Sunday, May 29, 2011

Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Easter

May 29, 2011
John 14: 15-21
Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
Willow Towers, N.R.
St. Vincent's Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14: 15).
[There’s a beautiful rendition of this verse by Thomas Tallis, as sung for Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to England last fall, at

Our gospel reading today comes from Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. Those words make a very long passage of 5 chapters. Some of the themes in it are love—Jesus’ love for his disciples, and his command that we should love one another, which he calls his “new commandment” (13:34); and the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus will send to us.The Last Supper: bas relief in the Tempio di Don Bosco at Colle Don Bosco, Castelnuovo (Piedmont)

Within the context of his love for us, Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends” (15:13), and his disciples are his friends if they do what he has commanded them (15:14). He makes the point that he has chosen us to be his friends, not his slaves, and because we’re his friends he’s shared with us everything from his Father (15:15). He greatly desires a relationship with us founded on love and friendship, not on fear and power.The Roman historian Sallust described a strong friendship as “wanting the same things and not wanting the same things.”[1] Doesn’t that ring true when we consider Jesus’ words? If we’re his friends, we want the same things that he does, such things as he calls his “commandments,” love in its many manifestations for all Jesus’ brothers and sisters. If we’re his friends, we don’t want whatever he doesn’t want—those words and actions and desires that we generally refer to as “sin.” If we love Jesus, if we’re his friends, we’ll do everything we can to keep his commandments. “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (14:21).

In 1849 a 7-year-old boy in northern Italy who was making his First Communion understood that so well that he made 4 remarkable resolutions: to go to confession and communion often; to keep Sundays and feast days holy; to be a friend of Jesus and Mary; and to die rather than commit sin. Note those last 2: friendship with Jesus and his holy Mother, and the avoidance of sin.[2] This 7-year-old grasped what Jesus wanted, grasped the importance of loving Jesus, and grasped the means suited to maintain a friendship with Jesus: the sacraments and prayer (observing holy days as well as developing a relationship with Jesus and Mary). That 7-year-old was Dominic Savio, who later became a pupil of St. John Bosco. It’s St. John Bosco who informs us of young Dominic’s life. The Church has canonized young Dominic’s way of holiness by the act of canonizing Dominic a saint in 1954.

Portrait of St. Dominic Savio with his friend Jesus, in one of the Salesian houses in Israel.

How can we know what Jesus wants and what Jesus doesn’t want? “The Father will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (14:16-18). Jesus left us physically after his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, but he and his Father have remained with us thru their Holy Spirit. As we’ll celebrate in 2 more weeks, on Pentecost Day the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles, upon the Virgin Mary, upon all the disciples gathered around them in the upper room. Empowered and encouraged by the Spirit, they all went forth to preach Jesus’ message, the word of life, the gospel of truth.
And we heard an example of that in our 1st reading, which records how the deacon Philip “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them” (Acts 8:5) and baptized them. And then the apostles Peter and John followed up by confirming the Samaritan believers: they “went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (8:15,17). The Holy Spirit is given not just to the apostles, to Mary, and to the 1st believers, but to the entire Church, everywhere and in all ages. As Jesus says at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (28:20).Mary and the Twelve in the upper room after Jesus' ascension: bas relief in the Tempio di Don Bosco at Colle Don Bosco, Castelnuovo (Piedmont)

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus and of the Father, is our advocate, our helper, and our teacher of truth. He enables us to understand in the 21st century what Jesus wants, what Jesus commands, what Jesus teaches. The Holy Spirit speaks to us thru the Sacred Scriptures, of which he’s the ultimate author, the one who inspired those whom we call “the sacred writers”— the historians of God’s people, the prophets, the gospel-writers, the letter-writers. The 1st place where we all have to turn if we want to know what Jesus wants, what Jesus commands, is to the Gospels, to the letters of Paul and the other apostles, to the rest of the Bible. Christians have to read and reflect upon and pray with the Bible.
The Holy Spirit also speaks to us thru the Church, the assembly of Jesus’ disciples. The Spirit came down upon the disciples gathered together, and Jesus promised to remain with his disciples thru the ages. So we firmly believe that the Spirit of Jesus continues to guide the Church. In the Creed that we profess every Sunday, we express what we believe of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Under our belief “in the Holy Spirit,” we profess that “he has spoken thru the prophets; our belief in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”; our belief in the Spirit’s living work in the Church, thru “baptism for the forgiveness of sins”—you’re familiar with Jesus’ words that “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again of water and Spirit” (John 3:5), which refers to Baptism; our belief also in the Spirit’s work in us for the future: “resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” for he is “the Lord, the giver of life,” the Creed affirms. In sum, the Catholic Church, still inspired by the Holy Spirit, teaches us today what Jesus wants, what Jesus commands, how we are to maintain our friendship with him, and offers us the sacramental means to foster that friendship, just as much as in the days of Philip, Peter, and John.

[1] Nam idem velle atque idem nolle, ea demum firma amicitia est (Bellum Catalinae, XX, 4).
[2] St. John Bosco, The Life of St. Dominic Savio (New Rochelle, 1996), p. 34.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fr. Tom Dunne's Reflections on MHC

Fr. Tom Dunne's Reflections
on the Help of Christians

From this week's E-Service, newsletter of the New Rochelle Province:

Mary Help of Christians

Last Saturday, at the Marian Shrine, our province sponsored a Salesian Family celebration in honor of Mary Help of Christians. It was good to see so many branches of the Salesian Family taking part in this celebration.

