocation “is from the evil one” (5:37), from the one we call “the father of lies.” Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free (John 8:32): that truth for which our hearts thirst, which includes physical truth, philosophical truth, moral truth; and the truth that we speak or otherwise represent to our brothers and sisters.

Who would dare to say that truth constricts us? Yes, sometimes physical realities—scientific truths—constrain us. Because of gravity I may not be able to leap as high as I’d like, and because of gravity I’ve got to be really careful when I walk on wintry sidewalks. You should have seen about 8 of us yesterday at the provincial house struggling against gravity to hang a humongous painting in an equally humongous and very heavy plaster frame. But gravity keeps us from floating away into the stratosphere. When we speak of someone who’s well grounded in reality, we allude to gravity, and it’s a compliment.

Similarly, the moral truths of right and wrong, based on our relationship with God, based on the God-given dignity of every man and woman, are liberating to us. The most wretched people we’ve ever met are those who center their lives on themselves, and while they may think they’re free, most of us would make a different assessment. A well grounded person, a truly free person, knows that he’s come from God, is destined for God, and is comfortable living with God: “If you trust in God, you too shall live,” Jesus ben Sirach advises (Sir 15:15), and you shall also be life-affirming, as Jesus of Nazareth teaches.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bro. Anthony Ambrogio, SDB

Bro. Anthony Ambrogio, SDB 

Bro. Anthony Ambrogio died in St. Petersburg on Feb. 7 after a long illness. Family members and his Salesian confreres were with him. Fr. Mike Conway, director of the St. Pete Salesian community, said, “He put up a valiant battle against the illness up to the end, and he passed peacefully.”

Bro. Tony was 76 and had been a Salesian for more than 55 years, a life “spent in education, the arts, and service to the poor,” said Fr. Tom Dunne.

He was born in Pittsburgh on June 2, 1934. His friend Fr. Jim Naughton, principal at Don Bosco Tech in Paterson during Bro. Tony’s second tenure there, eulogized him as “a man of steel extremely proud of being from Pittsburgh.”

Tony entered the “Son of Mary” program for brother aspirants at Don Bosco Tech in 1953. In September 1954 he began his novitiate at Newton, N.J., and on Sept. 8, 1955, he made his first profession of the religious vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity.

Immediately after his profession, now “Bro. Anthony,” he was sent back to DBT for further religious formation and for training in a trade that he would, in turn, be able to impart to youngsters. This was 1955-1959. He took his artistic bent into the commercial art shop, where one of his students was the future Bro. Jerry Meegan, who later shared several Salesian assignments with him and who remembers: “Bro. Anthony and I were in the commercial art shop at Don Bosco Tech in Paterson during my four years of high school. He was just a young brother in postnovitiate training. Bro. Anthony was an exquisite artist regardless of the medium he used: pencil or pen, pastels, or oils. Each work was a labor of love and a masterpiece. This dedicated ability kept this artistry and creativity an integral part of him throughout his life. He could turn a bland school hall into a winter wonderland with his unlimited creativity and imagination, as well with an unlimited budget at times. As he got older he would try his best to make the chapel look its best for the particular feastday. He could always appreciate and compliment some well executed holiday house decorations or a table set just right and proper for a special meal. Appreciation of these finer details was always a joy for him.”
This photo of Bro. Tony with one of his portrait sketches appeared in Paterson's Herald News on May 16, 1975.

After four years in Paterson, Bro. Tony was called to Don Bosco Tech in Boston to teach art. There he also took up teaching English and began working on a bachelor’s degree at Boston College in that subject, which he completed in 1966—mostly while teaching full time. He minored in art. Continuing to teach full-time, he also earned a master’s degree in American literature at New York University in 1974.

Bro. Tony would eventually spend 30 years teaching art and English to juniors and seniors at DBT in Boston (1959-1964, 1966-1967, 1981-1989), Salesian HS in New Rochelle (1964-1966), DBT in Paterson (1967-1976), and Dom Savio HS in East Boston (1976-1981). For 27 years he was also yearbook moderator at the various schools.

Bro. Tony put his artistic talents to use decorating for school socials and Salesian celebrations in each of the schools, and in several he also directed the dramatics programs. He loved to take students to plays on Broadway or in Boston’s theater district. An accomplished chef, he enjoyed cooking for both school and Salesian community activities. He added abundant life to student, parent, and Salesian activities in countless ways.

