Monday, June 27, 2011

Why Those Two Words Matter

Why Those Two Words Matter
"under God"

In a blog posting, Fr. Robert Barron from Chicago notes:

"One wonders whom the producers of the U.S. Open broadcast were trying to impress or not to offend when they excised the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, by not offending, they managed to do violence to the words of the pledge.
. . . .

"And though it might not be immediately apparent, this is no small thing. The claim that we are a nation 'under God' is an affirmation that we stand opposed to tyrannies of all stripes. What creates a tyrant is the assumption that he and his policies are beyond criticism, because his will is the criterion of truth."

You can read the whole post at

Homily for Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Homily for the Solemnity
of Corpus Christi

May 28, 1978
Deut. 8: 2-3, 14-16
Salesian Center, Columbus

This year (2011), Corpus Christi fell on June 26; from June 21 to 25 I was en route to and from, or taking part in, the Catholic Media Conference in Pittsburgh. Thus I didn't have a chance to write out a homily, and on the 26th I preached to the Ursulines from an 8-word outline--at my usual length! In lieu of that nugget, here's a homily from 9 days after my presbyteral ordination.

The 1st or 2d time I braved the Mt. Carmel East emergency room by myself,* an elderly man was ambulanced in with massive heart failure. His wife, son, daughter-in-law, and grand-daughter came in to wait it out, and there I was, trying to be of use, of help, of something, in a tiny private room with them. How do we minister to people in basic human situations? in extreme human situations?

To care, and to show we care, we must enter into the situation ourselves. We must somehow participate in the experience, become present, and become vulnerable. We simply cannot remain spectators.

In the situation I cited, the case was extreme. Fortunately for all of us, at least as far as I was concerned, one of the Holy Cross sisters joined us, and when the bad news came after about 15 minutes, the doctor, too, was most compassionate. Together, we all of us experienced this man’s death in some way, and sister’s experience, mine, and the doctor’s were instruments for Christ’s care toward these stricken people.

In such situations, words may help; but generally they don’t. Only a shared presence is of value.

Human misery and death are certainly an extreme condition of our race. But they aren’t the worst extreme. There is sin. There is alienation from God and one another. These hurt us mortally. These tear us apart more than physical death.

And we are fortunate to have the pastoral presence of the Lord God. He calls us to himself, to follow him thru the desert wasteland to fellowship with him to a land of milk and honey. He bestows his gifts on us to sustain us in the desert of our extreme human situation.

But his words spoken thru Moses, his manna given from the sky, aren’t enuf to keep us with him and to heal our situation. We insist on going our own way and staying lost in the desert wastes of sin and alienation. What more can he do for us, then?

“Man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3). The spoken word isn’t concrete enuf for us, so God has outdone himself and given us a Word enfleshed. The presence of Jesus is as pastoral and compassionate a presence to the misery and alienation of our human condition as God can devise. He has participated in our whole situation; he has become vulnerable, just like us. God truly cares—not just with manna that feeds us for a day but doesn’t prevent death or alienation or infidelity—but with the Word of life, the Word really present among men.

“Man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Out of God’s mouth proceeds also the Breath, the Spirit, who vivifies and sanctifies us in the corporeal absence of Jesus. This is the same Spirit who overshadowed Mary and enabled the Word to become flesh.

But the compassion and the concern of our God for our frailty, our pain, our wounds, goes still further! Jesus the Word of life is still with us bodily, in the Bread of life, again made flesh by the overshadowing of the Spirit.
Bread…bread and wine! Not caviar and martinis, not any exotic or expensive food, but abundant, common, universal bread and wine—the food for all mankind, just as God’s compassion is universally present to us. In his com-passion, he has truly suffered with us. And now…now, he invites us to be compassionate with him. He is present to us to be eaten as food. We are present to him to become part of his body given up for the human race. His Bread is a promise to us of salvation, of eternal life. Our eating his Bread is a promise to him that we share his com-passion for his whole Body, for all men. In this food, more than any other, do we become what we eat.

What a gift, what a presence, we have received! After that fatherless family left Mt. Carmel, our only presence to each other has been in thought. But God’s Word among us not only gives life but asks us to be taken up, given up with him so that we who receive might also give. Truly, we abide in him and he in us (cf. John 6:56).

* Note for blog readers: this was during my clinical pastoral education as a student of theology; I think it was after my ordination to the diaconate in the fall of 1977.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Homily for Trinity Sunday

Homily for
Trinity Sunday
June 19, 2011
2 Cor 13: 11-13
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13: 11).

Our 2d Scripture passage this morning is the conclusion of St. Paul’s 2d Letter to the Corinthians—the last verse of which, a blessing, you’ve often heard as the priest’s greeting at the beginning of Mass, as you did today.

Corinth is located at the head of a deep bay in southern Greece, on the neck of the isthmus between the northern mainland of the country and the large southern peninsula. So it was an important seaport and a crossroads—a very important commercial, social, and religious center.