You will recall that last Saturday (May 21, 2011) was notable in our society for another reason. On that day, news reports, table banter, and even passing comments to complete strangers tended to center around the end-of-the-world prediction of the radio evangelist Harold Camping. In the midst of that mania, our Salesian Family gave honor to our patroness, Mary Help of Christians.
The readings for the feast merged quite well with prophecies on the day of final judgment. The passage of Revelation speaks of an apocalyptic battle between the dragon and the woman clothed in the sun. While the battle has already been decisively won in the shedding of the Lamb’s blood, the dragon has chosen to fight on. The woman continues this cosmic battle supported by the angels and those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
It is within this apocalyptic worldview that we cherish Don Bosco’s devotion to Mary under the title “Help of Christians.” In these days it is good for us to renew within ourselves the inner meaning of this devotion, especially as it relates to the current time.
On the one hand, the devotion to Mary Help of Christians helps us to avoid the passivism that seems to characterize those who wait for the final judgment in the manner of Harold Camping. They wait for God’s day of judgment as victims being overcome by a natural calamity in the manner of the recent tsunami in Japan. The image from Revelation and the devotion to Mary Help of Christians places us Christians in the middle of a battle against the forces of evil. As we carry on this struggle on behalf of God’s kingdom, we cry out for the help of the woman, Mary Help of Christians.

There was a time when we Salesians might not have thought that devotion to Mary Help of Christians was a quaint remnant of a past that was characterized by the Cold War, the Depression, and religious warfare. During the mid-1980s the world went through a rather optimistic period in which peace and tranquility seemed assured. The Berlin Wall was torn down. The Iron Curtain fell piece by piece. Apartheid in South Africa was ended by peaceful means. The violence in Northern Ireland was coming to an end. We imagined that our times would be a modern version of the Pax Romana. Some of our members suggested that the title “Mary Help of Christians” was overly sectarian in light of our tolerant and tranquil times. Perhaps the title “Mary Help of All Peoples” would be more appropriate for our times.

How mistaken that assessment! The battle between the forces of good and evil took on new forms of violence and hatred. In our day we are faced with a frightening mix of nationalism, religious fanaticism, tribalism, and ethnic enmities that is spreading throughout the world.

For us in this troubled time, the devotion to Mary Help of Christians is just as crucial as in the time of Pope Pius VII or Don Bosco. We don’t need a radio evangelist to tell us that there is a cosmic struggle going on around us. Members of our own Salesian Congregation and Family have suffered even death for the sake of extending God’s kingdom in strife-ridden areas of the world.
Certainly we remember our martyrs from China and Spain among these Salesians. However, within the past few years we have had Salesians murdered in Tunisia, India, Nepal, and Colombia. Recently there were false reports of 1,000 refugees killed at the Salesian parish at Duekoué, Ivory Coast. We all watched in horror the images of the Salesians and students who were killed at the Salesian school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
It is no wonder that in the past weeks, Archbishop Dolan (in the name of the NCCB) called on society to accept the right of Christian people, and Catholics in particular, to follow the dictates of their religious convictions in daily life.
In all of this it would be dishonest if we pretended that threats to the Church and our society came only from the outside. Some of the most powerful forces of evil have been unleashed upon God’s Kingdom from within our midst. For this we call ourselves to a more profound immersion into the spirit of repentance and renewal for the sake of fidelity to God’s commands.
When faced with the present reality, our only response can be to turn to Mary, the Help of Christians. As Don Bosco said many times, “Mary is here.” Just as Mary was there at Cana, so she is present with us as Mother of God and the Church. Just as at Cana, we are called to “do what he tells you” in terms of living more faithfully God’s commands, following Jesus more fully as disciples, and being ever more committed to God’s Kingdom of justice, peace, and love until the end of time. We are even more aware of the evangelizing nature of our devotion to Mary Help of Christians.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!
May this prayer be for us a reminder that Mary is always with us as help, protector, and companion in the continuing battle against evil in the world and within ourselves.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Don Bosco's Madonna

Don Bosco's Madonna

Mary, under the title "Help of Christians," was St. John Bosco's staunch friend, advocate, protector, and helper. In the 1860s he built a church in her honor at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales, the Salesian motherhouse in Turin.In subsequent years the church--now a basilica--has been the focus of a great festival of devotion every year on the May 24, with tens of thousands of pilgrims converging from all over Italy and much of Europe to honor the Virgin Mary, to celebrate the sacraments, and after dark to process thru Turin's streets.

Today ANS reports on the homily preached by the Salesian Rector Major, Fr. Pascual Chavez, at the principal Mass in the basilica:

The maternal presence of Mary is a great gift

(ANS – Turin) – The maternal presence of Mary is a great gift for “all the foundations which, spread around the world, carry out the mission of making present, visible, and effective the anticipatory love of God through education, evangelization, human development, social commitment.” This is the message which the Rector Major, Fr. Pascual Chavez, gave at Mass in the basilica of Mary Help of Christians before the solemn annual procession through the streets of Turin in honor of Don Bosco’s Madonna.

The basilica in Valdocco, which Don Bosco wanted to be a sign of gratitude to the Madonna—whom he considered the real Founder of the Congregation and of the whole Salesian Family—once again this year was the goal of many pilgrimages. The rector of the basilica, Fr. Franco Lotto, and his co-workers welcomed many of the faithful in the days leading up to May 24 as they paid homage to Don Bosco’s Madonna. The principal Mass was attended by the Salesian Youth Movement and by the Salesian Family.

In his homily, quoting the latest book by Benedict XVI, the Rector Major recalled that the Salesian apostolic mission “flows from the exercise of the sovereignty of the Risen Lord, who has given to us as our mission territory the world, the whole world, and not just that of the young. It is this mission, which Don Bosco began to develop here at Valdocco, that is at the heart of the Church and places us totally at the service of its mission.”

