Monday, July 16, 2012

Homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
15th Sunday
in Ordinary Time
July 15, 2012
Mark 6: 7-13
St. Timothy, Banksville (Greenwich), Conn.

“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two” (Mark 6: 7).

Jesus has just been rejected in his hometown of Nazareth—our gospel reading last week.  His reaction is to expand his preaching and healing ministry by sending out his closest disciples, the 12, with his own “authority over unclean spirits,” both physical and spiritual.  They are to go out into the villages of Galilee and preach his message of repentance—Jesus’ 1st words in Mark’s Gospel are a call to repent and believe in the Gospel, for the kingdom of God is at hand and God’s promises are being fulfilled (1:14-15).  Those promises, that kingdom, reveal themselves in Jesus’ word and actions, and now they will be revealed also in what the 12 do and say in his name.  “The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (6:13).  Repentance restores the good order of creation, in our hearts and souls in the 1st place, but ultimately also in a broader manner, in the balance of created things.  If we don’t see miraculous healings of the body or of the mind every day, we do believe that on the Last Day we shall see all things, all persons, made new, made whole, and God’s rule completely secured on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus’ ministry foreshadows that.
Bl. Catherine Tekakwitha
(Natl. Shrine of Immaculate Conception)

Jesus is sending out the 1st Christian missionaries, men (in this instance) who go forth in his name to preach his message and act as he would act.  Ever since Jesus sent those 1st missionaries out, the Church has been missionary, has gone out from the places and the communities where it is firmly established in order to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Good News of the kingdom of God, where it has not yet been heard or not yet accepted.  Yesterday we celebrated the memorial of Blessed Catherine Tekakwitha, who in October will be canonized a saint.  Called the Lily of the Mohawks on account of her exceptional virtue, she’s the finest flower of French missionary activity in Canada and upstate New York in the 17th century.  (For a good visual presentation of what that missionary activity was like, rent the movie Blackrobe, which is fiction solidly based on fact.)  Missionaries came with the earliest explorers and settlers in the Americas, they went west with the fur trappers and homesteaders in the 19th century, and they accompanied the hundreds of thousands of Irish, German, Italian, and Slavic immigrants who arrived on our shores in the 19th and 20th centuries.  In the 20th century, the Irish and American Churches were famous for sending out thousands of priests, sisters, and brothers as missionaries to China, the Philippines, Africa, and Latin America—all of them continuing what Jesus started with the 12.

I bring that out because Msgr. Cullen asked me to preach this week on the missions, and specifically on the Salesian missions.  (Actually, I got the message 3d-hand—on Thursday.  And I found out only when I got here this a.m. that you’re having a special collection for the Mission Cooperative Appeal.)

You may know that the Salesians, the 2d-largest religious order of men in the Church and the largest one of women, are primarily associated with youth ministry.  But St. John Bosco was keen also that we be missionaries, and since 1875 we’ve been a dynamic, far-reaching missionary force—which is why we’re ministering in 130 countries today, bringing to missions of people spiritual, physical, and social healing.

A few examples from the various continents:

A Salesian school in Haiti
In Haiti, after the government the Salesians are the largest provider of educational services in the country.  After the 2010 earthquake, in which 3 SDBs and several dozen of our pupils died, we also provided a great deal of emergency relief.  Now we’re rebuilding our schools and youth centers and one of only 3 nursing schools in the country.  The president of the Haitian Bishops Conference, Abp. Louis Kebreau of Cap-Haitien, is a Salesian; last Dec. 8 he was awarded the Notre Dame Prize for Distinguished Public Service in Latin America.

American SDB Fr. Larry Gilmore in Monrovia, Liberia, 2003
The Salesian missionary work in Liberia and Sierra Leone was started by American SDBs.  You may remember the bloody civil wars that wracked both those countries in the 1990s—recalled by the movie Blood Diamond a few years back, and by Charles Taylor’s conviction at the Hague in April on charges of war crimes.  The SDBs stayed in-country thruout those wars, stayed with the people, and witnessed some terrible events.  They remain there today, working with former child soldiers and street children, among other pastoral activities.

Ethiopia has been a largely Christian country since the earliest centuries of the faith; the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of the conversion of an Ethiopian court official.  It’s an extremely poor country with low literacy rates.  SDBs from Italy, India, and other countries offer education at 11 sites in all parts of the country; the FMAs have another 4 schools.  For the last several years we’ve also had young lay missionary volunteers from the U.S., Italy, and Austria teaching in some of the schools, especially skills like English and computers that will help the young find good jobs.  And of course after-school activities also keep kids busy, happy, and out of trouble.