The Christians of Corinth were ordinary people like us, except that most of them were converts to Christianity—from decadent pagan lives or, in some cases, from devoutly Jewish lives—whereas most of us were raised as followers of Jesus from birth; and the Corinthians lived in a very pagan, very immoral world renowned for its corruption—the Times Square, the Las Vegas, the Amsterdam of the Roman Empire—whereas our society and our culture shows much evidence of Judeo-Christian influences despite some strong currents of modern paganism.

Paul’s letters to these early Christians deal with a lot of problems, with doctrinal questions, with conflicts, with bad behavior. So we hear him commanding them to “mend their ways.”

Then he tells them, specifically, to encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace. This is the opposite of what so many of them have been doing. (Just read the 2 letters to the Corinthians in your New Testament.) It’s the opposite of what Paul prays that these friends of his will experience: God’s love, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, grace from Jesus Christ.

Thru the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God calls us into fellowship, into communion, with himself and with one another. He doesn’t call us to fault-finding, to arguments, to ego trips, to lies about one another, to exploiting one another. He doesn’t call us to indifference toward one another. God, after all, hasn’t been indifferent toward us, even tho we’re sinners—pretty ugly people sometimes (and I don’t mean ugly in a physical sense, like when you 1st get to the mirror in the morning). Indeed, what does St. John tell us about God today? That he “so loved the world”—which means us sinful people—“that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (3:16). God wants to save us! God loves us!

That’s why Paul can urge even the Corinthians (with all their faults and sins) to rejoice—to rejoice in God’s love, in the fellowship they share with God thru Jesus, thru the power of the Holy Spirit to help them change their sinful behavior, to mend their ways. God's word urges us today to rejoice for the same reason, in the same communion with God.

“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you” (13:12). So Paul signs off just before blessing his friends and disciples in Corinth.

“All the holy ones,” which most English versions translate as “All the saints,” refers to the Christians who are with Paul where he’s writing from; that appears to be Macedonia—perhaps Philippi or Thessalonica, where Paul had planted the faith before he reached Corinth. Every faithful flower of Jesus is a “holy one” or a “saint,” someone made holy by “the grace of Jesus Christ, God’s love, and fellowship with the Holy Spirit.” In fact, when he greeted the faithful of Corinth in the 1st verse of this letter, he greeted them, too, as “saints” or “holy ones.”

You and I, dear sisters and brothers, are God’s holy people. Yes, we’re sinners. But God’s grace comes to us in Jesus; the fellowship of the Holy Spirit cleanses our sins and draws us into communion with God! It’s God’s holiness, not our own, that we acknowledge—and that we strive to live up to.

In all cultures, including those of the ancient Near East, a kiss symbolizes affection, respect, and friendship between family members, friends, or members of the same group. People greet each other or say farewell with a kiss. In the liturgy we kiss sacred objects such as the altar, the book of the Gospels, relics—and in some rites, tho not the Roman Rite that we follow—we kiss our fellow worshipers at the sign of peace. In fact, those of you old enuf to remember the pre-Vatican II rite of Confirmation will remember that the bishop used to slap the one he’d just confirmed—a light slap, of course—which the sisters explained was a sign that we had to be ready to suffer as soldiers of Christ in battles against the evil in the world. In truth, tho, that “slap” was the feeble remnant of a kiss; it was a love tap such as you might give your child; it was a sign of peace—exactly what has replaced it in the post-Vatican II Confirmation rite, in which the bishop expressly wishes peace to the person he’s just confirmed.

Paul urges the Corinthians to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” There are in the Bible insincere kisses; the most notorious example is Judas’s kissing of Jesus as he betrays him. So a holy kiss in the Christian community, or any sign of peace and reconciliation and friendship, must 1st of all be sincere. Then, we all know that kisses are exchanged between lovers. These also can be signs of the deepest affection and commitment toward each other. Unfortunately, they can also be exploitative, like so much of the sexual expression in our culture (not that our culture is unique in that regard, not at all). A holy kiss, then, like any exchange between persons, is one that regards and respects the other person, not one that is self-gratifying, one that seeks to use another person for one’s own pleasure. Paul is urging the Christians of Corinth to be in peace and harmony with each other, and to treat one another with complete respect—ultimately, to treat one another as God’s holy people, people who belong to the Lord Jesus because the Holy Spirit dwells in them, people belonging intimately to the Father.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Homily for Solemnity of Pentecost

Homily for the
Solemnity of Pentecost
June 12, 2011
Psalm 104: 1,24,29-31,34
John 20: 19-23
1 Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104: 30).

"Jesus has poured this Spirit you see and hear": mosaic in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.

The 1st 2 verses of the Bible speak of God’s creating the heavens and the earth “in the beginning,” and of a divine wind—or the spirit of God—sweeping over primordial waters as part of that creative process. I’m no paleontologist, but those who study the beginnings of life on our planet tell us, as I understand it, that all life forms emerged from the sea. The so-called Priestly Source of this section of Genesis had no idea how uncanny his description has turned out to be!