The sovereignty of the Risen Lord becomes the criterion by which we can understand history and creation, Fr. Chavez said. Commenting on the “Arab spring,” which exploded at the end of January thanks to the protagonism of the young, and its still uncertain outcome after four months, and the natural and nuclear disasters in Japan, Don Bosco’s ninth successor recalled that “our life, understood as witness and mission, ought to lead to hope, to the safeguarding of creation, to the renewal of the world, to peace, and to reconciliation and freedom.”

Later he remarked: “The hoped-for changes, the aspirations and the ideals of the men and women of our times, can be neither delayed nor betrayed by those who at all costs want to retain power or to impose new regimes under the pretext of establishing stability in society.”

In times like the present, which are not easy, Mary guides and protects. Don Bosco was firmly convinced that Mary was at his side and that she guided and inspired his life. “To Mary we turn as ‘a people on the march,’ as Christians who every day face life’s battles trying to understand our lives according to the heart of God,” Fr. Chavez said.

He then mentioned four approaches typical of Mary that the faithful are called to imitate: a life of faith, concern for those in need, fidelity under trial, and joy at the marvels which the Father accomplishes.

The passage from the Gospel about the marriage feast at Cana, read at the Mass, teaches us to share the worries of others, to be attentive to their needs, to discover the presence of Jesus, and to turn to him as believers and as credible witnesses to what we believe. “The greatness of Mary, according the evangelist, lay above all in her ability to notice, in addition to the problem of the young couple, the presence of Jesus and to point toward him: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”

“All of us, dear brothers and sisters, who have received the gift of an education full of values that are authentically human and Christian are called to be this new wine—people capable of spreading the good which we have experienced and which has shaped our lives, capable of showing the faith which enlightens our hearts. In this way we shall be, if we imitate in our lives “the way in which Mary was and lived.”

The full text of the homily in Italian is available on

Homily for Solemnity of Mary Help of Christians

Homily for the Solemnity
Mary Help of Christians

May 24, 2011
John 2: 1-11
Rev 12: 1-3, 7-12, 17
Provincial House, N.R.

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there” (John 2: 1).

Following John’s narrative, this is the 3d day from when Jesus “decided to go to Galilee” (1:43) from the place at the Jordan River where John was baptizing and had identified him as “the Lamb of God” (1:36), after Jesus had gathered as his disciples Andrew, Simon, Philip, Nathanael, and the unnamed first disciple who with Andrew accepted his invitation to “come and see” (1:39).

When Christians hear “on the third day,” we think almost reflexively of another “third day,” the third after Jesus’ crucifixion. There’s little historical significance in the number of days it took Jesus to walk from the Jordan to Cana, and John tells us nothing of the events on this journey after the dialog between Jesus and Nathanael, presumably at the outset of the journey.

John the Evangelist is careful in choosing his words; so we may suppose that “the third day” has some significance, that he means for it to be suggestive of the day of resurrection.

That allusion becomes still more suggestive with the mention of a wedding, that archetypical symbol of heaven, of eternal life. “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb,” an angel tells John the Seer in the Book of Revelation (19:9). Blessed are those who celebrate the Lamb’s marriage with his bride in the heavenly Jerusalem.

At the Jordan John the Baptist has pointed to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” pointed to his redemptive sacrifice. On the 3d day from the Jordan, from the place of the Lamb reference, comes the wedding, as the resurrection will come on the 3d day from the Lamb’s sacrifice. The Lamb’s rising to eternal life will become a marriage feast, shared with many guests.

Maybe I read too much into John’s intentions. Maybe not.

Then the Evangelist informs us, “The mother of Jesus was there.” His first mention of Jesus’ mother is this wedding—of 2 people whose identities aren’t given to us, 2 people therefore who have no real bearing on John’s narrative. But Jesus’ mother does, and evidently as a principal of some sort because she’s named even before Jesus is. “Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding” (2:2); plainly their presence is secondary. But “the mother of Jesus was there,” in some primary sense. We don’t know whether she was invited, or she had some more important claim to be there, such as a familial relationship with the bride or the groom. Resuming the image of the heavenly marriage feast, is John, ever so subtly, suggesting to us that the mother of Jesus is a principal at the heavenly feast because she’s the spouse of God?

The vision of that other John, the Seer of the Book of Revelation, speaks of “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (12:1). The imagery evokes one of Joseph’s dreams in Genesis 37. So the woman is, in the first place, Israel, and by extension the new Israel, the community of Jesus’ disciples, including the 12. At the same time, especially since this woman gives “birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations” (12:5), she’s always been viewed also as an image of the Virgin Mother. Mary, mother of the Messiah, sums up in herself the entire people of God. She is an image of the Church. The entire Church is the spouse of Christ, the bride whose wedding with the Lamb is celebrated at the eternal banquet, yet Mary is singularly God’s bride and mother of the Son.

So the mother of Jesus is intimately involved in this wedding at Cana, image of that greater wedding to which all of Jesus’ disciples are invited. Whatever her role may have been in the historical event at Cana, in John’s narrative her role comes down to observing a problem, a potential social disaster, to interceding on behalf of those who will be in trouble, and to leading the servants to Jesus so that the trouble will be averted, the situation salvaged—salvation achieved.

It’s precisely in that role of concerned intercessor and helper that we have been invoking the mother of Jesus during our novena: “You are the mighty and glorious protector of Holy Church. In the midst of our anguish, our struggles, and our distress, defend us from the power of the enemy”—the enemies of the Church on earth, the infernal enemies of the Church, and the enemies of our souls. It’s to Mary in her role of Help of Christians that Pope Benedict especially asks us to intercede particularly on behalf of the very distressed Church of China, beset by the angry dragon of a totalitarian state.

