Sunday, January 27, 2013

Homily for the 3d Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
3d Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jan. 27, 2013
Luke 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21
St. Vincent Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“I too have decided … to write everything down in an orderly sequence … so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received” (Luke 1: 3-4).

Back on the 1st Sunday of Advent we began a new church year.  In this year 2012-2013 our Sunday gospel readings come primarily from St. Luke.  During the 33 weeks of Ordinary Time, which started last Sunday and go until Lent, then resume after Pentecost and go until next Advent, we’ll read selections from St. Luke in sequence—not the entire gospel, but significant portions of it.  During Advent, Lent, and Easter seasons, instead, we heard or will hear thematic sections rather than sequential ones.

So today we begin where Luke himself begins, with a prolog that precedes his stories about the conception and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus—stories that we heard in Advent and Christmas.  In these 4 verses, Luke tells us what he’s planning to do and why.

He addresses his gospel particularly to someone named Theophilus, “most excellent Theophilus” (1:3), someone important, someone who would be addressed as “Your Excellency.”  We don’t know whether that was an actual person or a literary fiction.  In Greek Theophilus means “lover of God.”  Since every authentic Christian is a lover of God, Luke could be addressing every Christian and not just one individual —every Christian in his own time, around 70 or 80 A.D., and by God’s grace, in all times since, including you and me.

Luke says he wants to make an orderly presentation of “the events that have been fulfilled among us” (1:1), viz., all the things that Jesus did and taught, based on “those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word,” i.e., based on all the evidence or testimony that he has been able to gather from the men and women who knew Jesus and were sent by him to spread his teachings.

Luke himself didn’t know Jesus.  He wasn’t an eyewitness himself, the way St. John was (cf. John 21:24-25).  According to tradition, he was a Greek from Antioch in northern Syria—in fact, now it’s in southern Turkey and is called Antakya.  He became a Christian when some of the earliest followers of Jesus came to Antioch to preach the Gospel.  We know that Luke became a travel companion of St. Paul, presumably hooking up with him at Antioch, which Paul used as his base.  Since Antioch was a very important city in the 1st century, Luke probably heard and saw many people with stories about Jesus, and some early writings about him probably were available too—St. Paul’s letters presumably, St. Mark’s gospel, and various collections of Jesus’ words and deeds, especially the stories of his passion, death, and resurrection. 

Furthermore, according to tradition again, Luke was a physician (Col 4:14):  a man of science, a man trained to evaluate evidence.  So we’d expect him to collect and pass along credible reports and not just any old thing he came across, the way so many people today do on the Web.  Luke intends to collect and synthesize the most reliable information there is about Jesus.  And we have to say he did a very good job of it, which you can see just by reading his gospel.

Why’s Luke doing this?  So that Theophilus (and we) may realize that the teachings he (and we) have received are certain; they’re reliable; they’re true; they’re life-giving; they’re the word of salvation.  They’re not just a bunch of rumors circulating on the Net or some National Inquirer gossip.  Luke is presenting historical events, facts, not mythology (with which pagan Greeks and Romans were quite familiar).  Luke the doctor, a man who relies upon evidence, has “investigated everything accurately anew” and is passing along what he finds credible about Jesus so that we might place our faith in him:  in his words, in his resurrection.

After the 4 verses of the prolog, our reading today leaps to the middle of ch. 4, to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  After his baptism by John, which we celebrated 2 weeks ago, and after his temptations by the devil, which we’ll recall on the 1st Sunday of Lent, Jesus returns to his home country, to Galilee:  “returns in the power of the Spirit,” Luke says (4:14).  That’s the Spirit who descended upon him when he was baptized—you remember the gospel 2 weeks ago—the Spirit who accompanied him into the desert for 40 days and nites and during his temptations, the Spirit who now guides his teaching “in their synagogs” (4:15), teaching that makes him famous and earns him praise (4:14-15).

Apparently he makes a circuit of some sort thru Galilee before he gets to his hometown of Nazareth, which was a little out of the way, off the beaten track.  It seems that he no longer made his home there, for Luke describes the town as “where he had grown up” (4:16), and we know from Matthew (4:13) and Mark (2:1) that he had settled in Capernaum, which was on the beaten track along the Sea of Galilee, and thus was a good place to practice the carpenter’s trade, if Jesus himself was a carpenter like his foster father, and a good place to meet a lot of people:  merchants, rabbis, soldiers, farmers coming to market, fishermen, and pilgrims on their way to or from Jerusalem.