The point of the story, of course, is that God has given all order and all life and all goodness to the universe. God has literally “inspired” creation. God’s plan from “the beginning” was that all of creation should be alive and thrive in an orderly relationship with him. Again, the Psalmist picks up on that theme: “How manifold are your works, O Lord! The earth is full of your creatures” (104:24). St. Irenaeus gives us the patristic insight: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

The sin of the 1st human beings introduced disorder and death in God’s universe, listening not to the divine Spirit but to the evil spirit: Sine tuo numine, nihil est in homine, nihil est innoxium, very freely rendered, “Where you are not, we have naught: Nothing good in deed or thought, Nothing free from taint of ill.”

So we may rightly claim that the divine Spirit intervened to restore God’s will for the universe: Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit, and the Word was made flesh. The 1st word spoken by the Word after his resurrection is “Shalom!” Peace be with you! The word of life is a word of peace, and that peace follows from the reconciliation between God and sinners: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:23). The Spirit is life-giving, for it’s God’s most ardent desire that we be fully alive. “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord be glad in his works!” (Ps 104:31). “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

As you know, water that just sits becomes stagnant, repulsive, dead. God’s Spirit isn’t stagnant. Jesus uses the image of flowing water to refer to the Spirit, especially in John’s Gospel: we must be born again of water and the Spirit (3:5); Jesus offers the Samaritan woman the gift of living water, flowing water (4:10); from whoever believes in Jesus will flow “rivers of living water” (7:38-39); from the pierced side of Jesus flow blood and water (19:34). So those who are filled with the Spirit, those who are fully alive in Christ, act accordingly. They flow, they move, they generate life. On the day of Pentecost, “they all began to speak in different tongues” (2:4) and then went out and preached Jesus Christ. Likewise, Paul says that to be able to proclaim “Jesus is Lord” is a gift of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:3), and the Spirit gives a great variety of gifts to the disciples of Jesus “for some benefit” (12:7).

The Cascade of Slid, a stretch of Pine Meadow Brook in Harriman State Park, New York

God’s dynamic Spirit impels believers to act on what they believe, in “different forms of service,” in “different workings” for the glory of God and the spread of the Good News that “Jesus is Lord,” for the reconciliation of sinners with God, for the restoration of goodness and order in the created universe. Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium. Da virtutis meritum, da salutis exitum, da perenne gaudium: “Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour thy dew; Wash the stains of guilt away. Give us virtue’s sure reward; Give us your salvation, Lord; Give us joys that never end.”

Sisters, you are sent by the Risen Jesus to preach that Good News, to work with the Spirit of God to effect peace and reconciliation. The different spiritual gifts you have received—of virtue, of teaching, of prayer, of leadership, of wisdom, of discernment, of inner healing, etc.—bring them to your community; bring them to the people of God “for some benefit,” for building up the body of Christ. Fill the earth with the glory of God!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rector Major Announces Strenna for 2012

Rector Major Announces
Strenna (Theme) for 2012 A few days ago Fr. Pascual Chavez, the SDBs' Rector Major, announced the annual strenna or theme for the Salesian Family for next year. It's the 1st of 3 that will point the Salesians toward the bicentennial of St. John Bosco's birth in 2015.

Here's the announcement from ANS, and following that you'll find the complete text of the RM's presentation of the strenna.

Strenna 2012: Coming to know Don Bosco in order to be faithful to him

(Rome) – As expected, the first of the Rector Major’s actions at the opening of the summer plenary session of the general council was to present the members with the theme for the 2012 Strenna; it is in line with preparations for celebrating the bicentennial of Don Bosco’s birth.

“Let us make the young our life’s mission by coming to know and imitate Don Bosco” is how Strenna 2012 reads. With it comes a quote from John’s Gospel (10:11) offering a biblical point of view: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

“We need to study [Don Bosco], and through the events of his life we must come to know him as an educator and pastor, a founder, guide, legislator,” Fr. Chavez states in the introduction to his brief presentation. In 2012, members of the Salesian Family will be called to discover and get to know the many-faceted figure of this saintly man from Turin.

Historical awareness is not just about archeology, but needs to take present times into consideration: ”The image we conjure up about Don Bosco and his activity needs serious reconstruction, beginning from our cultural horizons: the complexity of life today, globalization, difficulties in the apostolate, decrease in vocations, the ‘questioning’ of consecrated life.”

To be faithful to Don Bosco means renewing our life’s purpose, the purpose for which he gave himself “until his dying breath”: the salvation of the young, who, as the Rector Major reminds us, we encounter amid their various difficult circumstances: “poverty, child labor, sexual exploitation, lack of education and vocational training, finding work, lack of self-confidence, fear of the future, loss of the meaning of life.” It is also a case of looking at digital natives: “looking for experiences of social mobility, possibilities for intellectual development, aspects of economic progress, forms of instant communication, opportunity to be pro-active, through new technologies … here too we want to share their life and interests.”

