Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Salesian Film Heading to Cannes

Salesian Film Heading to Cannes

Since Don Bosco's time the Salesians have recognized the importance of modern mass media. Nowadays that includes film, among other formats--not just using the medium to spread the Gospel or to educate the young, but also teaching the young how to critique movies and how to make them, as well.

In recent years several Salesian-made films have done well at major international film festivals, e.g., in Poland, Australia, and India. One produced in Malta and acclaimed there has just been accepted for showing in this year's Cannes Film Festival. Here's the story from ANS:

(Sliema, April 26) -- Among the films at the 64th Cannes Festival, which opens on May 11, in the short film category will be Stenbah!, the first produced by Boscocrew, an audiovisual unit of the Salesians in Malta.
After it was named among the best three socio-religious programs broadcast on Maltese television, the organizers of the Cannes Festival placed Stenbah! (“Wake Up!”) in the short film corner.

Shot in Senglea, Mount Carmel Hospital, and private homes, it was produced by Boscocrew, with the collaboration of the Salesians in Turin, who lent them professional equipment and a camera. Stenbah! is 21-year-old student-director James Spiteri’s first, as well as the first short by the Salesian Boscocrew in Malta, where youngsters as young as 15 can develop their talents in cinema.

By taking Stenbah! into schools, they intend to provoke discussion about families and broken homes. “It is based on several true stories we encountered, and the main theme is that if we don’t deal with the problems of our past, they will keep haunting us,” Fr. Eric Cachia, the film’s producer and the one in charge of Boscocrew, told the Times of Malta. “There is also the idea of the family, that it is natural that a person from a broken home suffers emotional and psychological problems,” he added.

Being shown at the Cannes Festival considerably increases the chance of the short being selected for other international festivals and at the same time exposes the talent and ideas of the young people in the Boscocrew to potential partners or distributors. But whatever happens on the festival front, Fr. Cachia thinks the film is a winner. “Firstly, we put people’s talents to good use while making the film, but we’re discovering that through this medium, we’re reaching out to kids who otherwise would not bother with discussions or the Church.”

Two follow-ups are in the pipeline, but the Stenbaħ! producers aim to take it to other festivals.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Homily for Easter Sunday

Homily for Easter Sunday
April 24, 2011
John 20: 1-9
St. Vincent's Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Mary of Magdala…ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb’” (John 20: 2).
My brothers and sisters, what we preach is called “the Good News,” which is what Gospel means, literally. Let’s consider why it’s “good” news.
1st, consider who the characters are in today’s gospel story. There’s Mary of Magdala, Mary Magdalene. There’s Simon Peter. There’s the Beloved Disciple.
Mary, Peter, and John at the empty tomb.
From the "Via Lucis" in the Basilica of St. John Bosco at Colle Don Bosco, Castelnuovo (Piedmont)
Concerning Mary of Magdala, 1st forget anything you’ve seen in The DaVinci Code or Jesus Christ Superstar. Then forget the bad rap that she’s gotten over the centuries as a terrible sinner—a prostitute, presumably. All the gospels tell us specifically about her is that Jesus had cast 7 demons out of her, that she was one of several women who traveled with Jesus and the apostles (Luke 8:1-3), that she stayed with him at his crucifixion and burial, and that she was one of the women who discovered the empty tomb on Sunday morning.

Evidently she was very, very devoted to Jesus. The fact that he’d had to heal her of demonic possession, or perhaps of some very serious psychological disorder, makes her an interesting choice for a 1st witness of the resurrection of the Savior of the world, doesn’t it?
Simon Peter is the leader of the apostles. Mary runs to him 1st for that reason, and the Beloved Disciple defers to him about entering the tomb probably because of that. But this is the same Simon Peter who 36 hours earlier was denying that he even knew Jesus, and at the crucifixion was nowhere to be found. Another interesting choice to be one of the 1st at the empty tomb.
The Beloved Disciple—we don’t even know his name. Ancient tradition identifies him as John, one of the 2 sons of Zebedee who were Jesus’ closest companions among the apostles, and as the author of this gospel. But in truth we don’t know that for certain, and modern Scripture scholars have used gallons of ink writing about the question of his identity. What we do know is that he was courageous and loyal, sticking with Jesus at the crucifixion, and that Jesus entrusted his mother to his care. Of the 3, he’s the only one we might figure as a logical choice to testify that Jesus had been raised. But he’s anonymous.
So we have a woman who’s been either possessed or deranged, a coward, and a dear and loyal friend without a name. God chooses these people to be his friends. God chooses people who are imperfect, who are sinners, who are unknown. God loves these people. God wants these people who tell the whole world that he loves them—and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the evidence of that love.
Mary of Magdala, Simon Peter, and the Beloved Disciple are like you and me. We’re not perfect. We have problems. We’re sinners. None of us is famous or likely to become famous. Unless you’ve got a fantastic Facebook page, who knows who you are? But God has chosen to love us and chosen us to love him. That’s Good News.
2d, consider that these people, the apostles as well as the faithful women, were skeptics. You all know the story of doubting Thomas; and if you can’t quite remember it, come to church next Sunday, when it’ll be the gospel reading. But Thomas wasn’t the only skeptic. When Mary discovers the big stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, and nothing inside but the burial cloths, what’s she think? Grave robbers have been here! Someone’s stolen the body! Lord knows why anyone would take away a naked body and leave the shroud and head covering behind.
But it’s the only thing that makes sense to Mary—and as the following passage in John’s Gospel (20:11-18) makes clear, she persists in this supposition. Someone came overnite and removed Jesus’ body. No one—not even Jesus’ closest friends—expected him to come back to life. The Beloved Disciple is the 1st one to start to put the pieces together when he sees the empty tomb and the burial cloths (20:8). That Mary of Magdala, Thomas the apostle, and the others all had to be convinced that he was indeed risen, he IS alive, makes it convincing to us, too, who haven’t seen him, haven’t spoken viva voce with him. They became so convinced that they told the whole world, and they were willing to die rather than ever again run away from Jesus or deny knowing him. That’s Good News.
A little side note: Speaking of the slowness of all of them to believe, St. John writes, “They did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (20:9). We can’t understand Jesus and can’t truly know him unless we take up the Scriptures—the Old Testament, Paul’s letters, and especially the Gospels—and study them, read them prayerfully, asking the Spirit to Jesus who inspired the sacred writers also to inspire us to understand them and come closer to Jesus thru them.
3d, consider what it means that Jesus is alive. He’s offered us the forgiveness of our sins, God’s friendship, eternal life. He said that when he was lifted up, he’d draw all humanity to himself (John 12:32). That lifting up was both his crucifixion, his being uplifted on a cross, and his resurrection and ascension to the Father’s side—where he’s calling us, drawing us. He’s welcomed us back into God’s family (made us God’s children, as we’ve so often heard) by wiping away our sins and embracing us with God’s love. The eternal life that he now enjoys is given to us too when we believe in him, accept his gift of forgiveness, and follow him in our way of life. That’s Good News too—the very best news.

