Sunday, July 31, 2011

Homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
18th Sunday

in Ordinary TimeJuly 31, 2011
Rom 8: 35, 37-39
Willow Towers, New Rochelle
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“What will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom 8: 35).

In the 8th chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we’ve been meditating for 5 consecutive Sundays—or at least have been invited to meditate—on the glorious destiny to which God has called us in Jesus Christ: a destiny all but guaranteed to us because God has given us the Holy Spirit as a pledge (cf. 8:15-16). We hold the title, so to speak, on a fine condo in the Father’s retirement community.

Last week Paul assured us that everything works out in God’s plan for our redemption (8:28-30). Today he asks what could possibly ruin that plan. What could possibly separate us from the saving effects of Christ’s love for us? The short answer is “Nothing.” Nada. Niente. Rien.

As you know, Paul’s not very good at short answers. So he goes into some detail about threats, or supposed threats, to our ultimate well-being, the salvation that God has planned for us based on his all-powerful love for us.

Can anguish or distress separate us from Christ? Can any anxiety over life’s problems or even over our own failings cause Christ to abandon us? No. If we’re sincerely searching for God; if we’re sincerely trying to maintain healthy and loving relationships with the people in our lives; if we’re sincerely repenting of our sins and striving to improve our practice of virtue—not only will Christ not cast us away, but he will even embrace us; he will even “be moved with pity for” us, as he was for the crowd in today’s gospel (Matt 14:13-21). Our prayer after the Our Father at every Mass, to be kept free from sin and protected from all anxiety, is a reminder that only one thing can separate us from God’s love—not anguish or distress but only sin.

Can any external problems remove us from Christ’s loving embrace—external problems like natural disasters? Paul mentions famine and nakedness, and we could think of others like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, drought, wildfires, and tornados. Sometimes these cause people to doubt God’s love for them, his concern for them. Atheists often point to them as “proof” that there’s no loving God, no all-surpassing wisdom guiding creation for our benefit.

Paul, on the other hand, suggested earlier in this chapter (3 Sundays back) that creation, too, needs to be redeemed, to be brought into line with God’s design; that it, too—like humanity—has been in a state of rebellion against its Lord. We hope, Paul says, “that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (8:21). Till then, “all creation is groaning in labor pains” (8:22). Yet Jesus Christ is testimony to the Creator’s love and his commitment to fulfill creation’s destiny, which is the new creation, the “new heavens and new earth” spoken of in the last chapter of the Book of Revelation.

What about persecution, peril, or the sword? Only if we give in. But in themselves they can’t separate Christians from Christ. In Paul’s day persecution and peril were a daily reality, and he would himself give up his life for Christ thru the sword of martyrdom. That sword brought him to the fullness of union with Christ for which he had longed (cf. Phil 3:22-23).

In our day persecution and even martyrdom are still daily realities for believers in China, Pakistan, Egypt, Vietnam, and other places where churches are burned, Christians are assaulted, priests and bishops are arrested, converts face capital punishment.

But, Paul affirms, “in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly thru him who has loved us” (8:37). Christ has loved us, Christ has shared his Spirit with us, and Christ empowers us to face down any threat, any temptation, any trial that comes to us from the world of nature or from human malice. Threats, temptations, and trials not only don’t “separate us from the love of Christ,” but they unite us more intimately with him who was threatened by Pontius Pilate and the Sanhedrin, who was tempted by Satan, and who was tried by unimaginable corporal suffering, abandonment, and death. If we have suffered with him, we shall also be glorified with him (cf. Rom 8:17).

No, not even death can separate us from Christ’s love. Didn’t he die too? He died in the ultimate act of solidarity with the human race. And those who identify themselves with him by their verbal profession of faith and especially by their following his teachings—their lived profession of faith—will meet his love in the life to come and will be glorified by that love with the life of resurrection.

No unearthly power, no demon—no angel, principality, or any other creature, as Paul puts it (8:38-39)—can come between Christ Jesus and those whom he has chosen to be his own, and who have embraced him.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fr. Adelard "Del" Labonte, SDB

Fr. Adelard “Del” Labonté, SDB (1925-2011)

Fr. Adelard Joseph “Del” Labonté, SDB, died early on July 24, 2011, at St. Joseph Senior Residence in Woodbridge, N.J., at age 86. He had been ill for a short time and was accompanied in his last hours by the prayers and the presence of his sister Antoinette Vacca and members of his Salesian community from Orange, N.J.

