Sunday, August 26, 2012

Three First Professions for N.R. Province

Three First Professions
for New Rochelle Province 

Bros. Steven DeMaio, SDB, Travis Gunther, SDB, and John Langan, SDB, pronounced religious vows as Salesians of Don Bosco for the first time at a Mass of Religious Profession on Tuesday, Aug. 21, in the chapel of Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Fr. Tom Dunne, SDB, provincial superior of the SDBs in the Eastern U.S. and Canada, received their profession.

For the first three years of their life as SDBs, men make annual vows. Ordinarily a vow for three years follows, leading up to perpetual profession at the end of six years.

Bro. Steve and Bro. John professed as members of the Salesian Society studying for the priesthood, Bro. Travis as a lay member of the Society, i.e., he will remain a brother (also called a coadjutor brother). In the Salesian Society there is equality between clerical and lay members except in what concerns the sacrament of Holy Orders.

The three newly professed men completed a year of novitiate at St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Rosemead, Calif. Prior to that, they were in two periods of formation called candidacy and prenovitiate.

Following their profession, all three will return to the SDB house of formation in Orange, N.J., to continue their religious formation and their academic studies at Seton Hall University in South Orange. Bro. Steve and Bro. John will take up studies such as philosophy that prepare for ordination, while Bro. Travis will study fine arts and education. He aspires “to continue to deepen my relationship with Christ, to get to know my new community, … to give my best in my new ministries.” He expects that art will be a vehicle of communication for him in a SDB high school, youth center, or retreat center, through which he can “communicate something to others we could not do in words” and “explore things we are struggling to understand.” Art, he writes, “lets us see the world in new ways.”

Twenty-three priests, including Bro. John’s former Franciscan pastor, Fr. Bruce Czapla, O.F.M., concelebrated, and two deacons assisted Fr. Tom. Many SDB brothers, the four current prenovices, Salesian Cooperators, family members, and friends of the newly professed also took part in the Mass, which was followed by a buffet lunch on the grounds of the high school.

The rite of profession involves a presentation of the candidates for profession and an examination of their intentions, similar to those of the rites of Baptism and Holy Orders; a homily; the pronouncing of the vow of obedience, chastity, and poverty; blessing and presentation of their religious garb to the newly professed (clerical shirts for the seminarian brothers, a medal for the lay brother); and presentation to them of the Constitutions of the Salesian Society.

The parents of the candidates accompany them before the provincial as the candidates come forward to make their vows. The parents rest their hands on their sons’ shoulders as a sign of support and of the gift they are making to the Church.

Two perpetually professed SDBs, chosen by the candidates, serve as official witnesses of the vows, like the witnesses of a marriage.

Bro. Steven Joseph DeMaio, 27, was born and raised in Sherman, Conn., and belonged to Holy Trinity Parish there. His parents, Steven and Theresa, have since moved to Towson, Md., and worship at the Church of the Nativity in Timonium. He also has two sisters.

Bro. Steve came to know the SDBs as a lay missionary volunteer in a program, called VIDES, of the Salesian Sisters. He served for six months in Lusaka, Zambia. He was so impressed by the sisters, as well as their male counterparts, there—including, he says, their “spirit, charism, joy”—that when he came home he decided to join.

He entered the formation program in Orange in 2010 as a prenovice (his missionary service being accepted as his period of candidacy). He hopes to “learn every day and experience what life has to offer” and to “continue to grow in my formation.” He hopes eventually to work in music and media as an apostolate, finding that these “really bridge the gap between young and old, religious and young person.”

He enjoyed the novitiate year in California, where he was able to meet “so many wonderful members of our Salesian Family out west,” and where he found loving support for his formation experience.

Bro. Travis Adam Gunther, 24, comes from Conway, Ark., where he and his family have belonged to St. Joseph’s Parish. His parents are Raymond and Mary Beth Gunther, and he has a younger brother, Tyler.

Bro. Travis met the SDBs through a friend who was involved already in Salesian youth ministry at a summer camp in Belle Glade, Fla. The friend invited young Travis to take a job as a counselor, and for six weeks he lived in the SDB community there, “sharing in their work, prayer, and community life.”

He was assisted in his discernment process by two of the Benedictines at Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas, and he “most appreciates” the monks’ “hospitality, prayerful life, and showing me the joys of religious life.”

In 2008 he applied to become a candidate for SDB life and went to Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester, N.Y., for a year to assist with youth ministry there. Then he spent two years in the formation community at Orange, including his prenovitiate in 2010-2011, as well as two summers of camp apostolate in Tampa.

As a Salesian, Bro. Travis wants “to change the world, work for young people and the poor.” He loves “St. John Bosco’s spirituality,” he writes, and adds that “Salesians have fun.” “Ultimately,” he says, “I want to be a Salesian because it is where God is calling me. I also can see myself becoming a saint as a Salesian and helping others become joyful saints as well.”

During his novitiate year in California, Bro. Travis particularly enjoyed his summer apostolate at Camp St. Francis in Watsonville, where “everything we had learned about being Salesian, we had the opportunity to put into practice. I saw the best and worst in myself and with the help of God and the community was greatly affirmed in my vocation.”

Bro. John Gerard Langan, 28, is from Winsted, Conn., where he and his family have been members of St. Joseph’s Parish. His parents are Gerard and Fidelis Langan, and he has two sisters, Kathriona and Patricia.

A friend introduced Bro. John to the SDBs when he was discerning his vocation, and he followed up by reading a biography of St. John Bosco. After reading that life, he writes, he “recognized similarities in [Don Bosco’s] work with young people and my own faith journey.”

As his discernment continued, John was guided by his pastor, Fr. Bruce Czapla, O.F.M.; the SDB vocation director, Fr. Franco Pinto; and his director during his candidacy, Fr. Pat Angelucci.

John entered SDB candidacy by teaching sophomore religion at Salesian High School in New Rochelle and living with the SDBs who staff the school in 2009-2010. The following year he was a prenovice in the Orange formation community.