“They have no wine,” Mary informs Jesus (John 2:3). The Jews didn’t use wine as a daily beverage but saved it for festive occasions. Thus it carries the symbolism of festivity; and for the Christian, the festival of the eschatological feast, the eternal banquet, the wedding feast of the Lamb.
The mother of Jesus observes a shortage of wine, a lack of salvation in effect. Until the hour of Jesus comes, there’s no wine. Until Jesus acts, there’s no access to the banquet of life. In her voice the Church cries out to Jesus for wine, for salvation.

The mother of Jesus also knows how to address the problem. Do you want wine, i.e., do you want to celebrate at the eternal banquet? Do you want an invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb? Then you must be a disciple. You must be one of the servants who “does whatever he tells you” (2:5). The mother of Jesus knows the way to eternal life: the way of discipleship, of listening to and obeying Jesus.

The mother of Jesus cannot herself save the situation, just as the Church—that other bride of the Divine—cannot save except insofar as the Church acts with Jesus: listens to him and does what he tells her. But both Mary and the Church bring us to or unite us to the one who does save: to Jesus.

May Mary, mother of Jesus, continue to take loving note of all that afflicts us and threatens us. May she continue to go to Jesus and plead on our behalf. May we always heed her timeless advice and listen to the Divine Word, and so be saved from the predations of the awful dragon (Rev 12:3,7) and “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Eph 1:3), chosen to be among God’s adopted children (1:5) “for the praise of his glory” (1:12), with a place at the Lamb’s wedding feast.

Stained glass window of the miracle at Cana: Our Lady of the Valley Church, Orange, N.J.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Last nite (Saturday) I preached without a written text at Willow Towers. So here's an old homily available on the computer.

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Easter
May 20, 1984
1 Pet 2: 4-9
MHC Academy, N. Haledon, N.J.

“Like living stones, be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood” (1 Pet 2: 5).

Many interpreters think that the 1st Letter of Peter is a lengthy baptismal homily. Certainly baptismal themes run through it, which is why the Church chooses it as a series of readings for us in this Easter season.

The baptismal theme today is our common priesthood, the priesthood of all believers, the priesthood of the baptized. The author tells his listeners, those to be baptized and us who have been baptized, “Come to the Lord, the living stone, and be built yourselves into a spiritual house” (cf. 2:4-5). Like Christ, be holy priests.

To what kind of a priesthood are we invited? To one that will “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (4:4); to one that will “declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (4:9). This is the priesthood we all share, the priesthood of Baptism into our Lord Jesus Christ: we offer spiritual sacrifices, and we declare the wonderful works of God.

What kind of spiritual sacrifice are we to offer? What is a sacrifice acceptable to God thru Jesus Christ? An upright and holy life, one in which we die to the selfishness of sin and live to do the Father’s will. We offer ourselves daily as living sacrifices to God, as Christ did. This is spiritual because it’s an act of our hearts and minds, as well as of our bodies, and our bodies aren’t literally consumed by fire or the cross. It is a sacrifice we offer day after day.

How shall we declare God’s wonderful deeds? In the first place, as we are doing now, by celebrating the liturgy, especially the Eucharist. Here we all proclaim in song, in reading, in ritual, and in the great prayer of thanksgiving how God has saved us, how he has sent Christ to lead us out of darkness and into light, out of sin and into grace.

Secondly, we declare God’s works by the witness of our lives. The spiritual sacrifice of our daily lives is seen not only by God but to a great extent by our sisters and brothers. Our lives proclaim God’s goodness to us. Our lives encourage other women and men to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. Priesthood and prophecy are intertwined in Christ and in the Christian.

May God the Father be praised for sending us his Sin and for calling us to be his own holy and priestly people in Christ. May we indeed offer him our very selves as we proclaim his great works.

Thursday, May 19, 2011



I was on vacation from May 11 to May 16; drove to Fredericksburg, Va., to stay with my brother, relax, do a little sightseeing, and drive a little further (actually, my brother did the driving) to Williamsburg to see my 95-year-old Aunt Mary (who's also my godmother).

Altho I celebrated 2 weekday Masses at St. Mary's in F'burg, and preached at them, I only concelebrated at the Sunday Mass and so have no homily to post for last weekend (without digging up an old one).

The sightseeing included a sandstone quarry that contributed to the construction of our nation's capital (e.g. the White House and the Capitol); 3 Civil War battlefields; and the new Smithsonian Air & Space Museum (fantastic!).A little bit of the Aquia sandstone quarry on Brent Island (Government Island) along Aquia Creek.

Confederate trenches on the ridge above the notorious "Bloody Angle" at Spotsylvania, where thousands of men on both sides fell in ferocious hand-to-hand combat lasting all day in a torrential rain--"the most expensive piece of real estate in America."

The Enola Gay Space shuttle Enterprise
The relaxing included reading, playing cards, watching TV, and reconstructing a disappeared Troop 40 photo album (from 1996-1998). And staying in bed till 6:30 or 7:00 every day!

Papal Appointment for Rector Major

Papal Appointment
for Rector Major

The following news story was carried by ANS, the SDBs' international news agency, this morning (May 19):

Holy Father appoints Fr. Pascual Chavez a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization
(ANS –Vatican City) – On May 19 the Holy Father appointed new consulters for the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. Among them is Fr. Pascual Chavez Villanueva, Rector Major of the Salesians.

