Sunday, May 27, 2012

Homily for Pentecost

Homily for Pentecost
May 27, 2012
Acts 2: 1-11
Gal 5: 16-25
John 15: 26-27; 16: 12-15
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Fill now once more the hearts of believers” (Collect).

We pray to the heavenly Father today that he “pour out the gifts of the Holy Spirit” so that, by divine power, by divine favor, the same great things might be done today “across the face of the earth” as were done in the earliest days of the Church.
Pentecost: St. John Bosco Church, Castelnuovo Don Bosco
In our 1st reading we heard about a wondrous occurrence from those “earliest days”:  Jews on pilgrimage in Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire understood what the apostles were preaching, regardless of the pilgrims’ own native languages.  Having just been at an international meeting of editors of the Salesian Bulletin—the native tongues of the editors included Spanish, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Slovak, Slovenian, Hindi, and Telegu—I can appreciate the blessing of understanding a foreign language and the difficulties of not understanding.

That, however, isn’t the kind of gifts and divine grace we’re praying for.

The gospel reading points to one “divine grace that was at work when the Gospel was first proclaimed,” viz. truth:  “the Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13).

The 2d reading points to another divine grace:  “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit” (Gal 5:24-25).

Finally, there’s a grace mentioned in the gospel and demonstrated in the 1st reading.  Jesus tells his apostles, “You also testify” to the truth (John 15:27), and after the Spirit comes upon them the apostles begin that “first proclamation” of the Gospel:  “We hear them speaking … of the mighty acts of God” (Act 2:11).

Truth.  The Holy Spirit guides the disciples of Jesus toward the truth.  That means toward God.  It means toward knowing that God has made the universe, he’s in charge of the universe, he loves us, he wants us—his children—to be with him, he wants all of us to love one another.  We pray the Holy Spirit to enlighten us with divine truth.

Follow the Spirit.  Paul lists various moral weaknesses that can keep us out of the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21), weaknesses we’re all familiar with in some fashion—not with everything in that catalog, but all of us are very familiar with 1, 2, or 3 of them, no?—weaknesses that lead us to sin and, indeed, testify against the truths of God’s lordship and universal love.  But, in the face of our weaknesses, we also have the power of the Spirit at hand to strengthen us with his gifts, including forgiveness, reconciliation, and positive virtues like joy, patience, generosity, self-control (Gal 5:22-23).  This is where the Spirit leads “those who belong to Christ Jesus”—to a moral way of living the truth, to a consistency between what one believes in his heart and how one actually behaves.  We pray the Holy Spirit to pour out his gifts upon us.

Testify to the truth.  Believing what is true, believing God our Creator and Jesus Christ our Savior, is where we start.  That leads to our conversion in the way we live.  Those who belong to Jesus and follow the Spirit must do one more thing:  they must be public witnesses of the truth.  So in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, those on whom the Spirit has descended are set on fire—notice those “tongues as of fire, which … came to rest on each one of them” (2:3)—and they go out and start preaching Jesus Christ.  Later in Acts, the apostles suffer persecution because of their preaching.  Thruout the ages the Church in general and individual Christians in particular have been harassed, imprisoned, and put to death because of the faith, because in their words and their actions they testified to the truth.  They refused to burn incense to the pagan gods.  They refused to convert to Islam.  They refused to recognize Henry VIII’s travesty of marriage. They hid Jews from the Nazis.  Harassment, imprisonment, and execution still happen today in China, in Pakistan, and in other places.  Christians may also be persecuted and killed for defending specific truths, such as the rights of native peoples in Brazil or the rights of children in India, or the evils of the drug trade in Latin America.  In our country there’s unrelenting pressure from politicians, the media, and other social trendsetters—people who falsely, not “in truth,” think they’re “progressive”—pressure for the Church to shut up about abortion and marriage.

But if we follow Jesus, we must speak like the apostles.  We must testify to God’s love and God’s lordship over our lives and God’s intentions for our lives, both publicly and privately—in what we teach our children, which for most of us is the 1st and most important way that we testify to the truth; in what we speak to one another, in how we act, in how we vote, perhaps in what we write to the newspaper or to an elected official.  We pray the Holy Spirit to empower us to testify to the truth.