The 14th of 15 children, Del Labonté was born to Emile and Alexina Dionne Labonté in L’Avenir, Quebec, on July 19, 1925, and baptized two days later in the village church of St. Pierre. When he was a boy the family moved to Providence, R.I., and became members of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, a "French parish." Del was confirmed there when he was 12.

At 14 he started high school at LaSalle Academy, but he dropped out in September 1941 to join the Navy. He saw action aboard the battleship Arkansas in support of the invasions of Normandy and southern France in June and August 1944, and the landings on Iwo Jima and Okinawa in February and April 1945—memories that remained vividly with him for the rest of his life.

After the war Del returned to LaSalle and graduated in June 1948. A year later he started a liberal arts course of studies at Providence College but left after a year to enter the Salesians at Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., in July 1950. He wished to study for the priesthood but found the study of Latin, especially, too daunting. He did, however, fall in love with St. John Bosco and with Mary Help of Christians. He decided to stay with Don Bosco as a coadjutor brother.

Del completed his novitiate year in Newton in 1953-1954 and made his first profession of vows as a brother on Sept. 8, 1954. After a further year of formation he was sent to Holy Rosary Church in Birmingham, Ala., along with Fr. Aloysius Trifari and Bro. Frank Tilton, to inaugurate the Salesian work there. The SDB presence later expanded to take in St. John Bosco parish (originally named St. Clement). While the parish’s clergy changed, for 36 years Bro. Del stayed on, serving the young and the poor of the parishes and of the city’s Gate City and Woodlawn neighborhoods, well known for his charity and his piety.

Bro. Del would leave the rectory early in the morning and return late at night. On a regular basis he visited the sick in hospitals and the homebound, bringing Holy Communion to the Catholics and spiritual comfort to non-Catholics. He drove Fr. Patrick Corcoran, pastor from 1968 to 1991, to the hospitals or wherever else he had to go to celebrate Mass.

A fervent devotee of the Blessed Mother, Bro. Del established “Mary’s Hour,” at which groups of parishioners gathered to pray the Rosary and sing hymns—a practice still in vogue at Holy Rosary. He had a passion for roses, which he grew near the rectory and brought to Mary’s shrine in the church.

Long before Mother Angelica became famous, Bro. Del advocated her apostolate and distributed her printed material.

To this day, local Protestants sometimes refer to Holy Rosary Church as “Bro. Del’s.” He was noted for handing out food to the needy at the rectory or bringing it to their homes, day or night, and for paying the bills of the poor.

Sally Crockett, a member of the Saint John Bosco Parish when the Salesians staffed it, writes: “I am so sorry to hear of Father Del’s death. I worked with Father (Brother) Del for many years with the youth of Saint John Bosco and Holy Rosary parishes. My family and I have many, many fond memories of him. Such a saintly man and an inspiration.

Another Birmingham parishioner, Michael Crockett, remembers Father Del this way: “I wish I could remember all the things and places he took me every Saturday and Sunday and nearly every day in summer for close to five years when I was about 12-17 years old. He opened up a spiritual world and love of the poor and elderly that have remained with me to this day. I can’t say I’ve ever met anyone else like him whom I admire so much and hope to imitate in loving others. He is still remembered and loved by everyone in this whole diocese.”

But Bro. Del hadn’t given up on the desire to become a priest. When the liturgical and seminary changes brought by Vatican II meant that a seminarian no longer had to be proficient in Latin, he received another opportunity. In 1991 he was assigned to the pastoral team of Mary Help of Christians Church on E. 12th St. in Manhattan to give him a very different parochial experience and start his transition to a possible seminary experience.

After two years at 12th St., he was enrolled in Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., where he spent four years studying theology, noted for both his piety and his dedication to studies. He was ordained to the priesthood at Mary Help of Christians on November 1, 1997, and assigned there for the remainder of the pastoral year as an assistant pastor.

In 1998 Fr. Del went to Don Bosco Tech in Paterson, where he served as a confessor for the students and a lively presence in the SDB community for four years. Following the school’s closure in 2002, he moved across town to St. Anthony’s Church to help with parish ministry and also to help with chaplaincy work for the Salesian Sisters.

