Friday, December 30, 2011

Fr. Vincent Zuliani, SDB

Fr. Vincent Zuliani, SDB
(1927-2011)
Fr. Vincent Zuliani, SDB, died in his room at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., during the night of Dec. 29-30, apparently of a heart attack. He was 84 years old. (The "official" date of death is given as the 30th.)

Fr. Vince was a Salesian for more than 68 years and a priest for over 55 years. He had belonged to the Salesian community of the Marian Shrine since the summer of 2008, regularly celebrating Mass and the sacrament of Reconciliation at the Shrine chapel.

Fr. Vince was born on February 1, 1927, at the little village of Blessano in the town of Basiliano, near Udine in northeastern Italy, to Paolo and Delfina née Antonutti Zuliani. His formal name was Vinicio, but in the U.S. he was familiarly called “Fr. Vince.” He was baptized within the month in the parish church of St. Stephen. Following the family’s move to Bressa (also in Udine province), he made his first Communion in 1934 and was confirmed in 1935 at the church of Mary Immaculate there. In his religious education classes he already showed the diligence that would mark his whole academic career: highest grades and first prizes in competitions.

One of his childhood friends, Msgr. Francesco Lucis, remembered: “From his infancy people noted in him a particularly reflective personality. He observed everything, gathering into his soul those holy impressions that were preparing him to receive from the Divine Artist the indescribable strokes of grace.”

One of those impressions, when Vince was just six, was the departure of a missionary for India. Others included parish missions, episcopal visits to the parish, the pastor’s silver anniversary in 1937, and a celebration of the feast of St. John Bosco for young people in 1938. By the time he was eight, he already wanted to become a priest, says Msgr. Lucis.

Vince entered the Salesian seminary at Ivrea in Piedmont in September 1938. One of his classmates, Fr. Michele Ceschia, SDB, recalled that during their four years of high school they never went home—“such were the times”—and only once was Mr. Zuliani able to afford to come and visit his son. But Vince found in the Salesian house so much happiness, and so much friendliness from his superiors, that he easily decided “to stay with Don Bosco for good.”

At Ivrea Vince was already noted for his beautiful singing voice, which contributed to the seminary’s church services. Since this particular seminary was intended for future missionaries, he was assigned to study English, with the United States as his intended destination, and he quickly became fluent.

From Ivrea Vince entered the Salesian novitiate in 1942 at Castelnuovo Don Bosco, which on account of the war was transferred within the year to Villa Moglia in Chieri. He professed vows on August 16, 1943. Bro. Zuliani continued his studies first at Foglizzo, then at the Istituto Conti Rebaudengo, a unit of the Salesian Pontifical Atheneum in Turin, earning a doctorate in philosophy (magna cum laude) in 1949. He was then sent to the U.S. to teach philosophy, Latin, and Greek at Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J.—a ministry he carried out zealously until 1975, except for four years of theology studies (1952-1956) at St. John Bosco Theological School in Turin, familiarly called “the Crocetta” after its urban district. At the Crocetta he was awarded an STL degree, magna cum laude. He was ordained by Cardinal Maurilio Fossati of Turin on July 1, 1956, in the basilica of Mary Help of Christians.

Fr. Vince also earned a master’s degree, magna cum laude, from Fordham University in 1960 in classical languages. From 1965 to 1975 he was director of the Sons of Mary Program for late vocations at Don Bosco Seminary. He called these eight years “the best years of my life!” Both his students and the young men he directed have rich memories of him—not only of his keen intellect and demanding teaching style, but also of his love for music and drama, his zest for life, and his personal care for them. He found great pleasure in his books as well as in his weekend priestly services at various parishes in the area: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Boonton, St. Thomas More in Convent Station, and St. Joseph in Lincoln Park.

Fr. Vince left the college scene to become director of Don Bosco Technical High School in Paterson, N.J., in 1975, serving until 1981. From 1984 to 1989 he was director of St. Dominic Savio High School in East Boston, and from 1999 to 2005 of the community at the Salesian Provincial House in New Rochelle, N.Y. He was associate pastor at St. Anthony’s Church in Elizabeth (1981-1984, “three wonderful years,” he said) and pastor-director there (1989-1998). In Elizabeth he assisted not only with the sacraments but also with adult and youth religious education and was chaplain for the local Italian Club. From 2005 to 2008 he was associate pastor at St. Anthony’s Church in Paterson, with particular care for the Italian population. He also used his considerable language skills to translate many Salesian works from Italian.

Bro. Bruno Busatto, SDB, served alongside Fr. Vince at Don Bosco Tech and found his director to be “a very good friend” who knew how to support him in the various difficulties of life in community. He adds, “I will miss him much.”
A former Salesian, Bert Cooper, has many fond memories: “He would tell you how important it is not to be a compromising Christian. Fr. Vince had a keen sense of right and wrong and he practiced what he preached. He was always about the business of getting you to do a little more, work a little harder, become a better Salesian. I knew he wanted me to better myself and that to me was the essence of Fr. Vince. Of all the directors I’ve ever had he was the one that influenced me the most.”