An awareness of Don Bosco’s story has to begin with certain reference points: pastoral charity; the hardship, suffering, and many sacrifices which Don Bosco made; the ultimate purpose of the Salesian Family – to be apostles of the young, in ordinary settings as well as in poor and mission areas.

The presentation already gives an indication of tasks that will flow from Strenna 2012: being with the young in places, circumstances, and frontiers where they expect Salesian Family members also to be; an awareness of the responses that Don Bosco gave to young people’s needs: rediscovering the Memoirs of the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales, written by Don Bosco at the explicit request of Pope Pius IX, and known as the “memories of the future.” “So during this year [2012] let us be involved in getting to know this text, communicating its contents, disseminating it, and especially putting it into the hands of the young: it will also become an inspirational book for their vocational choice.”

Note that the Memoirs of the Oratory is available in English translation from Salesian Publishers. Call 201-986-0503, or write to
Here's the RM's presentation of the strenna:


“I am the good shepherd:

The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11)

Let us make the young our life’s mission

by coming to know and imitate Don Bosco

Year one of the three-year preparation period for the bicentennial of the Don Bosco’s birth focuses on our getting to know his story. We need to study him and, through the events of his life, we need to come to know him as an educator and pastor, founder, guide, legislator. It is an awareness that leads to love and imitation. This is the theme of Strenna 2012.

For us members of the Salesian Family, who turn to Don Bosco as our reference point, he needs to be what St. Francis of Assisi has been and continues to be for the Franciscans and St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuits, i.e., the founder, spiritual master, model of education, and especially initiator of a movement of worldwide importance, someone who was able formidably to bring young people’s needs, circumstances, and future to the attention of the Church and society. But how can we do this without turning to history, which is not the custodian of a lost past, but a living memory within us which challenges us in terms of relevance?

Our approach to Don Bosco, done with appropriate methods of historical research, has led us to understand and assess better his human and Christian greatness, his practical brilliance, his skills as an educator, his spirituality, his work, fully understood only if deeply rooted in the history of the society in which he lived. At the same time through a knowledge of his journey through history we have always been aware of God’s providential intervention in his life. In this historical study there is no a priori rejection of the valid and respectable image that generations of the Salesians, Salesian Sisters, Salesian Cooperators, and members of the Salesian Family have had of the Don Bosco they knew and loved, but there is and must be a presentation and reworking of an image of Don Bosco for today, one that can speak to today’s world, makes use of a renewed language.

The image of Don Bosco and his activity should be seriously reconstructed, beginning from our cultural horizons: the complexity of life today, globalization, and the difficulties of the apostolate, the decline in vocations, the “questioning” of consecrated life. Radical, or epochal, changes, as my predecessor Fr. Egidio ViganĂ² called them, force us to rethink and revise the image in another light, in view of a fidelity that is not mere repetition of formulas or formal allegiance to tradition.

The historical significance of Don Bosco also has to be rediscovered, beyond his “works” and certain relatively original pedagogical elements, especially in his practical and affective perception of the universal, theological, and social problem of “neglected” youth, and his great ability to communicate this to large crowds of co-workers, benefactors, and admirers.

Let us ask ourselves: Are we faithful followers of Don Bosco today? Do we still experience the tension that he experienced between the ideal and its realization, between intuition and its embodiment in the social fabric in which he operated?

To be faithful to Don Bosco means knowing his history and the history of his times, making his inspiration our own, taking up his motivations and choices.
To be faithful to Don Bosco and his mission is to cultivate in ourselves a strong and abiding love for young people, especially the poorest.

This love leads us to respond to their most pressing and deepest needs. Like Don Bosco, we feel touched by their difficult situations: poverty, child labor, sexual exploitation, lack of education and vocational training, integration into the world of work, lack of self-confidence, fear of the future, loss of meaning in life.

We try to be with them, in affection and through selfless love, holding sway discretely, offering sound proposals for them to follow as they make their choices in life and experience happiness and seek their future. In everything, we become their companions on the journey and competent guides.

In particular, referring to the youth of today, we seek to understand their new way of being. Many of them are “digital natives” looking for experiences of social mobility, the possibility of intellectual development, elements of economic progress, forms of instant communication, opportunities to be pro-active via new technologies. Here too we want to share their lives and their interests. Guided by the creative spirit of Don Bosco, as educators and “digital immigrants” we stay close to them, trying to help them overcome the generation gap with their parents or the adult world.

We take care of them throughout their journey of growth and as they mature, giving them our time and our energy and staying with them as they grow through childhood to become young adults.

We take care of them when difficult situations like war, hunger, and lack of future opportunities lead them to abandon home and family and face life alone.

We take care of them when they are looking out anxiously for their first job and setting about fitting into society, sometimes without any hope or prospect of success.

