Wednesday, March 30, 2011



Today's Journal-News, our local Gannett newspaper, has a front-page article that starts off about Iona College's incoming lay president but goes on to look at the vocation of the religious brother--and the declining numbers of brothers in the U.S. It's by Gary Stern, formerly the paper's religion reporter (and a very good one), and now a general reporter.|head

The Salesians aren't mentioned in the article. But lay brothers are a very important part of who we are--in Don Bosco's mind, an essential part of who we are. (In most parts of the world, we also call our professed seminarians "brother" until they're ordained priests.)

For the record, on Dec. 31, 2010, there were 1,915 Salesian lay brothers. We had 53 in the U.S. and Canada--2 of whom have died this year (see January posts).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Homily for 3d Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Lent

I was camping with Troop 40 on the March 25-27 weekend. To them I preached (without text) on the Samaritan woman at the well. For you, dear reader, I offer an "oldie" on the 2d reading.

March 10, 1996
Ex 17: 3-7
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“In their thirst, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “‘Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?’” (Ex 17:3).

The story of Moses and the rock is an important one, recalled a number of times in the OT as a symbol of both Israel’s rebelliousness and God’s providence. In the NT, St. Paul uses the image too, telling the Corinthians, “The rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4).

The Fathers of the Church see in the water that flowed from the rock a sacramental symbol. Some see a prefigurement of the blood of Christ poured out abundantly for our salvation; together with the manna of the previous chapter, we have 2 Eucharistic signs. Others see in the water a prefigurement of the saving waters of Baptism, which the gospel of the woman at the well favors in today’s liturgy.

Regardless of which sacramental symbol one prefers to see in the water flowing from the rock, we have here a narrative of a people desperately in need of salvation. They are in danger of dying of thirst in the desert. In this they are a figure of God’s people at any time.

As the 2d millennium draws toward its close, we thirst for God to deliver us. We are afraid of or horrified by genocide in the Balkans and Central Africa, by saber-rattling in the Taiwan Strait, by terrorist bombs in London and Israel and Oklahoma City, by slave labor in Chinese prison camps and American sweatshops, by the uncertainties of the market, of banking, and of employment, by crime rates and abortion rates and domestic abuse and child pornography. And the Church, which ought to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, is fractured by dissension.

Football coach Woody Hays used to defend his reliance on a ground game by observing that when a quarterback throws the ball only 3 things can happen, and 2 of them are bad. (If any of you need an exegesis of that verse, see me later.) Likewise, we believers wandering thirsty in the wilderness can react in 3 ways to the dangers and uncertainties; and 2 of them are bad.

We may, like Israel, grumble against God and the Church, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?” Many Catholics long for the security of “the good old days.” They’re not all Lefevrites, necessarily. But they like black and white, strict authority, minimal personal responsibility, few changes in rules or ritual or theological method. They’re the modern-day equivalent of the Hebrews moaning for the fleshpots and bread of Egypt (Ex 1:3). They question whether God can be with us in this place, in this time. For them God is a God of the past, not of the present.

A 2d type of Catholic thirsts not for a salvation based in some mostly imaginary past but for one based in the future, from “the Church of Vatican III” or some other phantasm. This Church will be pure and just, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Eph 5:2)—created in the post-modern Catholic’s image and likeness and transforming the world into the kingdom of God on this earth. This believer grumbles against Moses, or ignores him, and writes her or his own creed, moral code, and liturgy, and rewrites the canon of scripture. He or she, too, puts God to the test by questioning whether the Lord can be in our midst (Ex 17:7) in this present time and place.

The 3d type of Catholic seeks God not in the past or the future but in the present. God was in the past—when it was someone else’s present; we study Scripture and Church history for guidance but know that we cannot go back. God will be in the future—when we or others get there; we may try to see it coming and prepare for it.

But God is working our salvation here, now. “Oh, that today you would hear his voice” (Ps 95:8) and respond to it! God gave his people manna and water when they needed it, and he saves us in our own wilderness of the late 20th century. Moses, tho so close to God, was not perfect. We can’t expect our own leaders and prophets to be perfect either. But we can expect God to lead us and teach us thru them, to guide us on our journey to the promised land. In our thirst we must cry out to the Lord to saves us—but never to take us back to the past, never to bypass the present. We may pray only for our daily sustenance: Give us this day our daily bread—physical, spiritual, moral. Direct us and save us in the work we must do today.

Practicing History

Practicing History
The Art of Historiography,
or How Historians Do What They Do
We’re preparing for publication a little book of short biographies of the recently deceased confreres of our province, mostly for the 1999-2009 span. The designer and I thought it would be good to put a group photo on the cover. So I asked our province archivists to find something old but not too old—something that would include some of the confreres whose lives are told in the volume. They came up with this photo: Fr. Aloysius Ricceri, rector major from 1965 to 1977, and a group of Salesians posed in front of the provincial house. We could, of course, just use the photo. But why not describe it? Who are the confreres, when was it taken, and what was the occasion?