Christ's resurrection, and the women at the tomb, by Fra Angelico

An Easter Reflection

An Easter Reflection

Fr. Frank Bertagnolli of the Australian SDBs offers a short reflection for this holy day: http://snap.donbosco.asn.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=328:easter-reflection-by-fr-bertagnolli-sdb&catid=31:general&Itemid=46

Friday, April 22, 2011

Homily for Good Friday

Homily for Good Friday

April 22, 2011

John 18-19

Willow Towers, New Rochelle

This is adapted from a homily originally given at the provincial house in 1989.

You may have observed that there are 2 basic crucifixes. The more traditional kind, with the dead or dying Jesus on the cross, represents the crucifixion historically. The 2d type, with a risen or a kingly Christ on it, represents the crucifixion theologically. The 1st kind might be called a synoptic crucifix, based on the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke; and the 2d kind a Johannine one, based on the Gospel of John. For one of the major differences between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke present the glorification of Christ as taking place in his resurrection and ascension, while for John it takes place in the passion and on the cross.
How is Jesus glorified in John’s account of the passion? First, the only one in control of himself and of the situation is Jesus. He’s not afraid, like Peter. He’s not flustered by the situation, floundering for a way to handle it, like Pilate. He doesn’t lie and deceive to get results, like the chief priests. It’s Jesus who controls the flow of events, who decides when it’s time to act. He goes in or out when he’s ready. He seizes the initiative in the dialogs. He decides when he will hand over his spirit.

Jesus' view from the cross, by James Tissot

Jesus assumes a heroic stature by laying down his life for his friends. As he said at the Last Supper, no one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). In secular life, we regard such people as heroes, as worthy of glory, and we erect statues to them and proclaim their praises.

Jesus is proclaimed a king in the accusations made against him, in being mocked, in the inscription written above his head. Even his enemies unintentionally glorify him with his title. He is a universal king, for the inscription is in all the major languages of Jerusalem.

Jesus has fulfilled the scriptures. John says 8 times that this or that was done “that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (12:38; 15:25; 17:12; 18:9,32; 19:24,28,36). Jesus has done all that God wanted. He’s revealed God’s infinite love. He’s obeyed the Father in everything. So he can announce, “It is finished” (19:30). He has glorified his Father in everything and to the utmost, and that is his glory.

Finally, it’s at the cross that the Church is born. The water and the blood that pour from his pierced side are sacramental symbols, symbols of the Baptism and the Eucharist that constitute the Church. But we may miss the sign in Jesus’ handing over his spirit (19:30). That means not only handing it over to the Father, as in Luke’s “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (23:46), but also his handing it over to, bestowing it upon, the Church, represented by the faithful women and the beloved disciple standing beneath the cross. And the Church is Christ’s glory.

John’s account of the passion, then, seems to mean that glorification is linked with suffering, with obedience, with mortal combat against the powers of darkness. The powers of darkness are so thoroughly opposed to the light that is Jesus that they must come looking for him with lanterns and torches even on a nite when there’s a full moon (it’s Passover), and they have trouble finding him and are repelled by his presence.
The Crucifixion, by Tintoretto

Those powers of darkness in our world are all the powers of sin: illness and age, ignorance and loneliness, injustice and poverty—everything that causes or reflects our selfish alienation from God and from our brothers and sisters.

We experience the power of darkness personally: in our weakness and our sinfulness, in the evils inflicted upon us, in the whole story of our lives. We experience this darkness communally in the stories of our families, our nation, our Church. When we face these evil powers with the dignity and the truth of Jesus, with the powers of his sacramental life, with his Holy Spirit, then our combat with those powers becomes our glory too, our way of fulfilling all that the Father gives us to do. Then we grow into our discipleship as individuals and as families, nation, Church. If you follow sports, you know that coaches often tell their athletes, “No pain, no gain.” That’s a truth of the spiritual life too. Our suffering unites us with the cross of Christ, which is always the price of being faithful to the Father. And being faithful is the way of glory.