Father Del’s superior at the Tech, Father Stephen Schenck, recalls: “I remember Del being a gentleman in all things, quick to serve anyone of whose need he became aware—from getting food, to helping carry a bag, to going to the store—whatever it was, Del was eager to serve.

“I remember him as a wonderful storyteller, or ‘raconteur.’ He could recall precise details of past events, and had an enormous vocabulary which he used exceedingly well. Phrases like, ‘Her voice had a delicate, charming timbre to it...’ fell easily from his lips. From anyone else they might have sounded rehearsed, but Del excelled in the adroit use of language, particularly when describing past events.”

In May 2004 Fr. Del suffered a serious stroke, which by the following year required him to move into Saint Mary’s Life Center, a nursing home in Orange, N.J., chosen in part because of its proximity to the community of candidates and young Salesians in formation (at Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Orange). As often as he could, he took part in community events and well as in events of the province community such as funerals, ordinations, and jubilee celebrations. The young SDBs and candidates enjoyed visiting him and helping him get out to events.
Bishop Luc Van Looy, SDB, stopped to chat with wheelchair-bound Fr. Del following the ordination Mass of Fr. Abe Feliciano in June 2006 at St. Anthony's Church in Paterson.

Gradually Fr. Del’s condition worsened, however, so that last February he moved to St. Joseph Senior Residence in order to have more appropriate care, including that of a Salesian chaplain at the residence.

His local superior, Fr. Stephen Leake, SDB, said, “Fr. Del will be missed for his great kindness, infectious joy, and deep devotion.”

Fr. Del was waked at Our Lady of the Valley Church in Orange on Tuesday, July 26, and the Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated that evening. He was buried in the Salesian Cemetery in Goshen, N.Y., the following morning.

We Don't Fight in the Back Seat Any More!

And We Don't Fight
in the Back Seat Any More!
Your humble blogger, brother Chris, sister Rita

Any parent who's every transported 2 or more siblings by car for any great distance knows the routine. Start arguing, whining, or poking each other after 10 minutes or so....

Imagine family vacations before the age of the Interstate, when everything was so much further away, at least in terms of hours needed to get there.

3 Mendl kids weren't any different on those 1950s 3-day drives from Tampa to Long Island to visit family, and back.

The family get-togethers are much more serene these days. Even Rita's kids have stopped the squabbling--pretty much.

We got together last weekend to help Rita celebrate a milestone birthday.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Volunteering to Serve

Volunteering to Serve

This week Salesian Missions, thru the Salesian Lay Missioners program, has been providing orientation to 14 new volunteers, most of them young (like right out of college) but a few apparently well beyond that. They're getting about a week of intercultural and other aspects of life in the missions, together with some young people from at least one other sponsoring organization, at Maryknoll.

That will be followed by a week or 10 days of experiencing Salesian youth ministry, and practicing it, at the summer day camp at our 2 Port Chester parishes, Holy Rosary and Corpus Christi. Finally, the new SLMs will make a 6-day spiritual retreat, together with about 20 SDBs who happen to making that particular retreat; they'll get some more theoretical orientation at the same time and complete on some of their final paperwork. On Aug. 6 Fr. Tom Dunne will commission them for their missions.

This morning I had the privilege of going up to Maryknoll to offer Mass for the SLMs and other trainees and then being available to them for Reconciliation.

Here's a photo of our 14 generous folks taken right after Mass. Most of them had their eyes open by then!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
16th Sunday

in Ordinary Time
July 17, 2011
Rom 8: 26-27
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8: 26).

When the apostles wanted to learn how to pray, it was easy for them to turn to Jesus and ask him to teach them. And Jesus gave them that most basic of all prayers which we call the Lord’s Prayer.

In the physical absence of Jesus, we can and do still use his prayer. But often we want more. We may be unsure of what to pray for, or we may suffer interminable distractions, or we may want some new formula that’s a little less rote, or we may want to be able to put more heart into what we say to God. There are so many ways in which we feel our prayer to be inadequate, so that “we do not know how to pray as we ought.”

There’s an old Eastern European Jewish story that might encourage us:

When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov saw misfortunate threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.

Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to say the prayer, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.” And again, the miracle would be accomplished.

Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place, and this must be sufficient.” Once again, a miracle.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient.

It’s a story of God’s sufficiency when our own knowledge or resources are insufficient. It’s a story of grace, if you will. It’s a story of “the Spirit coming to the aid of our weakness.”