Returning to the Orange community, Bro. John hopes “to listen and learn more about Don Bosco and the Salesian charism and continue to deepen my relationship with Jesus Christ.”

In the future he would like to use outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, to “provide young people an opportunity to quiet themselves and recognize God’s relationship with them and who he made them to be.” He says that his own “passion” for this sport “helped me gain strength in overcoming struggles in my own life.”

Like Bro. Travis, Bro. John loved the summer experience at Camp St. Francis in Watsonville, Calif. “I had an amazing time,” he writes, “getting to know the young people and praying and playing with them. I was able to push myself beyond my comfort zone and deepen my trust in God even more.”

In his homily for the profession Mass, Fr. Tom said that the day affirmed the continuing presence of God in his Church.

Fr. Tom stressed that in religious profession the three young men were responding to the love that God first bestowed upon them, citing the words of the rite: “May God, who has shown His love … by inspiring you to make this holy decision, help you to bring it to fulfillment….” He also referred to the Scripture reading from the prophet Jeremiah (1:4-9), “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”
Fr. Tom preaching. The 3 novices, or candidates for 1st profession, are seated in front of him.

He told the candidates for vows that they were responding to God’s personal and intimate love by committing themselves to a special relationship of love and intimacy with God. He told them that they would be assisted in developing this relationship by the Virgin Mary, Help of Christians, first disciple of Jesus, who lived in the community of the Holy Family and the community of the early Church and who served her cousin Elizabeth.

This day on which Bros. DeMaio, Gunther, and Langan have committed themselves completely to the One who loves them may well be the happiest one of their lives, Fr. Tom stated. They give their freedom over to God’s will, their love to him above all other persons, their worldly concerns for the mission to the young and the poor.

Beginnings are sweet, Fr. Tom observed. “The follow-up is more difficult.” And, like a marriage, the long-term following of Christ is a lot of work. That this relationship will grow cannot be taken for granted. The reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians (4:1-6) spoke of our relationship with God; that passage is a primary source for our lives.

He also stressed that, just as the vows are a response to God’s loving them first, the professed will have to remember that the apostolate they will do, the community they will live in, even their vows, are not theirs but his. “God loans them to us,” he said, “and we have to return them to him in better condition than we received them.”

The gospel reading (John 6:1-15) reminds us that God is the only absolute in our lives, Fr. Tom said. The simplicity with which one lives his vows should enhance one’s self-giving; it only gets complicated when the vows become laws about how one has to obey, observe boundaries, and render an account.
Fr. Tom hands the Salesian Constitutions, or Rule of Life, to Bro. Steve

Finally, Fr. Tom asked the new confreres to treasure two documents: the Mass booklet for this rite of profession, and the Salesian Constitutions. The liturgy booklet contains the readings that the newly professed chose, which express so well the self-giving they undertook in their profession. In this booklet and the Constitutions they will have sure guides to living out their commitment faithfully, practicing what St. Peter urges: “Be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble. For, in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you” (2 Pet 1:10-11).

Bros. Eguino, Malusa Make Perpetual Profession

Bros. Michael Eguino,
Robert Malusa
Make Perpetual Profession

Two Salesians made their perpetual profession on Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y. They were Bro. Robert Malusa, SDB, 47, and Bro. Michael Eguino, SDB, 27.

Fr. Tom Dunne, our provincial, received the vows. Bishop Luc Van Looy, SDB, of Ghent, Belgium, presided over the Mass of Religious Profession and gave the homily.
Bp. Luc preaching the homily

Both brothers made their first profession of vows in 2006 at Mary Help of Christians Church in New York City following their year of novitiate there.

Bro. Rob is the son of Dominick and the late Marie Malusa and entered the SDBs from Locust Valley, N.Y.; the family belonged to St. Gertrude’s Church in Bayville, where his father still worships. He has three brothers, John, Mark, and Stephen.

Before “discovering” the SDBs, Rob taught math for 15 years in two private schools; the second was a Lutheran school that scheduled missionary-service trips every year at Christmas time. After taking part in several of these, he was looking for a longer-term program. The pastor of the school highly recommended the Salesian Lay Missioners, to which Rob applied and was accepted.

He was posted to Sierra Leone in 2002 and wound up working in the home founded for street children by Fr. John Thompson (originally of our province) in Freetown; many of these kids had been child soldiers during the country’s brutal civil war (graphically depicted in the 2006 film Blood Diamond).
Bro. Rob professes perpetual vows before Fr. Tom Dunne. The witnesses are Fr. Dom DeBlase (left) and Bro. Bernie Zdanowicz (2d from left).

Rob loved this apostolic work, as he witnessed an “amazing transformation” in these boys and girls and, eventually, a reunion with their parents or other relatives. The program involved work, play, and a gradual introduction to faith at the youngsters’ own pace in “a very free, open, and natural” manner.

Working with the SDBs in Freetown also answered a quest of Rob. He’d been working with young people as a teacher, and he’d seen the impact that a particularly charismatic person could have on selected individuals. But he wanted to reach more than a few individuals, and he wanted to be part of a group or a team in that effort. He found that among the SDBs.

He also found that he was already—without having been aware of it—practicing the Salesian method of education, based on reason, religion, and kindness.

So on his return from Sierra Leone in the summer of 2003, he began to think about applying to the SDBs. The following summer he entered the formation program at Orange, N.J.

After his first vows, Bro. Rob returned to Orange for two years of further formation and for studies in pastoral ministry at Seton Hall University.

In 2008 he was assigned as youth minister to St. Philip Benizi Church in Belle Glade, Fla. He oversees an extensive program of religious education, Bible study, CYO, and other recreational activities for youngsters from tots to teens, and lives in community with several other SDBs. He continues in that apostolic work as a lay member of the Salesian Society (also known as a “coadjutor brother”).

Bro. Mike is from St. Benedict’s Church in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. His parents are Rose and Ubaldo Eguino, and he has three younger siblings: Christine, Matthew, and Stephen. Steve just entered the SDB novitiate in California.