Homily for Holy Thursday

Homily for
Holy Thursday

April 21, 2011

1 Cor 11: 23-26

John 13: 1-15

Willow Towers, New Rochelle

This is adapted from a homily originally given at Holy Cross Church in Fairfield, Conn., in 1990.
“This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all generations shall celebrate” (Ex 12: 14).
Some years ago the revolver that Teddy Roosevelt used in the charge up San Juan Hill was stolen from its display case at his home on Long Island. The gun was valued at $500,000.
Why would someone want to possess that revolver? Why is one pistol worth half a million bucks? Because that gun is associated with the most famous event in the colorful career of the greatest showman ever to serve as our President. That pistol is a grand souvenir.

Tonight is about remembering. Jesus left us 3 souvenirs of his presence among us. Unlike the cold steel of TR’s revolver, Jesus’ souvenirs are warm and alive. These memorials are the Eucharist, the priesthood, and the new commandment.

When we eat our family dinner on Thanksgiving Day, we thank God for all the blessings we presently experience, including a tradition of freedom going back to the Pilgrims. But in no way do we consider ourselves to be reliving the Pilgrim experience of exodus, starvation, harvest, and salvation. They and we are safely separated by 390 years, and we promptly forget them till the following November.

The Jews, on the other hand, do relive the exodus from Egypt. At each Passover seder, the nation is saved anew from the avenging angel and from the army of Pharaoh. They remember who they are and how, out of slavery and the experience of the desert, God has forged them into a nation of his own.

In the Eucharist, we “proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). He will come again, for he is alive. He is our risen Lord; so our remembrance is not just of Calvary but of the resurrection. We feast on his body and blood, the great memorial, the living memorial, of his love for us, his presence among us. On our altars, in our tabernacles, is no mere symbol—as, say, holy water is a baptismal symbol—but the risen, living Lord, strong to save us from sin and from eternal death. This marvelous gift Jesus gave us on the night before he died, so that he might always remain personally with us.

The Last Supper, by Tintoretto

The 2d living souvenir of Jesus is the priesthood. The priesthood exists for the Eucharist and for Christ’s people; to carry out Jesus’ instruction: “Do this…in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:25). When we gather for the Eucharist, we gather to eat his body and thus become his body. When the body of believers calls a man to priesthood, it calls him to be the living Christ in our midst. It calls him to act as Christ by preaching the word of salvation and by celebrating the sacraments, above all, the Eucharist. The Eucharist is both the source and the summit of all our Christian lives. Without the Eucharist we are no longer Christ’s people; we forget how and why he died for us; we forget that he rose for us; we forget that he will come again in glory for us. Without the Eucharist the life of Christ within us is not nourished, and without the priesthood there is no Eucharist. The only priesthood is that of Christ; the mortal men who preach and preside at the Eucharist do so in the power and in the person of Christ.

But there is also a common priesthood distinct from the ordained priesthood. The priesthood of all believers is nourished and formed by the Eucharist, and it to is empowered to act in Christ’s name. The 3d souvenir that Christ gave us this holy night is his commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. That is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Before and after this new commandment, Jesus showed us how he has loved us—“loved [us] to the end,” as St. John says (13:1). Jesus loved us so much that he died for us on the cross.

Jesus washing Peter's feet, by Pietro Lorenzetti

But before his passion, before his last supper, he also showed us his deep love, humble love, forgiving love. He did the slave’s duty of washing the feet of his guests. He washed the feet of Peter and of Judas, though he knew what they were about to do. He washed the feet of the other 10, though he knew what they were about to do. He gave us a vivid example of love, forgiveness, and service. And this example becomes a living memorial of Jesus our Lord, like the Eucharist and the priesthood, when we imitate it, when we disciples do for one another as Jesus did. Jesus’ humble service symbolizes the love, the service, the forgiveness that you and I must be ready to give to one another so that our Eucharistic Lord may live in our hearts, so that the whole world may know that we are his disciples.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Homily for Palm Sunday

Homily forPalm Sunday

April 17, 2011
Matt 26: 14--27: 66
Willow Towers, New Rochelle
NYLT, Durland Scout Res., Putnam Valley
“Pilate took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.’ And the whole people said in reply, ‘His blood be upon us and upon our children’” (Matt 27: 24-25).

Pilate uses a powerful symbolic action to disclaim any personal responsibility for what he sees is the unjust condemnation of Jesus.

But there are a couple of problems with Pilate’s action. The 1st is that such an action usually implies guilt and responsibility. You’ve no doubt noticed that at every Mass the priest washes his hands before we all begin to pray the Eucharistic Prayer, to offer the great sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus to the Father. This is a ritual cleansing. As he washes his hands, the priest prays quietly, “Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin.” Before offering sacrifice, before touching the Lord’s body, much less consuming it, the priest prays for moral purity. In 1 Corinthians St. Paul advises all of us not to come to the Eucharist unaware of what we’re doing, unworthily, lest we eat and drink sacrilegiously and incur our own condemnation (11:27-29).