The SDBs went to China in 1906.  Two SDBs are among the 120 Chinese martyrs whom JPII canonized in 2000, whose feastday was last week (Aug. 9).  In Shanghai in the 1940s, young Joseph Zen met the SDBs and decided to become one.  He was ordained a priest in 1961 in Turin and became a seminary professor in Hong Kong, Macao, and even on the mainland.  He served as provincial, and in 1996 was made bishop of Hong Kong;* he was made a cardinal in 2006.  Wikipedia says he “is famous for his outspokenness on issues regarding human rights, political freedom, and religious liberty, often attracting criticism from the Communist Party of China.”  Altho now retired as bishop of Hong Kong on account of age, he remains a very active champion of human rights and of freedom.  He delights in describing himself, relative to the Communist authorities, as “a troublemaker.”  Besides Cardinal Zen, the SDBs boast of some of the finest schools in Hong Kong and Macao, 11 of them in all, besides several on Taiwan; the FMAs have 9 schools in those places.
Cardinal Zen speaking with young Salesians (men and women) and candidates.
Ramsey, N.J., 2009.
Those of you of a certain age remember the crucial WWII battles fought on New Guinea and Guadalcanal, and younger folk may have seen them portrayed last year on HBO (The Pacific).  Now some of the scenes of the bloodiest fighting imaginable are the sites of SDB and FMA schools and youth hostels, where young Papuans and Solomon Islanders learn trades and professional skills, besides the 4 Rs: reading, ’riting, ’rithmetic, and religion.  The Salesian missionaries are mainly from the Philippines but also from other countries.

Students at the SDB school in Lahore
Philippine SDBs also run very highly respected technical schools in Lahore and Quetta, Pakistan.  Yes, Pakistan!  If the names of those 2 cities sound familiar, it’s probably because they’re often in the news in connection with terrorist activity.  So far, our schools and personnel have been not only respected but even revered—all the more because of the extensive relief programs they organized after 2 natural disasters, an earthquake in 2006 and widespread flooding last year.  Both education and disaster relief, of course, are offered to Christians and Muslims alike.

Auto mechanics students at the
Don Bosco trade school in Ulan Bator

Mongolia is a little larger than Alaska in area sandwiched between China’s northern border and Siberia.  Its population is a little over 3 million, less than that of Connecticut.  When the Communist regime there fell, there were no Catholics in the whole country.  The SDBs were invited to come in to set up parishes and youth ministry programs in the capital, Ulan Bator, in 2001, and in Darhan, the 2d largest city, in 2004.  Thus Vietnamese and Polish SDB missionaries staff half the parishes in the country:  2 out of 4.  They’ve provided some wonderful educational activity for youngsters and programs for street children and abused women.  Their parish activity has brought about hundreds of baptisms; today there are about 1,000 Catholics in Mongolia.  (You may have seen a little piece about all this in the March issue of the Fairfield County Catholic.)

I mentioned young missionary volunteers in connection with Ethiopia.  There are such programs sending post-college youths—and sometimes much older folk, even whole families—to the foreign missions from Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Poland, and the U.S.  Both the SDBs and the FMAs sponsor such programs.  Several SDB provinces in Latin America have programs that send young people to mission areas, including urban slums, in their own countries.  Here in the U.S. between 2009 and 2011 we’ve missioned 58 men and women (about 2/3 women), almost all of them in their 20s but some in their 50s, to Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Rwanda, and South Africa to serve in orphanages, trade schools, academic schools, youth centers, and other services.  The American FMAs do something similar.  The volunteers commit for a year, and a good number of them re-up for a 2d year; there’s one in Cochabamba, Bolivia, now finishing her 3d year.  The 2012 batch, expected to number about 20, will start their orientation in a couple of weeks and be commissioned at the end of a retreat on Aug. 18.  If you’re interested in such service or know someone who is, someone who’d like to continue the mission of the 12, the mission of the Lord Jesus, especially among young people, let me know.

I hope all of you will support our Salesian missionaries—priests, sisters, brothers, and lay people—with your prayers.  In the 2d collection you’ll have a chance to give tangible support to the missions—in this case to the diocese of Jaffna in Sri Lanka.  God bless you.

               * Technically, he became coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong in 1996, and bishop (ordinary) in 2002 on the retirement of his predecessor, Bp. John Wu.

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