Mike graduated from Salesian High School in New Rochelle in 2002 and entered the SDB candidacy program in Orange that September. During the three years that he was a candidate in Orange, he worked in the Don Bosco Youth Center affiliated with the Salesian house and Our Lady of the Valley Church. Happily, he recalls that one of the “street kids” he assisted in those years was a very young Kyrie Irving, who went on to play basketball in high school, at Duke University, and in the NBA; he was the NBA rookie of the year in 2012. Another was Jason Alford, who went on to play football at Penn State and for three NFL teams, including the New York Giants Super Bowl champs of 2007.
Bro. Mike makes perpetual vows  before Fr. Tom Dunne. The witnesses are Fr. John Nazzaro (back to camera) and Fr. Jim Berning (2d from left).

After his 1st profession in 2006, Bro. Mike continued his formation with two more years in Orange, including the completion of a B.A. at Seton Hall University.

For two years (2008-2010) Bro. Mike taught world history and theology to freshmen at Salesian High School. He did a third year of practical training at Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point, assisting with both youth and adult retreats. He says that the program cared for 20,000 people that year. He also helped initiate a regular program of Eucharistic adoration for young adults at the Marian Shrine (to which the Retreat Center is attached). Bro. Mike’s musical talent—he sings and plays guitar—facilitate his apostolic work.

Bro. Mike credits the development of his vocation to the “witness” of Fr. John Nazzaro, who was director of Salesian High School while Michael was a student there. Fr. Nazzaro, he says, created “a welcoming space” for the students in his office, was always around the students, and at times joined in their games. He fostered friendship with the students and supported their families in times of illness and loss, as the Eguinos experienced.

So when Fr. Nazzaro asked Mike whether he’d thought about becoming a Salesian, the youth was open to the suggestion. The “maybe” became a “yes” after Mass one day with the prayer group he belonged to, the Children of Light at Providence Rest Nursing Home, and he sensed the Lord’s commitment to be with him.

Bro. Mike has felt that presence during various times of difficulty, he says. His prayer life as a Salesian leaves him knowing that he’s not alone.

Bro. Mike also notes that he’s been privileged to live with some holy SDBs, to live among many men striving to become holy, and to work with some young people who want to be holy.

In 2011 Bro. Mike began theological studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary in South Orange, aiming at priestly ordination in 2015. He is, once again, a member of the SDB formation community in Orange.
Deacon Miguel Suarez, Fr. Tom Dunne, Bro. Rob Malusa, Bp. Luc Van Looy, Bro. Mike Eguino, Fr. Steve Leake

Bishop Van Looy based his homily on the Scripture readings (Jer 1:4-9; Luke 10:1-9), reminding the two men that their commitment this day is a response to the love that God gave first to them. He charged them to be messengers of hope, especially for the young, and to keep the young in their hearts. The mission of the Salesian, he said, is to make people feel loved by the Lord. He reminded them that God would never leave them without support, and he told them to be supportive of their confreres in community. He said that making profession within the context of the Eucharist is fitting because, as the Lord poured out his life for us, the professed religious gives himself constantly to people. Thus both Eucharist and the religious are signs of God’s will being done, of God’s kingdom that is to come. The Eucharist fills us with God’s life and his love.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Retreat

On Retreat

Last week, Aug. 12-18, I was on retreat at DB Retreat Center in Haverstraw with 43 other SDBs (if I counted the list correctly), besides our preacher and Fr. Tom Dunne (the provincial)--and, I think, 2 confreres from the local Marian Shrine community.  In addition, we had with us from the start on Sunday evening until very early Tuesday a.m. our 5 prenovices, and making a parallel retreat the 18 young people completing their 3 weeks of orientation as Salesian Lay Missioners (SLMs), 4 more Salesian Domestic Volunteers (SDVs), who might be better called Home Missioners, and the 4 SLM-SDV staff guiding their orientation.  It was a crowd!

The prenovices left on Tuesday for Rosemead, Calif., where they were inducted into the novitiate on Aug. 15.

More about the SLMs and SDVs once I get their press releases done!  This past week has been crazy with other press releases.

Our retreat preacher was Bp. Luc Van Looy, SDB, of Ghent, Belgium, who is a very good friend of our province.  A former missionary to Korea, he was superior of the Korean delegation when the SDBs in that country were still part of the Japanese Province, then in 1984 was elected general councilor of the missions; 6 years later, general councilor for youth ministry; and in 1996, vicar of the Rector Major.  In these capacities he made a number of visits to our province and got to know many of us.  When Fr. Juan Vecchi died in 2001, he guided the Congregation to our 25th General Chapter in 2002, where he was given a strong chance of being elected RM.  Instead, Fr. Pascual Chavez was elected, and Fr. Luc continued as vicar until 2003, when John Paul II named him bishop back in his native Flanders.  As bishop he has presided over 2 ordinations for us, most recently last July 1 (q.v. below) of Frs. Mike Leschinsky and Matt DeGance.

Twice I had a pleasure of visiting Bp. Luc's cathedral and episcopal city, in 2007 and 2009 (also covered somewhere down below).  On the 1st occasion, I visited with him--he kindly invited me to lunch, as well as any family members who might have come along with me from Hautrage (none did), and then showed me around the cathedral and into the cathedral's artistic treasure, Van Eyck's Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.  Too bad no photos allowed in that little chapel!

I'd say that the bishop's theme for the retreat was "witness," altho I'm not sure about that.  He used the Gospel of St. John primarily, hitting on the ideas of (1) remaining with Jesus; (2) Jesus is someone/something new who puts us into a new relationship with the Father; (3) obedience to the Father's will; (4) the Eucharist; (5) the Church as a witness of Jesus; (6) the Church as missionary; (7) preaching the Gospel today: thru presence, thru presenting Jesus, thru living what we believe; (8) the Church as witness to Jesus; (9) St. Francis de Sales; (10) Don Bosco

The bishop loves music and plays piano and the accordion.  He didn't bring his accordion with him, but we supplied a keyboard so that he could use music (a hymn) as part of his presentation of each conference.
Another important part of every SDB retreat is the provincial's Good Nite talks and his Friday evening "open session" with the confreres.  Since he had just received the RM's letter of commendation and recommendations after our extraordinary visitation (q.v. below), he referred constantly to that as well as to Fr. Esteban Ortiz's longer preliminary report, given to all of us at the end of the visitation in May; and to the themes for our next general chapter (2014), which tie in very closely with the recommendations for our province.  Fr. Tom promised us a lot of hard work this year as we begin to reflect on all this.