Fr. John Grinsell, who served alongside Bro. Tony in both Paterson and St. Pete, called Brother “a white tornado, always on the move, cooking, fixing things, helping people, getting something going.”

In a 1975 story on him in Paterson’s Herald News, Josephine Fitzpatrick, a member of the Don Bosco Tech Parents Club, remarked, “Bro. Anthony can do anything.”

In the 1950s and 1960s the Paterson Salesians were largely responsible for Camp Savio in West Milford, N.J. Fr. John Serio has a particular recollection from those days that shows both Bro. Tony’s artistic side and his piety: “I first met Tony when I was a kid at Camp Savio. He had a special job—to prepare the camp for the solemnity of the Assumption. There was a feastday Mass, complete with extra servers, cross, incense, candle bearers, processions. Tony really rehearsed us so that the Mass would be celebrated with dignity and class. In the evening the camp gathered to pray the Rosary around a huge rosary made of sanctuary lamps on a large patch of ground. It was a beautiful sight for a kid to see all those candles flickering in the shape of a rosary on the hillside in pitch dark.”

Those who observed Bro. Tony as the English teacher, whether in Paterson, Boston, or East Boston, agree that in the classroom he was strict, demanding perfection. Not necessarily enjoying his courses, the students respected him. Once they had moved on to college, they appreciated what he had done for them and would often return to thank him “because they were doing very well in their college writing courses and research papers. I think this is the type of legacy that he left the young people at that time,” as Bro. Tom Sweeney reported.
Bro. Tony (2d from left) with commercial art students in Boston in the early 1960s.

Fr. Jim Naughton confirmed that “his students would always come back and tell how easy their English classes were in comparison to what they got from Bro. Tony.”

Fr. Jim also noted that Bro. Tony was “demanding of himself and of his class preparation.” Teaching was a passion for Brother, the former principal stated: “The one thing you could feel coming from his classroom, as you walked the corridor, was the passion and enthusiasm coming from the room—and he expected all his students to have that same desire.”

Fr. Steve Shafran was in practical training in East Boston during Bro. Tony’s period there, and from Brother he learned effective lesson planning, time management in the classroom, and the importance of creativity.

Those who lived and served with Bro. Tony admired the way he used his artistic talents. Fr. Naughton remembered that in Paterson “his talent in art and decorating was beyond belief. People came from miles around to see how he transformed the gym into a tropical paradise or a merry-go-round of horses hung from the ceiling. Give him a roll of ribbon, the mothers club with their scissors, and the results were stunning.”

Bro. Bruno Busatto also was with him in Paterson. He noted that Bro. Tony “had a knack for making friends who loved to work with him and appreciated all that he did for them. He had many decorative ideas to implement with the parents. He made the Salesians’ birthdays very happy because of his preparation of the meals.”

Fr. Grinsell called Bro. Tony’s decorations for various school fundraisers “awesome.” And he would happily assist friends with decorations for important events in their lives such as weddings.

When both Fr. Naughton and Bro. Tony were at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in New York City’s Harlem, said Fr. Jim, “It was a sight to see him surrounded by the senior citizens decorating, painting, and cooking.”

Although Bro. Tony enjoyed painting and sketching as a hobby, his real joy lay in using it to bring people together, to celebrate community. This is what about him stands out most in the minds and hearts of his confreres and friends. He was “very much a community person,” as Fr. Grinsell put it.

For all his strictness in English class, said Bro. Sweeney, “outside the classroom, he was friendly and mixed in well with the students.” He says they knew that Bro. Tony “truly cared for them in a special way.”

Fr. Shafran, still speaking of his life as a young Salesian, wrote: “I remember his great personal skills with people and his gift with art/decorations and community. I believe that many of the things that I have come to know as important in community came from Tony—cooking a good meal, putting together a nice table for birthdays and feasts, decorating for events, etc., and the great skill of interacting with our collaborators in the school environment—staff and faculty of every level. He loved life and had wonderful cheerfulness and optimism. He was the life of the party. I still remember driving the van to faculty and staff homes trick or treating, with Tony dressed as ‘the Godfather’ in pinstriped suit and with cigar, entourage in tow…. Tony had a real clear sense of the things that pointed to happiness, cheerfulness, and joy and were so very important to Don Bosco and Jesus.”