Joseph Roalef wrote simply: “Fr. Vince was my Son of Mary director. He was a wonderful priest.”Salesian Father Thomas Juarez wrote: There was a fire and an enthusiasm in him, determined to make us learn Latin and Greek. Class was like being left in the hands of a drill sergeant, tough but we learned. We called him Fr. Family Spirit because of the energy and excitement he radiated.”

From Australia, Father James Hoe, SDB, wrote: “What a man! Full of life, energy, and good humor. He always wanted the best for you. What a Salesian! Taking personal interest and responsibility that those in his care came to know Don Bosco and learned about Don Bosco by his own example. He was present always: at sport, work, study....

Father John Puntino, SDB, his director for several years at Haverstraw, paid tribute to Father Zuliani’s zeal, calling him “ ‘impulsive,’ and by that I mean he propelled his life without hesitation toward those things which he valued most. He felt deeply about his family, especially about family unity, and remained regularly in contact with his family. He believed strongly in the Catholic faith and put all his energies into learning about it and explaining it to others. He fearlessly raced toward the mystery of life, devouring philosophical attempts to explain it, and equally forcefully serving explanations of his investigations to his students. He deeply loved everything Salesian and charged forward to live it and have others live it to the full. This he did whether in leadership positions, or as a member of provincial chapters, or just as a confrere in his community. Both at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Elizabeth and at Marian Shrine he aimed at creating a warm and joyful family spirit while not neglecting to offer conferences on current issues in the Church particularly in the areas of ethics, Mariology and Vatican II. I am grateful to our Lord for the gift of Father Vince, who challenged, inspired, and guided me both in initial formation and for the few years that I was in the role of his director.
Fr. Vince is survived by his brother Gino of Bressa di Campoformido (Udine), Italy.
Fr. Vince's funeral was celebrated at the Marian Shrine on Jan. 3. Fr. Pat Angelucci preached the homily, interweaving the Scriptures with Father's life. He will be buried in Bressa di Campoformido.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Homily for Christmas Eve

Homily for
Christmas Eve
Dec. 24, 2011
Collect
Is 62: 1-5
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.
Nativity set designed by Fr. Don Rooney, Church of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Fredericksburg, Va.
“We wait in hope for our redemption” (Collect).
Like our redemption, Christmas is here, but not quite here. All of the Christian liturgy celebrates “Christ present and yet to come,” a phrase that could be called the particular tenor of our celebration this Christmas eve.

The Collect, our opening prayer, recapitulates Advent: “We wait in hope for our redemption.” Then it alludes to our welcoming joyfully the Father’s only-begotten Son, i.e., as we remember his long-awaited birth; at the same time we pray that “we may also merit to face him confidently when he comes again as our Judge.” He is present, having already come thru his incarnation, his resurrection, and his eternal life. He is yet to come, to come back as the divine judge of each of us—as the early days of Advent forcefully remind us each year.

“We wait in hope for our redemption,” for Christ is about to be born and to begin his mission of saving the human race from sin and death. The birth and the beginning have already occurred in history and won’t be repeated. His saving activity in our hearts goes on and on as much as we admit him into our lives, and in that sense he is forever being reborn. He will return “as our Judge” to complete what he began at Bethlehem, what he continues in our souls, by raising us from the grave and granting eternal life to all who have waited for him in hope—and in faith and charity.

Isaiah’s prophecy (62:1-5) this evening may be read on multiple levels. On the 1st level it’s simply about the rebuilding, the restoration, of Jerusalem after the exile. On a 2d level it’s about Christ’s victory over death, accomplished in Jerusalem, “shining forth like the dawn, like a burning torch” (62:1), a victory that effects a different kind of restoration, the rebuilding of our relationship with God. On a 3d level it’s about our joyful union with the victorious Christ, or rather his union with us: “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you” (62:5). That word “builder” alludes not only to the One who has engineered the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the Holy City, but also to the One who constructed the universe and who thru his Son re-makes the universe, restoring mankind to the divine image.

On this feast of the incarnation and birth of the Son of God—the one known in his earthly life as “the carpenter’s son” (Matt 13:55), which could also be rendered as “the builder’s son” or “the craftsman’s son” or “the framer’s son,” with obvious connotations of the One who built the universe—on this feast we celebrate, we rejoice, that God has made himself one with mankind, divinity has united with humanity. In the breviary, the psalm-prayer after Ps 45 acknowledges, “When you took on flesh, Lord Jesus, you made a marriage of mankind with God” (LOH 1:831). The wedding feast of the Son, of the Lamb of God, on one level is the marriage of his divinity with his humanity in the incarnation, and on another level that wedding feast is the eternal celebration we hope for, according to the Book of Revelation: “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (19:9)—called not merely to witness that wedding but to be the spouse of the Lamb (“your Builder shall marry you…so shall your God rejoice in you”). The spouse of the Lamb is what the Church is, in the teaching of the Sacred Scriptures as well as of the liturgy.

Welcoming joyfully this coming of the only-begotten Son, welcoming joyfully this marriage of divinity with humanity, we are made worthy of the Son (“say but the word and my soul shall be healed”!), and by his grace, then, “we may also merit to face him confidently when he comes again as our Judge.” The Judge shall cause all of us who are his disciples, the members of his Church—it’s our hope and our confidence—to be “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27), so that we might be his worthy bride, “sanctified and cleansed” (5:26) by the gift of his calling us and forgiving us.