When the Holy Spirit “once more fills the hearts of believers,” believers will act to make themselves better persons, to make their families happier and more virtuous, to make our society more evidently just and fair in how it treats everyone, born or unborn, white or black, male or female, young or old, native or immigrant, etc.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Salesian Bulletin Editors from Around the World

Salesian Bulletin Editors
from Around the World
Meet in Rome

If you check From the Eastern Front regularly, you’ll have noticed the lack of a homily for May 20. I was in Rome, or en route, from May 15 to May 20. Here’s a report on what I was up to, condensed from ANS.

The editors of the Salesian Bulletin gathered at Salesian general headquarters in Rome from May 17 to May 19 for their first general conference since May 2009. Representing 41 different editions of the Bulletin, from 5 of the 6 inhabited continents, were 48 editors and other staff members, among them a significant number of lay people. Members of the Communications Department based at GHQ also took part.

Yours truly represented the SB of the U.S., and Fr. Romeo Trottier that of Canada, which is called Carrefour Salesien.
Fr. Romeo, Fr. Filiberto, and Fr. Mike with DB

The general councilor for communication, Fr. Filiberto Gonzalez, opened the proceedings. He recalled some lines of communication policy of the Salesian Congregation, including the importance of the SB, which Don Bosco himself founded, for publicizing what the Salesians are doing and for conveying the Salesian charism to the world at large.

Items to be developed in the course of the meeting start from the program of renovation of the SB launched in 2009, which in view of the continuing evolution of world of communication are still valid today. The 56 editions of the SB in the world enjoy a wide autonomy in relation to geographic, cultural, and historic differences, yet they constitute a single instrument of presentation and dissemination of the Salesian mission and charism. A happy slogan, coined within the last few years, defines this magazine which Don Bosco himself launched as “a window on the Salesian world and a Salesian window on the world.”

On the first day of the meeting Fr. Pascual Chavez, the Rector Major, presided over Mass for the editors. His vicar, Fr. Adriano Bregolin, gave the homily.
After Mass the RM posed with us

Characteristics of the Worldwide Bulletin

Also on the first day some data were presented on the characteristics of the SB at world level, based on a survey of 51 out of the 56 editions of the SB. (The other 5 didn’t respond to the survey.) The analysis provided some significant statistics and brought to light some of the challenges facing everyone.

New editions of the SB still emerge where Salesian presences are more recent or are expanding (Africa, Asia, and Oceania). They remain stable where the presence is historically rooted (the Americas and Europe). Some new languages have appeared, e.g. Vietnamese, Tetum, and Kannada.
Some of the samples that were brought to Rome. Photo by Fr. Jaime Gonzalez of ANS.
Spanish counts the greatest number of editions (12), followed by English (9) and French (6). Some editions are bilingual, including both the U.S. and the Canadian editions.

About half the editions are bimonthly, about ten are monthly, while the remainder have a lower frequency of 2-4 issues a year.

Also the circulation varies significantly, from a few thousand, for the most recently founded editions, to over 4 million annually for the Italian SB (issued 11 times a year). The grand total of the circulation of the SB over the whole world is estimated to be over 8.5 million copies a year.

The contents on offer are varied and balanced, including Salesian spirituality, the young, education, missions, international reflections, local situations, etc. The age range covers the spectrum from young adults to senior citizens in roughly equal cohorts, showing that by and large the SBs suit many tastes.

The work of the SB editors was intense. On Thursday and Friday (May 17-18) there was a series of addresses on various topics, presentations of the experiences of several SBs, group work, and general debates in the meeting room. Besides a renewed attention to continuity and fidelity of the SB to its identity and purpose, following Don Bosco’s inspiration, particular attention was paid to the presence of the SB on the Internet.

At present, the very great majority of the SBs are on-line, but almost always in a static from (e.g. as a PDF). The editors desire to move toward a more interactive presence, through social networking, and secondly, toward the adoption of the latest standards of the semantic Web.

“But we cannot continue thinking of the Salesian Bulletin … as just a ‘traditional’ medium: it needs to evolve,” said Bro. Jesus Garcia from Mexico, who presented the theme “Toward an institutional digital journalism: Challenges and opportunities for the Salesian Bulletin.” He said, “Its readers have evolved, ways of consuming communication products have evolved, whatever the Salesian Bulletin makes possible has evolved ... with Don Bosco and with the times.”

Last Day of Work

The rhythm of work eased up on Saturday morning for a guided visit to L’Osservatore Romano (OR), the Vatican Press, and the Vatican gardens. Fr. Sergio Pellini, superior of the SDB community in the Vatican and director general of the Vatican Press – which publishes OR as well as all the official books of the Vatican – met the visiting editors. Dr. Carlo DiCicco, the deputy editor of the Holy See’s daily newspaper, gave them a talk on its history, organizational structure, and updating process.

