Saturday, September 29, 2012

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
26th Sunday
in Ordinary Time

Sept. 30, 2012
Mark 9: 38-48
Christian Bros., Iona

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9: 43).

The gospel reading this evening is a collection of Jesus’ teachings loosely linked by verbal connections.  The exorcist who “does not follow us” (9:38) is a disciple of Jesus in some sense; in the previous passage, last week’s gospel (9:30-37), Jesus taught what it means to be an authentic disciple.  In today’s episode, moreover, John continues to contend about rank and prestige, which the disciples were arguing about last week.

The 2d verbal link is “in my name.”  Last week Jesus taught that “receiving one child such as this in my name” is the same as receiving himself (9:37), i.e., giving pastoral attention to the poor, the weak, the powerless, those on the margins of society and of no worldly account is equivalent to caring for Jesus when it’s done for him.  It’s the same teaching detailed in Matthew’s well known parable to the Last Judgment (25:31-46).  This week the teaching is about those who ally themselves with Jesus by invoking his name in order to do good (9:39).  This, and the following saying about those who assist others “because you belong to Christ” (9:41), remind us that there are different ways of following Jesus, and all who follow Jesus are joined to him and are thus joined to one another.  We have much that we can do in common “in his name” for the benefit of the Church and of humanity, for the advancement of God’s kingdom.  Whatever the original context of Mark’s Gospel, today we can say that Catholics and Protestants, liberals and conservatives, adherents of different spiritualities, members of different religious families, ought not to be contending with each other when there are “mighty deeds” to be done—works of charity, works of healing.

Then Jesus returns to “these little ones” (9:42).  This could mean, literally, children, like the child whom Jesus embraced when speaking of receiving children (9:36).  It could, on the other hand, mean those who are little in the world’s eyes because they’ve humbled themselves by becoming the servants of their brothers and sisters.  It could mean those who’ve become lowly in the world’s eyes by embracing the teaching and the cross of Jesus, which is, as St. Paul wrote, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23).

In any case, “these little ones,” whether children or believers in general, are sacred to Jesus.  To “cause one of [them] to sin,” is literally to “cause someone to fall,” to “scandalize” someone; that’s the verb used here, and it’s the same word that Paul uses in noun form, “a stumbling block.”   Jesus identifies genuine scandal as a terrible crime that deserves a terrible punishment.  The punishment that Jesus mentions (9:42) was practiced by the Romans and others, and the Roman Martyrology also records the deaths of some saints by that practice.

A “scandal” or “stumbling block” or “cause of sin” doesn’t mean what it’s come to mean in common English—the “scandal sheets” of the daily newspapers or the supermarket tabloids reporting the shenanigans of the rich and famous or the outrageous behavior of some clergy and religious that has blackened the name and the moral stature of Christ’s Church.  No, “scandal” really means leading another person to sin thru one’s bad example or false teaching.  Contemporary examples would be politicians who condone abortion or embryonic stem cell research and thus make those sins more widespread; theologians and religious leaders who give their approval to moral behaviors that the Church consistently teaches are sinful; parents or coaches who habitually lie, cheat, or use abusive language and so teach those habits to their children or players; religious whose lax observance of their rules encourages others to do the same; chronic criticism of others that so easily becomes a “chapter of faults” completely devoid of any charity.  These are all examples of how we can “cause others to stumble.”

The verbal link “causes one to sin” brings us to the graphic examples that Jesus uses, including the punishment for sin that’s far worse than “a great millstone.”  There are at least 3 ways to read Jesus’ words here about “your hand,” “your foot,” or “your eye” causing you to sin.  Origen, the great 3d-century Church Father from Alexandria, seems to have taken the passage literally in regard, we suppose, to sexual temptations, and that seems to be why, almost alone among the Fathers, he’s never been venerated as a saint.  I suppose we could also say that the strictest adherents of Sharia law in the Muslim world are practicing these sayings literally when they cut off the hands of thieves.  It’s also what lies behind the severe bodily penances that some people have practiced—almost literally beating their bodies into submission lest passions ever get the upper hand.

But mainstream Christianity has always taken them metaphorically.  The more common interpretation is that our following of Jesus on the way to eternal life must be total, without reservation.  Nothing must come between us and his teachings, his way of life.  Anything that might separate us from him, anything that might induce us to sin, is to be avoided (we pray that in the traditional Act of Contrition) at all cost.  “Death rather than sin” was one of St. Dominic Savio’s First Communion resolutions (not bad for a 7-year-old).