For some 15 or 20 years, Fr. Bob Savage did heroic work in the photo archives of the province, identifying places, dates, and names as best he could, using not only his own knowledge from his 50+ years of life in the province, but also consulting anyone he thought could help with the information.

This particular photo he had labeled, more or less (I’m relying on memory): “The Rector Major Fr. Aloysius Ricceri in 1973: Meeting of Directors and Pastors,” and he had identified all but three of the men in it.

While Fr. Ricceri did indeed visit the province in 1973, that date seemed unlikely to me for three reasons: 1st, the priest standing directly behind Fr. Ricceri was identified as Fr. Aloysius Ronchi, who died in 1962; 2nd, neither Fr. John Malloy, provincial until June 30, 1973, nor his successor Fr. Sam Isgro is in the picture; 3rd, Fr. Francis Knific is seated prominently next to Fr. Ricceri.

Fr. Knific was one of the 3 confreres whom Fr. Savage didn’t identify. Having seen photos of him (I never met him), I tentatively identified him. I asked Fr. Ed Cappelletti and Fr. Frank Wolfram, and both confirmed the identification. But Fr. Knific, I knew, had suffered a serious head injury that left him hospitalized for the rest of his life. I didn’t know exactly when it occurred, but I was sure it was well before 1973.

I was initially unaware/had forgotten that Fr. Ricceri had visited the province in 1973, perhaps because he didn’t come to Boston, where I was in practical training. I remembered his visit to Newton in December 1967, when I was newly professed; and a program that he autographed for me on that occasion confirmed it. So my first thought was that this photo had been taken during that visit rather than in 1973.

That still left questions about Fr. Knific and Fr. Ronchi. Not knowing then when Fr. Knific had been injured (in fact, it was on Jan. 1, 1962), I thought perhaps he’d been brought in from the hospital to meet the Rector Major. Fr. Ronchi? Quite possibly a false identification. But Fr. Cappelletti, who’s in the photo, and Fr. Wolfram both said it was Fr. Ronchi and couldn’t see any resemblance to anyone else.

Besides Fr. Knific, the other 2 confreres whom Fr. Savage hadn’t been able to identify were 2 coadjutor brothers in the back row. Neither Fr. Ed nor Fr. Frank could identify them. I showed the photo to Fr. Terry O’Donnell, my communications office colleague, who immediately said of one of them, “That’s Bill Hughes. We were novitiate classmates.” Oh, good! I thought, we’re making some progress.

I asked Bro. Andy LaCombe for help. He came to the provincial house in the summer of 1967 (and has been here ever since). He couldn’t identify the brothers or the priest behind Fr. Ricceri who might, or might not, be Fr. Ronchi.

A check of the province obituary list showed that Fr. Frank Nee, who’s in the back row, had died in 1970—further confirmation that the photo wasn’t from 1973.

More complications surfaced when I looked in the province directory for 1967 to see who was on the provincial house staff at that time. Neither Bro. Hughes nor Fr. James Rossewey was in the directory. Fr. Rosseway had left the Salesians during the 1966-67 year. But maybe he was staying at the provincial house waiting for paperwork? Bro. Hughes had left the Society around 1965. Either Fr. Terry was mistaken, or the photo predated Fr. Ricceri’s December 1967 visit.

I started to ask myself about another possibility: Is it certainly Fr. Ricceri in the photo, or could it be someone else?

In addition to Fr. Cappelletti, two other confreres in the photo are still alive (other than maybe the unidentified brothers): Frs. Emil Fardellone and Clem Cardillo. Asking Fr. Clem for help wasn’t an option. I e-mailed the photo to Bro. Jerry Meegan in Marrero to relay to Fr. Emil Fardellone, to see whether he could offer any clarifications. I thought Bro. Jerry, also, might know the brothers.

Then I sent the photo to several other senior confreres and even to the Central Archives in Rome, laying out the problems with the 1967 dating and asking whether perhaps Fr. Ricceri had been to New Rochelle before he was elected Rector Major in 1967. Fr. Cappelletti couldn’t say whether he had, nor could anyone else I asked.

Fr. Romeo Trottier e-mailed back from Sherbrooke that he couldn’t identify as Canadians any of the confreres about whom I had questions. He was certain that the superior in the middle of the front row is Fr. Ricceri. He also made a very valuable observation: if the photo were from the 1967 visit of the Rector Major, not only would Fr. John Malloy, the provincial, have been in it, but Fr. Bernard Justen, who was San Francisco’s provincial in December 1967, would not have been standing in the second row but would have been seated next to the Rector Major—such are the hierarchical arrangements of things.