We take care of them when they are building up their world of affection, their family, accompanying them especially when they become engaged and in the early years of their marriage (see GC26, nn. 98, 99, 104).

We are particularly keen to fill the deepest void of their hearts, helping them seek meaning in their lives and above all offering a way for growth in knowledge and friendship with the Lord Jesus, in the experience of a living Church, in real commitment to experiencing their lives as vocation.

Beginning from our knowledge of the history of Don Bosco, our major points of reference and our tasks stemming from Strenna 2012 are as follows.

1. Pastoral charity characterizes Don Bosco’s entire story and is what animates his many works. We could say that it is the concise historical perspective through which to read his entire existence. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and calls them by name; he quenches their thirst with clear water and allows them to graze in green pastures; he becomes the gate through which the sheep enter the sheepfold; and he gives his own life so that the sheep may have life in abundance. The greatest power of Don Bosco’s charism is the love drawn directly from the Lord Jesus, imitating him and remaining in Him. This love consists in giving everything. From this stems his apostolic vow: “I have promised God to spend myself until my dying breath for my poor youngsters.” This is our brand and our credibility with the young!

2. In Don Bosco’s story we come to know of much hardship, privation, suffering, and of the many sacrifices he made. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Through the needs and requests of young people, God is asking each member of the Salesian Family to sacrifice him- or herself for them. Living the mission is therefore not a vain activity for activity’s sake, but rather conforming our hearts to the heart of the Good Shepherd who does not want any of his sheep to be lost. It is a deeply human and deeply spiritual mission. It is a path of asceticism, for there is no animating presence among young people without asceticism and sacrifice. Losing something, or rather, losing everything to enrich the lives of our young people is what supports our dedication and our commitment.

3. Through the minutes of the founding of the Salesian Congregation, and especially through historical development of the multifaceted work of Don Bosco, we can get to know the purpose of the Salesian Family, as this purpose was detailed little by little. We are called to be apostles of the young, of popular settings, of poor and mission areas. Today more than ever we commit ourselves to a critical understanding of media culture, and we use the media, in particular new technologies, as potential multipliers of our activity in being close to and supportive of young people. While we are in their midst as educators, we involve them as our first collaborators, as did our Father, and we give them responsibility, help them to take initiative, enable them to be apostles of their peers. In this way we can extend the great heart of Don Bosco; he wanted to reach and serve young people throughout the world.

4. Our good intentions cannot remain empty declarations. Like Don Bosco, God waits for us in today’s youth! We therefore need to meet them and stay with them in the places, circumstances, and frontiers where they await us. This is why we need to go out to meet them, take the first step, walk with them. It is heartening to see how the Salesian Family throughout the world is doing its best for the poorest young people: street children, excluded children, young workers, young soldiers, young apprentices, neglected orphans, exploited children, but a heart that loves is always a heart that asks itself certain questions. Even today, or perhaps today more than ever, Don Bosco asks questions. By getting to know his story, we must listen to the questions Don Bosco addresses to us. What more can we do for poor young people? What are the new frontiers of the region where we work, of the country where we live? Have we the ears to hear the cries of young people today? Besides the above-mentioned poverty, how many other kinds of poverty weigh on today’s young people as they struggle on their way? What are the new frontiers we must get involved in today? Think about the reality of the family, the educational emergency, the confusion in affective and sexual education, lack of social and political involvement, the ebbing tide of privacy of personal life, spiritual weakness, the misery of so many young people. We hear the cry of young people and offer answers to their deepest, most pressing needs, their practical and spiritual needs.

5. From his personal life’s experience we can know the responses Don Bosco gave to the needs of young people. In this way we can better consider the responses that we have already put in place and what others still need to be created. Of course there are difficulties. We have to deal with the wolves who want to devour the flock: indifference, ethical relativism, the consumerism that destroys the value of things and experiences, false ideologies. God is calling us and Don Bosco encourages us to be good shepherds in the image of the Good Shepherd, so that young people will still find fathers, mothers, friends, and above all can find Life. Moreover, true Life, the abundant life offered by Jesus!

6. The Memoirs of the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales, written by Don Bosco at the explicit request of Pope Pius IX, are a point of reference for coming to know Don Bosco’s spiritual and pastoral journey. They are written so that we might come to know the prodigious beginnings of the vocation and work of Don Bosco, but especially so that taking up Don Bosco’s motivations and choices, we as individuals, and as each group of the Salesian Family, might follow the same spiritual and apostolic journey. They were regarded as “memories of the future.” So in the course of this year let us commit ourselves to getting to know this text, communicating its contents, disseminating it, and especially putting it into the hands of young people: it will become an inspirational book for their vocational choices.

Fr. Pascual Chavez V., SDB
Rector Major

Thursday, June 9, 2011

DB Cristo Rey HS Celebrates 1st Commencement

Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS
Celebrates 1st Commencement

Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Md., celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2011 on the afternoon of June 2 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the nation’s capital. This was the first commencement for the school, which opened in August 2007.