This retreat was special because on Aug. 15 six of our youngest brothers renewed their temporary vows at Mass.
All renewed! Bros. Eddy Chincha, Paul Chu, Minh Dang, Juan Pablo Rubio, Marc Stockhausen, and Adam Dupre', with Fr. Tom Dunne

On the 16th we visited the province cemetery to pray for our deceased confreres.  That's been part of every retreat at Haverstraw for about 20 years now.
Some of the confreres moving around the various grave sites, recalling men they knew and loved.
Fr. Tom leading a prayer service at the cemetery.

On the 17th, again at Mass, our new missionaries were commissioned, with Bp. Luc presiding.
The bishop blesses the missionaries' crosses before presenting them to each individual. He's assisted by Fr. Tom Dunne, Megan Fraino, and Adam Rudin--the latter 2 the directors of the SDVs and SLMs, respectively.

As is customary at every SDB retreat, on Friday evening there was a festive dinner followed by a thank-you for the preacher and some musical, theatrical, and comic entertainment.  In this instance, most of it was supplied by our enthusiastic and talented young women and men. Two samples:

The retreat ended at breakfast on Saturday, but most of us stayed for the perpetual profession Mass of Bros. Mike Eguino and Rob Malusa later in the morning at the Marian Shrine chapel.  I should have a blog post about that in a day or two; all the press releases about it have been sent out.

As usual, I used our after-lunch free time to do some hiking in Harriman SP:  up the Dunderberg, up the Seven Hills and Hillurn-Torne-Sebago trails to Ramapo Torne, and down the Long Path for a couple of miles.  Didn't see a single other hiker except in the parking lots, and Bro. John Rasor, who came along with me on Tuesday.  On Friday I brought a couple of the confreres to the Stony Point Battlefield, which they hadn't even known of.
At one scenic overlook along the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, someone left a fire pit. Beyond, Indian Point power plant and various bends in the Hudson River, with Stony Point Bay at the right. In the far distance, center, the piers of the Tappan Zee Bridge can barely be discerned.
I didn't meet any hikers on the trail, but on the Long Path I did meet this young fellow, about 50' feet away; there was a young doe with him.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
20th Sunday
of Ordinary Time
Aug. 19, 2012
John 6: 51-58
St. Timothy, Greenwich, Conn.

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6: 56).

Who’s heard of St. John de Brebeuf?

Fr. John de Brebeuf was one of the 8 North American Martyrs, 6 Jesuit priests and 2 lay missioners, killed by the Iroquois in what is now Auriesville, N.Y., and various parts of Ontario  between 1642 and 1649.  The one best know to us Americans is St. Isaac Jogues, who incidentally was the 1st priest to set foot in New York City—which was still New Amsterdam.
Painting of the Jesuit martyrs at the Shrine of the North American Martyrs, Auriesville, N.Y.
Fr. Brebeuf, his mission companion Fr. Gabriel Lalement, and a number of Christian Hurons were captured in an Iroquois attack in 1649 and put to horrible tortures—mutilations, hot coals, “baptism” with boiling water, and more—all of which the 2 priests bore heroically, speaking only to praise God or to encourage their fellow sufferers.  The Indians very much admired such bravery under torture.  It was a tribute of sorts on their part to finish off the missionaries by cutting out their hearts while they were still alive and to eat them, and drink their warm blood.  Thus the Iroquois hoped to imbibe some of the courage that their victims displayed.

I think that cultural anthropologists—I’m not a cultural anthropologist; I’m a historian—would tell us that most cannibalism that has been practiced in the world has been of a ritualistic sort, like what the Iroquois did with Brebeuf’s heart—unlike some modern examples that you may have heard of, like the survivors of an Andean plane crash in 1972 (made into a book and a movie called Alive!), the 1820 crew of the whaling ship Essex sunk in the South Pacific (chronicled by Nathanael Philbrick in a page-turner of a book published in 2000 called In the Heart of the Sea), or the survivors of the Donner party trapped in the snows of the Sierra Nevada on their way to California in 1846.  All these cannibalized their dead comrades to survive; they ate human flesh that they might live.

The Iroquois and others sought something less tangible, more “eternal,” if you will.

And so Jesus speaks today.  What he says today in these 8 verses from John 6 mark a change in what he’s said earlier in the chapter.  As you know, this is the 4th Sunday in which we’ve read from this chapter; and we have 1 more Sunday to go.  In the 1st passage, Jesus multiplied bread and fish to feed a crowd of thousands.  That led us to a long discourse (which we’re reading only a part of in these weeks) in which Jesus identifies himself as the Bread of Life.  In the 1st part of this discourse, he means that his teaching and his example are food for our souls that will nourish us, nourish our relationship with the Father, so as to preserve us for eternity, unlike the Hebrews who ate manna in the desert after Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea and led them to Mt. Sinai to give them the Ten Commandments (I wanted to see whether you’re paying attention), but who perished in the desert before they could reach the Promised Land:  “unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,” Jesus says today (6:58).

But in the 2d part of v. 51, which concluded our gospel reading last week and was repeated this week at the beginning of the reading, we have a transition.  Jesus stops using a metaphor—his word is bread—and comes to what we’ll eventually call a sacrament:  a reality hidden under an outward sign.  That reality is his Body and his Blood—not symbolized as bread and wine, not represented by bread and wine, but transformed (transubstantiated, changed in substance), from bread and wine into his flesh and blood and only appearing to be bread and wine, fooling our senses but not our faith.