The Central Archives affirmed that the main figure is Fr. Ricceri, and opined that the photo must be from the 1967 visit.

By this time—a full day after beginning my inquiries—I was becoming convinced that the picture had to predate Fr. Ricceri’s election as Rector Major. If the priest behind him were indeed Fr. Ronchi, the photo was shot before Aug. 8, 1962 (the day he died). Fr. Knific was director of the provincial house until his injury, and in a provincial’s absence he’d have been seated next to a member of the superior chapter (what we now call the general council)—Fr. Ricceri was general councilor for the Salesian Cooperators and communications media prior to his election as Rector Major.

A pre-August 1962 date would also explain why so many of the confreres in the photo looked so much younger than I remembered them.

Meanwhile, no one was getting us any closer to identifying the two brothers in the back row, although a photo in Fr. Ronchi’s lifetime would bring Fr. Terry’s identification of Bro. Hughes back into play.

I went to the archives and pulled out the Congregation’s directories from 1959, 1960, 1961, and 1962—Fr. Ronchi’s death being what historians call the terminus ad quem. Only for 1961 did Fr. Nee and Fr. Rossewey show up as members of the provincial residence community; they were doing a pastoral program for recently ordained priests.

In that year of 1960-61, as for several others, the provincial house’s director was Fr. Knific, the prefect (and province treasurer) was Fr. Joe Stella, and the catechist was Fr. Joe Perozzi—all of them in the front row of the photo. Fr. Ronchi was catechist at Salesian High, and Fr. Emil was director. All but one of the other identifiable confreres were directors and pastors from the area—Port Chester (Fr. John Celoria), Paterson (Frs. John Divizia, Dominic DiGuardo, Joe Tyminski, and Ernest Faggioni), Haverstraw (Fr. Justen), Goshen (Fr. Henry Sarnowski), Newton (Fr. Aloysius Bianchi), Boston (Frs. Joe Caselli and Vince Duffy), and Ipswich (Fr. Cardillo)—or the provincial house staff (Frs. Frank Nugent, Diego Borgatello, and Bill Kelley and Bros. Mike Frazette, Alfred Rinaldi, and Fiore DaRoit). Bro. Bill Hughes was stationed at DBT in Boston, and his director, Fr. Duffy, was in the photo; it’s quite reasonable to suppose that they came together to meet with Fr. Ricceri.

The only “problem” presences remaining were a minor one: why is Bro. John Casula, who was stationed at Huttonsville, W.Va., in the photo, but his director, Fr. Alvin Manni isn’t? and a major one: who was that last coadjutor, the one between Frs. Borgatello and Kelley in the back row?

So the date of the photo had been narrowed down to, most likely, the 1960-61 school year. Would one or more house chronicles speak of a visit of Fr. Ricceri that year? Now, every house is supposed to have a copy of its chronicles in the provincial archives (as well as in the Central Archives in Rome). There was one dinky one from the provincial house in the archives, but not for the right period. There was nothing from the period from Salesian High. The Ipswich chronicle made no mention of Fr. Clem’s trip to New Rochelle.

I asked Fr. Steve Dumais, the current director of our community, whether he had old house chronicles in his office. Yes, he did. Did he have one for 1960-61? Yes, he did. He started to leaf through it. Lo and behold: Fr. Aloysius Ricceri, member of the superior chapter, arrived on June 3, 1961, passing through on his way to South America; and on June 9 he met with “directors and priests in special offices from the area.” So we had arrived at a precise date for the photograph.

Armed with this information, I relayed it to the Central Archives, and with the 1961 directory in hand I queried more confreres in person and by e-mail about the brother in the back row. Still no clue. I was about to give up on it and was in the process of sending the book designer an almost complete list of names to go with the photo, when I thought of contacting another branch of our Salesian Family: the Salesian Old Boys (former Salesians and aspirants). A couple responded rather quickly with some suggestions as to who the brother might be.

One suggestion was Bro. Jerry Harasym, now serving in Surrey, B.C., who could have come from Newton with Fr. Bianchi. I sent the photo to him. He replied, “No, that is NOT yours truly. I recall that he was at Paterson, NJ at Don Bosco Tech. -’58-’59 when I was there in training.” Shortly after, he sent a second reply: he’d gone to an old yearbook and identified the brother as “R. Peterson,” who was in the commercial art shop. That was perfect because according to the 1961 directory Bro. Russell Peterson was on the provincial house staff.

Later in the day, Bro. Jerry Meegan finally answered my query and, independently of Bro. Harasym’s information, also identified the brother as Russell Peterson, adding that he worked with Bro. Fiore in the architect’s office.

And so the historian’s work—the historiographical process—came to a successful conclusion all around: the result of asking questions of documents (photos are documents just as much as chronicles and directories are) and of people, and accumulating the information one datum at a time until it all fits, if possible.