With Fr. Chavez, who is president of the Union of Superiors General, are Msgr. Fernando Ocariz (Spain), vicar general of the personal prelature of Opus Dei; Fr. Julian Carron (Spain), president of Communion and Liberation; Fr. François-Xavier Dumortier, S.J. (France), rector magnificus of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome; Fr. Pierangelo Sequeri (Italy), vice president and lecturer in fundamental theology at the Theological School of Northern Italy; Sr. Sara Butler (United States of America) of the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity, lecturer in dogmatic theology at the St. Mary of the Lake University in Chicago; Sr. Mary Lou Wirtz, F.C.J.M. (United States of America), superior general of the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, president of the International Union of Female Superiors General. Also on the list are the lay people Dr. Chiara Amirante (Italy), founder and leader of the New Horizons Association; Mr. Kiko Arguello (Spain), leader of the international team of the Neo-Catechumenal Way; Prof. Lucetta Scaraffia (Italy), lecturer in history at the School of Literature and Philosophy at La Sapienza University in Rome.

The Pontifical Council, was established on June 28, 2010, by Benedict XVI. Its “principal task will be to promote a renewed evangelization in the countries where the first proclamation of the faith has already resonated and where Churches with an ancient foundation exist but are experiencing the progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God,’ which pose a challenge to finding appropriate to propose anew the perennial truth of Christ’s Gospel.”

On the following June 30 Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella was appointed president of the new pontifical council. On October 12, 2010, the motu proprio “Ubicumque et Semper” was published, by which the Roman Pontiff established the department and named its members.

Cause of Polish Salesian as Martyr Moves Forward

Cause of Polish Salesian
as Martyr Moves Forward

This news report comes from ANS, the Salesians' international news agency, dated today (May 19).
The investigative process for the Servant of God Fr. Franciszek Miska has closed

(ANS – Aleksandrow Kujawski) – A solemn session on May 12, 2011, in the main hall of the Salesian Schools of Aleksandrow Kujawski closed the investigative process regarding the cause of martyrdom of the Servant of God Fr. Franciszek Miska, SDB. Fr. Miska was director of the Sons of Mary junior seminary at Lad from 1936 to 1942, and was interned in the Dachau concentration camp, where he died from ill treatment and torture on May 30, 1942.

Bishop Wieslaw Alojzy Mering of Wloclawek presided at the closing ceremony. Among those present were the provincial, Fr. Marek Chmielewski; the vice postulator, Fr. Jaroslaw Wasowicz; and Salesians and pupils from the Salesian high school and junior college.

Fr. Franciszek Miska belongs to the group of martyrs of World War II whose cause was officially opened on February 28, 2004, at Lad. The group from the diocese of Pelplin was added to others religious and lay Christians who suffered martyrdom; the official title of the Process is “PELPLIN: Concerning the Beatification or Declaration of Martyrdom of the Servants of God HENRYK SZUMAN, Diocesan Priest, and 121 Companions—Diocesan Priests, Religious, and Members of the Christian Laity; and whether they were killed in hatred of the Faith.”

The celebration at Aleksandrow began with a moment of prayer. Then Fr. Wasowicz greeted those present and gave an account of the Servant of God and the work of the tribunal. Prof. Fr. Henryk Stawniak, as the bishop’s delegate for Fr. Miska’s process, directed the final session and with the bishop checked the documents of the process, which were then sealed and signed. The summary was then submitted to Pelplin.

Fr. Chmielewski, provincial of the Pila Province, thanked Bishop Mering for agreeing to add Fr. Miska’s process to that of his diocese and said that shortly it would be decided whether or not to introduce the canonical process for five other Salesians from Rumia, martyred at the beginning of World War II at Aleksandrow Kujawski, as well as that of Fr. Franciszek Strzyglowski, a great benefactor of the Salesians, killed by the Gestapo in July 1941 at Gniezno.

On May 24, 2011, the process for the whole group of martyrs will be closed. Part of this group are Fr. Jan Swierc and seven companions from the Krakow Province, killed in Auschwitz.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Homily for 3d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Easter
May 8, 2011
1 Peter 1: 17-21
Christian Brothers, Iona College

“Conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed…with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1: 17-19).

Peter’s 1st Letter is addressed to “visiting strangers” and “resident aliens”—references to neither extraterrestrials nor immigrants legal or illegal; but to Christians, particularly converts from paganism, living in the precarious conditions of the mid-1st century, especially conditions of official and unofficial hostility, harassment, and persecution.

Sojourning here is the same word used in Acts (13:17) in one of Paul’s homilies with reference to the Israelites’ stay in Egypt—an apt reference when Peter, here, refers to our deliverance thru a lamb’s blood (1:19). Neither Israel in Egypt nor Peter’s contemporaries nor Christians now have a comfortable, permanent home; rather, we’re in transit, passing thru—passing thru mortal life, passing thru an unredeemed society (what some refer to as “the world, the flesh, and the devil”), passing thru a time of trial.

The Christian is different from the rest of society, separated from it, because you have been “ransomed from your futile conduct” (1:18). In the case of Peter’s addressees, most of them former pagans, the futile conduct was idolatry: “They are without knowledge who bear wooden idols and pray to gods that cannot save,” the prophet Isaiah says (45:20). In the case of all of us, the futile conduct is our sins, which seem for a moment to be life-affirming but fail to bring us more than fleeting pleasure. The blood of Christ, spattered on the wood of the cross like the paschal lamb’s blood on Israel’s doorposts, has delivered us from the angel of death, ransomed us from the grave.

The Christian is different from the rest of society, separated from it, because you invoke the impartial Judge of the world as Father (1:17). (Peter doesn’t speak of Christ as judge, as the Gospels and our Creed do.) Ransomed by Christ, belonging then to Christ, you address God as Father, like Christ. You are bonded to God in a familial relationship—no stranger, no alien, no sojourner in the household of God, but an intimate member of it. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “You are strangers and aliens no longer, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone” (2:19-20).