The people listening to him understand at once that he really means his own flesh and blood when he says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (6:53,55).  He’s not speaking metaphorically.  He’s not speaking symbolically.  If they are to come to eternal life, they’ll have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  Of course they don’t realize that he’s speaking of the sacrament of the Eucharist; not even the 12 apostles realized that:  “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (6:52).  Only at the Last Supper will he reveal the answer to that question to his disciples and to the Church that will be built up by those who do eat his body and drink his blood, who become his body and his blood, who pursue eternal life thru sacramental, ritualistic, spiritual union with him.
Fr. Pascual Chavez and Abp. Alfred Hughes distributing Communion in Westwego, La., in 2007 (photo by Romaguera)
Note that Jesus says 1st, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (6:54); then he says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (6:56).  Eternal life he equates with remaining in him, with a full union with him.  At the Last Supper he’ll pronounce himself “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Remaining with Jesus, staying with Jesus—isn’t that what we want?  Isn’t that the goal of our lives?  Isn’t that eternal life?

It’s a key theme in John’s Gospel.  When the disciples of John the Baptist 1st go to Jesus, they ask him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (1:38).  He invites them, “Come and see.”  “So,” John tells us, “they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day” (1:39).  They’re so impressed that they invite others to do the same, to come and see, to listen and to stay with Jesus.

After the wedding at Cana and Jesus’ 1st miracle there, John reports, Jesus “and his mother, his brothers, and his disciples went down to Capernaum and stayed there” (2:12).  I.e., they stayed with him.  When Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well and the townspeople come to hear how he has read her soul, they invite “him to stay with them,” and many of them become disciples, recognizing him as “truly the savior of the world” (4:40-42).  At the Last Supper, he tells the apostles, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (14:23).  Using a metaphor of a vine and its branches, he tells them, “Remain in me, as I remain in you….  Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit….  Remain in my love” (15:1-10).

The Eucharist, the Bread of Life, is our invitation to remain in the Lord’s love, to remain in love with the Lord.  The Eucharist nourishes us to practice love, to bear good fruit in our deeds and words.  The Eucharist is our communion with Christ, and thru him with his Father, so that they already dwell in us, and we in them.  This indwelling is already a foretaste of heaven, of that eternal life where we’ll truly remain with Jesus.
Stained glass, St. Mary's Church, Fredericksburg, Va.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Homily for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
19th Sunday
in Ordinary Time

Today I preached without a written text.  So here’s an oldie:

Aug. 11, 1991
1 Kings 19: 4-8
John 6: 41-51
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

 “Elijah prayed for death:  ‘This is enough, O Lord!  Take my life, for I’m no better than my fathers’” (1 Kings 19: 4).

Does anyone know why Elijah has gone into the desert?

It may seem strange, but he’s running for his life. Most of us wouldn’t try to save our lives by taking off into the desert without food or water.  But wicked Queen Jezebel wants Elijah’s head.  Although he has demonstrated the power of the true God, Elijah has gotten scared and run.  A day into the desert, he apparently realizes his predicament and is ready to call it quits.  He will not yield to Jezebel, however, but to his master, the Lord God.

Without our being prophets, life gets us pretty discouraged sometimes.  We can’t land a job. Our health is shot.  The neighborhood or the city or the state is going to pieces.  We’re fighting with the boss or with someone in the family. We have a bad habit or an addiction that’s enslaving us.  Someone is slandering our reputation.  It’s the time of year when a lot of mothers are counting the days till school starts!

And if we are prophets, what problems we have!  Breaking our backs or our bank accounts or exhausting our psychic energy on behalf of the homeless or the unborn or Catholic schooling or the hungry, or racism or sexism or war or pornography.

There are a lot of days when a long walk into the desert sounds pretty good.  We all have those days.  Probably, most of us have quite a few of them, for a lot of different reasons.

God came to Elijah’s rescue.  He sent an angel with food and drink, strong encouragement and strong nourishment, enuf to sustain him until he came to the sacred mountain where Moses, his prophetic ancestor, had encountered God.              

During these 5 weeks when we’re reading from ch. 6 of John’s gospel, we’re hearing how God comes to our rescue too.  Last week and this week Jesus announced himself as the bread from heaven.  He means himself, his teaching.  When we believe in Jesus and turn to him, we find encouragement and nourishment for our tired, discouraged selves in our hot, arid world, when people or circumstances seem to be against us.  We meet Jesus in the scriptures.  We have to make the scriptures part of our prayer, our daily bread, “else the journey will be too long” for us (1 Kings 19:7).

In the last verse of today’s gospel (John 6:51) and in all of next week’s (6:51-58), Jesus goes further.  The bread that he offers us and commands us to eat is his flesh.  Ch. 6 is where John presents the Eucharist, instead of at the Last Supper like the other evangelists and Paul.  The Eucharist is our communion with God thru the body and blood of Jesus.  Unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we do not have life in us.  We lose all heart, and we wither and die in the desert.

St. Francis de Sales, the patron of the SDBs, taught that there are 2 types of people who need the Eucharist.  People who are holy need it, that they may remain holy.  People who are not holy need it, that they may become holy.  For all of us, the Eucharist is our fundamental food, our essential food, for the journey.  We cannot reach the sacred mountain where God dwells unless we are nourished on the food that Christ himself gives us.

There’s one more aspect we should note about Elijah’s experience in the desert: God does not come to him personally, directly, at least not on this occasion.  God sends an angel, a messenger.  The angel brings the instructions and, apparently, the food and drink.  The angel restores Elijah’s courage.