Fr. Romeo Trottier next to
stacks of OR fresh off the
The Salesian editors' visit to the Vatican Press was noted by a short article in the May 20 edition of OR (p. 7), with a group photo.

Meeting again in the afternoon, the editors drew some practical conclusions. The next few years will see the SBs committed to several common leading editorial fronts, such as the 27th General Chapter (2014), preparing for the bicentennial of Don Bosco’s birth, Project Europe, and the pilgrimage of our Founder’s relic in Europe.

Regarding digital communication, in the light of some experiences already in action, a further step toward digital communication was recommended, looking to a “Salesian Webulletin,” paying attention to its identity, positioning, relation to the printed edition, and target readership, moving decisively toward the semantic Web in synergy with institutional Web sites.

In their last session the editors do some summing up
The editors of the SB were keen to share the riches of the various editions across the world, looking for increased dialog between them, setting up a net of communication, and, finally, to promote a more intense animation of the Salesians toward greater awareness and spread of the SB.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Easter
May 13, 2012
Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“Peter ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10: 48).
Sacrament of Baptism.
Stained glass in St. Mary's Church, Fredericksburg, Va.
No doubt you’re familiar with the story of the conversion of the Roman Cornelius and his household, an event whose significance in Luke’s narrative and in the history of the Church it’s impossible to exaggerate.

You’re also familiar with the details leading up to it: Peter’s vision of the clean and unclean members of the animal kingdom and God’s command that he should accept all of them (10:9-16), and Cornelius’s vision that he should send to Joppa for Peter (10:1-8).

You’re also familiar with later details in Acts: of Paul and Barnabas’s preaching to the Gentiles and the so-called council of Jerusalem that agreed to admit Gentiles to full communion in the body of Christ’s believers (Acts 15), much of which made up our 1st readings last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

How are people saved? By observing the Law of Moses and being good Jews? If so, how does the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus effect our redemption? Can God claim the whole world for himself in Christ? Does he wish to?

Such were the issues that Peter, the Church in Jerusalem, and the wider community of the followers of Jesus struggled with in these 1st two decades after the Ascension of Jesus, after the gift of the Holy Spirit to the assembled Church.

The way in which the Church resolved this issue has ever since been our guide in dealing with difficult questions, with new challenges to our theology and pastoral practice. The Church took 2 approaches in answering the question of the relationship between the Gentiles and the Lord Jesus Christ, of the place of the Mosaic Law in Christian identity. The 1st approach is the one in today’s reading, and the 2d the one in Acts 15, the council at Jerusalem—the meeting between Paul and Barnabas, coming up from Antioch, and “the apostles and elders” (15:2,6).

St. Peter holding keys.
Fresco in Church of Quo Vadis, Rome
The 1st approach relies on the charism of Petrine leadership. Peter’s aided here by a direct revelation, but his decision’s consistent with the mandate given him by Jesus in the gospels—explicitly in Matthew (16:17-19) and John (21:15-17), and implicitly in Luke (22:31-32). God has evidently called upon Peter to act in a radically new way for the salvation of souls, and the Church listens to Peter in this matter of binding and loosing, of using the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

The 2d approach is the Church in grand assembly, together voicing different opinions and seeking guidance from the Lord. When they reach a decision, they voice it in the name of the Church and the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28), that Spirit given to the Church by Jesus to guide her to all truth (John 16:13), that Spirit thru whom Jesus remains with his Church until the close of the present age (Matt 28:20).

You know your church history, sisters, and so you know that Jesus’ Church has used both of these approaches thruout her history: the magisterium or charism of teaching exercised by Peter’s successors, and the magisterium exercised by ecumenical councils. Sometimes councils have been prodded or guided by Peter’s successor, e.g. St. Leo the Great’s teaching on the one Person and two natures of Christ at Chalcedon and the leadership of Blessed John XXIII and Paul VI at Vatican II. Sometimes Peter’s successor has refused to sanction what a council of bishops has done, leaving some decree and even entire councils as theological footnotes, e.g. “robber council” of Ephesus in 449 and the decrees on conciliarism of the councils of Constance and Basel in the 15th century. Other councils have had little papal involvement but been accepted as authoritative by the Pope and the Church, e.g. Nicaea I, which wrote most of our profession of faith, and Trent, which defined the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism and left to the Popes the tasks of reforming the liturgy and composing a catechism.