One of the oldest sketches of Savio. He holds a scroll with 2 of his Communion resolutions: "My friends will be Jesus and Mary," and "Death but not sin."
Another interpretation kind of flips the sayings.  Our hands, feet, and eyes really can’t cause us to sin.  What does?  Do you remember Jesus’ dispute with the scribes and Pharisees about the traditions of the elders, which was our gospel 4 weeks ago?  Jesus explained:  “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile him; but the things that come out from within are what defile.  From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.  All these evils come from within, and they defile” (Mark 7:15,21-23).  Thus, not the individual parts of our bodies but our inner selves, our deep desires, our attitudes—these are what we have to examine to find the real causes of our sins.  And these are what must be cut off, plucked out, uprooted, that is to say, what must be converted so as to reflect the desires and attitudes of Jesus, so that our inmost self may become what God created it to be:  an image of himself.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Empowering Young People

Empowering Young People
to be Agents of Change
in Eradicating Poverty

By Fr. Tom Brennan, SDB

As the Salesians of Don Bosco and the entire Salesian Family throughout the world prepare for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Don Bosco, they organized an event at United Nations Headquarters in New York to highlight the Salesian contribution to the work of the U.N. throughout the world. The panel discussion, “Empowering Youth to be Agents of Change in Eradicating Poverty,” took place on September 24. Representatives of the Church, governments, and the Salesians presented their perspectives on the effectiveness and importance of the Salesian charism in changing individuals and societies.

The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the U.N. and the Permanent Mission of Honduras to the U.N. were generous partners in having this event take place during the High Level Meetings on the Rule of Law, and the Opening of the 67th General Assembly. Fr. Thomas Brennan, SDB, the representative of the Salesians at the U.N., and Miguel Rimarachin, a U.N. staff member and Salesian alumnus, facilitated many of the details of the organization of the event.

In their welcoming remarks, Ambassador Jorge Valero from Venezuela and Ambassador Mary Elizabeth Flores from Honduras told of the positive impact of the Salesian works on behalf of the young in their countries and in all of Latin America, especially in education. Ambassador Valero noted that UNESCO has considered the Salesians as the “largest educational agency that exists today.” Through their presentations they gave witness to the reality that Don Bosco began a vast movement of persons to advocate on behalf of the young, especially those who live in poverty or are marginalized or excluded.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, stressed the role of the family in assisting young people to become agents of change in their societies. Additionally, he noted the need to overcome individualism by striving to achieve the common good. Societies themselves must also help create opportunities so that young people will be able to rise to their full potential. This begins when the young are viewed as protagonists rather than as problems in a community.

In his role as President of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, SDB, has seen the effective promotion of youth as transformative throughout the world. Citing examples from Salesian and Caritas projects, he spoke with enthusiasm about the generosity of the young. He noted that many young people are volunteering their time and talent to improve the lives of others. In fact, the transformation of societies often begins with the zeal, enthusiasm, and creativity of young people, who often challenge us to see things in new ways and approach life with great passion and dedication.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, SDB (third from left), addressing the forum. Bro. Jean Paul Muller, SDB (first at left), also addressed the forum.
Bro. Jean Paul Muller, the treasurer general of the Salesians, has vast experience with education and development projects. He highlighted a number of concrete examples of effective practices carried out by Salesians around the world that are helping young people escape the poverty trap and allowing them to live free from want and fear. He stressed the pedagogy of work, and encouraged us to assist the young in earning a salary and learning how to spend their financial resources with attention, mindfulness, and justice.

All of the speakers noted that voices of the young are important. We need to listen to their aspirations and dreams, their struggles and challenges, if we are to help them create an enabling environment for more inclusive, just, and equitable societies.

“Nothing for us, without us” has become a rallying cry for many of those in civil society who seek to effect the common good in their respective societies and cultures. The young seek this consideration as well. In many societies, the young do not have access to power or are excluded from influencing the debates that affect their lives. The implementation of youth-centered groups that allows them to voice their concerns can change this.

Youth unemployment must be addressed; so must child labor and child soldiering.

The social protection floor, providing for the basic needs of the young, allows them better to achieve their potential because they are living in an environment conducive to growth and development. Providing them with access to education, health care, clean water, and sanitation frees them to grow into productive citizens.

Opportunities for sports and leisure activities should also be encouraged and provided. Cultural outings and exposing young people to the wealth of their heritage and to other cultures gives them more resources to engage in a globalized world.

Spirituality is a core value for us as Salesians. We hold that awakening an openness to God and his work and presence in individual lives and societies is key in empowering young people. We encourage young people to develop their spiritual life without proselytizing. Our experience working in cultures where Christianity is not the prime religion has deepened our awareness of spirituality and the need for interreligious dialog.

At the end of the discussion, the President of Honduras, Porfirio Pepe Lobo, gave a heartfelt reaction to the discussion that had taken place. He noted the need to consider human rights, ecological rights, and a future that feels the impact of globalization if we are to assist the young to be agents of change. He called for an interior change for all members of society to help all prosper.

Don Bosco responded to the needs of the young in his times, and he challenges us to do the same today. To accomplish this, we must listen to the young and accompany them on their journey of self-discovery and fulfillment. 

A sizeable representation of Salesians accepted Fr. Brennan's invitation to observe the discussion. Afterward, the cardinal and the treasurer general posed with the those who came from the formation community in Orange, N.J.

Monday, September 24, 2012

God Is Blessing Us!

God Is Blessing Us!