Caption for the photo
Meeting of Fr. Luigi Ricceri, general councilor for the Salesian Family and communications media, with the directors and pastors of some of the local communities at the provincial house in New Rochelle, June 9, 1961.

Seated in front row: Fr. Joseph Caselli (director East Boston), Fr. Emil Fardellone (director Salesian HS), Fr. Joseph Perozzi (catechist provincial house), Fr. Francis Knific (director provincial house), Fr. Ricceri, Fr. Joseph Stella (prefect provincial house, province treasurer), Fr. John Celoria (pastor Holy Rosary Port Chester), Fr. Edward Cappelletti (director Salesian Missions), Fr. John Divizia (pastor St. Anthony Paterson). Standing in 2nd row: Bro. John Casula (teacher Huttonsville), Fr. Aloysius Bianchi (director Newton), Fr. Clement Cardillo (director Ipswich), Fr. Bernard Justen (director Haverstraw), Fr. Aloysius Ronchi (delegate Cooperators, catechist Salesian HS), Fr. Ernest Faggioni (director coadjutors Paterson), Fr. Dominic DiGuardo (assistant pastor Paterson), Fr. Vincent Duffy (director DBT Boston), Fr. Frank Nugent (vocations director), Bro. Michael Frazette (director Savio Club). Standing in back row: Fr. Joseph Tyminski (director DBT Paterson), Fr. Francis Nee (student), Fr. James Rossewey (student), Fr. Diego Borgatello (prefect Newton), Bro. Russell Peterson (architect’s assistant), Fr. William Kelley (provincial secretary), Bro. William Hughes (staff DBT Boston), Fr. Henry Sarnowski (director Goshen), Bro. Alfred Rinaldi (staff Salesian Missions), Bro. Fiore DaRoit (provincial architect).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

POTUS Cites Don Bosco

POTUS Cites Don Bosco

This story comes from ANS, the Salesian news agency in Rome.

During an address to Brazilian businessmen on Saturday, March 19, the President of the United States [POTUS], Barack Obama, visiting Brazil on March 19 and 20 to extend and improve political and commercial links between the two countries, especially with regard to oil, mentioned Don Bosco’s dream about the city of Brasilia. Toward the end of his talk, which lasted about 20 minutes, the President said, “Brasilia is a young city – it will turn 51 next month. But it began as a dream more than a century ago. In 1883, Dom Bosco, Brasilia’s patron saint, had a vision that one day, a capital city of a great nation, would be built between the 15th and 20th parallels. It would be a model for the future and ensure that opportunity was the birthright of every Brazilian.”

“And today, this city and this country are indeed a model for the future, showing the world that democracy is still the best partner of human progress. As friends and neighbors who have lived the same story, we are eager to be a part of your future, and fulfill our American dream together.”

Don Bosco dreams of Brasilia: image in Brasilia's cathedral (Steve Widelski)
Your humble blogger adds:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a short report on Obama’s speech, with link to the full text:

During Michele Obama's trip to Spain last August, she visited a Salesian church in Ronda. There, according to ANS, she claimed that her husband always carries a picture of Mary Help of Christians in his wallet:

Finally, the dream of Don Bosco that is reported to carry the prediction of the founding of Brasilia (it's hardly a clear prediction), called "Journey Through South America," may be found in the Biographical Memoirs of St. John Bosco, vol. 16, pp. 303-15.

Salesians in Ecuador Care for Street Kids

Salesians in Ecuador Care
for Street Kids

NPR's Morning Edition today carried 5-minute story "The Salesians get kids off the streets and teach them useful skills," from Guayaquil:

Photo: ANS
That also has a link to text-only story, "Ecuadoran Family Finds Refuge with Salesians."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Signs of Spring

Signs of Spring

At Salesian HS, down the hill from the provincial house, there are still 2 piles of ice--the remnants from the day more than a month ago when they had to clear the parking lot for a big event and hired a front loader to dump all the snow into a mountain just off the lot.

But in the flower beds behind and in front of our house we're seeing signs that spring is really here. These babies popped their buds today:


National Youth Leadership Training is the BSA's program thru which senior Scouts (with Scouter supervision) train younger Scouts (at least First Class and age 13) in leadership skills to incorporate in their own troops.

For the last three or four years I've been privileged to celebrate weekend Masses for the groups of our council (Westchester-Putnam) at their courses--the 2 weekends late each winter when the senior Scout trainers do their prep work, and the 2 weekends early each spring when the actual training is underway.