DBCR is co-sponsored by the archdiocese of Washington and the Salesians of Don Bosco and has enjoyed tremendous support from both as well as from the business, educational, and service communities of the Washington area.Hundreds of family members, members of the school’s board of directors, corporate sponsors, friends of the school and of the students, and journalists joined the happy graduates in the great national basilica.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, presided over the commencement exercises and gave the principal address to the graduates. Cardinal McCarrick first invited the Salesians to accept a parish in the archdiocese (Nativity, in Washington) and then initiated the process of founding the school together with the Salesians. His successor, now-Cardinal Donald Wuerl, followed up on the initiative and presided over the school’s opening, its expansion, and its first baccalaureate Mass.
The Class of 2011 numbers 70 students. All come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, all are members of minority groups, and many of their families are immigrants. But all have worked hard at their academics and at Cristo Rey’s unique corporate work study program, and all have been accepted into college. Many if not most of them will be the first in their families to advance to higher education. Some will go to small schools or community colleges, but others have been accepted into such prestigious universities as Georgetown, Catholic, Penn State, St. John’s, and Syracuse.

The faculty led the senior class into the basilica, to the tune of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.” The administration and principal guests—Cardinal McCarrick and Fr. Thomas Dunne, Salesian provincial—followed the seniors. Fr. Dunne offered an invocation. Fr. Steve Shafran, president of DBCR, welcomed everyone. He acknowledged the students’ hard work and the great love that the faculty has lavished on the students so that all of them together could accomplish their dreams. The students acknowledged their teachers with a rousing round of applause.

Jenifer Moreno was the salutatorian. She was described as someone who embodies the teaching of St. Francis to preach the Gospel always, using words if necessary. She is going to attend the University of West Virginia with the intention of becoming a transplant surgeon. She spoke of her class’s pride in what they’ve accomplished, of their gratitude toward all who have encouraged them, especially their parents, and of the sense of responsibility that they bear to carry on what they’ve begun.

Valedictorian Catherine Rubio was noted as a student always ready to help others and one who balanced very well the demands of school, work, and family. She’ll attend Georgetown, aiming to become a radiologist. In her speech, she pointed out how the school plant had grown during their four years, the student body had grown, and this class had matured. She said that the seniors, observing their teachers’ dedication, had responded by studying hard. She cited the school’s slogan of “faith, family, future, and fun” and showed how those were embodied in the relationship with God they had developed, in the school’s family atmosphere, in the futures opening before the graduates, and in numerous school activities (including an occasion when students got to “pie” some of their teachers).

Cardinal McCarrick congratulates valedictorian Catherine Rubio

Cardinal McCarrick noted with appreciation how both senior speakers had thanked their benefactors. He recounted how the school was founded and credited the Salesians with providing their best men for the school; the cardinal almost canonized Fr. Steve Shafran. He credited Cardinal Wuerl as an outstanding educator who “grabbed” the Cristo Rey idea and got it implemented, especially by calling upon the “magic” of Msgr. John Enzler, the archdiocese’s vicar of development. He credited the business community for partnering so well with DBCR. And he commended the senior class for rising to the occasion and making their dreams happen, and their parents for standing behind their sons and daughters.

Then the cardinal got down to his real message. He implored the graduates-to-be to show their appreciation for all the blessings that God has given them by sharing those blessings with others who are needy and need help, as they have received help in their own need. He cited the book of Proverbs: “Better a dish of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it” (15:17). The seniors, he said, have learned the difference that love makes—in their school, in their workplaces, and in life. “Let there be love in your life,” he urged.

The graduating seniors process as their names are called, to receive their diplomas from Cardinal McCarrick, and then DBCR president Fr. Steve Shafran flips the tassels on their mortarboards.

Following the conferral of diplomas, Alicia Bondanella, director of DBCR’s corporate work study program, addressed the graduates and the guests. She observed that the seniors had raised $2,000,000 for the school through the work they did for their corporate employers. She told the graduates that they’d done outstanding jobs, had learned skills, and had built relationships. Since they had already proven themselves successful, their success would continue.

Fr. John Serio, DBCR’s principal, was the final speaker on the program. He echoed Cardinal McCarrick’s appeal that the graduates should pay attention to the world and to the people around them, set examples of a high standard of excellence, and help other people. Telling them that they, as the founding class of DBCR, were leaving a legacy at the school but weren’t leaving the school, he invited them to remain helpfully present to the classes behind them.

The commencement rites concluded with the presentation of seven awards. Five graduates were the first to receive the Don Bosco Award, which “captures the heart of Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School” and recognizes the honorees’ character, service, and leadership in the fields of academics, corporate work, and extracurricular activities. Each was presented with a small statue of Don Bosco and two students.

A sixth student, Julio Hernandez, was recognized as the Outstanding Graduate, “demonstrating superior qualities and virtue in all aspects of student life…the individual we desire other students to emulate.” Julio received a plaque from Cardinal McCarrick.