Last year the house of formation in Orange, N.J., was full--with candidates for Salesian life, including those at the prenovitiate stage, young professed SDBs in their immediate postnovitiate stage, and a couple of men studying theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary (on the campus of Seton Hall University) with the aim of priestly ordination.

We also have four men in practical training, the stage between postnovitiate formation and theological studies (for men seeking the priesthood), or between postnovitiate formation and perpetual vows (for men who will remain brothers). These four have been in New Rochelle (Salesian HS), Ramsey (Don Bosco Prep), and Haverstraw (DB Retreat Center and the Marian Shrine).

And then there are the novices. Our province sends them to Rosemead, Calif., where they make their novitiate together with men from the San Francisco Province.

This year God continues to bless us.  The five prenovices have moved to Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester, N.Y., making for a little breathing room in Orange.  But that community is still a very large one with candidates, young professed, and students of theology, plus their staff of formators.

Following the jubilee Mass at Haverstraw on Sept. 23, all the men in formation except the novices--and Deacon James Zettel, who's in Jerusalem--posed for the picture posted here.

New Rochelle Province Celebrates 2012 Jubilarians

New Rochelle Province 
Celebrates 2012 Jubilarians

The New Rochelle Province honored 16 confreres who have reached major milestones on their journeys in the footsteps of our Savior and of Don Bosco. Two of the 16 were unable to be present.

The celebration took place at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., during the long weekend of the annual fall meeting of the directors and pastors of the province. The 11:00 a.m. Mass in the Shrine chapel also attracted the regular Sunday congregation that worships at that time; thus it was a “standing-room-only” situation.

Besides the directors and pastors, there was a significant presence of other Salesians, Cooperators, and the ten FMA novices and their two staff—and, of course, the families of many of the jubilarians. Fifty-five priests, including eleven jubilarians, concelebrated with Fr. Tom Dunne, the presider and preacher.

The jubilarians were Fr. Pete Granzotto (Port Chester, Corpus Christi Parish), 65 years professed; Fr. Javier Aracil (ditto) and Fr. Dominic DeBlase (Haverstraw, Marian Shrine), 60 years professed; Fr. Joe Hannon (St. Pete Catholic) and Fr. Pete Malloy (provincial house), 50 years professed; Fr. Tom Brennan (United Nations), Bro. Bill Hanna (St. Pete Catholic), Fr. Luc Lantagne (Montreal, Maria Auxiliatrice Parish and Salesian Mission Office), and Bro. Tom Sweeney (Washington, DB Cristo Rey HS), 40 years professed; Fr. Gus Baek (Stony Point, Reborn Young Christ Korean ministry), Fr. Franco Pinto (Haverstraw, DB Retreat Center), and Fr. Lazar Arasu (East Boston, student; missionary in Uganda), 25 years professed; Fr. Paul Grauls (Washington, Nativity Parish) and Fr. Waclaw Swierzbiolek (Haverstraw, Polish ministry), 50 years ordained; and Fr. Tom Dunne (provincial) and Fr. Tito Iannacio (Montreal, Maria Auxiliatrice Parish), 40 years ordained.

As part of the Mass, the men celebrating ordination anniversaries renewed their priestly commitment.
Vice provincial Fr. Steve Dumais leads Fr. Grauls, Fr. Swierzbiolek, and Fr. Dunne in the renewal of priestly commitment.
And those celebrating profession anniversaries (first vows) renewed their vows.

Fr. Tom preached on the readings of the day, particularly the gospel (Mark 9:30-37). This passage has two parts, both of which he spoke about. 1st, when Jesus made his second prediction of his passion and death, the disciples again were in denial. This wasn’t the Messiah they were expecting. 2d, Jesus tells them to receive a child as if receiving himself. The disciple is called to serve those who are powerless.

Both of these messages are countercultural. They’re difficult to comprehend. It would be easy for anyone to miss the point of real discipleship and to look the wrong way. Because the messages of Jesus are so challenging, conversion is necessary. The disciples weren’t converted until the Holy Spirit came upon them. We Salesians struggle to understand and follow Jesus’ teaching, to run counter to the prevailing culture, to sacrifice our own ambitions.

The jubilarians have aspired to follow a Jesus who serves others. Their practice of the evangelical counsels fosters this service. This day of honoring the jubilarians, Fr. Tom said, “is all about God’s goodness and grace,” no matter the difficulties we face. His grace sustains them and us.

Finally, Fr. Tom reminded the confreres that the Rector Major has called upon all of us to be mystics, prophets, and servants in our following of Jesus and of Don Bosco.

A dinner in honor of the jubilarians followed at The Grill at Patriot Hills in Stony Point.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Homily for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
25th Sunday
in Ordinary Time

Sept. 23, 2012
James 3: 16—4:3
Ursulines, Willow Drive, N.R.

“Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice” (James 3: 16).

James could be describing American politics—even tho our recent campaigns are fairly tame when contrasted with some in the 1st 2 generations of our Republic.