Some of you may have read Macbeth in school, or perhaps seen it on stage. As you know, Lady Macbeth provokes her husband to 2 murders. In Act V, scene 1, we find her sleepwalking and repeatedly making the motions of washing her hands: “Look how she rubs her hands,” one observer remarks. One of the ladies in waiting responds, “It is an accustomed action with her, to seem thus washing her hands. I have known her continue in this a quarter of an hour.” At that point, Lady Macbeth speaks: “Yet here’s a spot. Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” And she makes references to the murder of Banquo, followed by, “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? What, will these hand ne’er be clean? Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” The stains upon her hands that won’t come off are, of course, the stains of her guilt, which no physical washing can cleanse.

The 2d problem with Pilate’s action is that he’s the man in charge. He just doesn’t have the courage to do what’s right. He can’t really duck the responsibility for condemning an innocent man. President Harry Truman famously said, “The buck stops here,” at his desk. Pilate is just as guilty as “the chief priests and elders” who are lusting for Jesus’ blood and stirring up the crowd to scream, “Let him be crucified!”

So Pilate’s little ritual of washing his hands doesn’t really indicate innocence. Those who need to wash themselves have dirt to remove. We Christians seek a sacramental washing in Baptism, which removes our sins, and usually when we come to church we use holy water to make the sign of the cross and remind ourselves of our Baptism and the sanctifying power of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

The people in Pilate’s courtyard, however, don’t care about his conscience. They’re more than ready to call the blood of Jesus down upon themselves, and upon their children as well.

The 1st meaning of having Jesus’ blood upon them is responsibility. They’re admitting that they desire Jesus’ death and don’t care whether he’s innocent or guilty. When we say that someone has blood on his hands, we mean he’s guilty of someone’s unjust death. Just on Friday, a Salesian priest serving in Ivory Coast remarked of the civil war there, “In these months there have been massacres on both sides, and no one’s hands are clean.” Pilate may think he can duck responsibility for the guilt of murder; the chief priests, the elders, and the crowd openly embrace it.

One unfortunate strand of Christian tradition has maintained that the guilt of murdering Jesus belongs strictly to the Jewish people, summed up in a phrase like, “The Jews killed Jesus Christ.” Certainly some specific individuals were responsible for that, but not the entire nation, not even the entire city of Jerusalem, and not generation after generation of Jews.

A more reliable strand of Christian tradition maintains that “the people” who cause Jesus’ death, who have his blood on their hands, is all of us. The people in Pilate’s courtyard speak for every human being. All of us who are sinners are responsible for Jesus’ death on the cross. All of us who’ve ever done anything unjust to another person have screamed, “Crucify him!” It’s entirely true that Jesus died for our sins.

The 2d meaning of having Jesus’ blood upon us is redemption. In the OT animal sacrifices were offered to God in atonement for personal sins and for the sins of the whole people. Thruout the letters of the NT and the Book of Revelation we find references to our having been washed clean of our sins by his blood. E.g., St. Peter writes: “Realize that you were ransomed…not by any diminishable sum of silver or gold, but by Christ’s blood beyond all price: the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb chosen before the world’s foundation” (1 Pet 1:18-20).

Peter implies that Jesus is the Lamb of God, and both the Gospel of John and Revelation refer explicitly to him as such—the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the Passover lamb whose blood seals the lips of Christians as the blood of lambs marked the doors of the Hebrews in Egypt so that they would be spared when the angel of death passed over the land; the lamb of sacrifice offered to God on the altar of the cross, as lambs were sacrificed in the Temple.

St. John recounts in his gospel how, to make sure that Jesus was dead upon the cross, “one of the soldiers thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (19:34). Whatever the physiological explanation for that, it’s a rich sacramental sign. Blood is a sacramental sign; so is water. Only those cleansed in the waters of Baptism, only those who have been christened, made into images of Jesus by Baptism, may approach the Eucharist, eat his body and drink his blood, the food of our eternal life (John 6). And Baptism has its saving power because of the cross of Christ. As he died in faithfulness to his heavenly Father, and so was raised to new life, so do we die in Baptism, submerging in the waters and emerging with a new spiritual life and the promise of eternal life. The link between the blood and the water that flowed from Christ’s side enable St. John to proclaim in the Book of Revelation that all those who have been saved “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). Ironic, isn’t it, that blood on our hands is an unwashable stain of guilt, but Christ’s blood washes us clean!

So tightly linked are Christ’s blood and Christian salvation that even pagan persecutors knew the link. There’s a famous account of the martyrs at Carthage—St. Perpetua, St. Felicity, and their companions--early in the 3d century, in 203 specifically, that tells how they were led to wild beasts in the arena. When a leopard took a huge bite into one of them, covering him with blood, the pagan crowd in the arena cried out, “Washed and saved! Washed and saved!” They were mocking Christian faith, but they spoke truly, for the martyrs joined their own blood to Christ’s.* Likewise, the crowd calling for Jesus’ blood in Pilate’s courtyard spoke truly: his blood is upon us, to save us by washing away our sins and making us his own people.

* Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions, in LOH 2:1702.

Friday, April 15, 2011

First Appointments for 2011-2012 Pastoral Year

First Appointments
for the 2011-2012
Pastoral Year

While most Americans are thinking of other matters on April 15, the SDBs of the Eastern Province got something to think about when Fr. Tom Dunne sent out a letter announcing the appointment of a new member of the provincial council and 4 new directors, plus the reappointment of 3 present directors.

The directors and councilor were selected several weeks ago, but their appointments had to be confirmed by the Rector Major in consultation with his council, who only last week returned to Rome after some months visiting the far corners of the Congregation as part of their duties.