In the Our Father we pray that God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. But we seldom know what that will is. (Stephen Vincent Benet’s epic poem John Brown’s Body has a magnificent scene in which Lincoln struggles to discern that amid the carnage of the Civil War.) Too often we try to get God to accommodate himself to our will. Praying in the Spirit would have us praying like Jesus in the Garden: “Not my will but yours be done” (Matt 26:39). We’d leave ourselves open to the apparent frustration of our own hopes and desires.

We all know that St. Monica prayed for years and years for her son’s conversion. When he decided to move from Carthage to Rome in order to pursue his worldly ambitions, she prayed that he’d change his mind or that something would prevent his sailing to Italy, where she was afraid his faith and morals would meet complete shipwreck. God ignored her pleas, and Augustine sailed to Rome. Apparently that was because God had other plans, which became evident when the young rhetoric teacher moved on to Milan—at that time the home of the imperial court and so the place for an ambitious young man to be—and Augustine fell under the influence of Milan’s talented and holy bishop, Ambrose. So Monica’s more fundamental prayer, that her son be converted, was heard altho at least one of her intermediate prayer, that he stay in Africa, was not.

So our prayer, if it’s really prayer and not just the projection of our own egos, has to rely upon the ultimate wisdom of God, which is to say, on the Holy Spirit.
Such reliance is the best possible way of praying. “The Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (8:26). What we don’t know how to pray for, or what we can’t find the right words for, the Spirit knows and puts before the Father—no words necessary. The longing of our hearts, the Spirit carries to the Father—whether our hearts are heavy or light, whether they are bursting with praise or collapsed in anguish, whether we need forgiveness or guidance.

Of course we can use words too. In her column in the current issue of Catholic New York, Mary DeTurris Poust recounts how one afternoon she “was complaining about some minor problem,” and Chiara, her five-year-old daughter, “said, ‘Why don’t you just talk to God?’ Chiara one day had overheard her “frazzled” mom “talking out loud to God” and “picked up on the fact” that Mom often talks to God “not in traditional prayer form but as if I am talking on the phone with a friend—when I’m stressed.” Without intending it, Mary had taught Chiara a wonderful way to pray—just talk to God like he’s your “good friend, someone who will always listen.”[2]

Because God is our friend. Jesus assures us that we’re his friends, and he’s given us his Spirit to reassure us. Just a few verses before the passage that’s our reading today, Paul tells the Christians of Rome that the gift of the Holy Spirit enables them to address God as Abba because, in giving them Jesus’ Spirit, he has adopted them as his own (8:15). He’s Dad; Jesus is friend and brother. If that weren’t enuf for them to read our hearts, the Spirit takes care of whatever more’s needed: “And the one who searches hearts [the Father] knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he [the Spirit] intercedes for the holy ones [those made holy because he dwells in their hearts] according to God’s will” (8:27). The Spirit of Jesus, deep within us, makes our prayer to the Father, uttering what we can’t because our human nature is too ignorant or too frail or too distracted or too overwhelmed by our sins or not bold enuf to come to the Father and demand his attention.

What is required of us for prayer is only 2 things: 1st, that we want to pray, that we make the effort, that we put in the time, that we give God a piece of our schedules; and 2d, that we really want to be open to him, to his will, to his desire to make us holy and bring us into his world—not the other way around. When Paul speaks of “the intention of the Spirit” and of “how we ought to pray,” he’s speaking in the context of our eternal destiny: “the glory to be revealed for us” (8:18), “creation set free from slavery to corruption and sharing in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (8:21), “the redemption of our bodies” (8:23), our hope of salvation (8:24). The Spirit of Jesus most gladly intercedes for us, adds his “inexpressible groanings” to the “groanings of creation in its labor pains even until now” (8:22), that we might be saved despite all our weakness.

[1] Recounted by Brian Cavanaugh, TOR, The Sower’s Seeds: 120 Inspiring Stories for Preaching, Teaching and Public Speaking (Mahwah: Paulist, 2004), pp. 14-15

[2] “Building Prayer Into Busy Lives,” CNY, July 14, 2001, p. 35.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
15th Sunday
in Ordinary Time

July 10, 2011
Matt 13: 1-9
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“Jesus spoke to them at length in parables, saying: ‘A sower went out to sow’” (Matt 13: 3).