He could also be describing the Church:  rectories, chanceries, parish councils, even religious houses.  In fact, given that James was writing to Christians in the 2d half of the 1st century, he was describing the Church, perhaps one specific local church.  Paul had to deal with the same or similar problems in Corinth, and at the end of the century Pope Clement was still addressing factions and infighting in Corinth.

There have been periods in church history when James’s more dire laments also have been verified:  war and killing (4:2).  If we broaden the consideration beyond the Church, as I suppose James intended, then in our own day we witness horrible killing and war in support of the pursuit of wealth, power, nationalism—and even in God’s name, ostensibly; but, I dare say, truly with “passions” and “envy” (4:1-2) and “selfish ambition” (3:16) more at play than love of God.

I trust that killing isn’t an issue in the convents of the Ursulines.  But can we deny that jealousy and selfish ambition lurk in them?  They’re certainly alive in monasteries, rectories, chanceries, and other church bodies, I’m afraid.

And we know from personal experience, as well as from church history, that jealousy and selfish ambition—in cleric or nun or layman—is destructive of good order, as James says (3:16),  in the community and in our hearts.  Passions “make war within your members” (4:1).  Passions—jealousy, envy, ambition, etc.—disturb our interior peace, and if we express those passions outwardly—thru gossip, thru criticism and complaining, thru self-centered behavior, for instance—they also disturb the peace of the community.

James points toward a better way of thinking:  “wisdom from above is pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity” (3:16).  This is similar to the catalog of fruits of the Holy Spirit enumerated by Paul in his Letter to the Galatians:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23).  Those attitudes, those behaviors, those virtues, expressive of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, build up the community and effectively preach the Good News of Jesus.

They’re also expressive of the kind of ambition that’s authentically Christian, the kind Jesus commands in today’s gospel:  the ambition to be 1st or greatest among his disciples, viz., the ambition to excel at selfless service of all God’s children (Mark 9:33-37).

Lest you think there’s only ambition or cold aloofness in chanceries, let me share with you a tidbit revealed by Whispers in the Loggia on Friday about Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth, who was just announced as the new bishop of Orange, Calif. (where he inherits the Crystal Cathedral).  In Fort Worth “he’s the bishop who’ll travel 600 miles in a weekend for a full slate of Masses and Mexican festivals, returning home only to run out again for a late-night bite with a youth group who sent him a text that they were at a nearby Denny’s.”

Doesn’t a bishop’s accessibility to a youth group by text suggest an attitude of being a servant to his flock?  Thanks be to God!  Would that it were more common in church leadership.

It’s easy, of course, to look at chanceries and complain.  Maybe even at provincialates.  Listening to James, tho, we need to look at ourselves.  James chides his readers for asking for—praying for—the wrong things:  “to spend it on your passions” (4:3).  We could, instead, pray that we might recognize and lay hold of opportunities to serve one another with patience, generosity, gentleness, constancy, and sincerity (or even a late-nite bite).  We could pray that, if there’s to be ambition or rivalry in the chancery or the rectory or the convent, it be ambition and rivalry to be of most service to our sisters and brothers.

Friday, September 21, 2012

18 New SLMs + 1 Head to Missions

18 New SLMs + 1
Head to Their Missions

Eighteen newly commissioned Salesian Lay Missioners (see post of Sept. 12: and one veteran SLM returning for more have already arrived at their posts and begun their apostolic ministry, or are about to depart. Here they are, grouped by assignments:

Bolivia - Cochabamba

Christine “Christy” Oberst and Michelle Ross are serving at Hogar Maria Auxiliadora, an orphanage for girls in Cochabamba ages 7-18. The two women will tutor, guide, and generally assist them. Michelle arrived on Sept. 4 and Christy on the 15th.

Michelle, 22, is from Kirkland, Wash. She graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane, majoring in psychology. She says, “It has always been my dream to live and work in an orphanage and be a Catholic, loving presence to the youths. There is no better group than the Salesians to work with to achieve these goals. I hope to see Christ in the face of every child, build trusting relationships with the girls, lead them closer to Christ, and make sure they know how much they are worth and loved!” She writes that she goes without any definite expectations but with “an open heart and mind” ready “to surrender all to God” and “let him guide me” so that she can “be his hands, feet, and whole body for those I encounter and serve.” Michelle is blogging at

Christy, 22, is taking some weeks to study Spanish before settling into her mission. She aims to be a “mother figure, friend, teacher, and role model” to the girls at the Hogar. She lives in Timonium, Md., and graduated from Towson University in Maryland with majors in anthropology and psychology. She wants “to be an avenue to provide the Lord’s love to orphaned, abused, and abandoned children who otherwise have heartache or may have never felt true love. I hope to show them how much the Father loves them through care and unconditional acceptance. Children deserve a chance to be children, and I have an opportunity to help them” have that chance. She’s blogging at

Monica Ellebracht, who has been serving in Cochabamba for two years, 2010-2011 at Hogar San Francisco, and 2011-2012 at Hogar Maria Auxiliadora, has welcomed the two new SLMs and is assisting them as they make the adjustment to life in Bolivia. Monica has been blogging about life and work in both orphanages, and about Bolivia in general, at Also helping the two “newbies” adjust is Amber Kraft, who served as an SLM there for three years and was part of the 2012 orientation team; Amber has returned to Cochabamba not as an SLM but an employee for a demographic and psychological study of the general area where the Hogar is situated. Her latest blog post ( comments on what it means to be a volunteer.