Here are most of this year's team of trainers, with 2 of their Scouter guides, Fred Gervat and Jaime Feliberty (there are others), at Durland Scout Reservation in Putnam Valley after Mass last Sunday morn:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Homily for 2d Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
2d Sunday of LentMarch 20, 2011
Matt 17: 1-9
Christian Brothers, Iona College
Boy Scouts NYLT, Putnam Valley, N.Y.
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Jesus took Peter, James, and John…up a high mountain…. And he was transfigured before them” (Matt 17: 1-2).

What was this transfiguration? It was a glorious change in Jesus’ appearance—of his person and of his clothing: “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (17:2). This description evokes Moses’ experience after encountering God on Mt. Sinai (Ex 34:29-30) and in the meeting tent in the Hebrew camp, where he would sit down and speak with God face-to-face, so the book of Exodus tells us, as a man speaks to his friend (33:11). And his face would become so bright that no one could look at him, and he would have to cover it (34:33-35). (In Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses, what appear to be horns rising from his head are actually supposed to be beams of light.) Heavenly messengers in the Bible shine radiantly—the angels at the empty tomb, for instance. So the imagery of Jesus’ transfiguration suggests Moses, who then shows up as part of the vision on the mountaintop, and heavenly messengers, those who bring God’s word to his people. No angels in this vision, but the prophet Elijah does show up. Jesus fulfills or completes the work of Moses and the prophets.

What is the context of this strange happening? Our reading omits the 1st words of the 1st verse of the passage: “After six days,” or “Six days later.” “After” or “later” than what? Peter’s confession of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16), followed immediately by Jesus’ 1st prediction of his passion, death, and resurrection (16:21) and his instruction of the disciples that all who would be his followers must deny themselves and take up their own crosses, and the only way for one to save his life is to lose it (16:24-25).

Moses was the liberator and the lawgiver of Israel. He led them from bondage in Egypt into the freedom of their own promised land, and with the Law he established a covenant between them and God—a covenant of faithful relationship. God who set them free will keep them free; he will be their God. And they will worship him alone and keep faith with all others who belong to this covenant.

Elijah the prophet came, in God’s name, to call Israel back to this covenant relationship, to the worship of him alone and to faithful dealing with one another. In the face of fierce opposition, even persecution, he was faithful in delivering God’s word.

In sum, both Moses and Elijah represent faithfulness: to one’s relationship with God, to speaking God’s word to his people.

Jesus was faithful in his relationship with God, and he gave us a new law, the law of love, as an expression of that faithfulness. He was faithful in speaking God’s word even in the face of hateful opposition. Of course the Father will acknowledge him as the beloved Son with whom he is well pleased (17:5), the same words spoken from heaven at Jesus’ baptism (in Matthew’s accounts of both events).

The Transfiguration by Raphael

The transfiguration of Jesus—the revelation of his glory as the Father’s beloved Son, the revelation of his roles as the new Moses and as the greatest prophet of God’s word—thus ties back to his identity as Messiah and Son of God (Peter’s confession) and his destiny: to suffer, to die, and to rise. God’s Son will be faithful in proclaiming God’s word, he will suffer for doing so, and God will raise him on the 3d day. All who follow him along the same path will likewise suffer and be glorified along with him.

Some commentators draw up parallels between the happenings on this mountain and those of another mountain—Mt. Calvary.[1] Here Jesus is flanked by 2 OT heroes, there by 2 criminals (Matt 27:38). Here he’s accompanied by 3 male disciples, there by 3 faithful women (27:56). Here a cloud casts a shadow over the scene, there “darkness came over the whole land” (27:45). Here a voice from the cloud identifies Jesus as “my beloved Son,” there the centurion proclaims, “Truly, this was the Son of God” (27:54).

The events on this high mountain of the transfiguration are prelude to the events on Calvary, events by which Jesus is identified as Messiah and Son of the living God.

Which is why the voice from the cloud adds a command: “listen to him” (17:5). As Pope Benedict said recently in a scriptural reflection, “Christians respond to their vocation thru both faith and behavior.”[2] We believe with Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. We believe that God has raised him to heavenly glory: “he is seated at the right hand of the Father [and] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end” (Creed). But we belong to him, we will share in his glory, only if we “listen to him,” i.e. act on his teaching, carry out his command to love one another, to be peacemakers, to be clean of heart, to be faithful to our commitments and true to our word, not to judge others, to forgive, to share our possessions and our hearts, to pray, to trust the Father absolutely, and—not least—that command spoken from another mountain outside Jerusalem: “Go into the whole world and make disciples of all nations, … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20).

If we listen to Jesus, we will indeed suffer with him, and we shall share in his glory “at the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,” as Paul says in the 2d reading, when the judge of the world destroys death and brings life and immortality (2 Tim 1:10) to his own.
[1] See Michael T. Winstanley, SDB, Lenten Sundays (Bolton: Don Bosco Publications, 2011), p. 27. [2] Address to seminarians in Rome, reported in Whispers in the Loggia, March 8, 2011.