At every Mass we pray that “we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity” (prayer at the mixing of water and wine), and in the 3d Preface for Christmas we proclaim joyfully, “By this wondrous union” of “our frailty” with the Word made flesh, “we, too, are made eternal.” This is the hope that “gladdens us year by year,” as the Collect says. The redemption begun at the Word’s 1st coming in Bethlehem will be complete when he passes judgment, cleansing judgment, saving judgment, upon all who hope for his coming again.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Lord Our King Is Drawing Near

The Lord Our King Is Drawing Near...

That's the refrain of the prophecies of the Christmas Novena (see below). The house has been decorated for a couple of weeks already, and a few days ago the nativity scene was set up in our chapel.
But we also celebrate outside chapel. Today (Dec. 22) we had our staff Christmas party at noon (preceded by a short prayer service).


The blessings of the Savior be upon all who read From the Eastern Front!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Advent

Dec. 18, 2011
Luke 1: 26-38
Troop 40, Seton Scout Res., Greenwich, Conn.

Herewith the written text from which I preached Saturday evening to Scouts and Scouters of Troop 40, plus a few other folks; there was also some unscripted back-and-forth as I elicited some recall of the gospel from the boys.

This text was heavily edited for delivery to the Ursulines in New Rochelle on Sunday morning.


Illustration at right: Annunciation in stained glass, St. Ursula's Church, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.


“The angel Gabriel was sent from God … to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1: 26).
Our Advent season, whose name means “coming,” starts its 4th week this evening. Our gospel reading recalls how our salvation in Jesus Christ started. It starts with what is for us a very unusual happening—but not unusual in the Bible. An angel appears to someone, in this case to a young woman in the village of Nazareth in Galilee, and the angel brings to her a startling message. This message, as in all such wondrous appearances in the Bible, concerns a mission or purpose that God has for her.

The gospel passage tells us 3 things about this woman right off (1:27). 1st, she’s a virgin. 2d, she’s “betrothed to a man named Joseph,” which in 1st-century Jewish society meant that she was legally committed to a future marriage to him (unlike an engagement in modern society, which isn’t legally binding), but she and Joseph weren’t yet permitted to live together. 3d, “the virgin’s name was Mary.” We’re not told how old Mary is; we can only guess that she probably was betrothed soon after she reached maturity, according to the custom in all ancient societies, including Jewish society in the 1st century. That was true thruout the Middle Ages, as well; Shakespeare’s Juliet was only 13. So we guess Mary was 13 or 14 when she was contracted to Joseph as his future wife.

The angel Gabriel greets Mary: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” St. Luke, writing in Greek, uses the ordinary Greek word of greeting: Χαϊρε, which literally means, “Rejoice!” but which we usually translate into English as a less dramatic “Hail!” That word serves to indicate that the Gospel, the Good News, the cause of our rejoicing, is about to be announced.

The angel calls Mary “full of grace” (1:28). An alternate translation, used in some English versions of the Bible, would be “most highly favored one.” And in another moment the angel will tell her, “You have found favor with God” (1:30). God has chosen her for the great purpose of which Gabriel is about to inform her, and because of that God has bestowed on her his great favor, his grace, his blessings. And then Gabriel confirms to her, “The Lord is with you” (1:28). God is at her side, to accompany her with his favor and his help as she carries out the mission that he’s about to give her.

Catholics will recognize in the angel’s greeting the opening lines of the Hail Mary prayer: “Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee.” It’s a familiar prayer full of scriptural allusions, and one in which we join God in recognizing Mary’s special place in the story of our salvation.

We’ll also recognize the familiar greeting that we use often at Mass: “The Lord be with you.” The Lord accompanies us, too, on our journey thru life. Our purpose, our mission, is of course much less dramatic than Mary’s. But God has chosen each one of us to be special in his eyes; he has favored us with his love. And he is with us as we go thru our lives trying to live in his love and to share it with other people.

Then the angel gets down to business: the mission for which he’s come to Nazareth to speak to Mary. “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (1:31). This son, Jesus, will truly be her son. He will be a complete and real human being. His name, Jesus in Greek, Yeshua in Hebrew, means “YHWH is salvation,” or “YHWH saves.” YHWH is God’s own name, the name he revealed to Moses when he appeared to Moses in the burning bush to give the Moses the mission to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt (Ex 3:4-17). Thru Moses God was about to save Israel from Egypt; and now God, thru Jesus, is about to save everyone from sin and damnation and death. Christian teaching tells us that Jesus’ victory over sin and death would be of no use to us human beings if he were not human like us.*

The angel doesn’t say all that. He does tell Mary, “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,” i.e. son of God, “and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (1:32-33). In our 1st reading (2 Sam 7:1-5,8-12,14,16), we heard the great promise that God made to King David almost a thousand years before Jesus was born: “The Lord reveals to you that he will establish a house for you…. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (7:11,16). That promise, which is very, very important in the Scriptures, was echoed also in our responsorial psalm (89:2-5,27,29). We heard, further, at the start of the gospel reading that Joseph, Mary’s husband-to-be, is “of the house of David.” Thus Jesus will be, legally speaking, of David’s house, and when he will be raised from the dead and exalted in heaven as the universal king, to reign of all men and women forever, he will fulfill what God promised to David. As we profess every week in the Creed, “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”

Mary’s a practical girl. She may be only 13 or 14, but she’s not naïve. Very few people in ancient societies would be. Life was too hard, too challenging, and too short for people not to know what’s what. So she asks the angel how it is that she’s to conceive this son “since I have no relations with a man” (1:34), since she’s still a virgin. Evidently she understands that Gabriel means she’s to conceive Jesus then and there.