The Indians near Plimoth Plantation helped our socio-cultural ancestors to survive by teaching them to plant corn efficiently: one kernel to a small hole, covered over, and a fish laid upon it as fertilizer. That method worked marvelously, assuring the Pilgrims a bountiful harvest, and survival.

But that method doesn’t work with most grains and isn’t how people sowed their fields of wheat, barley, rye, and oats for thousands of years. They did just what Jesus pictures for us in his parable today—profligately scattered handfuls of seed broadside as they walked up and down their fields—as you might observe a landscaper today doing with grass seed.

Sower with Setting Sun by Van Gogh (and h/t to the Deacon)
By that method lots of seed is lost, even today, landing on rock, being eaten by birds, being trampled underfoot, and in the case of a peasant farmer’s field, being overrun and choked out by weeds. Yet, enuf seed lands on good soil and, with proper moisture, it grows and produces more grain than the farmer began with, so that he can harvest food for the season ahead and still set aside seed grain for the next planting.

Jesus’ parable is a metaphor for God’s profligately strewing his word among the human race. Not every person is receptive, to be sure, but there’s still a bountiful harvest of hearts for the Divine Farmer. In the 1st reading the prophet Isaiah spoke of the effectiveness of God’s word: whatever God has decreed will be carried out. Whatever grace he has sown among human beings will bear its fruit in salvation.

We are some of those human beings among whom God is profligately sowing the word of his grace. Sometimes are hearts are stony and non-receptive. Sometimes our hearts tell us, “This seed is good, and I want to take it in and let it grow”; but—like youthful Augustine—we also want to cling to the weeds and thorns of our passions, our worldly comforts, our inertia, and we don’t nurture the seed and let it grow up.

Fortunately for us, God isn’t easily put off. Just as he kept coming for Augustine, he keeps after us, keeps strewing the word in our direction. If we can just give that word a little soil in which to sink a root, God will do the rest: “so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). So let us not be discouraged by our lack of spiritual progress, by our repeated failures to practice this virtue or that, by our having to confess the same sins over and over. Have faith in the power of God’s word to bear fruit in you, to convert you ever so slowly into his disciple.

There’s another way in which this parable carries meaning for us. Scripture commentator Megan McKenna tells of that way in another parable:*

There was a woman who was depressed over the state of the world. She longed for love among her family and friends, peace among all people, compassion for the poor and vulnerable. There were problems everywhere as she saw so much selfishness, greed, hatred, lack of moral values.

One day she came upon a little shop. She walked in and was surprised to see someone behind the counter who reminded her of Jesus. She couldn’t believe it really was Jesus, but the similarity was so striking that she just had to go to him and ask: “Excuse me, are you Jesus?”

“I am.”

“Do you work here?”

“No, I’m the owner.”

“What do you sell here?”

“Well, I really don’t sell anything. It’s all free. I have here just about anything you might want. You’re welcome to walk around the aisles and see what you might be interested in. Make a list of all the things you want and bring it back to me. I’ll see what I can do for you.”

She was amazed at what she saw on the shelves: peace on earth, food to feed the hungry, clean air and water, warm clothing for the poor, forgiveness. The woman compiled a long list and brought it back to Jesus.

When Jesus looked at all the items she had written down, he smiled and said, “No problem.” He bent down behind the counter and ran his finger thru several boxes. He then stood up and laid out a series of small envelopes for the woman.

“What are these?” she asked.

“Seed packets,” Jesus replied. “This is a catalog store.”

“You mean I don’t get the finished product?” she asked.

“No,” Jesus said. “Just take these seeds home, plant them, nurture them, help them grow, and you’ll be quite pleased with the results.”

She said, “Oh!” and left the store without taking anything with her.
Most of us want God to solve problems for us overnite, and when he does, that’s great. But mostly he gives us the means and the help we need and calls us to have faith and patience.

And the point of that little parable is that we who follow Jesus also have to sow his word. It’s hard work, and the results don’t show immediately. Sometimes our efforts to be peacemakers, to reconcile, to improve the physical or the social environment, to get someone to believe in a better future for himself, to round up lost souls for the Lord seem to be getting nowhere, bearing no fruit. But we have to keep trying, keep strewing the word of God all around us by what we say, even more by how we live.

Only in the great harvest at the end of time will we see what God has done—in our own hearts and in the hearts of countless men and women whose lives we’ve touched in some fashion.