Bolivia - Montero

Four of the new SLMs have been posted to Hogar Sagrado Corazon in Montero or its affiliated Centro Sagrado Corazon. The SLMs have participated at the Hogar for about 15 years.

Vivian Soul was the first of the new class of SLMs out of the blocks, departing on Aug. 19. At Centro Sagrado Corazon she’s guiding preschoolers and teaching English and computer skills. She’s blogging at Vivian, 54, is from San Luis Obispo and is the mother of four grown children and grandmother of three. An alumna of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, she hopes “to be an instrument for God, mentoring by example, to do my best at showing compassion, kindness, and love to all the children, as well as young adults.”

Maggie Fitch arrived on Sept. 4 at Hogar Sagrado Corazon, which is a girls orphanage. Her responsibilities include tutoring, managing the library and the girls’ sponsorship program, organizing various recreational activities, and supervising mealtimes, all the while, she says, “giving them as much love as possible!” She’s blogging at Maggie, 22, is from Tryon, N.C. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with majors in psychology and Spanish and a minor in cognitive science. She “joined the SLMs in order to fulfill what seems to be my calling, to do mission work for an extended period of time caring for children. The joy and laughter of children is energizing and so contagious. I hope to be able to teach them to enjoy learning and pursue an active relationship with God.”

Tania Ozbolt arrived at Hogar Sagrado Corazon on Sept. 3. Her responsibilities involve tutoring, recreational activities, and supervision of meals and chores. Tania, 21, is from Norton, Ohio. She graduated from the College of St. Mary Magdalen in Warner, N.H., with a major in philosophy and theology. She wants “to live out Christ’s Gospel by serving others, especially by bringing love and care to his little children and the unfortunate.”

Elaine “Lainie” Sanker will serve with Vivian at Centro Sagrado Corazon, guiding preschoolers and teaching English and computer skills. She left for Bolivia on Sept. 22, and she is blogging at Lainie, 21, comes from Cincinnati. She graduated from Ohio State University in Columbus, majoring in sociology. She joined the SLMs “to be a part of something bigger than myself. . . . I could not be more ready and excited.”

For a load of information about Hogar Sagrado Corazon in Montero, Bolivia, and the work of the SLMs there, check out the blog of Melia West, who served there in 2010-2011 at and also Andrea Garton’s (2010-2011 as well) at In Montero, new SLMs Maggie and Tania have transitioned with veteran SLMs Aubrey Brewis and Mona Rominger (both 2011-2012). Aubrey returned home to Michigan on Sept. 16. Lainie and Vivian will replace Tom and Laura Kent, two-year volunteers with the FMA VIDES program (who blog at

Bolivia - Okinawa

Stephanie Schaub arrived at Colegio San Francisco Xavier in Okinawa, on Sept. 6, where she’ll teach and help with other projects. One class will be a confirmation prep. She’ll also travel to outlying communities to teach catechism. She has already had a baptism by fire, substituting without advance warning in English classes when the regular teachers didn't show up. She’s blogging at Steph, 22, lives in LaCrosse, Wis., and graduated from St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., majoring in K-8 education. She joined the SLMs “to show everyone I meet the love that God has for them and to be an instrument of God by doing his work. I want to bring a smile to everyone I meet.” Of her first two days in a Bolivian classroom, she blogged: “I helped teach a lesson with the teacher that I am assisting. I just love being in the classroom! My goal is not to just teach English, but I hope to help my students grow and to help them find who they truly are. I did not choose to become a teacher because I wanted to just teach children math, social studies, etc. I became a teacher to show all my students their potential and to help them find who they are. I want to always be present to them. A big thing we learned at orientation is just being present to the people we meet and to show them that we care about what they do and what they say.”

Lorena Zamora also will serve at Colegio San Francisco Xavier, teaching and otherwise attending to the youngsters. She arrived in Bolivia on Sept. 23. Lorena, 26, is from Los Angeles, where she belongs to St. Mary Parish, a Salesian parish. She graduated from California State University-Los Angeles with a major in television and film. She “joined the SLM program because I wanted to share the love of Christ to others, especially children. Being raised Salesian, I experience that love of Christ and the love of Don Bosco through other human beings. I was also taught to share it. Young people must know they are loved, and doing this is just a small way of sharing what I was taught.”

Both Steph and Lorena are being assisted in their transition by SLMs Katie Chandonnet, Judy Mathias, and Marcos Cisneros. Katie has been in Okinawa since summer 2011; Judy moved there from Cochabamba earlier this year; Marcos is starting his third year as a volunteer at the site and was part of the orientation team for this year’s group.