Monday, March 14, 2011

More Details on Salesian Family in Japan

More Details
on the Situation
of the Salesian Family
in Japan

This morning the Salesians' congregational news service in Rome published a little bit more information about the situation of the Salesian Family in Japan. They haven't published any pictures yet, unlike the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile last year--and I suppose that's a good sign amid the general horror in the northern parts of the country.

(ANS – Tokyo) – The strong earthquake and subsequent tsunami which struck the Japanese archipelago on March 11 were the most devastating events to hit the country since the end of World War II. The Salesian communities, which escaped almost unscathed, are now calmly waiting to be told how they can help the suffering people.

The earthquake, the tsunami, and now fear regarding the nuclear power stations, have left the country in a state of shock. Estimates concerning the number of those who died in the stricken areas speak of over 10,000. In spite of everything, vital services are being restored and the people are trying to return to their normal activities.

A report from the Salesian provincial house in Tokyo has confirmed that Salesian centers have not been seriously damaged because they are not located north of Tokyo, except for a summer residence at Nojiri, about which there has been no news as yet.

In Tokyo the cross fell from the bell tower of the church in Meguro. At Adachi a boundary wall collapsed and the statues of the Guardian Angels disintegrated. At Kawasaki a statue of the Sacred Heart fell down and an old part of the kindergarten was damaged. In almost all the houses furniture and shelves suffered; the greatest damage in terms of collapsed bookshelves and other things was at the bookstore and religious articles store at Don Bosco Sha. Considering the force of the earthquake, which in the area of Tokyo was about 5 on the scale, this is very little indeed.

The Salesian schools have re-opened, but since for safety reasons some of the electrical power stations have been closed, electricity and water are rationed, and this makes things difficult. Transport too is still affected since some key intersections for trains and the subway are out of action.

Nor have the Salesian Sisters suffered any casualties. “The situation of our pupils and their families is not causing any worries, but we are thinking of the many children and elderly in the emergency centers, in a gymnasium or a hall all together: men, women, old and young, the elderly, etc., in need of everything,” Sr. Marisa Gambato, FMA provincial secretary in Japan, reports.

The Sisters of Charity of Jesus, likewise, are all well. Of their 46 houses in Japan, that of Shirakawa, in the province of Fukushima – in the diocese of Sendai – is the one closest to the epicenter of the earthquake. The sisters are safe, but some of the children from the nursery school are missing. In Tokyo, one of the sisters had an alarming experience. She was in the hospital for an operation when the earthquake happened: the doctors had to interrupt the serious operation but then managed to complete it successfully later.

For the Sisters of Charity of Jesus in the capital, the material damage was limited: some pipes burst, some shelves and cupboards fell, some windows were broken. To ensure the safety of the babies and the children in the orphanage, they were put in the kindergarten, which is their best earthquake-proof building.

For various forms of solidarity and help, the SDBs, FMAs, and Sisters of Charity are waiting so as to be able to join together with the Japanese bishops and with Caritas Japan. For the present the authorities are asking everyone to remain calm and not put themselves in danger.

On March 15 Fr. Aldo Cipriani, the provincial, will return to Japan after being in Thailand for a meeting of all the provincials and provincial councilors of the East Asia-Oceania Region with the Rector Major and some members of the general council.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Homily for 1st Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
1st Sunday of Lent
March 13, 2011
Gen 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7
Rom 5: 12, 17-19
Matt 4: 1-11
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“The Lord God … blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being” (Gen 2: 7).

Humanity is God’s own handiwork, the craft of his hands, created to breathe the very Spirit of God (breath and spirit being the same word in Hebrew, ruah, as well as in Greek, pneuma). What an origin! What a dignity! Isn’t it obvious that human dignity, human rights, is a religious concern?

And God created for the human race a beautiful natural world in which to live, to be nourished by, to take delight in. We might imagine ourselves (maybe not at this time of year) at Lake George or in Yosemite or on some flowery tropical isle, with an abundance of food and drink at hand and no harsh demands upon us—a perpetual vacation spot, a paradise, as we readily say, a veritable Eden!

The Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole
And God created mankind for life. In this paradise he put the tree of life (2:9) to keep the body alive and functioning in harmony with that divine spirit-breath. The book of Wisdom says: “God did not make death. He fashioned all things that they might have being” (1:13,14).

The only caveat was one of humility—a word that comes from humus in Latin, meaning “ground, earth, soil, dirt”; hence a virtue that bespeaks our origins from “the clay of the ground” (2:7), a virtue that recalls to us who we are. Human beings shouldn’t overreach by wanting to be more than they are by nature; wanting to know what evil is. You remember that in biblical usage knowledge is more than an intellectual exercise: it’s experience. Not in everything is it good to have our “eyes opened.” To take a story from current news, who really wants to know what an 8.9 earthquake is, or a 25-foot tsunami? It’s not really good for us to know what evil is. Certainly it’s not good for us to want to rival God, to “be like gods” (3:5).