And Gabriel gives her a mind-boggling answer how this will happen: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (1:35). The Holy Spirit will empower Mary to conceive without any other human intervention. What the angel says to Mary echoes the opening words of the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (1:1-3 RSV). The conception of Jesus, and thus the entire work of our salvation, is to be a new creation, a brand-new start for the world and for every human being, initiated by the creative power of the Holy Spirit.

The angel continues: “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (1:35). This will be no ordinary human child. He’ll be human, truly, as we said, because Mary will really be his mother. But God, and only God, will be his father. He’ll be holy like no other human being ever was or ever could be. He’ll be divine, fully God, in fact: “true God and true man,” as we profess in the Creed. Only God can save us from sin, damnation, and death; and Jesus will be able to do that as both God and as a human being like us.

Finally, Mary gives her consent. God has revealed to her his intention, his plan for her and for the human race. But she has to agree. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord,” she says (1:38). That could also be translated as “I am the Lord’s servant” or even “I am the Lord’s slave.” I’ll do whatever God wants of me, she says. And so Jesus is conceived within her, and our redemption gets underway.

Our redemption, yours and mine, is still underway. As Mary had to say, “Yes,” to what God asked of her, so do we have to. That’s the only condition upon our being saved by what Jesus has done for us. Like Mary, we have to be the Lord’s servants and carry out whatever he asks of us to the best of our ability. When we do that, like Mary we’ll have cause for rejoicing; like Mary, we’ll be filled with God’s favor. We’ll have the life of Jesus within us, not in a physical sense like Mary, but in a spiritual sense that will still be life-giving to the people around us.

So pray, my dear Scouts and Scouters, that you may always be looking to discover what God wants of you, and that God will share with you his Holy Spirit so that you will have the courage and the strength—like Mary—to carry that out and to live in his grace. God bless you all.

* E.g., St. Leo the Great, Ep. 31, in LOH 1:321.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Novena Starts

Christmas Novena Starts

Probably the most beloved practice of piety in Salesian communities around the world is the Christmas novena, which starts today (Dec. 16). It's not, strictly speaking, a liturgical practice but a devotional one--altho in most of our U.S. communities (and I'd guess, others around the world) it's adapted to include liturgical Evening Prayer.

The Salesian Boys Prayer Book for Use in Salesian Schools and Youth Centers (New Rochelle, 1954) introduced the novena thus:

The joyful chanting of a choice selection of messianic prophecies, canticle and hymn during the nine days preceding Christmas Day is traditional in Salesian Schools the world over. The custom was handed down by Don Bosco himself, who adopted it from his native province of Piedmont, Italy.

Then followed the official Latin text and, in a facing column, an English translation to help the youngsters understand what the cantors and the lads themselves were singing.
St. Peter's Square decorated for Christmas, 2006 (ANS)
Following Vatican II, two SDB seminarians--one from California, Bro. Roger Luna, and one from Canada, Bro. Marcel Savard--undertook a fresh translation of the novena and an appropriate transcription of the chants (Richmond, Calif., 1964), which is the basis for what we still use thruout our Eastern Province (and probably also in the West).

The 2 brothers introduced their booklet this way:

This Christmas Novena in Chant is an English translation and adaptation of a Latin original composed by Father Charles Vachetta, C.M., in 1721. Fr. Vachetta's novena became very popular in Northern Italy, where it was composed, and quickly spread to other parts of the world. Eventually, several slightly varying versions appeared. In making this English edition, the translators used a Latin version according to the Editio Vaticana.

Most of the materials found in the Christmas novena were originally taken from the liturgy of Advent, from the Roman Breviary and Missal. Ultimately, however, most of the materials in the breviary and missal were themselves taken from the Sacred Scriptures.
. . . .
In our age, when the festival of Christmas has been overcommercialized and paganized [they wrote this in 1964!], this Christmas Novena in Chant will help the faithful to prepare spiritually for the coming of Christ. Furthermore, the scriptural character of the novena service will deepen their knowledge and appreciation of Christ, the central, dominant figure in the Scriptures.