Bolivia – Santa Cruz

Eliana Pichardo is serving at Casa Nuevo Horizonte, a small hostel for women university students from rural areas, in Santa Cruz. Three days a week she goes to Hogar San Lorenzo, which houses 100 boys and girls from newborn to age 10, where she helps coordinate the caregivers with schedules and cleanliness, and prevent abuse of the children. Another two days she goes to Centro Fortaleza, where boys ages 12-16 serve criminal sentences in an educational and religious environment and can play games and do crafts. Eliana, 24, comes from Pomona, N.Y. She belongs to St. Peter Church in Haverstraw. She graduated from SUNY Rockland in Suffern, N.Y., last May, majoring in business administration. She wants “to work with the children in most need, bringing the work and teachings of the Lord to hearts they haven’t reached” and to make “a difference in a rewarding way and answer the call of Jesus to live out his love.”

South Sudan - Juba

Six of the SLMs arrived together in Juba, South Sudan, on Sept. 3, whence they began to split up for their respective missions. One of the six (the “+1” of this article’s title) is veteran Steve Widelski.

Luke Ebener and Thomas Kelly will remain in Juba at the Salesian mission, which includes a school and youth centers. Both are teaching and assisting in the youth center after school and on weekends.

Luke, 25, comes from Davenport, Iowa. He graduated from St. Ambrose University in Davenport with a major in accounting and finance. He “joined the SLMs to help spread the Good News to the children of the world and be a living example of the Gospel.” He hopes “to bring light and hope to all I encounter in South Sudan.” He’s blogging about his mission at

Tom, 22, is also updating the SDB website for Sudan and South Sudan ( His teaching load includes English, good study habits, and good manners with five Salesian prenovices. He’s blogging at Tom, 22, is from Sylvania, Ohio. He graduated from Marquette University last May, having studied accounting and finance. He “joined the SLMs because I want to be a friend to the youth and to share the love of Christ with them. Through the SLM mission, I hope to be the light of Christ to South Sudan, and in turn become stronger in my faith.”

South Sudan - Maridi

Grace Loeffler and Caitlin Seymour both remained for a short time in Juba before heading out to Maridi, where the Salesians staff a parish, school, and minor seminary; they had to wait for a confrere who was away on retreat to accompany them. They took advantage of the wait to start learning Arabic, the main local language, so as to communicate better with the younger children; they’ve also contributed their presence to the hundreds of children in the youth center.

Gracie, 23, will serve as a nurse in Maridi’s health clinic. In Juba she has already been getting lessons in tropical diseases. She comes from Perkasie, Pa., and majored in nursing at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. She hopes “to offer the light of Christ to the poor, sick, and needy children of Africa.” She adds, “I know that I can do no great things, only small things with great love.” She’s blogging at

While in Juba, Caitlin fell in love immediately with her new community of Salesians and young people. She’s blogging at Caitlin, 24, lives in Rochelle Park, N.J. She graduated from Loyola University of Maryland in Baltimore, majoring in philosophy and political science. She “joined the SLMs to answer a call in my heart to serve God’s children. I hope to be a vessel for God’s love and to make a positive impact on the world, one child at a time.”

South Sudan - Tonj

Stephen Widelski, 37, from Huntington, Ind., will serve at the Salesian mission in Tonj, which consists of a parish, youth center, health clinic, and elementary and middle schools. He has served five years with the SLMs in Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, and Sierra Leone. He has also completed three non-Salesian volunteer stints in the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and, last year, in Gros Morne, Haiti, helping with a water project. Steve loves Don Bosco and the Salesian charism best, and has eagerly returned for more of it. In fact, in 2008 he and another SLM veteran produced a promotional video about the program. In his experience he has found, as almost all the young missionaries do, that one receives as much from the people among whom they serve as one contributes to them.

South Sudan - Wau

Daniel Glass will serve as a teacher, youth minister, and assistant in a project for street children at the Salesian mission in Wau. Dan, 23, comes from Malvern, Pa. He attended Georgia Tech and graduated from Elon University (Elon, N.C.), majoring in civil engineering and engineering physics. He “chose to join the SLMs because I want to live as an example of the peace and love that Christ intended for all humans to encounter.” He hopes to bring a lot of smiles to children’s faces.

Ethiopia – Addis Ababa

Marcy Mueller will depart on Sept. 26 to serve in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, teaching and assisting with various projects alongside continuing SLM Marie Prosser (blogging at Marcy, 22, lives in DeWitt, Iowa, and graduated from St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., majoring in youth ministry and human services. She “chose to join the SLMs because I want to bring Christ’s love to the youth of the world. I also want to help make the world a more peaceful and loving place … by teaching and working with young people.” Marcy is blogging at

Ethiopia - Soddo

Paula Rondon arrived on Sept. 5 at the Salesian school in Soddo. She and fellow SLM Jenna Simonton will be teachers there and help out in the youth center (which draws hundreds of youngsters after school and on weekends). A weekly English class for adults is an additional possibility.