The Yahwist, the sacred writer who gives us this portion of Genesis (so the scholars tell us), well understood the nature of temptation—how easy, how alluring it is, for us to want to be more than we are, do more than we can, lord it over others, become our own rule-makers, not have to answer to anyone for our words and actions. Is there anyone here who’s never said, much less thought, “If I were in charge—of the Church, of the country, of the universe…?”

Temptation & Fall of Adam & Eve by William Blake

We hear that being President easily goes to a man’s head—and they’ve said that for years, so it doesn’t refer to the incumbent. Archbishop Marino (may he rest in peace) used to say that becoming a bishop meant you’d never again have a bad meal or hear an honest opinion.

“You will be like gods”—to exercise our own infallible judgment, to bend everyone to our will (“so let it be written; so let it be done!”), and not to have to submit to anyone. It’s a great theme in literature and history—the person who challenges the gods (Prometheus, Oedipus, Julian the Apostate), the ambitious or driven person who recklessly destroys anyone who opposes him or her till coming undone himself or herself (Becky Sharp, Captain Ahab, Anne Boleyn, Napoleon). It’s a daily story in the news: the ruler whose power goes to his head; the cleric who forgets that Jesus came to serve, be a shepherd, give his life; the star athlete or Hollywood idol who breaks the rules of life; the financial or industrial tycoon who treats society with contempt—“Only little people pay taxes,” quoth Leona Helmsley.

In the Genesis story the temptation proves fatal to what the Greeks would call the hubris of the blessed couple in the garden of God. But Jesus, in no such paradise—the Judean desert has no “trees that are delightful to look at and good for food” (2:9), nor anything else to make a rational person want to stay there—Jesus demonstrates that temptation doesn’t have to be fatal. The tempter may appeal to our hubris or to our animal instincts, but we can resist; we can remain loyal to our origin and our dignity as God’s handiwork.

Why is Jesus able to resist? 1st, because he knows who he is. His 40 days in the desert follow his baptism and the revelation there at the Jordan (Matt 3:13-17). 2d, because he has totally submitted himself to the Father, symbolized by that baptismal rite and by his following “the Spirit into the desert” (4:1). 3d, because he’s grounded in the Word of God, which he has read, studied, and made a part of himself.

Jesus casting out Satan by Carl Bloch
Jesus’ resistance to the tempter and his perseverance in following the Spirit eventually lead him to victory over death, that penalty for sin inflicted upon our 1st parents and on all of us affected by their transgression (cf. Rom 5:17). Jesus’ obedience, in contrast to their disobedience, graces all of us who join ourselves to him (5:17) and are made righteous (5:19). His resistance is more than an example, a model, for us. Models may encourage us, may show us the right steps to take in our own lives—models like the saints—but they don’t necessarily DO anything for us. Jesus does. He’s the new Adam, created by God to give humanity a fresh start in “original grace,” filled again with the divine life-breath. In the patristic reading in today’s Divine Office, St. Augustine writes: “If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptation and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him.”[1] Christ’s temptations are not only those in the desert, but also those in his passion: the temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane to avoid his cup of suffering, the temptation to despair on the cross. But he emerged victorious—and we with him.

So we come to him in this season of repentance, asking for mercy, as the Collect says,[2] asking for life.

[1] Commentary on the Psalms, 60:2-3, in LOH 2:88.

[2] Alternate Opening Prayer for the 1st Sunday of Lent.

Friday, March 11, 2011

First News Comes from Salesian Family in Japan

First News Comes in
from Salesian Family
in Japan
after Quake, Tsunami

This report comes from the Salesians' news service in Rome.

(ANS – Tokyo) – The 8.9 earthquake which struck Japan on March 11 at 2:45 p.m. has disrupted life in the country; even more, the tsunami which followed. While the number of victims is being established and rescue work is being organized, the first news about the Salesian Family is arriving in the ANS editorial office.

There has been no victims and no damage to the centers of the Salesian priests and brothers, all of which are in the south of the country. At the moment we also know that there has been no damage to the six centers in Tokyo. The provincial at present is in Thailand, where the East Asia team visit that he is attending is coming to an end.

Sr. Piera Cavaglià, secretary general of the Salesian Sisters, declares in a brief statement on their site: “On behalf of Mother General I can tell you that our sisters in Japan and all the children and girls who were at school are safe. Neither have our houses suffered any damage, since they are not in the area most affected.” Since the roads and public transport in the city are blocked, the teachers and the pupils of the FMAs have stayed in the schools for safety.