Fr. Steve Leake, presently the director of the house of formation for candidates and young SDBs in Orange, N.J., was named provincial councilor and delegate for formation. His 3-year term will begin on July 1. He replaces Fr. Bill Keane, who is also the master of novices and will be relocating with the novitiate to Rosemead, Calif., in August.

Fr. Steve Leake (r) seated next to Fr. Tom Dunne at a province celebration last year.

Fr. Steve will remain director in Orange. He's a daily blogger at http://salesianity.blogspot.com/

The terms of the new directors will begin on July 15. Those terms also are 3 years. The new directors are:

Fr. Lou Molinelli, director of the SDB community in Louisiana, which includes Abp. Shaw HS in Marrero and 2 parishes in Harvey, St. Rosalie and St. John Bosco, as well as 2 parishes in Birmingham, Ala., and Leeds, Ala. Fr. Lou succeeds Fr. Jim McKenna.
Fr. McKenna (at right) will become director of the Marian Shrine and Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y.

And the current director of the Marian Shrine, Fr. John Puntino (below), will change not only his community but even his country, moving to Etobicoke, Ont., a suburb of Toronto, where the SDBs staff St. Benedict's Parish and carry out various school chaplaincies.

And the present director in Etobicoke, Fr. George Harkins, (below) will move to Sherbrooke, Que., to become director of the community at Seminaire Salesien. He replaces Fr. Alain Leonard.

Fr. Tom Ruekert, director of the SDB community in Port Chester, N.Y, was re-appointed for a new term. The SDBs in Port Chester staff Holy Rosary and Corpus Christi parishes.

Fr. Mike Conway, director of the community at St. Pete Catholic HS in St. Petersburg, Fla., was re-appointed.

Finally, Fr. Mario Villarazza, director of the community at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Surrey, B.C., was re-appointed. Surrey is a suburb of Vancouver.

"... nor any drop to drink"

"... nor any drop to drink"

This was the scene in the driveway heading toward Salesian Missions, behind the provincial residence, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

For several weeks there'd been a water leak in the main supplying the mission office. No one really wanted to close Salesian Missions, which would have to be done if the water were shut down while the leak were hunted for and repaired. But the powers-that-be (whoever they be) finally decided it had to be done. The water company disclaimed any responsibility because the leak was on our property (leaving a nice little puddle along the left field foul line of the baseball field).

So the mission office closed on Monday, and someone spent all day figuring out where the leak might be. On Tuesday we brought in a contractor, and his crew and Bro. Andy LaCombe spent all day digging up the pavement and hunting for the leak, without finding it. The mission office, of course, remained shut since it had no water: no fire sprinklers, no toilets, "nor any drop to drink," as the Ancient Mariner lamented in his plight. On Wednesday, the office still shut, they finally found the leak shortly before noon, and by the end of the day they had it sealed up.

So on Thursday the office re-opened while the contractors and Bro. Andy filled in the trench. By then the staff were more than ready to come back to work, having done all the housekeeping at home that they cared to do in 3 days of unplanned paid vacation. Fr. Mark Hyde was more than happy to welcome them back!

Besides all the onlookers at the provincial house as the digging and repair went on during Tuesday and Wednesday, there were other interested observers:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Lent

April 1, 1990
Rom 8: 8-11
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

This weekend (April 9-10) I preached (on the raising of Lazarus) to Boy Scouts and to Ursuline nuns without a written text--2 different homilies, in fact. Here's an oldie (on the epistle).

“You are not in the flesh; you are in the spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom 8:9).

Every time my stomach growls: “It’s lunch time”; every time I get poison ivy; every time I experience those temptations that we modestly call “of the flesh”; every time I enjoy the warm sun on my skin, hear Mozart, smell fresh-baked bread, or see the sun rise over the Sound, I know I’m “in the flesh,” with all the bad and good that come from being a bodily creature.

St. Paul and the Christians of Rome were human too. So when Paul contrasts the flesh and spirit, he evidently does not mean body and soul. But Paul tells us that some people are “in the flesh” and therefore “do not belong to Christ” and “cannot please God,” while others “have the Spirit of Christ” and “will live because of justice” (8:8-10). When Paul speaks of justice or righteousness, he means God’s own holiness, complete moral integrity, the state of grace.

Whoever is “in the flesh” still lives a superficial earthly life, is still committed to himself rather than to Jesus Christ and his neighbor, is still a child of sin. Whoever is “in the flesh” has not yet repented, is not redeemed and forgiven, is not made whole by God’s grace.

The Christian, on the other hand, has committed herself or himself to Jesus Christ and entered the community of disciples, the Church. The Christian is “in the spirit,” possessed by God’s spirit, united with Christ and made just, made holy, by that Spirit. The Christian’s earthly body must still pay the price of sin, but its death is only temporary. For the Spirit that raised the earthly body of Christ to eternal life and spiritualized that body will likewise raise up the body of every Christian. In our creed, we profess our belief “in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,” and because the Spirit dwells in us, “we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” 

Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are filled with hope. Though we are not yet completely dead to sin—how well we know that!—the Spirit who dwells in us and makes us a holy people makes us pleasing to God. The Spirit who dwells in us makes us life-giving, like Christ our Master.

And how are we life-giving like Christ? Surely we don’t go into cemeteries and rouse the dead by shouting out, “Come forth from your graves!” But we do imitate Jesus and give life by doing the works of mercy. Lent is a time of fasting; it is also a time of almsgiving. The alms we give may be material or spiritual.