Paula, 25, is blogging at, where she posts that she's teaching spoken English and giving tutorials to grades 3-6 and co-teaching a music class. Paula is from Charlottesville, Va. She graduated from the University of Virginia in her home town with a major in Latin and was teaching that subject until she volunteered. She “joined the SLM program in order to encounter Jesus Christ in young people.”

After a luggage misadventure in Europe that necessitated a return there from Africa, Jenna finally arrived at Soddo on Sept. 7. She’ll teach spoken English, give tutorials, and help out in the youth center. She’ll also offer a math tutorial. She’s blogging at Jenna turned 25 this week; no word yet on Ethiopian birthday traditions!. She's originally from Denver but more recently has lived in Colorado Springs. She graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, majoring in math with secondary teaching emphasis. She joined the SLMs “to shine God’s light to the world.”

Paula and Jenna replace two-year SLM Stephen Lilly, who after returning home a few months ago, entered the pre-theology program at St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Chicago and asks for the prayers of the Salesian Family as he continues to discern his vocation.

Cambodia – Phnom Penh

Agnieszka Charymska will serve at the Don Bosco Training School for Girls in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, run by the FMAs. She’ll teach business classes, including English, joining continuing SLM Kaitlin Darnell (who blogs at Agnieszka is a native of Radom, Poland, who after earning an MBA at Bloomsburg University (Bloomsburg, Pa.), lived and worked in Brooklyn in 2012. She “joined the SLM program to share my knowledge and experiences with young people.” She “believes that education is the solution to poverty because it creates wealth not only for the individual but also for the society where he/she lives [and] brings prosperity to the whole country. I would like to bring to their lives not only education but also LOVE for God [and] values that arise from HIM.”

For more information about the Salesian Lay Missioners, go to

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the

24th Sunday
of Ordinary Time
Sept. 16, 2012
James 2: 14-18
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2: 17).

2 Sundays ago we began to read from the Letter of St. James, which has a strong emphasis on attention to the poor.  For instance, 2 weeks ago we heard, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27).  That note struck a balance between attention to the needy and one’s personal purity of life and attitude.  Last week we heard James admonish us about making favorable distinctions toward the rich and unfavorable ones toward the poor, and then ask us, “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?” (2:1-5).

Today, he reminds us that our faith has to include practice:  not only talking the talk but also walking the walk, as they say.  Again, this is in the context of sharing our worldly goods with the poor:  “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,” what good does it do the poor person if we offer him nothing but a good luck wish? (2:15-16).  If our faith is living, if our faith means anything, if our faith is real, then we have to act!

As it happens, studies of charitable giving in this country have shown repeatedly that the most generous givers are religious people.  They give to their churches, of course, but also to other religious and charitable organizations like missionary fundraisers, United Way, the Red Cross, the Boy Scouts; to public philanthropies like hospitals, libraries, symphony orchestras, volunteer fire departments; and to special needs like earthquake or storm relief.  The least generous people are the most secular people, the ones with little or no religious connection.  So, collectively, Christians (and other religious people) seem to be practicing what St. James urges upon us.

What about us individually?  That, of course, is a question we have to ask ourselves.  Do I share my resources, my time, my talents with the less fortunate:  the poor, the hungry, the unemployed, the immigrant, children, those in nursing homes, et al.?

Good works means more than care for the poor and unfortunate, however.  As I noted, St. James also refers to our purity of life and attitude.  In chapter 3, he speaks of sins of the tongue—something I’m sure we’re all familiar with, things like lying, slander and other gossip, swearing, boasting.  In chapter 4 he mentions envy, physical violence, adultery.

Paul preaching (Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome)
If we turn to St. Paul’s letters, we find other sorts of works that should be avoided.  He asks the Corinthians, “Don’t you know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Don’t be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (I, 6:9-10).  Likewise, he reminds St. Timothy that “murderers, the unchaste, practicing homosexuals, kidnapers, liars, perjurers” also are under condemnation (I, 1:9-10).

On the contrary, our faith ought to lead us to be pure in our thoughts and conduct, faithful to our spouses, honest and kind in our speech, modest and sober with food and drink, etc.  Is this hard?  As a certain former vice presidential candidate might say, “You betcha!”  And in the gospel reading today, Jesus told us precisely that if we would belong to him—if we would inherit the kingdom of God, in St. Paul’s terminology—then we have to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him.  Whoever would save his life in this world—and his reputation and his worldly goods—will have to lose it, sacrifice it, for Jesus’ sake (Mark 8:34-35).

What do I mean?  Take for an example Tim Tebow.  Doesn’t an awful lot of society think he’s a bit odd?  You know, preaching (quietly) and apparently practicing sexual purity?  Isn’t most of the world—so we’re led to believe—more like Lindsay Lohan or Prince Harry?  (Probably not, actually, and I suspect most people are glad of that.  But you wouldn’t know that from all the media attention they, and the sorts of antics they engage in, get.)

And Jesus says, don’t be concerned about what the world thinks!  Take up your cross and follow me!  Be pure.  Be honest.  Be forgiving.  Be patient.  Be modest.  Give of yourself to others.