The director here at the provincial house assigned your humble blogger as the lead-off preacher for the novena this year. He used the Collect of the day, in the new translation of the Roman Missal, as his basic text. And here's what he said:

Homily for the
Christmas Novena
December 16, 2011
Collect
Provincial House, New Rochelle

“They’ve gone about as far as they can go,” a character sings in Oklahoma, with reference to the modern wonders of Kansas City: “Everything’s Up-to-date in Kansas City”—such wonders as 5-story buildings, indoor plumbing, and “a show they call the burley-Q.” And on Friday of the 3d week of Advent we’ve gone as far as we can go before we run into the Great Days that start on Dec. 17. So we run into liturgical texts at both the Hours and the Eucharist that we hardly ever use. 2011 is only the 4th year since Ken, Steve, and I were ordained to the presbyterate 33 years ago that we’ve gone so deep into the 1st part of Advent, and we won’t do it again until 2020.[1]

“May your grace, almighty God, always go before us and follow after, so that we … may receive your help both now and in the life to come,” we prayed at the Collect this morning at Mass.[2] Most of us were in the dining room 8 mornings ago when Steve asked, dare I say with a certain amount of exasperation, “What the heck is ‘prevenient grace’?” He was quoting from the Prayer over the Offerings, which referred to the Virgin Mary’s being “untouched by any stain of sin on account of [God’s] prevenient grace.” Fortunately or unfortunately, that’s a literal rendition of tua gratia praeveniente.

Richard dutifully consulted Wikipedia (as I did this afternoon, having failed to find anything in various printed dictionaries of theology or even in the New Catholic Encyclopedia). That worthy source (Wiki) informs us that “Prevenient grace … is divine grace that precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. As humans are corrupted by the effects of sin, prevenient grace allows persons to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ or to reject that salvific offer.” And a little further along, “prevenient grace … enables, but does not ensure, personal acceptance of the gift of salvation. . . . In modern English, the phrase preceding grace would have a similar meaning.”

All that is purportedly the Protestant understanding of “prevenient grace,” an understanding probably not intended by the translators of the Roman Missal. Wiki also offers us the Catholic understanding, quoting from the Council of Trent: “In adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace.” I trust that’s clear! (Makes our new Roman Missal seem simple and graceful, doesn’t it?)

All of which is bringing me to note that “prevenient grace” is the same idea expressed in the Collect today: “May your grace always go before us….” In fact, the Latin text is “Praeveniat nos tua gratia semper.”

We’re praying that God do some substantial spadework in the ground of our souls, preparing to receive the seed of his word; preparing them for the further working of his grace in us; preparing us to receive his forgiveness and be redeemed.

We’re praying that God’s grace go before us like the advance scouts and engineers of an army; they map a route, fill in the ruts and the holes, cut down obstructive trees and vines build bridges, so that an army may advance. We, pilgrims trying to find our way home to the Father, need a secure route, and one not too difficult.

This Advent season is a long prayer, if you will, begging God to help us get ready to receive his Son. It’s a long prayer for preparatory grace, anticipatory grace, preceding grace, so that when the Son comes into our presence—“we, who await with heartfelt desire the coming of your Only Begotten Son,” the Collect says—we’ll actually welcome him and actually enlist in the redemption he brings. Our readings during Advent often enuf speak of those who resisted the divine grace on offer, those whose hearts were closed tight. Was it because God’s grace hadn’t come beforehand to get them ready? We can’t say why so many resisted Jesus during his earthly ministry. We can’t know; it’s part of the divine mystery of grace and of human free will.

We can only note, as the Prayer over the Offerings today did, that “we have no merits to plead our cause,” and we dearly need God’s grace to come to us, to stay with us, to go ahead of us and, as the Collect also said, “follow after” us, so that we might receive God’s “help both now and in the life to come,” i.e., that his help now would safely bring us to eternal life, to the everlasting enjoyment of the redemption wrought by “the coming of [the] Only Begotten Son.”

May the Lord, indeed, take pity on his servants,[3] as we prayed in Psalm 135 (v. 14) this evening, so that in the life to come we may be part of that great heavenly choir proclaiming, “Mighty and wonderful are your works, Lord God Almighty!” (Rev 15:3), thanks to the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ and all his manifold grace.

[1] The next year in which Christmas will fall on Sunday, thus stretching Advent as long as it can possibly be.[2] Friday of Week 3 of Advent.[3] So phrased in the Grail translation used in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Homily for 3d Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Advent

Dec. 12, 1999
Is 61: 1-2, 10-11
Guardian Angel, Allendale, N.J.

Last nite and this morning I preached at Iona College and St. Vincent's Hospital, respectively, without written text, basing myself on the gospel reading. To have something to post here, I've reached back 12 years.

“The spirit of the Lord God…has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor…, to proclaim liberty to the captives…, to announce a year of favor from the Lord” (Is 61: 1-2).

The prophet of the Lord announces glad tidings, good news, gospel. And what is that gospel? Healing and rescue and jubilee for the poor and downtrodden and beaten of the earth. According to St. Luke, when Jesus began his public ministry by preaching in his hometown synagog at Nazareth, it was this passage from Isaiah that he turned to (Lk 4:16-21). Our Blessed Lady, likewise, in our response to the Isaiah reading, proclaims the Lord’s greatness in what he does for the lowly and the hungry, for those who depend utterly upon him.