Bro. Tony’s apostolic work took a different twist in 1989 with a posting to St. Thomas in Harlem. There he taught in the vocational education program, worked summer camp, and helped out in various ways for 14 years.

In those years in Harlem he had a heart ailment that several times required hurried emergency trips to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Fr. Naughton recalled: “We had a little agreement—as I went through the red lights, he would say the Rosary out loud—so we both were almost at ease.”

Suffering from that heart ailment, in 2003 Bro. Tony retired to the Salesian community of St. Pete Catholic. His life was a relatively quiet one, but here, as well, said Fr. Serio, “he was best known for being a friend to all. He prepared mountains of food, visited his friends on a regular basis, befriended ‘man’s best friend’ [the community’s dog], and added life to the community.”

Fr. Shafran may speak for many when he states: “I will miss Tony very much, but I will continue to bring those gifts I learned from him to the young and colleagues I serve and to the community I am part of. I will forever be grateful to him.”

On the occasion of his 50th anniversary in 2005, Bro. Tony said that he had persevered in his vocation because Mary Help of Christians was at his side, and St. John Bosco’s educational system had inspired him.

Funeral rites will be celebrated at St. Jude’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg on Feb. 11, presided over by Bishop Robert Lynch, and at the Salesians’ Marian Shrine in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y., on Feb. 14. Bro. Tony will be buried in the Salesian Cemetery in Goshen, N.Y.

Salesians Grow in Africa, Asia, Shrink Worldwide

Salesians Grow
in Africa, Asia,
Shrink Worldwide

On February 2 the Salesians of Don Bosco published official membership statistics for 2010. The total number worldwide on December 31, 2010, was 15,762. This was 190 fewer than in 2009.

The number includes 10,507 priests, 1,915 coadjutor (lay) brothers, 2,741 seminarian brothers, 481 novices, and 113 bishops and 6 cardinals.

The number of countries in which Salesians are working is unchanged at 136: 42 in Africa, 24 in Asia (not counting Siberian Russia), 8 in Australia-Oceania, 38 in Europe (including Russia), 13 in North America, and 11 in South America.

The number of provinces fell from 92 to 89 during 2010 because the 5 provinces of Argentina were restructured into 2.

The province with the most Salesians is Piedmont-Val d’Aosta (537), itself the result of the merger of three provinces several years ago, and that with the fewest is Hungary (39). The province of Vietnam has the most novices (38).

For the first time in the 151-year history of the Salesian Congregation, the Italian provinces (numbering 6 at present) do not number the most members (2,411). They have been surpassed by the 10 Indian provinces, with 2,504 members. India is also the country with the largest number of houses (337).

In five of the eight geographical regions into which the Salesian Congregation is divided administratively, the number of Salesians declined: Italy-Middle East to 2,356 (-78), America Southern Cone to 1,569 (-71), West Europe to 1,502 (-52), InterAmerica (to which the U.S. belongs) to 2,090 (-44), and North Europe to 2,459 (-24).

The Salesians have increased in Africa to 1,432 (+35), East Asia-Oceania to 1,438 (+30), and South Asia to 2,584 (+12).

Not part of the regional structure are 213 staff and students from all over the world at the Salesian Generalate in Rome and the Salesian Pontifical University, also in Rome, or the 119 bishops and cardinals.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Homily for 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
5th Sunday of
Ordinary TimeFeb. 6, 2011
Matt 5: 13-16
Is 58: 7-10
Willow Towers, New Rochelle
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“You are the light of the world” (Matt 5: 14).

The word that links our 1st and 3d readings as well as the psalm response today is light. Jesus tells his disciples they’re the light of the world. Speaking thru the prophet Isaiah, the Lord tells the people of Judah, “Your light shall break forth like the dawn…and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Is 58:8). (“Glory” has implications of blindingly resplendent light, like what the apostles saw when Jesus was transfigured [Matt 17:2]). Isaiah says, further, that if the people of Judah will remove from their lives various evil practices, “light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday” (58:10). The psalmist announces that “light shines through the darkness for the upright” (112:4).

It’s a gloomy time of year, and this winter has had more than the usual share of wintry gloom. When we long for spring, it’s not only warmth and flowers that we’re longing for, but also sunlight.