The role of the angel or messenger from God in one that God gives to each of us.  We all know what it’s meant when someone has been an angel for us.  To be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, means not only to hang tough thru our own deserts but also to guide and assist others on their journey.  We need to be sensitive to the folks around us, to their burdens, their fears, their weaknesses, their guilt, and bring them the bread of Christ’s presence and Christ’s strength.  “Be imitators of God as his dear children.  Follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you,” Paul enjoins us.  “Be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Eph 5:1; 4:32).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Salesians at the Olympics

Salesians at the Olympics
This post is based mostly on ANS reports, but other sources were used as well.
At least 6 Salesian past pupils took part in the 2012 Olympic games in London.
One was among the opening nite superstars; in fact, filmmaker Danny Boyle produced the four-hour, universally acclaimed spectacular on July 27. Two others took home medals—a gold and a bronze.
Danny is a “Salesian Old Boy” of Thornleigh Salesian College in Bolton, England (1973-1975), who, in the words of the New York Daily News, “conjured” the “five-ring extravaganza” of an opening program for the Games.
Danny considered entering the seminary in his youth, but one of his Salesian teachers told him, “You’re not ready for the priesthood, and the priesthood’s not ready for you.” Not long after, he discovered his vocation in film. ANS reported on him after he won an Oscar for best director for Slumdog Millionaire: His 201o movie 127 Hours also won high praise.
Ruben Dario Limardo Gascon, a Venezuelan fencer from Ciudad Bolivar, won a gold medal in the men’s individual épée on Aug. 1 by beating Bartosz Piasecki of Norway, 15 points to 10. His victory gave Venezuela its 2d gold medal in Olympic history, the first in 44 years. “My childhood dream has come true,” Ruben commented.
Salesians from the East Polish Province have contributed to his growth and human development. Since 2003 he has been living in Lodz, where he began his university studies at the Salesian university college in the city, specializing in administration. He continued to attend there, alternating his studies with sporting competitions, until 2005. He trains with and competes for the Piast Gliwice team.
In an interview after his victory, the Olympian showed his appreciation for the country where he developed as a professional and declared that half the medal belonged to Poland. In this half of the medal, there are Salesian traces.
Swimmer Cesar Augusto Cielo Filho, 25, won a bronze medal in the 50-meter freestyle; in addition, he was world champion in this event in 2009 and 2011, and at the 2008 Olympics he won the gold in a record time of 21.30 seconds. He attended Instituto Salesiano Dom Bosco in Americana, Brazil, from 1994 to 1996, and he always remembers his old school with affection. Last year, for example, he returned to it with a TV crew to talk about his childhood in the school, and he used the occasion to greet the teachers and encourage the students.
Another fencer was Daryl Homer, a native of Jamaica who graduated from Salesian HS in New Rochelle in 2008 and has been fencing at St. John’s University in New York City since then; he was red-shirted during his senior year while training for the U.S. Olympic team.
In the opening round of the Games, Daryl bested a Romanian opponent in the saber competition, 15-11, and in the round of 16 defeated a Russian, 15-14. The road to glory ended, tho, in the quarterfinal round when he lost to another Romanian, 15-13.
Daryl is ranked no. 1 in the U.S. in saber.
Marcos Chuva
Marcos Chuva, 23, an past pupil of Salesian School in Manique, Portugal, represented Portugal in the long jump. Marcos began his sports career in 2003 at the Salesian school, which he attended until October 2006. In 2007 he became an athlete with SL Benfica. In 2011 he came in 10th in the world championships and 2d in the European under-23 championships. He has kept in touch with the Salesians, and this year carried the torch at the 19th National Salesian Games. He wasn’t able to advance beyond the qualifying round on Aug. 3.
Maria Elisa Antonelli, who graduated from São José Institute in Resende, Brazil, in 2001, was part of the Brazilian beach volleyball team. Maria Elisa teamed with her usual companion in the doubles, Talita Antunes da Rocha. Last July they the Women’s World Beach Volleyball Tournament in Quebec; the win moved them up from 5th to 2nd in the world rankings at the time.
“We are going to London with a real chance of a gold medal with all four pairs. Certainly the unexpected can always happen, but the preparations have been excellent and we are ready to see the results of all our efforts,” the president of Brazil’s beach volleyball team declared. There are in fact four Brazilian pairs, two women’s and two men’s.
For Maria Elisa, it is a dream come true. “I watched the Beijing Olympics from the couch. This year I am taking part! I am among the best in Brazil, so it is a great joy but also a great responsibility, in that it is not just I and Talita, but we are representing our country in the most important of international sports competitions,” she said in an exclusive interview on the site of the São José Institute.
She also spoke about the Salesian contribution to her successful sports career. “It’s a different sort of school, offering the students a privileged path, and it was there that I first began playing volleyball. It’s amusing to think that I always tried to be the best in the competitions in school, and now I can try to be the best in the London Olympics!”
She also realizes that she is a role model for the young people at the Salesian school and feels the responsibility. “It’s a further encouragement to work harder for victory. I’m very proud and grateful for all those who have been and are part of my development in volleyball. If I have got where I am, I owe a lot to the Salesians, and now I count on all their support,” she concluded.
Maria Elisa and Talita won several matches but lost to the Czech team and were eliminated on Aug. 4.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Great Day for the Salesian Family

A Great Day 
for the Salesian Family

Fr. Tom Dunne introduced his homily today (Aug. 5) with a phrase something like that.  (I scribbled notes on the homily as best I could in a little notebook with me in the concelebrants' pew, and I hesitate to throw quote marks around anything I scribbled.)

The occasion was the 1st religious profession of 2 Salesian sisters of the FMAs' Eastern Province at Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon during a Mass attended by several hundred sisters, SDB priests, diocesan priests, relatives of the newly professed, and friends of the FMAs (Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, aka Salesian Sisters).
Fr. Tom prays for the candidates (foreground) just before they individually pronounced the vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty.
The newly professed were Srs. Merissa Loucks and Joo Yun Park, who had just completed 2 years of novitiate at Sacred Heart Novitiate in Newton.  They have several classmates who are members of the FMAs' Western Province, based in San Antonio, and who made their 1st vows closer to their families' homes in the Western U.S.