We give alms, as Jesus gave people bodily help, by teaching our children; by visiting the sick and the lonely; by writing letters to distant relatives and friends; by giving money, supplies, or time to charitable causes. We give spiritual alms, as Jesus gave people spiritual help, by teaching our children not just their ABC’s and algebra but the truths of our faith and a strong moral code; by comforting the sorrowing; by praying for people in need and those with responsibilities; by listening to the troubles of families and friends.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will bring your mortal bodies to life also through his Spirit dwelling in you” (8:11). The good works you do in your mortal body right now are spiritual works “since the Spirit of God dwells in you” (8:9), and they are already life-giving works.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bro. Joseph Keckeissen, SDB

Bro. Joseph Keckeissen, SDB

Most of this obituary was composed by Fr. Sergio Checchi, the secretary of the SDB Central American Province. Your humble blogger has contributed to it with resources available to him, including the photo.
Bro. Joseph Edward Keckeissen, a one-time member of the New Rochelle Province, died at Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, on the evening of April 3, 2011. He was 86 years old and had been professed as a clerical Salesian brother in the New Rochelle Province for 6 years and as a coadjutor brother in the Central American Province for 20 years. But the SDBs of Central America, where he was known as “Don Joe,” testify that he was a Salesian in his heart for his whole life. “Don Joe” was born in Brooklyn on Jan. 14, 1925. His parents were George Wilfred Keckeissen and Rita Grace McNally. When he was 12, they decided to send him to study at St. Michael’s School, a Salesian boarding school in Goshen, N.Y., 70 miles from home, for the 1937-1938 school year. There he first got to know an SDB coadjutor, Bro. Nicholas Pierro, with whom he formed a warm friendship and of whom he always kept a happy memory. He also got to know Fr. Ambrose Rossi, the SDB provincial in the U.S. at that time, who years later would bring him to Central America.

Joe spent just his eighth grade year at Goshen. He entered the Salesian high school seminary at Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., where he spent what he called “seven happy years” (1938-1945). After graduating from high school in 1942, he entered the novitiate, also in Newton, and there made his profession as a clerical SDB brother on Sept. 8, 1943. He earned a B.A. in philosophy and then was sent out for practical training in the SDB houses of Marrero, La. (1945-1946), Tampa (1946-1947), and New Rochelle (1947-1949). 

At the end of the period of his temporary vows (Sept. 8, 1949), he decided, because of health problems and other reasons, not to continue with this vocation, and he left the Congregation. Shortly after, he went into the Army and served in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953 as a paratrooper with the rank of colonel. He remained in the Army Reserves from 1953 to 1985.

On his return to the States he sought to complete his education and enrolled in the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University (1954-1955), where he earned an MBA. He went to work for the Humble Oil and Refining Company as an accountant, auditor, and programmer in the new section for information (1955-1962). Meanwhile, he started a doctoral program in the Stern School of Business at New York University, where he obtained a PhD in economics.

During this period he had the happy idea of writing to Fr. Rossi, who was working in San Salvador, El Salvador. To him he proposed to return to the SDBs. There were letters, dialog, reflection. And on Dec. 27, 1962, he went to San Salvador and placed himself at the disposition of Fr. Segundo DeBernardi, the Central American provincial. The following year he entered the novitiate at Ayagualo, El Salvador, but he had to quit on account of his health and return to the U.S. for medical attention—which gave him the chance to complete his doctoral studies (the degree was awarded in 1976).
Recovered, he was invited in 1971 to come back to Central America and work with the province treasurer, but without thought of becoming an SDB. In a short while he was sent to Guatemala to teach economics in Francisco Marroquin University (UFM), which was starting up, and he was made chairman of the economics department from 1973 on. He continued this role with loving dedication until very recently and was appreciated very much by his students. In his teaching he was a strong advocate of the philosophy of freedom. In New York he had studied under Ludwig von Mises, who encouraged him to apply Catholic social teaching to the free market system in order to humanize it. He wrote many articles and gave many conferences along such lines. 

In 2001 he told The Beacon, the newspaper of the Paterson, N.J., diocese that it’s not enough for the Church to have a “preferential option for the poor”; the Church must find practical ways to solve the problems that keep people poor in countries like Guatemala. He said. “The Holy Father wants practical solutions, not just pious concerns. For that, he believes, we must follow the sound principles of economic science.”*
As an example, he cited farming and marketing methods common in Guatemala: “The technology is medieval, the process erodes the land and the poor campesinos break their backs, without truck transportation, to get the sacks of corn to the market. If we don’t find a way to overhaul this obsolete system, we will never be able to get them out of the poverty cycle.”

Don Joe was a professor at UFM from 1972 to 1993 and again from 1995 to 2010. In 1994 he taught at Don Bosco University in Soyapango, El Salvador. In 1989 UFM awarded him an honorary doctorate in social sciences. 

Without doubt there remained hidden in Don Joe his old love for Don Bosco. He admitted one day: “I always kept within me the desire of being a Salesian. I tried to live out Don Bosco’s spirit and to collaborate in a thousand ways with the Salesian work. Therefore during a retreat in 1986, I got the idea of trying to return to the Congregation. My old master of novices supported me; so did many other Salesians.” 