Imagine what the ancient world was like, even the early modern world, before there were gas lamps and before electricity had been tamed. Once the sun had set, and until “rosy-fingered dawn appeared” (stealing imagery from Homer), everywhere there lay pitch-blackness: in the forests, on farms, on highways, in the city streets, except for the moon and the stars and an occasional lantern. Maybe some of you are familiar with Rembrandt’s The Night Watchman, showing that civic employee making his rounds with lantern to make sure that all was well in the town streets. Indoors, people had whatever light glowed from a hearth, or if they could afford it, from an oil lamp or a candle.

Imagine a sailor far out at sea in the ages before GPS—not necessarily in a storm, even, but knowing that he’s approaching a coast, nearing some harbor, and spotting the beacon of a lighthouse that would guide his way safely into port or away from some danger.

In this context, the disciple of Jesus is a light in a world overshadowed by sin, by selfishness, by oppression, by injustice, by as many specific capital sins as you want to name. In this context, the faithful worshiper of the Lord God receives light from God and reflects that light to the world when he or she speaks the truth, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, shelters the homeless, brings relief and justice to anyone who’s oppressed (Is 58:7,9-10).

God offers light to his people in the Old Testament thru the Law, from the Torah. This is the “light [that] shines through the darkness for the upright,” whose practice renders a person “upright, gracious, merciful, and just.” The upright person “is gracious and lends, conducts his affairs with justice,” has no fear of what other people think or say about him, is steadfast and consistent in doing what’s right, especially in helping the poor (Ps 112:4-9). The person filled with divine light puts the Law into practice, and that means not only worshiping God on the Sabbath day, not only prayer, but also doing justice to his neighbor.

Receiving light from God’s law and being God’s light to the world around us heals the wounds of society, Isaiah says (58:8). If society is hurting—it’s not hard to think of the countless ways in which our society is hurting—the solution isn’t congressional action, a new economic plan, lower taxes or higher taxes, sealing the borders, better salaries for teachers, or any such political idea. The solution is to convert the human heart, to make people just, to have people in sync with what’s right. “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!” (58:9).
There’s a strain of Christianity that divorces itself from the world, flees the world. This sort of disciple has heard the Gospel, accepted Jesus as Lord, and basks in his own purity of heart. In the political world such people become isolationists or survivalists, stockpiling food and ammo to be ready for some imaginary Armageddon, some world disaster. The Christian survivalist wants nothing to do with a corrupt and evil world, so he retreats to a real or a figurative desert or a cave. With others he forms a reclusive sect—and if things go really crazy, you have a Jonestown or a Waco, but those cases are exceptional. We’re more familiar with the Amish, for instance, who in varying degrees have rejected modernity—corrupt modernity and beneficial modernity (anyone here ready to turn out the electric lights and shut off the heat?) in order to preserve a pure Gospel.

But Jesus tells us that we’re to be in the world in order to enlighten the world. “You are the light of the world.” Like a household lamp, you’re to be seen and are to shed light all over the room. Those who see your good deeds are to recognize where those good deeds originate—“that they may glorify your heavenly Father” (Matt 5:16).

When Jesus uses the metaphor of salt, he’s taking the image a step further. The disciple is also to flavor the world, transform the world. A disciple who doesn’t salt his environment, give it a real flavor of Jesus Christ, is worthless, “good for nothing and to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (5:13). That’s not a comforting thought. But it’s a consistent teaching in Jesus: think of the servant who buried his talent rather than investing it, and was then condemned by his master to be “thrown into the darkness outside” (Matt 25:24-30)—it’s the same message.

So, my friends, be salt, be light, to your neighbors, to the world where you live—by your good example, by your faithfulness to God, and by your generous care for others, as Isaiah and Psalm 112 urge us.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fr. James Chiosso, SDB

Fr. James Chiosso, SDB (1922-2011)

Fr. James Louis (Giacomo Lodovico) Chiosso died on the morning of Jan. 31, 2011, in Turin. He was 88 and had been a Salesian for more than 70 years, a priest for more than 61 years. Suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for many years, since January 2005 he had resided at Casa Andrea Beltrami, a Salesian nursing care facility.