* Quoted by Fr. Joe Robinson, Guiding Light: Steadfast to the Son. Cycle A (China, Ind.: Shepherds of Christ, 2010), pp. 116-117, with some minor edits. It’s not clear whether the last paragraph that I quote comes from Ms. McKenna or Fr. Robinson.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Homily for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
14th Sunday
in Ordinary Time
July 8, 1984
Matt 11: 25-30
Holy Rosary, Birmingham, Ala.
St. John Bosco, B’ham

Once again, last weekend (Sat. eve at Willow Towers) I preached without a written text; and once again I have recourse to an oldie for those who may be following the blog.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the fellow who kept complaining to God about how heavy was the cross he had to carry thru life. One day St. Peter came to him and said, “I want to take you to the storeroom and let you look for another cross to carry.” So they went to a huge warehouse where thousands of crosses were kept for use by all of mankind. St. Peter told the complainer, “Put your cross down over there, and go look around till you find one you like.”

So the fellow started rummaging thru these thousands of crosses. Some he found impossibly heavy, and some shamefully light. He’d hoist them onto his back and try a few steps, like you take a couple of steps in a new pair of shoes. Well, after a couple of hours of all this, he finally found a cross that seemed to be just right for him, neither too heavy nor too light nor too long. He brought it over to St. Peter and said, “I think I’ve found one that suits me. What do you think?” “Well,” said St. Peter, “I think you’ve found the one you brought in here.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you” (Matt 11:28).

Jesus addresses his words to every one of us. From time to time all of us are overwhelmed by life’s problems; we think we can’t handle our crosses. No doubt there are some of us whom these problems nearly crush.

We have to admit that earning a living, raising the kids, cleaning the house, keeping up the yard, studying, and visiting the in-laws all begin to grind on us. Serious illness in the family, or a death, can devastate us. Perhaps unemployment drags some of us down. The guilt of our sins is an awesome weight. Obviously there’s no shortage of possible problems I could list, problems that are real burdens for someone.

Jesus was certainly familiar with the burdens of daily life—even with burdens that were more than routine. When he was small, his family were refugees in a foreign country. His foster-father was a skilled craftsman in a small country town and may well have had trouble finding enuf work. His mother had to go to the village well at least once a day to draw water for cooking and cleaning, besides making, mending, and washing clothes, buying food. And of course keeping tabs on little Jesus and then worrying about him, the way mothers do, as he grew but didn’t seem to be settling down into normal village routine. We speculate that St. Joseph must have died when Jesus was a young man because Joseph isn’t mentioned in the gospels after the temple incident when Jesus was 12.

In his own ministry, Jesus had to contend with the misunderstanding not only of many religious leaders but of his own family; quite plainly, they thought he was crazy (Matt 3:21). Jesus’ disciples, his closest friends, failed to grasp what he was trying to teach them about the kingdom of God, humility, forgiveness, and so on. Jesus came into daily contact with life’s misery: with serious illness, death at an early age, tyrannical government, heavy taxation, poverty, social discrimination, religious hypocrisy, illiteracy, the problems of subsistence farming on rocky ground under a blistering sun, and the burden of sin and guilt.

So Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary,” should have had a universal appeal in 30 A.D., and they came from a man who was familiar with weariness and burden.

He promised to refresh those who accepted his invitation. He promised them a yoke with which to haul their burdens, not a heavy yoke for a heavy burden, like oxen dragging a plow or turning a millstone, but a yoke that is easy and burden that is light (Matt 11:30).

What is the yoke of Jesus? He hints at it when he says, “Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.” Gentleness and humility are the yoke he offers us, the yoke that refreshes our souls, that gives us rest.

Gentleness and humility make us patient with what we cannot control in life. They make us understanding of the faults of other people—and even of our own weaknesses and sins. They enable us to admit our sinfulness and seek forgiveness. They remind us that we don’t have to solve our problems alone, but we are joined to Jesus; it’s his yoke we wear, and our burdens have become his. They remind us that the problems, even the complete disasters of life, are only temporary, that is, limited to time, to this world. But the kingdom of God is eternal; it is our real home. In it are no poverty, no sickness, no death, no emotional devastation—only the everlasting love of God for us and us for God and one another.