Salesians, both female and male, make their first vows a year at a time for 3 years, generally, then a set of triennial vows, and finally--God willing and the discernment process so indicating--perpetual vows.
At the end of Mass, the 2 newly professed sisters thanked God and various people for guiding them in their vocations. Sr. Joo Yun Park is at left, Sr. Merissa Loucks at right.
Sr. Mary Jackson made perpetual vows in North Haledon this afternoon in a separate sacred rite.

In his homily, based on the 3 readings chosen for the profession Mass (Deut 6:4-13; 2 Pet 1:3-11; Matt 6:24-34), as well as on the occasion, Fr. Tom brought out that the religious vocation is a gift from God, and the 2 new sisters have responded to that gift by saying "yes," like the Virgin Mary, 1st disciple of Jesus.  Altho they must, by rule, profess for just 1 year at this time, they are committing themselves totally to God:  to seeking his will, to loving him wholeheartedly, to simplicity of life after the example of Jesus.

Their "yes" is an encouragement to the older sisters and the Salesian priests present, as well as to all the members of the 2 Salesian congregations, to continue to grow in their own relationship with God.

Fr. Tom also pointed to the Constitutions of the FMAs as a sure guide to the newly professed as they strive to deepen their relationship with God within the religious community and the Salesian mission to young people.
The sisters hold copies of the FMA Constitutions just blessed and presented to them
For more photos, go to
Joined by Sr. Karen Dunn, provincial, Sr. Merissa (left) and Sr. Joo Yun prepare to cut a congratulatory cake during the reception that followed the profession Mass. The sisters' proud parents flank them.

Homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
18th Sunday
of Ordinary Time
Aug. 5, 2012
Eph 4: 17, 20-14
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“Restore what you have created and keep safe what you have restored” (Collect).

The Collect or opening prayer today invokes God as our “creator and guide” and pays tribute to his “unceasing kindness.”  It also notes that we “glory” in him.

We glory in him precisely because he has been and is kind to us, and his kindness is manifest in his restoration work.

What has God restored?  A beat-up old house, if you’d like a metaphor, which he’s turned into a magnificent temple.  That’s us, of course, created in his image, wrecked by sin, made new and better by grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We are God’s home improvement project.

A house needs protection—a solid roof, a good veneer of brick or shingles or paint.  It might also need security systems against fire and burglary.  So we ask God to keep us safe from anything and anyone that could harm us:  “keep safe what you have restored,” viz., your own image within us, your own divine life within us.  For our safekeeping we need his “unceasing kindness” that we invoked.  We need his guidance in our discernment of good and evil, of wisdom and folly, as we try to find and to follow the path he has planned for us; or, to return to the metaphor, as we maintain the house he’s built and restored for us. 

A homeowner hopes and prays that devastating storms will stay far away—tornados, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and such.  We need God’s protection to keep the power of the Evil One away.  Jesus tells a short parable about a demon driven out who eventually returns to its “home from which [it] came [and] finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order.  Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first” (Matt 13:43-45).  So our house need’s God’s ongoing protection after it’s been restored and cleaned up.

Note that Jesus says the demon finds the house “empty” when it returns.  We have to fill our house with Jesus—the strong man, fully armed, who will keep all intruders far away (cf. Luke 11:21-22).  In today’s gospel we hear that Jesus offers us himself, the Bread of Life, to fill our emptiness and be our strength.

Writing to the Ephesians, St. Paul uses a different metaphor to express the same basic truth:  “Put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (4:22-24).  Here we’re changing clothes, putting on new garments, neater and more resplendent than the threadbare and patched ones we’ve been wearing.

In the old SDB ritual of investiture, when the novices received their cassocks, the provincial quoted that verse from Ephesians (in Latin, of course—but I’ll spare you that), reminding us that we were taking on a new way of life and a new persona as we entered religious life and the path toward the priesthood.*

Similarly, and more fundamentally, the rite of Baptism calls for the newly baptized, whether adult or infant, to be clothed in a new, white garment, symbolic of the new life of divine grace in which he or she has just been invested, and the neophyte is urged to bring that new garment, his or her Christian dignity, “unstained (by sin) into the everlasting life of heaven” (Rite of Baptism).

This is also one possible interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the wedding garment—in which a guest is cast out of the wedding banquet “into the darkness outside” because he isn’t properly dressed (Matt 22:11-13).  No one may approach the Eucharistic feast without having been baptized, clothed in Christ.  No one may enter the heavenly banquet, of which the Eucharist is the sacramental sign, without having lived “in righteousness and holiness of truth.”

This new garment that we’re given at Baptism, this share in God’s own life thru Christ, is a gift of the Father’s “unceasing kindness.”  It’s the 1st and most essential step in the process by which he “restores what [he has] created,” viz., his own image in us, the creatures of his hand, creatures called “for eternal life, which the Son of Man gives” us (John 6:27).

               * Practices of Piety for Use in Salesian Houses (New Rochelle: Salesiana, 1953), pp. 295-296.

Interview with Mother Yvonne Reungoat

Interview with Mother Yvonne Reungoat, FMA

The state of health of the FMAs, prospects for the future, the world of young people, and her own story

(ANS – Rome -- August 2, 2012) – ANS has asked Mother Yvonne Reungoat, Superior General of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (better known as the Salesian Sisters), about that religious congregation, which Don Bosco held to be a “living monument” to Mary Help of Christians, and about her role as Superior.