Finally, the cardinal himself was given the Don Bosco Award in recognition of his contributions to education, to ecumenism, and to assisting the world’s poorest people.

The faculty and administration processed into the center aisle of the basilica, and then the graduates filed down the aisle, thanking their teacher-friends one by one on their way to the church’s main door, where their proud parents and families waited in warm sunshine to congratulate them.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Homily for 7th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
7th Sunday of Easter
June 5, 2011
1 Pet 4: 13-16
Acts 1: 12-14
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“Beloved: Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you also may rejoice exultantly” (1 Pet 4: 13).

The last time I was here, Dennis Wright asked me in jest why a good guy like Frank Wolfram has to suffer surgery and hospitalization, while a devil like me has it so easy.

I dare say very few of us are ready to rejoice in our sufferings. But, as the 1st Letter of St. Peter demonstrates, it’s an ancient Christian theme. St. Francis of Assisi also teaches that to accept being maltreated in various forms is “perfect joy” for the true disciple of Jesus.

As we all know very well, better than we’d like to, suffering is an inevitable part of life. We all have our personal sufferings of body and spirit; I don’t need to give you examples. We all have relatives and friends who suffer illness and injury, which causes us to suffer along with them. Every week seems to bring us news of another natural disaster somewhere: flood, famine, epidemic, tornado, earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, wildfire. Every day there’s news of violence inflicted upon innocents, intentionally or accidentally, in our streets, on our highways, at sea, in the air—not to mention the sufferings of war.

As Christians we believe that God’s Son became a human being like us in order to identify with our condition in every manner except sin. Our 4th Eucharistic Prayer professes to us that God sent his son to be our Savior, “born of the Virgin Mary, a man like us in all things but sin.” Part of that likeness involved serious suffering, horrible death. Without suffering and death, he wouldn’t be like us, wouldn’t be one of us. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “Because he himself was tested thru what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (2:18). Because of his humanity, in some manner he continues to suffer with suffering humanity.

Beyond suffering and death, God’s Son found resurrection and eternal glory—the reward for his perseverance and fidelity. The Son’s identification with our humanity is aimed at elevating us to his own perfection and happiness—to glory. When suffering comes to us, and when we can’t shake it off despite medicine or other recourse, we have the option of reciprocating with the Son, i.e., of identifying our suffering with his. I’m sure Frank Wolfram’s doing that, and your brothers over at St. Joseph’s. In one of his more enigmatic statements, St. Paul says that he rejoices in his own sufferings for the sake of his friends and disciples, and in his own flesh he is “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24). (As it happens, that verse is alluded to in the little prayer after the 2d psalm at tonite’s Evening Prayer.*) Somehow, Paul so identifies himself with Christ that his sufferings become Christ’s sufferings and have some kind of a redemptive value from their union with the Lord Jesus.

Peter, here, assures us that our own fidelity thru our sufferings will have the same outcome as Christ’s sufferings did: those who share in Christ’s sufferings will also share in his glory when he reveals himself on the last day, when he raises our long-dead bodies from the grave. Our sufferings remind us of our union with the suffering Christ—and of the eternal life promised to those who are part of him. We remember, as St. Athanasius wrote, “Jesus Christ, rising from the dead, has made man’s life one long festival of joy”—a joy we anticipate even now in this vale of tears.

But how shall we be able to keep all that in mind? Doesn’t suffering—from illness, from pain, from grief, from loss—often shake our faith? Doesn’t it make us doubt God’s goodness, God’s concern for us? Human nature left to itself can’t manage suffering, can’t find any solace in it. The 1st and 3d readings today tell us the only way that we can manage it, find any solace in it, look beyond it with hope. Those readings speak of prayer.

Bereft of Jesus, following his ascension, and at a loss of what to do with their lives and with their memory of Jesus, the Eleven “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). They turned to the Father seeking guidance, seeking strength, seeking courage, seeking wisdom—all of which the Father would shortly supply them with by sending them the Holy Spirit.

In the gospel reading, Jesus prays for his disciples because the Father has given them to him. They are the Father’s and also Jesus’ (John 17:9-10), so he prays that they—which means all of us—might reach eternal life thru their coming to know Jesus, and thru Jesus, coming to know the Father, “the only true God” (17:3).

So we have the Son praying for us, for our perseverance unto eternal life; and we have the example of the 1st community of disciples gathered in devoted prayer. Only prayer will keep us in the union with Jesus that we need when we’re suffering—not to understand the suffering but to see us thru it, as Jesus (who cried out in agony because his Father seemed so far away from him) kept ultimate faith with his Father in spite of his most unjust, most intense suffering of body and spirit.