Fr. Jim Chiosso was born to Antonio and Maria Appendino Chiosso at Pralormo in the province of Turin on Aug. 25, 1922. He frequented the Salesians’ San Paolo Oratory in Turin and enrolled in the Salesian high school at Avigliana in 1938, from which he entered the novitiate at Pinerolo in 1939. He made his profession of religious vows on Aug. 16, 1940, at Pinerolo. After philosophy studies at Istituto San Michele at Foglizzo, and simultaneously earning a B.S. in electrical engineering at the Politecnico di Torino, he did practical training in the Salesian high school at Valsalice (Turin) from 1943 to 1945. He studied theology at Istituto Cardinale Cagliero in Ivrea from 1946 to 1949 and was ordained in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians at Turin on July 3, 1949.

Fr. Jim returned to the Valsalice school after ordination, and a year later was transferred to the technical school at the Salesian motherhouse in Valdocco to teach electronics.

In 1953 Fr. Jim came to the U.S., recruited by the New Rochelle Province’s superior, Fr. Ernest Giovannini, who wanted to develop technical education in our province. From scratch Fr. Jim founded the electronics department at Don Bosco Tech in Paterson (1953-1967), excelling as a teacher. He was noted for precision, thoroughness, and—particularly important in a shop—cleanliness. In 1967-1968 he served as coordinator of campus ministry and chairman of the math department at Salesian High School in Richmond, Calif., helping the school win an accreditation.

In view of an assignment to Salesiana Publishers and Distributors (SPAD) in New Rochelle, he spent the 1968-1969 year at one of the Salesians’ most prestigious publishing and media centers, Elle Di Ci (LDC) in Leumann (Turin). But before he could undertake the media assignment he was given a more urgent one to the teaching staff of Archbishop Shaw High School in Marrero for one year. So he came to SPAD in 1970, which not long after changed its name to Don Bosco Multimedia. There, writes Fr. John Malloy, who was provincial at the time and later was president of Don Bosco Multimedia (1983-1987), Fr. Jim “was a loyal companion and steady worker, completely devoted to the spreading of Salesian catechetical publications of all types. As an innovator, he worked closely with the multimedia center of Turin. He always had grand hopes for the future of our New Rochelle work, and with Fr. Perozzi and our team at the Media Center was instrumental in reaching Catholic schools all over the country.” In particular, Fr. Jim as vice president produced and marketed numerous educational media programs, often in tandem with LDC, including most notably a classroom edition of Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth.

In 1986 Fr. Jim took an assignment at Salesian Missions in New Rochelle as program director, providing technical, managerial, and financial support to Salesian missionary and development projects all over the Third World, and serving as liaison between such works and the U.S. Agency for International Development and various NGOs and foundations. His organizational and communications skills were just what was needed for these responsibilities.

Fr. Ed Cappelletti, director of Salesian Missions from 1959 to 1996, states: “Fr. Jim worked with me both in Paterson [where Fr. Cappelletti was prefect of studies from 1953 to 1955] and the mission office. A brilliant man, truly a man for all seasons, he was an excellent organizer, and with his calm and affable personality was able to persuade others to cooperate in his endeavors.”

Fr. Cappelletti adds that Fr. Chiosso had a “patient, quiet way of working, an appearance that belied his accomplishments. He brought Christ to people and people to Christ not so much by preaching but by example. His kind, patient ways with youngsters, his love for perfection and thoroughness, have brought order and accomplishment into the lives of so many young people. He wrote his priesthood in their hearts and in their lives.”

“His many friends will sorely miss him,” concludes Fr. Cappelletti.

During many of his years in New Rochelle, Fr. Jim continued to work with young men as an instructor in sailing, scuba diving, and celestial navigation. He was active in Sea Scouts. (A story about his teaching youngster to sail ran in the local newspaper, the Standard-Star, in August 1977.)

In failing health, he retired to the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw-Stony Point in 1999, and in 2005 returned to Turin to be near his family but remained a member of the New Rochelle Province. He is survived by his brother Giorgio of Turin.

In accordance with his family’s wishes, the funeral was celebrated in the parish church of his hometown, Pralormo, on Feb. 2, with the vice provincial, Fr. Silvio Carlin, as celebrant. Fr. Jim was buried in the family sepulcher.

Homily for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
4th Sunday

in Ordinary Time
On Jan. 30 I celebrated the Eucharist and preached at an assisted living home without a written text. In order to post something here, once again I resort to a 24-year-old homily based mostly on 1 Corinthians.

Feb. 1, 1987
1 Cor 1: 26-31
Matt 5: 1-12
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27).