You have just carried out an evaluation. What is the state of health of the FMA Institute? What challenges face it in the future?
At the moment there are two groups of interprovincial conferences that have yet to carry out their evaluation of GC22, where the experiences and reflections of their provinces will flow together. I think I can say, however, thanks to what I have found out also in my visitations, that the Institute is in good shape. The desire and commitment to revive our charism is alive and well in all the sisters. They feel the need to deepen their personal spirituality and to strengthen their prophetic message, basing it on its mystical roots. They have also noticed the need to focus on the evangelical nature of their relationships as FMA communities and as educating communities. The journey with lay people is becoming more apparent not only at the level of working together, but also in co-responsibility for the educational mission. They have become more committed to a renewed option for the poor, in a world becoming more and more impoverished, and they recognize the importance of building communities that are truly vocational, where young people feel welcomed and listened to and where they can clearly see the beauty and the energy of our charism.
To sum up: the journey of the Institute is somewhere between the “already” and the “not yet.” But I think that the greatest challenge, embracing all the others, is that of hope.
The FMA Institute is celebrating 140 years of existence. What changes have there been in its identity and mission?
140 years of the Institute’s life is an important occasion for the entire Salesian Family. For us FMAs it means the celebration of God’s fidelity and of our response to his love, a reason for joy and thankfulness. Don Bosco’s idea of giving girls the same opportunities that he was offering to his boys was realized thanks to the response of some young women in the Association of Mary Immaculate in Mornese who took up his suggestion of consecrating themselves to the Lord as religious following the Salesian spirit. In that little place in Monferrato, just as from a seed cultivated in good and fertile land, the Institute sprang forth; it was August 5, 1872.
The FMA identity was clear from the start: women consecrated for the mission of evangelizing through education, with a strong Marian identity. Don Bosco provided a powerful witness, and Maria Domenica Mazzarello felt totally in harmony with his project of life and his method of education, the Preventive System. The Institute grew in a remarkable way and expanded to a presence which now reaches 94 nations in the world and numbers about 14,000 members who live and work in all six [inhabited] continents.
The secret is in the energy of the Spirit which has given our religious family a missionary dimension and a universal appearance. This identity has become richer over the years, and our educational mission today embraces new frontiers, new fields to meet young people and reawaken in them a search for meaning, bringing them up to be good Christians and honest citizens, as Don Bosco wanted them to be. This program has been taken up wholeheartedly by the FMAs since their beginnings, and today it is more and more linked to promotion of their fundamental rights and commitment to their evangelization.
What are the expectations and challenges of today? Does the world of youth still have a geography, or has globalization unified everything?
There are certainly challenges specific to youth depending on their socio-cultural situations. In areas of greatest economic poverty, young people are more motivated to raise their social status, and they know how to profit from the opportunities offered to them. Those in richer countries are less motivated and take longer to reach human maturity. But these are only generalizations.
Globalization has to some extent unified their needs and brought about new needs. At a world level, young people today are alike in many more ways than they are different. Languages, consumption, expectations, news media, and new technologies have all been globalized.
I am not referring only to the negative aspects of globalization – secularism, relativism, consumerism – but also to the positive aspects. For example, solidarity has been globalized, volunteering has become more popular, and there is a new awareness about human rights and the dignity of each person. The deepest needs of the young are the same as ever: to love and be loved, to find meaning and happiness in life, to work for the common good, to make the world a home where all can live. Today young people want to be themselves: not just making their voices heard in protest, but making their resources available as committed youths. I believe that we are preparing to enter a new season, so long as we know how to listen to them and accompany them in their journey of human and Christian growth.
There is not just one language of youth, “cryptic.” There is another language consisting of simplicity, concreteness, freedom, and gift. There is an often implicit question about meaning that needs to be brought to light, and there is a hidden request from young people to be accompanied by significant adults in a world that is ever more multiethnic, multicultural, multireligious, without points of reference. The challenge for us is to accompany them to open themselves to others and to the Other, leading up to the explicit proclamation of Jesus.
Mother Yvonne with Fr. Pascual Chavez, SDB Rector Major
The word crisis is used in various circumstances, from economic to social, from values to the youth situation. What hope can the FMAs offer?
The hope we can offer depends on what animates our own lives. The first sign of hope for young people is to find adults who are capable of hoping. The crisis, mostly seen in the West, is economic and social, a crisis of cultural and educational values. The “educational emergency” can be interpreted as an emergency of fathers and mothers, of family homes, of upbringing.
The task of educating can be more difficult and our efforts hampered in a society that too often makes relativism its creed, that swamps the new generations with emotional gratification and exalts the ephemeral. I am convinced that we can offer hope to young people only if we overcome the crisis of authority into which many adults fall, often abdicating their responsibilities.
If, as FMAs, we witness to the beauty and joy of our vocation, if will be easier to set up a vast network of communion and dialog with all those who care about the education of the young and with young people themselves.
In the name of all the FMAs, I want to express our desire that many young women will discover the call to follow Jesus in our Institute. The field of educational need is immense. We can get through the current crisis, which is also vocational, if we are able to hand on the Salesian charism to new generations for them to develop and enrich. One hundred and forty years from our foundation, I can see a broad and open horizon where our religious family can continue to write pages of joyous fidelity, with the help of young women who are not afraid to commit their lives to following Jesus.
Can you tell us a little about your own vocational story?
In our family there was an uncle who was a Salesian missionary in Canada, and we regularly received the Salesian Bulletin. That was how my parents discovered the existence of an FMA school in Dinan, in Brittany, France, where I could continue my studies. I was struck by the family spirit that reigned in the community. One day the superior asked me, “Have you ever thought about religious life?” This direct question reawakened my desire to become a religious. It had been in my heart before I knew the sisters, but I had let it slip, thinking that I could never achieve it. I must acknowledge that the superior in Dinan truly accompanied me and that the educational atmosphere in the community supported my journey. The FMAs had the knack of turning us into leaders. They gave us little responsibilities, geared to our ability, in order to guide us toward the service of others. This accompaniment helped me to bring my vocational response to maturity. I felt gripped by God, but without that question, perhaps I would never have become a Daughter of Mary Help of Christians.
My time as a missionary in Africa enriched my vocation, which then developed in a surprising way with my election as visiting councilor, vicar general, and finally Superior General. From the start I thought that this mission would totally overwhelm me and that I could fulfill it only because I could count on the help of the Lord and of Mary Help of Christians.
Being the ninth successor of Mother Mazzarello is a task that can be undertaken only with the grace of God and through entrustment to Mary Help of Christians, who has done everything in my life. I am convinced that the Lord asks of us only our availability for him to work freely in us and make us instruments of his anticipating love.