These 2 approaches to challenging doctrinal and pastoral matters remain the ways in which the Spirit of Jesus leads the Church. No individual bishop, priest, sister, or lay person has the charism of leadership that Jesus gave to Peter and his successors, no matter how charismatic the individual, no matter how convinced the individual is of his or her own righteousness, no matter that some following gather around him or her, e.g. Fr. George Stallings in Washington, Fr. Jim Callan in Rochester, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Abp. Marcel Lefebvre—you see them at both ends of the theological spectrum. You all remember the ad slogan, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” Such individuals do a lot of talking and gain some listeners. But you may also remember that E.F. Hutton’s not around any more.

If the individual’s right, that will be borne out in due time under the Spirit’s guidance, e.g. Fr. John Courtney Murray, Fr. Henri du Lubac (later cardinal), to some extent Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. These remind me of Gamaliel’s advice about the apostles to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5 (vv. 34-39), to the effect that God will sustain what he has himself inspired.

The Holy Spirit poured out upon the Church.
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington
These 2 inspired approaches, Petrine and conciliar, have bearing on how we live as religious, too. The Church in solemn assembly at Vatican II called upon us to be radicals: literally, to return to our roots, to look to the Gospel and the charism of our founders, and to reform our Rules, our practices, and our apostolic activity in the light of what the Gospel and the founders show us.

In the subsequent decades, the Church—thru Peter’s successor or thru his deputies—continues to offer us guidance, sometimes controversially so. The recent visitation of active women religious in the U.S. and the still more recent action regarding the LCWR might seem as shocking to you as what Peter did in Cornelius’s house shocked some leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, to whom Peter had to explain himself (see Acts 11:1-18). Even those traveling with Peter—to whom he must already have reported his vision in Joppa—“were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also” (10:45). That wasn’t supposed to happen!

So we need to ask, where’s the Holy Spirit in what’s going on now between religious families and the Holy See? Is the Spirit trying to tell us something about religious life in our country, its direction, its condition, as the Spirit spoke to Peter and demonstrated his presence in Cornelius’s house?

Our psalm today proclaims, “The Lord has made his salvation known: in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice” (98:2). It was so in the 1st century, and it remains so in the 21st for those who listen to the Spirit.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day Off in Harriman Park

Day Off in Harriman Park

After completing a new issue of the Salesian Bulletin last month, I felt ready for a day off. Fr. Steve gave me permission to go hiking and camping in Harriman State Park April 11-12. I tried to find some company from SDBs and Scouters but had no luck. So I went solo, as I've done before.

There's my backpack outside my office, loaded with gear and crying to be taken on a little trip. For an idea of what goes into the pack, see my posting at http://http//

We'd been having a run of fine weather. Of course the worst weather in a span of 7-10 days came on these 2, with scattered showers and cold nite temps forecast. Thank God the showers held off (except for a very brief one--including hail!--in the last 10 minutes of my 24 hours in the woods). But the cold nite was accurate. More on that later.

I planned a circular route that would cover some ground, including some I hadn't been on before, and would include a shelter. Mid-week, even during Easter break for Catholic schools--shouldn't be a problem getting a shelter. But for a little extra insurance, I chose the one I think is the most remote in the park, Stone Memorial, on the Suffer-Bear Mt. (SBM) Trail--about 4 miles from the Reeves Meadow parking lot, a steady climb much of the way with a few steeper spots, and very scenic.
Stone Memorial Shelter, March 30, 2005

When I got to Reeves Meadow at noon on the 11th, the lot was half full. I wasn't especially worried because I know it's an immensely popular day-hiking area with numerous trails. I was somewhat amused by seeing a couple with a dog heading out--the dog, too, packed for the trail.

Only later, when I downloaded my photos, did I notice that the guy was barefoot! He must have some calluses on his feet.

Photo also shows a very obvious marker for the Pine Meadow Trail on the tree.

So I headed up the Pine Meadow Trail, noting a sign at the start that a bridge had been washed out up ahead. Probably Hurricane Irene, again, as with the bridge no longer crossing Popolopen Creek (see

I met a good many day hikers as I went along, all coming back. The bridge over Pine Meadow Brook was, indeed, gone--replaced by a lot of small trees and a couple of large ones thrown across the brook, easily crossed when the water's low, as it was this day. Here are pix of the old (left, taken March 30, 2005) and "new" (right).