The Rector Major allowed his readmission to the novitiate in Central America in 1989. “And so,” Bro. Joe continues, “on Sept. 8, 1990, I had the joy of being admitted to religious vows a second time after so many years of exile.” He made his perpetual profession on Sept. 25, 1993.

From then on, living in various SDB works in Guatemala—the last 15 years at Quetzaltenango—he was a model of what an SDB coadjutor brother should be, dedicated to his academic responsibilities. 

In October 2010 he suffered a serious “vascular incident” in his brain, which caused fear for his life. For a while he seemed to be recovering slowly. But then a new series of hemorrhages caused his death—or, more properly, brought him to his meeting with the Risen Christ.
* Interview with Maura Rossi, The Beacon, Aug. 30, 2001.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Salesians Aiding Refugees in Ivory Coast

Salesians Aiding Refugees
in Ivory Coast

Catholic News Service, AP, and the New York Times in the last week have run major stories about the massacre of 800 to 1,000 civilians in a city called Duekoue in Ivory Coast, where there has been major fighting in the last month as a result of a contested presidential election.

The Salesians run the only Catholic mission in Duekoue, and the situation there has been precarious for months. An American volunteer serving with them left in December (and is now serving at another mission in Mali).

It seems that Duekoue is near what we might call the "fault line" between the different tribal groups who supported the contesting presidential candidates. At first mere thousands fled to the Salesian mission for protection.

And last week, between March 27 and 29, the situation boiled over, with fighting and killing. Three Salesians found themselves with 20,000 refugees on their grounds, without enuf shelter, food, or water. The UN is trying to bring in supplies.

A Scottish newspaper reported on April 3 that 800 people had been killed inside the Salesian compound. This isn't true. The Salesian news agency ANS has been reporting on the story since December. The photos posted here were published on March 18.

Today ANS posted this:

(ANS – Abidjan) – Because of the current situation of conflict in the Ivory Coast, the superior of the French-speaking West Africa Vice Province, Fr. Faustino Peña Garcia, has issued a press statement in which he provides an update on the situation from the Salesian point of view.

The Salesians have three communities in the country: at Korhogo, in the north; at Duékoué, in the western region; and at Abidjan, the political and economic capital.

At Korhogo there are five Salesians in the community looking after a secondary school and a parish – which so far are still operating with students and serving the faithful – as well as the usual Salesian activities with the children and young people as part of the mission structure. The situation in the city is calm, and the same can be said of the community and the activities of the Salesians.

The community of three Salesians at Duékoué looks after a parish, a vocational training center and a hostel. The city has been the scene of a great deal of conflict and in recent days has been captured by the republican troops of President-elect Ouattara. The parish has been respected even though some potential troublemakers came into the mission; they left without harming any of the refugees there, or the community. In the city there have been many casualties on both sides of the conflict, but the local Guéré tribe has been particularly affected. It is not easy to count the number of those dead, but it is estimated that there are about 800.

The present number of refugees in the mission is about 20,000. The Salesians, assisted by some health workers, the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations, are trying to help this large number of people. It is not always easy to provide food and health care, given that the needs far exceed what is available.

The community in Abidjan is in a crowded working-class area of the capital city, Koumassi Remblais. There they have a youth center, two reception centers for children with problems, and a parish. There are five Salesians who look after the work, and they are still all there, carrying on their activities as normal.

The two reception centers for children are completely full. There are no refugees in the Abidjan center. Fr. Peña reports, “We are suffering with the people the consequences of the crisis, especially the great uncertainty.” Just now because of the situation there is a scarcity of basic food items.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Homily for 4th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Lent
April 3, 2011
John 9: 1-41
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“I am the light of the world” (John 9: 5).

As you know, tens of thousands of catechumens around the world are preparing for Christian initiation at Easter. Thousands more, already baptized Christians, will complete their initiation by being received into the full communion of the Catholic Church, being confirmed, and receiving the Holy Eucharist for the 1st time.

You also know that Lent is the final prep of all these catechumens and semi-initiated Christians, if I may use that term, for what they’re about to do: commit themselves completely to God our Father thru Jesus Christ our Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For us who are already baptized, confirmed sharers in the Eucharistic mystery, Lent is a season of recalling our initiation and renewing our commitment to God in Christ by the gift of the Spirit.

The gospel readings on the Sundays of Lent, especially in this Year A cycle, are powerful reminders of what we are about, of what God is about. Like Jesus in the desert and catechumens in the baptismal rite, we reject sin. With Jesus we’re heading toward heavenly glory, as the profession of our faith reminds us. With the Samaritan woman, we seek eternal life in living water. Like the man born blind, we’re enlightened by Christ. We hope to be raised from the grave like Lazarus by Jesus, the resurrection and the life. Jesus gives sight to a man born blind. This 9th chapter of John is rich in symbols of light and darkness, of sight and blindness.
Christ Healing the Blind Man (El Greco)

The story connects us to the opening lines of the Bible: “In the beginning … the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss…. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw how good the light was” (Gen 1:1-3). The story connects us to the opening lines of John’s gospel: “Through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:4-5).

Jesus is the Word of God that speaks light and goodness. Jesus, in our passage today, identifies himself as this light of the world, and he demonstrates his power over the forces of darkness, like that first word spoken over the dark abyss, by opening a man’s eyes to natural light.