The Caritas Sisters of Jesus, another group of the Salesian Family, founded by Fr. Antonio Cavoli at Miyazaki, have reported that at present only the house in Tokyo has suffered slight damage without there being any casualties. These, however, are the earliest news reports. Communications are still difficult, and the sisters have about 50 houses in the country.

Some hours later, this came in from the office of the East Asia-Oceania Region of the Congregation in Rome:

In Japan the Salesians have 14 communities with about 115 Salesians.

We are all well up-to-date with the general scene, be it in the Northern Region where the tsunami did most damage, or Tokyo and surrounds where the earthquake itself caused damage. The Salesian situation? No serious damage and no loss of life or injury (our houses are not north of Tokyo).

In Tokyo itself, minor damage to a number of community structures: the cross fell off the bell tower of the Meguro parish church. A surrounding wall at Adachi and the Guardian Angels statues all disintegrated! Kawasaki's statue of the Sacred Heart fell down, and an old part of the kindergarten was damaged. The greatest damage in terms of collapsed bookshelves and general upset was at the bookshop and religious objects sales outlet at Don Bosco Sha.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Homily for 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
9th Sunday

in Ordinary TimeMarch 6, 2011
Rom 3: 21-25, 28
Matt 7: 21-27
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … thru faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3: 21).

After 7 Sundays of semi-continuous reading from Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, we put that letter aside, incomplete, until the beginning of OT next year, and we take up his Letter to the Romans—to read major portions of it on 16 consecutive Sundays, theoretically. We take it up, however, just in time for it to be interrupted by Lent and Easter. We won’t resume our supposedly continuous reading till July 3.

In our reading this evening we hear the major theme of the letter: we’re justified (made righteous before God) by faith in Jesus Christ and not by our obedience to the Law of Moses.

“The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” “God’s righteousness,” also translated at times as his “justice,” means his holiness. When we speak of our justification or righteousness or holiness, we mean our standing before God in a right relationship, as “just” men and women, as holy—living “in conformity with the divine will,” as one biblical dictionary puts it.[1] The concern of St. Joseph, the “just man” (Matt 1:19), was to obey God in all things.

Our Anglo-Saxon culture accustoms us to think of ourselves as just or innocent based on our observance of law. In a somewhat different manner, so did the Judaism of Paul’s time.

On that basis, tho, we all fall short in God’s eyes. Paul points out, “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). No one keeps God’s law perfectly. No one has been completely faithful to the covenant between God and Israel, and still less of course have pagans pleased God with their idolatry and their immoral lifestyle. (Romans begins with a strong denunciation of both idolatry and sexual immorality [1:18—2:16].) And so no one is on the road to salvation, to “the glory of God” (3:23). As the 1st reading (Deut 11:18,26-28,32) proclaims, “A curse [on you] if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God. Be careful to observe all the statutes and decrees that I set before you today” (11:28,32).

That’s where Jesus comes in. “All who believe … are justified freely by God’s grace thru the redemption in Christ Jesus” (3:22,24). All are justified, i.e., restored to a right relationship with God—a relationship that Paul elsewhere calls a filial relationship (Rom 8:14-17). We’re restored to God’s good graces by grace freely given, by a gift, given to us by Christ Jesus. We deserve death and damnation by virtue of our sins, our failures “to observe all the statutes and decrees” of God; in this same letter Paul solemnly warns us that “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). But we receive redemption as an undeserved gift. That’s a summary of the Good News that Paul preaches.

The Eucharist is one of our responses to this unmerited gift of grace from God. In memory of Jesus we celebrate the Body and Blood that he gave for us and gives to us in his passion, death, and resurrection. Consuming his living flesh and blood, we become part of his self-offering, the “expiation by his blood” (3:25), and are filled with his risen life. For this we give thanks to the Father.

So gratitude, ευχαριστία, is our 1st response to God’s gift of his justice thru our faith in Christ. Our 2d response, indicated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, is to “listen to” his words and then to “act on” them (Matt 7:24), to “do the will of [his] Father in heaven” (7:21). That brings us back to conforming with God’s will, doesn’t it?

Carrying out God’s will, acting on the “word” of Jesus—obeying his commandments, if you wish to put it that way—thus isn’t the means by which we earn eternal life but is our response to God’s gift. Think of how 2 people in love with each other seek to please each other in their words and actions; they do so not to “earn” the other’s love but to manifest their own love for the other. Our willingness to live as Jesus teaches us to live is indicative of our appreciation for his having restored us to the Father’s good graces, for his having led us home to the Father’s house, for his having made us God’s children. How can we thank him better than by that “sincerest form of flattery,” imitation? by living the way he taught, the way he lived?

[1] Xavier Leon-Dufour, Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Terrence Prendergast (NY: Harper & Row, 1980), p. 257