I have to give a lot of credit, tho, to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. They do a fantastic job maintaining and improving the trails. Here's one sample of their work on the Pine Meadow Trail.
Note not only the trail blazes but especially the stone steps! They also build bridges, and in at least one place, a ladder (see, e.g., a photo in Their maps of Harriman and Bear Mt. SPs are outstanding, and regularly updated as trail are re-routed and other changes arise.

The trail up to Pine Meadow lake is scenic--along the brook for a distance, then thru some mixed forest--including the birches adjacent to a swamp shown at left. Ga-Nus-Qua is really pretty, especially when the water's high, as it was in March 2005 (right).

So after an hour and a half of hiking, without stopping more than a couple of times for a breather, but quite a few times for photos, I reached Pine Meadow Lake, one of the prettier spots in the park and a worthy destination for so many day hikers. 1st I encountered 3 denizens of the lake.
There were more Canada geese farther along, some of them evidently nesting--not that I investigated very closely. You think these are majestic birds when you see them fly, or swim in a pond. But when you have them in your back yard, as we do in N.R.--that's an entirely different story!At the eastern end of the lake there were signs of beaver, such as the lodge in the center of this photo (along the shore).

And here's a shot of the lake itself. A pity it was so overcast on April 11.
There are several nice "lunch" spots along the shore of the lake. From the appearances, people have done more than eat lunch at them. About 3 miles of hiking (from Reeves Meadow) brings you to the east end of the lake. The trailhead for the Conklins Crossing Trail is well marked--a "loud" blaze on the tree at the left in the pic, and a cairn on the ground at the right.

Conklins Crossing is a half-mile link trail, tying together the Pine Meadow and SBM trails. It climbs pretty steadily from the lake, southeastward. From its junction with SBM, it's less than half a mile east to the Stone Memorial Shelter.

1st there's the natural phenomenon called "the Egg."It's a huge, rounded boulder and, yes, it resembles an egg.

As I walked a little further, I heard a noise I did NOT want to hear: an ax striking wood. That had to mean someone was already at the shelter. When I reached the ravine beneath the shelter--where there's often water, by the way (useful information!)--I heard voices, indicating more than 1 someone up there. Darn!

So I made the steep climb up from the ravine, and I found 3 guys--probably on college break--in front of the shelter, dragging in some tree branches, and 1 of them attacking the wood with not an ax but a hatchet. Good luck with that! We greeted each other, I mentally cursed my bad luck (not literally, but I wasn't happy at this turn of events; furthest shelter from parking, indeed!), and I didn't ask whether I could take their picture.

I continued up the SBM northeastward--now looking for a likely spot to pitch my emergency tarp. It's hard to tell distance on the trail. Maybe .25 mile farther on, maybe less, I found a spot that I considered but finally passed on. Just a little bit farther, and I came to a very good spot, open, grassy, a little off the trail, with fantastic views to the east and south. There were a couple of trees close enuf together, with just grass between them, for a good spot to string up my tarp (actually, it's described as an emergency blanket, about 5' x 8'). So I made my camp.In fact, I discovered a while later, others had camped there. There was a large fire ring near the edge of the cliff, but the grass around it was tall and brown. Definitely not a good spot to make a fire at this time--especially in view of dry conditions and recent fires elsewhere in Harriman, on Long Island, and in central N.J.

The views! Here's what I saw looking east and a little south: lots of Rockland County (Wesley Hills directly east of where I was), and the Hudson River is out there, with Westchester's hills beyond. After dark I could see the lights of the Tappan Zee Bridge.Turn a little southward, overlooking Montebello and Viola, and there's the skyline of Manhattan, 25 or 30 miles away. And far lovelier at nite.And a little further south, maybe a little westward:

That's smoke rising, indeed! I could only guess where it was coming from; later I found out it was from a fire in the Meadowlands, in the town of Carlstadt. It continued at least until dusk. More evidence of the dry conditions.

I could also make out the Newark skyline!

Well, my supper didn't depend on a fire. I had my backpacking stove, water, a freeze-dried meal (chicken Alfredo), and a flat rock to turn into my kitchen.

Topped off the chicken Alfredo with Chrystal Lite and an orange. Quite filling.