There’s another sort of work that has to be motivated by our faith.  You may have noticed that this is a political year?  Every 4 years the bishops of the U.S. publish a somewhat long guide to the major issues that Catholics and other people of faith should be looking at.  Last time around, and again this time, it’s called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizens.”

The bishops tell us, “The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith” (n. 9).  “The Church” doesn’t mean just the bishops.  It means you and me.  One of the works of faith that we must do as followers of Jesus is to “shape the moral character of society.”  They say a little further on, “Participation in political life is a moral obligation” (n. 13).

The defining factor in the character of our society, they say, “is respect for the dignity of every person” (n. 10).  So everything they we do as citizens, as political persons in our democratic society, has to be based on human dignity.  The bishops add, “We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and votes, to help build a better world” (n. 14).

As their document goes on, the bishops make distinctions between fundamental moral values and secondary matters, or matters that might be judged to be the means toward a more fundamental goal.  They identify certain things that are always wrong, must always be opposed, can never be supported—in our personal behavior, obviously, but not in our voting either.  At the top of that list is “the direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death” (n. 28).  In other words, you can never, never support abortion, the destruction of human embryos, assisted suicide, so-called mercy killing, or the intentional killing of non-combatants in war, nor vote for a candidate who favors those grave violations of human dignity.

Then the bishops list “racism and other unjust discrimination,” the death penalty, unjust war, torture, war crimes, “the failure to respond to those suffering from hunger or a lack of health care” (sounds like St. James), and “an unjust immigration policy” (n. 29).

Something else worth mentioning here is this:  “The family is the basic cell of human society.  The role, responsibilities, and needs of families should be central national priorities.  Marriage must be defined, recognized, and protected as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and as the source of the next generation and the protective haven for children” (n. 70).

The document goes on a great length:  30 pages of text in my printout from the USCCB Website.

So—one of the works that we as Catholics are obliged to do this November is to vote.  But before that, we are obliged to know where candidates stand on various issues, and then vote not for a party or a gender or a race or a religion or the most telegenic persons; but for the candidates who will best defend and promote human dignity for Americans and for everyone else—those universal, God-given human rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that you’ve heard of.  That’s how we need to size up the candidates for President, for U.S. senator, for U.S representative, for the state legislature, for the state courts, for whatever office.

May we be able to say together with St. James, “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (2:18)—in our private, personal lives and in our public lives as citizens.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

N.R. Province Commissions 18 SLMs, 4 SDVs

New Rochelle Province 
18 SLMs, 4 SDVs

Eighteen candidates were commissioned as Salesian Lay Missioners, and four more as Salesian Domestic Volunteers (or as “Home Missioners,” some would prefer to say), in a rite at Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw on August 17.
2012's lay mission volunteers--both overseas and domestic--with Bp. Luc, Fr. Tom Dunne, Fr. Mark Hyde, and their orientation staffers Adam Rudin, Meg Fraino, Amber Kraft, and Marcos Cisneros
Bishop Luc Van Looy, SDB, of Ghent, Belgium, presided over the commissioning rite, assisted by Adam Rudin, director of the SLM program, Meg Fraino, director of the SDV program, and Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial.

The commissioning was the culmination of three weeks of orientation that began July 26 for the two groups and included intercultural awareness, introduction to Don Bosco and the Salesian charism, practical experience in the Salesian summer day camp in Port Chester, the nitty-gritty details of travel overseas, and a six-day retreat.

Bishop Luc, a former missionary in Korea and former member of the Salesian general council, was preaching a retreat for more than 40 Salesian priests and brothers, whose parallel presence is a vital part of the orientation that all lay volunteers receive.

The SLMs, 15 women and 3 men, will serve in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (1); three sites in South Sudan (5); four sites in Bolivia (9); and two sites in Ethiopia (3). They'll work in schools, youth centers, orphanages, clinics, programs for street kids, and perhaps more.

The SDVs include two men and two women who will serve in Salesian sites in Chicago; North Haledon and South Orange, N.J.; Takoma Park, Md., and Westwego and Harvey, La.--mainly in youth ministry programs, but Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS in Takoma Park involves teaching and coaching primarily.

The 22 volunteers range in age from 19 to 53, with the great majority of them in their early 20s.  They come from the states of California (2), Colorado, Illinois, Iowa (2), Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York (2), North Carolina, Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and one from Radom, Poland, by way of Pennsylvania.

The commissioning rite took place within a Votive Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples.  Fr. Steve Leake presided and preached.  Using the reading of the day from the prophet Ezekiel (16:1-15,60,63), he challenged the youthful volunteers to remember who they are, to give themselves completely to God’s love, and to let others know that they are loved too.

In photos: left, Caitlin Seymour prepares to receive her cross from the bishop; right, Jenna Simonton and the bishop exchange smiles after he's given her the cross.

As noted in my post about the SDB retreat (, on Friday evening, as per our custom, 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. Some samples:

To learn more about the Salesian Lay Missioners, go to
For the Salesian Domestic Volunteers, or "home missioners," go to