If Dec. 12 were not a Sunday this year, from one end of the Americas to another Catholics would be observing the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas. On Dec. 12, 1531—less than a dozen years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico—the Virgin Mary appeared to a lowly Indian, Juan Diego, to assure him and his people of her special love and protection. If the Indians were outcasts and nobodies in the eyes of their new masters from Spain, they were nevertheless beloved in her eyes and in God’s.
OL of Guadalupe shrine, St. John Bosco Church, Chicago
If I were to have preached such a gospel in certain countries just a few years ago—and it probably is true still in some places—I would have been marked for elimination by a death squad. At their meeting in Washington last month, our bishops endorsed the beatification of Abp. Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980 for championing the human rights of the poor—shot while saying Mass in a convent, no less. Romero and other martyrs in Latin America preached that the poor, too, are God’s children, that they have human dignity, that they have God-given rights—to education, basic health care, employment at a living wage, a roof, and so on. By your assistance to refugees and by food drives for the hungry, for instance, this parish is showing that you believe the Good News that Isaiah and Jesus announced.

When Isaiah and Jesus refer to “a year of favor from the Lord,” they allude to the OT prescription of the jubilee year. According to Lev 25, every 50th year is to be a year of jubilee, a year of grace. All the land in Israel is the Lord’s, and he has graciously bestowed it to the individual clans and families of Israel as his tenants. Any land that has been transferred in the course of 50 years must be restored to its original family, the tenants to whom the Lord gave it as a heritage. All Israelites are to forgive one another their debts, and all Israelite slaves are to be set free. For the Lord ransomed Israel and made a covenant with them forever, and so must they do for one another.

In 1751 the colonial assembly of Pennsylvania commissioned a new bell for their province house at Philadelphia to celebrate the 50th year of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, by which the colony was ruled with a relatively democratic form of government and almost complete religious freedom. It was a jubilee year. The bell was inscribed with the words of Lev 25:10: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” A quarter century later that bell rang out to proclaim a new freedom on the occasion of our Declaration of Independence. And when you visit Philadelphia today, you can of course still see and touch the Liberty Bell, one of our country’s sacred icons, a tangible image of jubilee.
National Park Service photo
There is untold ballyhoo about the year 2000 inaugurating a new century and a new millennium. In fact, it will be the last year of the 20th century and of the 2d millennium. Continuing a tradition that goes back to Pope Boniface VIII in 1300, we Catholics are observing 2000 as a jubilee year. A Christian jubilee is a year in which we specially recall the Father’s great favor by which he sent us a Savior to redeem us from our slavery to Satan, to cancel the debt we contracted by our sins. It is a special year of grace.

Not that the Lord comes closer to us in one year than in another. But by recalling the incarnation and birth of the Son of God 2000 years ago, and all God’s love for us implied thereby, we become more open to God’s love and to all that God’s wants to do for us, as he did great things for his lowly servant Mary. The jubilee year doesn’t bring God closer to us, but us closer to God, when we remember what God has already done for the human race and for us individually, when we therefore repent of our sins, when we turn to God in prayer, when we resolve to walk more truly in the ways of Jesus Christ. The banners all over the archdiocese urging us to “open wide the doors to Christ” are not talking about church doors but about the doors to our hearts, the doors to our lives. In the book of Revelation Jesus says to Christians, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (3:20)—which is a promise of eternal life, of a place at the banquet of life.

The “year of favor from the Lord” is also a call for us to do as the Israelites were to do, to be agents of the Lord’s favor. We are called to forgive debts. Internationally, some Third World debt is being forgiven. Personally, we might become more conscious of what we pray each day: “Forgive us our trespasses (or debts) as we forgive those who trespass against us,” where we don’t mean property trespass or monetary debt but the forgiveness of sins and other offenses.

Proclaiming “liberty to captives” doesn’t mean that criminals should be released from prison. For Isaiah it referred to slaves and debtors—the jubilee concept. For us it might mean that we ought to re-examine our attitudes toward criminal offenders, especially in an election year next year. Is the increasing harshness of our penal codes society’s necessary self-defense, or is it an act of vengeance, of desperation, of frustration? Do our penal codes distinguish between hardened criminals and the mentally ill and those who, having made a serious mistake, still might be set straight with some guidance or some education?

What about those who are, metaphorically, captives of some of our other attitudes? How many people have we imprisoned by the categories we have boxed them into, by our prejudices or stereotypes: how many women? (Not that women would ever stereotype men!) How many foreigners, members of another race, young people, old people? How many physically or mentally handicapped, how many panhandlers, bag ladies, people sleeping in the subways? Just as much as the campesinos of El Salvador for whom Oscar Romero spoke have God-given human dignity, so do all these people in our lives.

Among all those who over the years have brought glad tidings to the poor—the Gospel of Jesus—and healed the brokenhearted (and the broken-bodied), we can single out the religious sisters and brothers who have taught in our Catholic schools, staffed our Catholic hospitals, gone off to foreign lands as missionaries. Many of us were educated by selfless nuns in grammar school, perhaps in what today we’d call the inner city, or by dedicated brothers or nuns in high school, and some of us by priests or brothers or sisters both learned and devout in college. One of them might be our favorite all-time teacher, one who taught us to read, or introduced us to the wonders of chemistry or the beauty of music, or straightened us out before our parents had to. We seldom realized the financial sacrifices those religious were making; how little they were given in salary or benefits; how little their orders and congregations were able to put aside for the future; how much they were utterly depending upon God to provide for them. In the ’40s and ’50s it wasn’t a problem, for there was a seemingly endless supply of new vocations, and the young religious far outnumbered, and therefore supported, the older members. In the ’90s it is a real problem; in many congregations the very few young members cannot nearly support all the elderly ones. So for several years now American Catholics have been asked annually to give back to our now aged and retired nuns and brothers, to try to repay an immeasurable spiritual debt, that they might have a respectable retirement and decent medical care. Today our 2d collection is for the retirement fund that our bishops have set up for religious sisters and brothers who have given their lives for the Church and the Gospel and have so little, materially speaking, on which to live. Please be as generous as you can, not only in the collection but also with your prayers.