Consequently, says Peter, you have an obligation: “conduct yourselves with reverence,” or in some translations, “with fear,” but that reverential fear or awe moved by love. We’re afraid to offend those dearest to us, not out of dread but out of reverence, out of a deep feeling of respect and personal relationship. “Conduct yourselves with reverence” by faithful worship of your Father, by faithful adherence to the teachings of Jesus.

In ch. 2 Peter will be more specific, telling his addressees to get rid of malice, deceit, insincerity, envy, and slander (2:1)—timeless advice for the disciples of Jesus. Further on he’ll give directions for specific roles in the Christian household: wives (3:1-6), husbands (3:7), slaves (2:18-25), and presbyters (5:1-4). He’ll tell us to be patient, compassionate, humble, forgiving (3:8-9), loving in all things “because love covers a multitude of sins” (4:8). These are some practical ways of “conducting ourselves with reverence during our time of sojourning.”

Finally, Peter reminds us that our “faith and hope are in God, who raised [Christ] from the dead and gave him glory” (1:21). During the difficult period of our sojourning—amid the hostility and even the persecution of a pagan world, or “just” the temptations of a world so focused on consumerism, sex, power, and what people think of us—in such a world, remember that God has saved us “with the precious blood of Christ.” In him is our hope; in him is our salvation. Nothing the world has can top that. Nothing the world does can overcome that.

Final Camp-o-ree for Four Rivers

Final Camp-o-ree
for Four Rivers

The Westchester-Putnam Council of the BSA has decided to close up the Four Rivers District and fold the troops into the Algonquin and Manitou districts at the end of the summer. Four Rivers has included troops from Yonkers (including Crestwood), Bronxville, and Mt. Vernon.

So last weekend's (April 29-May 1) camp-o-ree was the district's last. And it was a good one. It took place at Durland Scout Reservation (formerly called Clear Lake) in Putnam Valley, an hour’s drive north and west of N.R. About 150 Scouts and adults at the Four Rivers District camp-o-ree in Putnam Valley, an hour’s drive north and west of here. Most of the troops stayed for the whole weekend; one or two may have come up just for Saturday’s activities.

We had 12 boys from Troop 40 and 3 adults (Tunji Renner, Louis Antunez, and I) for the whole weekend, another adult (Chris Maselli) for part of Saturday. As usual, we left Mt. Vernon around 7:30 p.m. and were setting up our tents in the dark. I hate setting up in the dark!
On Saturday there was a general assembly: flag raising, pledge, announcements, etc.

Then the Scouts went in patrols (12 of them, including 2 from 40) to 5 stations where they demonstrated their skills at first aid, fire building, knots and lashing, map reading, and flag etiquette. After lunch, they went to 6 activities: tug-o-war, Kim’s game (memory test), walking sticks (whatever that means?), 2-man saw, earth ball, and caber toss. I missed most of the afternoon events because we (the 3 adults) had a visit from former asst. scoutmaster Ron Dingler, who lives in Putnam Valley.

One of Troop 40's patrols doing lashings

One of Troop 40's patrols demonstrating flag etiquette

3 Scouters and 3 Scouts working on Kim's game

After the lads cleaned themselves up a little (not too much, judging from a few of the hands that I saw a Holy Communion), we had Mass at an available campsite more or less centrally located. About 60 came to Mass in the great outdoors. My homily was similar to the one I gave on Sunday evening at St. Augustine's Church in Larchmont: http://http/

Scouts and Scouters at Mass, with your humble blogger greeting them at the left.

Scouts Brendan McManus, Matthew St. Hilaire, and Mike Berman preparing chili for supper.

Supper followed in our various camps (we had chili), then a contest in dessert-making with Dutch ovens, and finally a general campfire with songs, skits, and Yonkers Troop 5’s annual ritual of retiring worn-out U.S. flags (a solemn ritual in which they’re burned). Chris did a good job as MC for the campfire.

Bloggers Meet at the Vatican

Bloggers Meet at the Vatican

You may have read that the Holy See--thru two of its dicasteries--invited bloggers from around the world to a conference on blogging in Rome on May 2. Something like 600 applied for the 150 slots. No, yours truly didn't apply.

As far as I know, only one SDB blogger did apply, Fr. C.M. Paul from Calcutta, who is currently working on his doctorate in communications at the UPS in Rome. While earning his master's in communications from Fordham back in the late '80s, he lived with us here at the provincial house and was a very happy part of our community. He blogged from the conference:

Here's the story that ANS ran on Friday:

Bloggers and Church, a promising dialogue

(ANS – Vatican City – May 6) – In the afternoon of May 2, 150 bloggers took part in an open meeting initiated by the Pontifical Council for Communications together with the Pontifical Council for Culture. The invitation from the Church to bloggers was a daring move.

The meeting took place in the headquarters of the two Vatican departments on via della Conciliazione. It was aimed at facilitating a dialog between bloggers and Church representatives so as to share experiences of those actively engaged in this field and to reach a better understanding of what demands emerge for such a group.

There was much variety among participants through diversity of language, geography, and type of blog represented (institutional, private, multi/single-authored). In addition to the 150 involved, a further 750 bloggers and social network users were also present, all of whom were currently connected with them directly through the Web.

Some current initiatives of the Church regarding the new types of media were presented, with special mention given to the involvement of young people who have shown an interest in the Madrid WYD through the Internet. The first part of the program was devoted to taking a closer look at a number of more urgent issues that have come out among the participants. Some bloggers, from a variety of language groups, aired specific topics that have impacts across the board. In the second part of the program some Church representatives with special responsibility for policy on communications spoke of their experience of working in the new media and of moves being made to establish an effective link between the Church and the blogging community.