As the sun got lower, the wind picked up a lot--out of the north. It began to bite. I had my little 3-legged camp chair and a very compact lantern, but it wasn't comfortable for reading much. I read the Breviary of course, but only about half of the magazine I'd brought with me. I admired the lights on the horizon. The only star visible thru the clouds was probably, in fact, Venus (I'm no astronomer).

I went to bed around 9:00. That's when I realized the error in my set-up. The tarp was set up on a north-south axis, and the north wind blew right in. The only thing I could've done at that point, I see now in hindsight, would have been to lower the rope line considerably, and turn myself around too, so that my feet and not my head would've been to the north. Gradually I layered up in the sleeping bag, but didn't have to put on everything I had.

Eventually the moon and the stars came out, and it was a fine nite, except for the north wind. And I slept fitfully, as usual on camping trips.

I woke up snug enuf in my bag, but it definitely wasn't snug out of the bag. It looked like it'd be a fine day, however. I got up at 6:30--a nice break from the daily 5:00 to 5:30 at home, tho of course my bed at home is a lot more comfortable than sleeping on the ground! After visiting Mother Nature, I took a photo of the rising sun.
I said Mass with semi-numb fingers, then eagerly had some coffee and got my breakfast together: scrambled eggs, a little oatmeal, an apple.
As I was eating, a bluebird showed up, perched in the branches of one of the trees to which I'd anchored my tarp. I don't remember having ever seen one in the wild before. And my camera was at my pack. Darn! Later, tho, when I was sitting at my "kitchen" praying the Breviary--this time with camera at hand--Mr. (or Mrs.?) Bluebird came back, and I got some half decent shots. Here's one (at right--bluebird in center).

It took me surprisingly long to break camp--what with Mass, breakfast, Breviary, and careful packing. It was well past 9:00 a.m. before I was ready to hit the trail!

I didn't practice "leave no trace" precisely, but I did pretty well--and picked up some litter that others had left, too.I continued on the SBM--all this being new trail to me. It was mostly easy and pleasant hiking, with a few fairly steep ascents and descents. Ridge hiking is some of the best there is (right).

Eventually the trail descended into the woods, and suddenly a sign appeared (below!). It marked Pittsboro Hollow Brook. As it happened, it was also the intersection of SBM with the Pine Meadow, which was my turnoff.
The Pine Meadow Trail heading back, almost due west, toward the lake was crossed in several places by runlets that, after a lot of rain, must make the trail a little unpleasant. But on April 12 it was OK. Probably a lot drier in July and August, so not reliable water sources, I would guess.

Some of the spots were pretty, like this one (below right).

Pine Meadow Lake was a welcome sight. I'd aimed to be home around noon, but the way the hike was working out, I'd be doing well to reach the parking lot by then.

And the lake was more beautiful in the sunshine than it'd been yesterday. Day hikers were out again to enjoy it, like those on the "point" in the lake (below).

As I headed down the PMT from the lake, I noticed it was clouding over. It'd been so fine at 8:30 when I was packing up that I'd put my poncho deep into my backpack. Mistake! (If you refer back to the photo of my pack outside my office, you'll see the poncho strapped to the outside.)

I was about 10 minutes from the parking lot when it began to rain--and then to hail (very small stones, fortunately). It wasn't bad enuf that I needed to undo my packing, so I trusted to my broad-brimmed waterproof hat. And the rain let up shortly anyway.

The parking lot was jammed when I got there. Evidently a lot of people had days off during Easter (and Passover) week. A trio of guys waited patiently for me to stow my gear and change out of my hiking boots, then claimed my parking spot.

Almost exactly 24 hours in the woods. Great trip! Would've been greater if (1) I'd gotten the shelter, or (2) I'd toted along the extra 2.5 lbs. of my backpacking tent.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Easter
John 15: 1-8
May 6, 2012
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“Constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us…that [we] may…bear much fruit and come to joys of life eternal” (Collect).

The Collect for this 5th Sunday of Easter is newly placed by the Roman Missal published in 2000, and thus

for the 1st time in English this evening, on this Sunday. The former Opening Prayer for this Sunday was so generic that it was identical with the Prayer for the 23d Sunday of Ordinary Time. This Collect formerly was assigned to Saturday of the 4th week of Easter, which now has a new Collect. (They’re trying to keep us off balance, aren’t they?) Our prayer this evening, with its explicit references to “the Paschal Mystery” and to “Holy Baptism,” is closely linked to our ongoing celebration of Easter. Its reference to bearing fruit ties it intimately to the gospel reading in this Year B, and its reference to “the joys of life eternal” more loosely links it with the gospel in Year A. It appears that Year C is an orphan.