More is at play in the story, of course, including a lot of Johannine irony. The blind man plainly sees who Jesus is, commits himself decisively to Jesus (9:30-34), and worships him (9:38). Those who announce their own insight—the Pharisees—are the ones who fail to see the obvious, the evidence of God’s work in the world, and so are left in their spiritual darkness, in sin (9:40-41). “His own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God” (1:11-12). God forbid that we ever become so blasé about God, about Jesus, about religious matters, that we miss the obvious presence of God at work around us! Even St. Augustine worried, “Timeo Deum transeuntem”: “I fear God’s passing by; I’m afraid lest God show up and pass me by because I wasn’t paying attention.”

In the Eastern Churches, Baptism is often called “illumination” or “enlightenment.” Thru this gospel story, we can see why. Our eyes are opened in this fundamental sacrament to see Christ, the light of the world, the light shining in the darkness of a world dominated by sin, the light which overwhelms and drives out the darkness of our own sins. In this sacrament we commit ourselves to walk henceforth in the light, which we’ll do in symbolic form at the Easter Vigil as we acclaim and follow in procession “Christ our Light.” In this sacrament we start on the road with him who is “Light from Light” (Creed) toward eternal light.

An interesting aspect of this story—not at all typical of most of the gospel miracle stories, tho I’d say it is typical of the “signs” in John’s Gospel—is that the man who was born blind doesn’t come to Jesus, doesn’t appeal to Jesus, for healing. Did you notice that? Contrast that with, e.g., blind Bartimaeus on the outskirts of Jericho, who cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” (Mark 10:46-52). The initiative is Jesus’. The healing of this man, like our salvation, begins from God. It’s an act of grace, like our own Baptism, like the Incarnation of God’s Son.

Like the man born blind, it’s up to us to accept the light offered to us and then respond to the light. He responds with a developing or deepening faith that begins with obedience and eventually leads to total commitment and to worship. When he’s 1st questioned about his healing, he recounts how “the man called Jesus made clay and anointed [his] eyes” and told him to go and wash, but he doesn’t know where this Jesus has gone (9:11-12). When he’s challenged a little further, he proclaims that Jesus “is a prophet” (9:17), which is a deeper insight into the person of Jesus. Under pressure to denounce Jesus, he’s steadfast in insisting that “this man [is] from God” (9:33). Jesus asks him whether he believes in the Son of Man (9: 35), which is a messianic title. (A curious point: the Vulgate here reads not “Son of Man” but Filium Dei, “Son of God,” a plainly incorrect reading of the Greek text, υιόν του ανθρώπου.) Not only does he believe in the Son of Man, but he confesses more: that Jesus is Lord, Κύριος: “I do believe, Lord” (9:38). This is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew YHWH. “And he worshipped him” (9:38). Without seeing nail marks and spear hole, this man has arrived at the faith of Thomas, seeing that Jesus is “My Lord and my God!” (20:28).

The man’s progressive growth in understanding of and commitment to Jesus is, of course, indicative of our own faith journey. That understanding will be complete only in heaven, but one hopes it’s substantially deeper now than when we were confirmed or were junior religious. Likewise, our commitment to Jesus as our Lord and God, our Savior and model of human life in God’s service, as our beloved friend.

Secondary characters in this story are the man’s parents. They refuse to take a stand about Jesus when the Pharisees question them about their son: “He’s of age; he can speak for himself” (9:21), which they say, John informs us, “because they were afraid of the Jews, who had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagog” (9:22). The man himself takes a stand in favor of Jesus, and is thrown out (9:34). This is his total commitment, which his parents—for whatever reason—refuse to make.

John was writing his Gospel at the end of the 1st century, when Jewish Christians were being forced to decide where they stood, and those who stood with Jesus were being expelled from their synagogs, told that they couldn’t have Jesus as their Messiah, their Lord, and worship him, and still be faithful Jews. That context also explains why John, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, repeatedly refers to Jesus’ enemies as “the Jews,” notwithstanding that Jesus himself, and all of his 1st disciples, were themselves Jewish. Those who regarded themselves as pure “disciples of Moses” (9:28) were forcing the distinction, undefining Christians as Jews. And all over the Eastern Mediterranean, John’s world, the disciples of Jesus were being compelled to decide whom they would follow: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (9:35).

In our time Christians in Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, India, Vietnam, China have to take similar stands. So do we. Not so long ago, Catholic colleges were removing crucifixes from their classrooms, supposing they needed to do so if they received federal funds. Last year, Georgetown University covered over the name of Jesus (which, ironically, is part of the Jesuit logo) lest it interfere with a presidential appearance. Beyond counting is the number of politicians who jettison their “personal beliefs” in the public forum and act directly contrary to what they say they believe. Such are contemporary examples of fear of expulsion from the synagog, of choosing the darkness rather than the light.

Happily, there have been excellent examples of public figures standing on their beliefs: Bob Casey, Sargent and Eunice Shriver, e.g., in politics; John Wooden and Tony Dungey in sports; the Iowa high school wrestler who forfeited a shot at a state title last month rather than violate his religious principles by wrestling a girl. Going way back, we might recall Pee Wee Reese’s embrace of Jackie Robinson in the face of the racism of the 1940s, including that of some Dodger stars like Dixie Walker.

When we step outside the religious house, does our faith go with us? Do we stand with Jesus and his Church, or do we find ourselves accommodating ourselves to the world of darkness, the world hostile to who Jesus is and what he teaches today thru the Scriptures and the Holy Father? When we teach and counsel, do we present clearly the Church’s social and moral teachings, thru which Jesus offers his light to the world?