At the heart of the contributions and the thinking of the participants was how to wed Church communication, with its hierarchical structure, with the spontaneity and freelance involvement of blog and social network. Both Facebook and Twitter were given great airing throughout the discussions.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Abp. Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican Press, also took part in the meeting.

Abp. Celli stated: “We are dealing here with a technology which shows clearly once again that our central concern is not technology itself, but people. We must then ensure yet again that it’s all about men and women communicating with each other; at the same time, as we look to the future, we must promote human values so as to be able to live, appreciate, and use these new technologies which can, if used wisely, serve to enrich and deepen our experience of human relations.”

The exchange of views between bloggers and Church representatives has shown that the Internet calls for a new type of pastoral presence and for some recognized “Web pastor.” François Jeanne-Beylot declared: “If Christ were to come and preach to us today, he would not climb a mountain or get into a boat: he would go to Twitter or open a blog.”

Those who took part left with the hope that these beginnings of dialog will be followed up by further initiatives.

[See also Catholic News Service’s May 6 “Vatican Letter”:]

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Homily for 2d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Easter

May 1, 2011
John 20: 19-31
St. Augustine, Larchmont

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked where the disciples were…, Jesus came and stood in their midst” (John 20: 19).

In her liturgy all this week the Church has been celebrating one long Easter day. Our gospel reading this evening, like several that we read during the week, tells us of events that happened at dawn at the empty tomb or on the afternoon and evening of that 1st Easter Day when Jesus rose from the dead. Today’s gospel follows up with the events of one week later as we hear about “Doubting Thomas.”
The 1st verse of the gospel reading tells us that the disciples—presumably not only the apostles but others as well, like our Blessed Mother and the other faithful women—have locked themselves up in hiding. The place is the so-called Upper Room where 3 nites earlier they’d had their last supper with Jesus. Altho the doors are locked, Jesus suddenly materializes in their midst—Jesus who’d been crucified and buried 2 days earlier, showing all the physical signs of his torture and agonizing death, including the lance wound in his side that in itself would have been fatal if he weren’t already dead on the cross. “He showed them his hands and his side” (20:20).
Doubting Thomas, by Duccio di Buoninsegna
The doors are locked, but Jesus comes thru anyway. There’s symbolism here: death hasn’t been able to bind Jesus, to lock him up in a tomb. No physical limits can hold him any longer. The limits of space and time that we experience in our present mortal life no longer rule him. The life he has, the peace he offers, can’t be contained, but are freely given to anyone anywhere who will accept them.
We’re accustomed to say—in figurative language—that the death and resurrection of Jesus opened the gates of heaven to us sinners. Doors and gates can’t block the reach of God’s love. Jesus reaches even to us on a far continent almost 21 centuries later. He’s just as present to us, e.g. in the holy Scriptures, in the sacraments of the Church, as he was to the 1st disciples in his mysterious resurrection appearances.
The 2d thing to note in the reading is that Jesus’ peace is linked to the gift of the Holy Spirit, the life breath of God: “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (20:22). In Greek the same word, pneuma, means both “breath” and “spirit”—a nice word-play, but one with real substance. And that spiritual gift of peace and divine life includes the forgiveness of sins. The reason for Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection is forgiveness, reconciliation between God and human beings. The Holy Spirit of God now binds us to Jesus and to the Father. All our sins are forgiven, and we’re healed, made whole, restored to God’s family.
The 3d thing to note is that Jesus sends his disciples out to convey this peace, to bestow this forgiveness: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (20:21). The disciples of Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit, i.e., the Church, are the vehicle, the means, by which peace and reconciliation are preached and delivered to the human race. To the disciples, to the Church, Jesus gives the power and the divine privilege of forgiving sins (20:23).
The Church in practice does this thru the sacraments: thru Baptism, and after Baptism thru Reconciliation (Penance, “confession”). This Sunday, widely celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday, we note God’s ever present mercy offered to us thru the sacraments of forgiveness, thru the constant availability of the Holy Spirit to those who come to Jesus in faith, to those who live out what he said to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen [my wounds] and have believed” (20:29) that I am, indeed, living and giving to you my Father’s peace, giving to you eternal life thru my Holy Spirit.

Salesian Parishioner Beatified

Salesian Parishioner Beatified
(Catholic News Service)

On May 1 Pope Benedict XVI beatified the most famous one-time parishioner of the Salesians, Karol Wojtyla from St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in the Debniki neighborhood of Krakow, Poland.

Of course, the world knows him as Pope John Paul II—or John Paul the Great—and, now, Blessed Pope John Paul II.

In August 1938, 18-year-old Karol and his father moved from their native Wadowice into tiny quarters at 10 Tyniecka St. in Krakow, a three-minute walk around the corner from St. Stanislaus Church at 6 Konfederacka St., where Karol attended Mass daily at 6:00 a.m. Karol would be counted as a parishioner until 1944, well into his seminary years.

St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Debniki-Krakow
In Witness to Hope, his biography of John Paul, George Weigel says that St. Stanislaus “was a dynamic parish in which the Salesians placed great emphasis on youth work” (p. 59). The Pope himself wrote in Gift and Mystery, “I cannot fail to mention one particular place … from [which] I really received much during that period. The place was my parish, dedicated to Saint Stanislaus Kostka…. I believe that the presence of the Salesians played an important role in the formation of my vocation” (p. 23).
Karol Wojtyla (center) as a member of the militia, ca. 1938

The Pope spoke further of his vocation when he traveled to Turin in September 1988, in part to note the centennial of Don Bosco’s death earlier that year and to preside over the beatification of Laura Vicuña in the presence of 30,000 people, mostly youngsters, at Colle Don Bosco on Sept. 3. At the end of the beatification Mass, he thanked Providence for the gift of Don Bosco “for the benefit of youth and of the whole Catholic community,” and then added some very personal remarks: “I bring my own gratitude because I also lived for five or six years in a Salesian parish. And when I find myself here at Colle Don Bosco…, when I look at the imposing façade of this great church, it brings to my mind that of another church, not unlike this one from an architectural point of view: the parish church of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Krakow. There Don Bosco’s charism touched me through the Salesians, his spiritual sons. And so I too come here in pilgrimage with all of you to give thanks for the part played by St. John Bosco, his spiritual Family, and his charism in my life” (Acts of the General Council, n. 328, p. 19).