The Collect begins by addressing “Almighty ever-living God,” honoring 2 divine qualities that the prayer will invoke: viz., accomplishing his designs in us, which he can do, and shielding us with his protective care, which he can offer, because he’s almighty; and “life eternal,” which he already IS and which he can share with us thru the Christian mystery.

The 1st plea we make in the prayer is “constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us.” “Paschal Mystery” has a two-fold meaning. 1st, it refers to Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. 2d, it refers to the Christian sacraments of initiation, which incorporate us into the Body of Christ and into the mystery of his passion, death, and resurrection. “Do you not know,” Paul asks the Christians of Rome, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:3-5).
The Paschal Mystery is illustrated in one of the domes of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
This word mystery in the Scriptures and the liturgy—and we hear it a lot in the liturgy because our liturgical language is essentially scriptural language—doesn’t mean what we ordinarily mean in English by mystery: you know, something that puzzles us, the mystery of what happened to Etan Patz, the mysteries of the expanding universe, and such things. Rather, in classical Greek it referred to various religious rites,[1] from which St. Paul and other NT writers seem to have borrowed it to mean “God’s saving plan for human history,” which Christian theology in turn has further developed it to mean “the rites of the Easter Vigil…that incorporate the believing community into salvation history.”[2] In a broader sense, mystery can refer to any of the sacramental signs of our faith, thru which Christ touches our lives, changes who we are at the core of our self, and effects our salvation.

So our prayer today is that God “accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us”; that by Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection he lead us thru our own sufferings and deaths to the life of the resurrection because—in Baptism, in the Eucharist, in the other sacraments—Christ has taken and is taking us to himself. In the analogy that Jesus uses in today’s gospel, his life passes from himself, the vine, into us, the branches.
Vines growing early in the season in Tuscany (photo by Rita Mendl)
The Collect next describes us as “those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism.” Baptism makes us into new creatures—a very Pauline thought. It puts us into a new relationship with God, from wayward sinners into grace-filled sons and daughters of the Father. And this is by God’s own doing in Christ. “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved),” Paul reminds the Ephesians (2:4-5). It’s pleased God to do this for us; it’s not our own doing. Our only part in it is to respond to the offer, to say “yes” to grace.

The next line in the prayer speaks of our being “under [the Father’s] protective care.” That’s different from “protective custody.” Again, we depend on his grace, his might, for our defense against the enemy of our soul and against our own too-powerful sinful inclinations.

But the prayer goes further: that we “may…bear much fruit.” That comes directly from John’s gospel that we read this evening (John 15:1-8), as you realize. Those who are alive with Christ’s life—in whom the Paschal Mystery is being accomplished—show it by their holy lives. They bear fruit by being witnesses to Christ, like Paul “speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9:28). They’re Christians, and they don’t hide that from the world. They bear the fruit of charity in all its senses, of chastity, of detachment, of patience, of service, of joy, etc. It’s not these virtues, these works (in the classical Protestant terminology), the public proclamation of our faith, that make us holy; not these virtues, these works, any proclamation that fill us with God’s own life. Rather, God’s own life in us bursts forth in these works, these virtues, this evidence—like grapes coming forth from the branches attached to the vine.

Finally, the Collect asks that we may “come to the joys of life eternal.” The ultimate result of our participation in the Paschal Mystery, of our having the life of Christ seep into us like the sap of the grape vine into the branches, is eternal life, a joy-filled eternal life. That’s heaven. That’s God’s kingdom. That’s the “many dwelling places” that Christ has prepared for us, to take us to, to be with him (John 14:2-3). What began at our Baptism and what continues in every Eucharistic celebration, as well as in the other sacraments and in our absorption of the Word of God, is the life of Christ—our mysterious connection to him, so that we “remain in him and he remain in us” (cf. John 15:7; 1 John 3:24). And when our earthly passage is over, the “ever-living God” who already possesses our souls will complete the work of the Paschal Mystery by leading us into the life of resurrection with Christ his Son.

[1] Cf., e.g., John L. McKenzie, SJ, Dictionary of the Bible (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1965), s.v. mystery, p. 595.
[2] Nancy Dalla Valle, “mystery,” in The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, ed. Richard P. McBrien (San Francisco, 1995), p. 900.