Salesians Work to Implement Universal Right to Education

Salesians Work to Implement
Universal Right to Education

Last week we passed the anniversary of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and annual observances related to it. For the occasion ANS posted this item on Dec. 9, the day before the anniversary:

Article 26: Everyone has a right to education
(ANS – Rome) – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948, is now 63 years old. This magna carta of human dignity, as the document itself said, is an ideal to be achieved; it exhorts every individual and every organ of society to strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms. The Salesian Congregation is fully engaged in this.

A few days ago the Salesian Mission Office in Madrid issued a statement in which it reports that “over 67 million boys and girls do not have access to education. Of these 45% are minors living in sub-Saharan Africa. Even though in recent years governments and international organizations have made efforts to ensure that primary education is universal, there is still much work to be done. If the present situation continues, in 2015 there will be over 50 million youngsters not going to school, and so the second Millennium Goal will not be reached.”

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “Everyone has a right to education,” but in the world over 125 million young people between 14 and 25 years of age do not know how to read and write.

Educating the young does not mean simply instructing them, but providing an integral development of the person that takes into account all the aspects of human life, from its beginning to its end. The Congregation and the Salesian Family are responding to this on a daily basis, fostering in every corner of the world an education inspired by the values of the Gospel and the charism of Don Bosco.

In January 2009 there was an international congress at the Salesianum in Rome, “The Preventive System and Human Rights,” promoted by the SDB Youth Ministry Department in collaboration with International Volunteers for Development (VIS). Religious and lay people from over 130 countries in which they are working met together and shared experiences and projects responding to the challenges of the educational emergency and the needs of the young.

SLMs in Local News

SLMs in Local News

One of my responsibilities is to inform (arch)diocesan Catholic newspapers when a woman or man from their area is posted as a Salesian Lay Missioner (http://www.salesianlaymissioners.org/) or Salesian Domestic Volunteer (http://www.salesiandv.org/). Oftentimes the local editor is delighted to receive such information, and sometimes we find out that the paper has run a story in print or on-line.

On Nov. 30, Baltimore's Catholic Review published in both formats a story about Marie Prosser, who will be leaving for her mission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in a couple of weeks. Marie did her orientation back in July and August and was commissioned on Aug. 6 (which I didn't get around to posting till Sept. 9--you can check the story there via http://sdbnews.blogspot.com/2011_09_01_archive.html).

To read what the Catholic Review has to say, go to http://www.catholicreview.org/subpages/storyarchnew.aspx?action=11037

And on Dec. 8, the Georgia Bulletin of the archdiocese of Atlanta wrote about Carmen Hilmes's experience in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Carmen also was commissioned on Aug. 6 after the orientation program. See http://www.georgiabulletin.org/local/2011/12/08/missionary_hilmes/

Photos by Adam Rudin

Friday, December 9, 2011

Homily for Solemnity of Immaculate Conception

Here's the homily that I gave on Immaculate Conception in 1979 to the junior class at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J. At the time I was the school's CYM.

Homily for
the Solemnity of the
Immaculate Conception
Gen 3: 9-15, 20
Dec. 8, 1979

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3: 15).
There is a never-ending warfare between mankind and the powers of evil. Evil affects each of us who are the offspring of the first woman, and at times we wonder whether there’s any hope of victory.

As Catholics we believe that the Virgin Mary at the moment of conception was preserved in advance from all defilement of original sin by a unique privilege of grace in view of the merits of Jesus Christ (dogmatic definition, 1854).

The Immaculate Conception means that the redemptive act of Christ has begun. It is a celebration of Christ’s victory over sin, the victory of an offspring of woman over the power of evil. There is already life, the fullness of life, the divine life of Christ’s grace, in the womb of Mary’s mother.

Perhaps it boggles your mind that anyone who is fully human, as Mary was, could be sinless. You and I, after all, don’t know anyone who is without sin. In the Immaculate Conception our faith tells us the grace of Christ is effective; it does triumph over the sinfulness of mankind. If we cannot believe that the grace of Jesus Christ overcomes sin in Mary, how can we believe his grace touched our lives in Baptism? We’re still in sin and always will be. Either his grace can save us, or it can’t. Either it can be totally victorious over evil, or there is no victory over evil. Mary’s Immaculate Conception, then, is an anticipation of our own Baptism in Christ, an anticipation of the day when, if we say “yes” as Mary did, we will be totally submitted to God’s will for us, the day of our full redemption.

Stained glass window, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church, Fredericksburg, Va.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Don Bosco Rules Supreme

"Don Bosco rules supreme"

That was part of columnist Darren Cooper's headline in The Record of Bergen County yesterday after Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey beat archrival Bergan Catholic handily, 42-14, Friday nite at MetLife Stadium and clinched Prep's 6th straight state football championship.