A final point: Peter is speaking explicitly not of ordinary human suffering such as you and I must cope with from day to day, but of the suffering that comes from being a Christian, i.e., the suffering of rejection, harassment, and persecution. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you” (4:14). “Whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name” (4:16). Truly we don’t have to do much of that, not even in our increasingly anti-Christian age. The gibes of the New York Times and the harassment of the ACLU and the sneers of Christopher Hitchens aren’t anything compared with what Nero and Domitian were doing to Christians in the 1st century, what our forebears in the British Isles had to suffer for the Catholic faith, what heroic Christians suffered in the 20th century from Nazis and Communists.

St. Peter crucified (upside down, at his own request because he deemed himself unworthy to die exactly as his Master had)--fresco in the church of Quo Vadis, on the Appian Way in Rome

As we know well, the persecution of Christians is still a daily reality in many places. We must be part of those who “devote themselves with one accord to prayer” in solidarity with them. As part of Jesus’ body, we must pray for those whom the Father has given to Jesus—in China, in Iraq, in Pakistan, in Vietnam, in India, in all the places where the followers of Jesus are suffering today because of his name.

* LOH 2:1357.

"Historic" Mass at DBCR

“Historic” Mass at DBCR
“Historic” was the term that Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, used to describe Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS’s inaugural baccalaureate Mass on the evening of June 1, 2011.
The cardinal was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass, celebrated in Our Lady of Sorrows Church adjacent to the Takoma Park, Md., school. The pastor, Fr. Raymond Wadas; the Salesians of the school staff—Frs. Steve Shafran (president), John Serio (principal), and Abe Feliciano (director of faith formation); Fr. George Hanna, director of the Salesian community; and Msgr. John Enzler, vicar of development of the archdiocese, concelebrated. Deacon Bert L’Homme, the archdiocese’s superintendent of Catholic schools, assisted the cardinal. The outstanding Gospel choir from Nativity Parish (the SDB parish in Washington) under the direction of Marvin Ford provided the music.
The church was about three-fourths full with proud parents and families, members of the school’s board of directors, and other friends of the school and the students—and of course the 70 seniors in their caps and gowns and the faculty and staff in their academic regalia.

Just after 7:00 p.m. the graduates-to-be processed in and took their places in the front pews on both sides, followed by the faculty, the concelebrants and liturgical ministers, and the cardinal.

Fr. Steve Shafran, president of DBCR, welcomed Cardinal Wuerl to the rite and thanked him for the support, indeed the partnership, that he has demonstrated toward the school since its beginning.

The cardinal responded by noting the historic nature of the occasion and then called everyone to union with Christ through the Eucharistic celebration.

The cardinal introduced his homily by thanking Fr. Shafran, Fr. Serio, the entire DBCR family, the board of directors, and the present and past superintendents of schools of the archdiocese—three of whom were present. He congratulated the seniors on their accomplishments and pronounced them ready for the next step in their lives.
Cardinal Wuerl expressed his hope that the graduates would take four lessons with them to help them flourish in the future. He also called these lessons “blessings” bestowed upon them by DBCR.

The 1st blessing given them is the opportunity to know Jesus Christ and to recognize the importance of his Gospel in our lives. The Gospel, he said, will help them to know how to answer the great questions of life, how to make the right choices.

The 2d blessing is the excellent academic preparation they have received, a unique preparation for the future. He noted that all of the seniors have been accepted into college or university because of DBCR’s high academic level.

The 3d blessing the cardinal called “a sense of moral judgment” that will help them face all kinds of modern moral issues that the Gospel doesn’t address explicitly; he mentioned several technical matters.
The 4th blessing is based on the dignity and capabilities of each graduate, and that blessing is hope: that they can go confidently into the future and accomplish something.

At the end of Mass, Fr. Shafran addressed everyone, noting the Easter season that we’re in, and reminding the DBCR community that they are called to be a community, like the first disciples, who will show that Jesus is alive; they are men and women of faith poised to become saints.

DBCR’s “plan of life,” demonstrated on four banners at the rear of the sanctuary, is “faith, family, future, and fun.” Fr. Shafran observed how those four elements had been brought to life in the last several days through the school’s first senior prom (fun), the senior-parent dinner the previous evening (family), the commencement exercises scheduled for the following day (future), and of course this baccalaureate Mass (faith).

To be really successful in life, Fr. Shafran concluded, we all have to keep Jesus Christ and his Mother in our lives.

DBCR inaugurated a “Don Bosco Award,” Fr. Shafran and Timothy Flynn, chairman of the board, presented the first award to Cardinal Wuerl in recognition of how he has inspired all levels of educators in the Washington Archdiocese. A statue of Don Bosco with two students, male and female like DBCR’s student body, was given to the cardinal.

Senior Veronica Giron, who as a freshman was the very first student to address a crowed on a special occasion—the school’s opening ceremony in 2007—expressed a few words of gratitude on behalf of her class.

The archdiocese, too, is inaugurating a new award, the Cardinal’s Award. This consists of a plaque and a $1,500 scholarship. It was presented to senior Julio Hernandez.