The cross, the yoke, the burden we carry in life is inevitable. You’ve never known a person who didn’t have problems. But our burden becomes lighter when we see it as the yoke of Jesus or as a share in his cross. For then he is carrying it with us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Priest with the Heart of Don Bosco

A Priest with the Heart
of Don Bosco
Homily of Bishop Luc Van Looy, SDB
Ordination of Frs. Matt DeGance and Mike Leschinsky
July 2, 2011. Our Lady of the Valley Church, Orange, N.J.

Don Bosco was a priest of a very different kind. He learned from Don [Father] Cafasso that even young people in prison were not really bad. He decided to keep them off the streets and give them a good education. Education for him was at the same time faith-education. He renewed the catechetical system in such a way that catechism was not just the teaching of doctrine, but the witnessing presence of the priest or catechist. He brought faith to society, and the living environment of the young to the Church.

When Jesus asked the disciples to go out to the villages and proclaim the Good News, to cure the sick, he was aware these men had little understood his teaching and the purpose of God’s sending him into the world. So Don Bosco gave great responsibility to young lads over others, engaging them in the educational and pastoral system of the Oratory of Valdocco.

He was a priest, always and everywhere. And a humble but convinced, poor but caring priest. Maybe in these times of the Church in which we are living we need to combine poverty and courage: poor by choice, and daring by conviction. These are two gifts we all should ask for our priests and deacons, and in fact for all Christians. To be poor today we will go against the mainstream. Also daring to speak about the Gospel and continue to tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth needs courage and may not always be welcome. The man and woman in the street does not ask for our message; maybe many are afraid to recognize for themselves that deep in their heart they crave for the mystery, for the transcendent, for what cannot be seen or touched or measured.

Our young people of today need priests who open the door to faith, to spirituality, to trustworthy relationships. So many are afraid to engage themselves with others, and especially to engage themselves for life in any value and witness-oriented lifestyle. A priest today is not in the first place an organizer, a director or coordinator—God bless those who are—but first and foremost we need inspirers; more than teachers, we need witnesses of faith, said Paul VI. A priest today listens to God and to people. His first duty is to become a disciple. The only way to become a teacher and a witness is to begin with discipleship. If you want to give water to your garden, it is better to keep a receptacle full so it can overflow, rather than to use a hose or a plastic pipe. First you need to fill yourself with God and Gospel, with Jesus and God’s love; then your witness will be credible.

For this the priest has the Eucharist, day after day, to grow totally in the spirit of Christ. The Eucharist is his way of proclaiming the Word, of commenting on Christ and not himself, of breaking the bread and shedding the wine as a sign of his own service to the people in Christ’s name. There it becomes eloquent that a priest lives at the service of the community and not the community at his service. This guarantees his poverty in spirit.

The Eucharist is the event where resurrection and cross, giving himself and forgiving join together in a forceful, credible sign of redemption. There he creates community. There he explains the Gospel way of life. There he invites for service or diakonia. There, as for Don Bosco, he finds and communicates the joy which allows him to live a life totally dedicated, giving an understanding of the choice he made to live a celibate life, and to live in a community of brothers—Salesians together. There he blesses, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the community and the world as a true missionary of Christ.

Here we need a word about the Holy Spirit. Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit. All her life she witnessed as a contemplative of God living in her. She was there a “specialist in the matter” when the Spirit came over the apostles in the Cenacle, the same place where they had the Last Supper with Jesus. That Spirit of God took away all fear from the disciples; doors and windows opened, and they went into the squares and the streets to tell anybody their experience with Jesus, in particular that they had eaten with him.

Dear priests, dear Christians, God shares his meal, his body and blood, with us. The one who eats his body and drinks his blood will saved. To this end he gave us the priest, to be able to participate in the banquet. But first, before joining in this divine meal, we ought to recognize our smallness, profess our faith, and proclaim our readiness to live according to what Christ taught us.

When the disciples asked him what they had to do, he simply said, “Believe in the one the Father has sent.” And when he met the children, he gave us the key to the Preventive System. Three words, three verbs, he gave us synthesizing what Don Bosco elaborated. He embraced the children as a sign of his love; he put his hand on their heads as a sign of protection and encouragement; and he blessed them as a sign that he would never leave them alone, but remain with them, with us, to the end of time (Mark 10:16).