John Paul also notes the “special devotion there to Mary, Help of Christians” and “a change [that] took place in my understanding of devotion to the Mother of God” (G&M 28). Years later, the Salesian news service ANS reported, “It was precisely in front of the image of Mary Help of Christians venerated in the church in Debniki that young Karol came to the decision to devote himself entirely to the service of the Lord and his Church.” Salesian piety was one of several factors in the maturing Marian devotion of this most Marian of Supreme Pontiffs (cf. G&M
Image of Mary Help of Christians before which Karol Wojtyla often prayed

Germany launched World War II in Europe by invading Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. In the first year of the German occupation, writes Weigel, the Salesians “at the risk of their lives … tried to continue this [youth] apostolate…, conducting underground catechetical programs for elementary and high school students” (p. 59). Another biographer, Tad Szulc, singles out a pre-Easter retreat they organized in 1940 for the young people of the parish as a significant moment. “The retreat having proved successful,” he writes in Pope John Paul II, “the Salesians requested a priest who lectured at the Jagiellonian University to hold weekly theological encounters for twenty to thirty young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, who had come to the original retreat” (p. 112). From these gatherings the Salesians came up with the idea of “the Living Rosary” to maintain a clandestine network among the youths to circumvent the Nazis’ wariness of even church organizations. The Pope wrote in Gift and Mystery that “the Salesian Fathers had courageously begun anew their work among youth in that difficult period” (p. 23).

Karol’s experience of Salesian pastoral care for the young—less than three years—must have made a profound impression upon him, not only in terms of his vocation and his Marian devotion, as he has testified, but also in his interest in young people, so evident throughout his own priestly, episcopal, and papal ministry. Writing to the Salesians’ 25th General Chapter on Feb. 22, 2002, Pope John Paul remarked: “Your life, my dear sons, is lived out among the boys as Don Bosco wanted it to be. You are happy among them, and they enjoy your friendly presence. Yours are ‘houses’ in which they feel at ease. Isn’t this the distinguishing feature of your apostolate in every part of the world?” (Acts of GC25, n. 145). Surely the Holy Father was speaking from personal experience. If Fr. Wojtyla the philosophy professor, Abp. Wojtyla of Krakow, and Pope John Paul II “connected” with the young and inspired so many of them to deepen their faith in Jesus Christ and even to pursue religious or priestly vocations, we may attribute that in good part to the Salesians of Debniki.
Statue of John Paul II in the chapel of Mary Help of Christians in the parish church of Debniki

One participant in the youth gatherings following that Lenten retreat of 1940, by no means one of the younger ones, was a 39-year-old tailor named Jan Tyranowski. He offered to take charge of the Living Rosary, and the Salesians, recognizing “his gifts of good sense, piety, and apostolic zeal” (ANS), entrusted the pastoral care of the young men and women to him. This unpretentious and devout man was steeped in the spirituality of the Carmelite mystics, especially St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.

When the Gestapo arrested Fr. Jan Swierc, St. Stanislaus Kostka’s pastor, and 11 other Salesians from the parish and the Salesian seminary on Tyniecka St. on May 23, 1941, the parish was left with only one elderly priest and the provincial, Fr. Adam Cieslar. Within 12 months Fr. Swierc and 7 others had been killed at Auschwitz. One, Fr. Joseph Kowalski, is among 108 Polish martyrs of the Nazis beatified in 1999, including 5 young leaders of the Salesian youth center in Poznan—evidence of just how dangerous were youth gatherings during the occupation, and, for that matter, the underground seminary program that Abp. Sapieha of Krakow organized in the fall of 1942 and in which Karol enrolled (cf. G&M 12-13). The cause of Fr. Swierc and 8 other Salesians as martyrs is under investigation.

Fr. Jan Swierc

During his last visit to Poland, John Paul II stopped in front of St. Stanislaus Church on August 17, 2002, and declared: “I always remember those Salesians who were taken away from this parish to the concentration camp.... I also remember Mr. Jan Tyranowski’s Living Rosary...” (ANS).
Tyranowski’s pastoral work thus became the more critical and more delicate. “Jan Tyranowski did not limit himself to the organizational aspects [of the youth network] alone; he also concerned himself with the spiritual formation of the young people whom he met” (G&M 24). Many of the Living Rosary Group eventually became priests or religious. John Paul speaks of him as a special “person from whom I received much during that period” (G&M 23); from this spiritual mentor Karol “learned the basic methods of self-formation which would later be confirmed and developed in the seminary program. Tyranowski…helped me to read the works of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila, something uncommon for a person my age” (G&M 24).

After his ordination on Nov. 1, 1946, Fr. Wojtyla returned to St. Stanislaus on Nov. 3 to celebrate one of his “first Masses” as a priest, “with a beaming Jan Tyranowski present” (Szulc, p. 133).

Tomb of Jan Tyranowski

We can say—tongue in cheek—that Pope John Paul was again a parishioner of the Salesians when he stayed at the papal summer palace in Castel Gandolfo, where the Salesians have pastoral care of the parrocchia pontificia, “the papal parish,” St. Thomas of Villanova.