When you studied the American Revolution in school, you probably had to make some kind of list called the advantages and disadvantages of each side—all the reasons why the British Empire should have whipped those upstart, ungrateful, silly Americans; all the reasons why those few, brave, and determined Americans hoped they might be able to defeat the mightiest nation on earth.

We all know that the underdog Americans pulled a surprise upset—much more dramatic and stunning than anything the Mets did last October—and they beat the British.

The last battle of the Revolutionary War was the siege of Yorktown, where Washington and his combined American and French army and the French navy trapped the best British army in America. As the British marched out to surrender, they had a choice of what music their band would play. They chose a little tune called “The World Turned Upside Down.”

Indeed, the British world had been turned upside down. The British professional army and navy had been beaten by a bunch of farmers. The King of Great Britain and his nobility—the sorts of people to whom St. Paul alludes when he speaks of the “influential,” the “well-born,” “those who were something” (1 Cor 1:26,28)—king and nobles had been undone by a pack of lawyers, merchants, and craftsmen.

History, sports, and ordinary life are full of conflicts, contests, and contrasts. They are full of examples of the unexpected, of the underdog becoming top dog, of worlds being turned upside down.

God’s relationship with mankind turns worlds upside down. St. Paul and Jesus both proclaim to us that the world we live in, the world we know, the world we accept, is upside down, is false, deceptive, unreal.

God has made Christ Jesus our wisdom, our justice, our holiness, our redemption, Paul says (1 Cor 1:30). Think of it! A man born in a stable, a man who never went to school, a working man in a conquered country, a man whose best friends were fishermen, farmers, and prostitutes, a man who died as a common criminal, a religious and political outlaw—this man is our wisdom, our justice, our holiness, our redemption! That’s what St. Paul is reminding us of. Ridiculous! But true.

Or listen to Jesus: “Blessed—happy—are those who hunger and thirst for holiness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are those who are persecuted for holiness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:6,10).

If you’ve ever been hungry, you know it’s no blessing. You know that thirst doesn’t make you happy. You know that persecution is outrageous, insufferable, frustrating. Why, then, does Jesus speak of a blessing? For the sake of holiness, of justice, of seeking God’s will, of being made holy by God’s grace.

Wait a minute! I should be tormented and persecuted and stomped down and reviled because I believe in Jesus, because I want whatever God wants? And that’s a blessing? That’ll make me happy? Ridiculous! But true.

St. Paul and Jesus are contrasting their attitudes to the world’s. They’re turning our world upside down. But think for a minute. Think of the values of the world, and think of what they mean.

Men of power and influence bring us insider trading and the Commission and the Iran-contra thing.

Athletes making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are busted for drug abuse, sexual assault, and assaulting police officers.

Hollywood superstars divorce and remarry more often than you can get a straight answer out of a politician.

The wealthiest nation in the world faces crises in education, housing, agriculture, and industry, and it kills 1½ million babies every year.

Our lust for national security threatens to destroy us all in firestorm and radiation.

We shouldn’t be shocked, then, when Jesus tells us that the poor in spirit—that little phrase “in spirit” is crucial”—the meek, the peacemakers are happy. They’ve set their hearts on God, on eternity, on values that don’t corrupt us. To feel the torment of a crazy world’s opinion of Christian values isn’t a blessing—of course not. But to have true values, ideals, and goals is a blessing. Thus blessed, we can handle the world’s opinion and even its mockery and persecution. Our supposed weakness and foolishness shame the wise and powerful of the world because Christ Jesus does satisfy, does fill us. He does bring peace and contentment that weapons, money, and power do not and cannot bring.

For it’s not power or wealth or glamor or megatons that win the souls of mankind. It’s those values that Jesus teaches: mercy, peace, gentleness. Jesus lives these virtues, and we’re attracted to him. He tells us that God forgives our sins, and he forgives—forgives not just all of us in general, but his own executioners, Peter who denied him, Judas whom he called “friend” to the last. Jesus welcomes ordinary people and children, hurting people and frightened people. He’s at home with them, he loves them, and he wins their hearts. This is the weakness that shames the powerful, the foolishness that shames the wise, the lowliness that shames the noble.

God has forgiven our sins, has made himself weak, has come down to us. He has given us his own holiness. “Let him who would boast, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31). If men of power and worldly wisdom don’t like us and our values, that doesn’t destroy our inner peace, doesn’t take away God’s love. We shall be satisfied only when our sole hunger is for the holiness of God.

May God bless you and fill you.