Full headline: "No debating Don Bosco rules supreme in Jersey."

Going into the game, Prep was also ranked #1 in some national polls, including USA Today's: http://www.highschoolsports.net/super25/football/

Read the entire column at http://www.northjersey.com/columnists/cooper_darren/Cooper_No_debating_Don_Bosco_rules_supreme_in_Jersey.html?page=all

Game news report at http://www.northjersey.com/sports/hs_sports/football/Bergen_Catholic_Bosco.html?page=all

Game photos at http://www.northjersey.com/sports/hs_sports/football/Photos_Don_Bosco_rolls_over_Bergen_Catholic_42-14.html

Homily for 2d Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Advent
Collect
Willow Towers, New Rochelle
Dec. 4, 2011

“Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son…” (Collect).

The biggest change in our liturgical language as we implement our new translation isn’t “And with your spirit.” It’s the style and structure of the 3 variable proper prayers for each Mass: the collect, the prayer over the offerings, and the prayer after communion.

The 1st of these prayers has always been properly called the “collect” [accent on the 1st syllable], altho the missal that we used for the last 41 years called it simply the “opening prayer.” Why “collect”? Because when the priest says, “Let us pray,” he’s inviting each of us individually to do that from our own hearts. Then, after this moment of silent, private, personal prayer, he gathers together or “collects”—sums up, in other words—all our single prayers in one common prayer expressive of both our individual concerns and those of the entire Church in the context of the general theme of the day or season.

In this season of Advent, our general theme is expectation and waiting—for God’s intervention, for redemption.

So today we invoke God with 2 adjectives, 2 attributes: “almighty” and “merciful.” The Almighty is the Creator, the one who directs the workings of the universe and our individual lives. The Merciful cares for each of us individually within this incredibly vast universe, cares for us enuf to pardon the sinner who repents and invite that repentant sinner to an honored place in the heavenly household—which we celebrate as we acclaim, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Say but the word, and my soul shall be healed,” and we proceed to share in the Lord’s very own table.

We pray to this almighty and merciful God that nothing earthly may hinder us, get in our way, as we hasten to meet his Son. This season is Advent, the season of waiting expectantly and eager for the coming of Christ. While we inevitably associate Advent with Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s 1st coming thru his incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary and his birth at Bethlehem in 6 or 7 B.C.—yet our focal point in the 1st weeks of Advent is Christ’s future coming, his return in heavenly glory as the judge of all humanity, completing his merciful work of redemption and also condemning whose who have made no attempt to imitate his mercy in their dealings with their fellow human beings, as our gospel reading 2 weeks ago emphasized (Matt 25:31-46) and our 2d reading today reminds us (2 Pet 3:8-14).

We “set out in haste to meet” God’s Son. The phrase evokes Mary’s journey after the annunciation to visit her cousin Elizabeth: “Mary set out and traveled in haste to the hill country of Judah” (Luke 1:39). She wasn’t hastening to meet the Lord, of course, for she was carrying him, already conceived, to Elizabeth, and to Elizabeth’s unborn son John, both of whom greeted Mary and her Son joyfully (1:41-45).
Miriam and Elizabeth, art "borrowed" from The Deacon's Bench
So do we want to greet Mary’s Son joyfully when he returns, when “the day of the Lord will come like a thief…and the earth and everything done on it will be found out” (2 Pet 3:10). So do we hasten toward him who is our redeemer, that we may be “found out” as belonging to him, “found without spot or blemish before him” (3:14) who has washed away our sins, and ushered to the eternal banquet that this Eucharist foreshadows. What’s sadder than a Christian who has no desire to go to Christ, to be with Christ?
But the prayer refers to hindrances on our journey to meet Christ. “Earthly undertakings” may hinder our haste, make us reluctant to go toward Christ; may drag on us and slow down our progress like a really heavy suitcase without wheels—you all remember those? “Earthly undertakings” may distract us from our ultimate destination, like travelers repeatedly led off their route by interesting detours or side trips. These “earthly undertakings” could be various pursuits, intentions, trials that involve us thru our own desires, thru what others inflict upon us, or thru natural causes. So many things can lead us off the track that would take us toward Christ, such things as the worldly cares that choke off the word of God and keep it from bearing fruit (as Jesus said in the parable of the sower [Mark 4:1-8]), such things as the pursuit of a career, of pleasure, of power, of money, of revenge, of fame. And in the end, when we in fact meet God’s Son, what will all those hindrances matter?

Instead, we pray, “may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company,” i.e., to the Son’s company, a place at his side in God’s household. What is “learning of heavenly wisdom”? Hearing the teaching of Jesus. But, just as in school you didn’t “learn” something just from hearing your teacher explain it, but you had to take it in, absorb it, master it—so must we with Jesus’ teaching. “Learning of heavenly wisdom” can’t mean only learning about it but must mean making it part of our lives. In fact, if the Holy Spirit is the Wisdom of God personified, here we’re invoking his presence in our lives, his company on our journey to meet the Son. And if the Holy Spirit’s wisdom has been imprinted upon our hearts and souls, has governed our choices and decisions thru life, has guided our words and actions, then we will truly be found on “the day of the Lord” to belong to Jesus Christ and will be admitted to his company, which is the ultimate destination of our journey.