Frs. Matt DeGance and Mike Leschinsky Ordained

Fathers Matt De Gance
and Mike Leschinsky Ordained
Fr. Matthew DeGance and Fr. Michael Leschinsky were ordained priests on July 2 in Our Lady of the Valley Church in Orange, N.J. Bishop Luc Van Looy, SDB, of Ghent, Belgium, presided over the Mass and carried out the ordination. He was joined by Bishop Dominic Marconi, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Newark Archdiocese, 43 concelebrating priests, and 2 deacons.

In his homily Bishop Van Looy called Frs. Matt and Mike to be teachers through their loving witness to Jesus, to be poor and ready to go where they can serve Jesus, and to center their lives on the Eucharist.

Both newly ordained confreres did their novitiate year at Mary Help of Christians Parish on East 12th Street in 2000-2001 and made their first profession there on August 16, 2001.
At the beginning of the rite, the 2 men's parents bless them before sending them to answer the Church's call to ordination.

Fr. Matt DeGance, 34 years old, is the son of Joseph and Jacqueline DeGance. He’s a native of Fort Lauderdale and graduated from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville with a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy. He began working as a therapist after graduation.

The DeGance family’s friendship with several Salesians, particularly Frs. Peter Lappin and August Bosio, nurtured in Matt a love for Don Bosco and a vocational seed—the seed already having been planted in his family. In 1999 he enter the formation program at Orange.
With a sacramental gesture going back to the apostles, Bishop Luc imposes hands on the head of Deacon Matt DeGance in silence.

After some years of postnovitiate formation at Orange, Bro. Matt was assigned to Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey from 2005 to 2007. He taught biology and theology, directed an intramural sports program, was an assistant coach of varsity, JV, and freshman volleyball, and contributed to the school’s campus ministry program.

From the fall of 2007 until June 2011 Bro. Matt studied theology at Sts. Peter and Paul Salesian Theological School in Jerusalem, also called the Ratisbonne Monastery, which is affiliated with the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome. He took full advantage of his closeness to the biblical holy places and the opportunity to connect the Scriptures with his daily life experience. He enjoyed the international flavor of the school, which draws students and faculty from more than 20 countries. He was also a talented tour guide for Salesians visiting from other parts of the world. During his theological studies he engaged in such pastoral work as adult catechesis, days of recollection, liturgical assistance, and youth ministry.
All the concelebrating priests join Bishop Luc in the consecratory prayer which, following the imposition of hands, makes the 2 men presbyters ("priests").

Fr. Matt finds that being a consecrated Salesian is “a great gift” from God, one that he would encourage any young person to accept without fear. The Salesian vocation is rich in peace and in the happiness of doing God’s will, and Fr. Matt cannot think of any spirituality that is more attractive than Don Bosco’s.

He will offer a Mass of thanksgiving at his home parish of Saint John the Baptist in Fort Lauderdale on July 10.

Fr. Matt’s first assignment as a priest will be as a teacher at Archbishop Shaw High School in Marrero, La.
The hands of each of the newly ordained priests are anointed with sacred chrism--Fr. Leschinsky in this photo.

Fr. Mike Leschinsky, 35, the son of Thomas and Ann Leschinsky, was born in Youngstown, Ohio. While attending Bowling Green State University, earning a degree in secondary English education, he felt a call to the religious life. Wanting to work with young people, he looked into the Salesians and discovered what he calls “an authentic spiritual family.” He spent several summers working at Camp Don Bosco, getting to know Don Bosco and his educational methods and Salesian devotion to Mary Help of Christians. He entered the Salesian formation community in Orange in 1999.

After two further years of postnovitiate formation at Orange, Bro. Mike carried out two years of practical training at Salesian High School in New Rochelle (2003-2005). He also did some ministry at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw.
For the 1st time, Frs. Matt (left) and Mike concelebrate Mass. Bishop Marconi is between Bishop Luc and Fr. Mike.

Bro. Mike did one year of his theological studies at the Salesian Theological School in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, and the other three years at Seton Hall University’s Immaculate Conception Seminary in South Orange, N.J. He earned a master of divinity degree in 2011.

Fr. Mike says he wants to seek God while living and praying in community, serving the young in the spirit of Don Bosco, and striving to do good together with many other apostolic people. He will be doing just that as he begins his new apostolic work at Salesian High School in New Rochelle this fall.

Fr. Mike will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving at his home parish of St. Matthias in Youngstown on July 10.
Most of the concelebrants posed after Mass with Bishop Luc, Fr. Matt, and Fr. Mike

Many more photos of the ordination Mass and the reception may be viewed at