Anyhow, he goes back to Nazareth, perhaps to visit his mother and his cousins, perhaps to preach there as he has elsewhere.  In the synagog on the Sabbath, “according to his custom” (4:16)—when you go faithfully to church every weekend, you’re imitating Jesus—he’s asked to do the Scripture reading and then to comment on it, to preach.  He chooses a passage from the prophet Isaiah and announces to the congregation, to the world, to us 20 centuries later, that he’s the one who fulfills that passage.  He’s the one anointed by “the Spirit of the Lord to bring glad tidings (‘gospel’ in old English) to the poor,” to liberate people, to heal people, to lead people “to the Lord” (4:18-19,21).
In the rest of his gospel Luke is going to describe just how Jesus does all that in his deeds and his words.

Luke doesn’t do that only so that we might know about Jesus.  We can go to Barnes and Noble or Amazon and get big, fat books that will tell us about all manner of historical persons—statesmen and writers, artists and movie stars, explorers and feminists, saints and criminals.  Such biographies, or narrative histories about the great events of human history (wars and discoveries, the Renaissance and industrialization, the spread of the Gospel) may inspire us or teach us, or at least satisfy our curiosity.

But Luke aims at something else:  “so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”  What does it mean to “receive” a teaching, in this case the teachings of the apostles about Jesus?  It means to take them to heart, to put our faith in them, to own them and make them part of ourselves, to live by them—so that we might be among those who find in them “glad tidings,” so that we might be given sight by Jesus, be filled with that same Holy Spirit who filled Jesus, and be set free (from sin and from eternal death) by Jesus’ life and teachings.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Homily for 2d Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
2d Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jan. 20, 2013
John 2: 1-11
Ursulines, Willow Drive, N.R.

“Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory” (John 2: 11).
Stained glass: OL of the Valley, Orange, N.J.
We’ve heard countless times this beautiful story of Jesus’ 1st miracle.  No doubt we’ve also heard many interpretations of it.  What realities lie beneath this “first of his signs”?

The 1st reality is that Jesus uses his power to benefit others.  The apocryphal gospels have a number of stories about Jesus using his power for display or for his own interest.  In the authentic gospels of Matthew (4:1-10) and Luke (4:1-12), display and self-interest are 2 of the temptations the devil throws at him in the desert.  But the Son of Man came to serve others, not to be served (Mark 10:45).  He came to save others, not to save himself (cf. Matt 27:42).  So while there seems to be some hesitance on his part in this story—“my hour has not yet come” (2:4), for when his hour does come in its completeness, he “will draw all people to [himself]” (John 12:32)—still, the sign that he performs is for the immediate benefit of 2 families and their guests, even if the groom’s family was guilty of poor planning (some have suggested that Jesus himself had brought along some uninvited, unplanned-for guests—a bunch of thirsty fishermen—who were the causes of the wine’s having run out; but John says, “Jesus and his disciples also had been invited” [2:2]).

The 2d reality behind the outward sign of the water turned into wine is the superabundance of grace, God’s free gift.  It’s self-evident that the miraculous abundance of wine was a freely given gift, as is God’s grace.  Each of the 6 stone water jars held “2 or 3 measures,” John reports (2:6).  A “measure” was about 40 liters or 10 gallons; thus the “20 to 30 gallons” of our translation.  (God knows how the servants were able to move those jars after they were filled.  Backpackers know that a gallon of water weighs about 7 lbs.)  The superabundance isn’t about only the quantity, as John makes clear (2:10), but also about the quality—of the wine, of our eternal life.

We don’t know how far along this multi-day wedding had gone, nor how far it had yet to run, but God provides an abundance of the best wine to keep it going happily and to save the groom’s family from public humiliation.  There you have, obviously, a “type,” an analogy, of what God’s abundant grace does for us—not in terms of our civil lives, our social lives, but for our moral standing, our relationship with him, and our standing on Judgment Day.  On that day we hope not to be placed among the goats at the Judge’s left hand, humiliated before the whole community of mankind, but to be glorified among the sheep at his right hand—redeemed by superabundant grace.

The 3d reality is just that:  redemption.  You all know that wine, feasting, and weddings are biblical signs of God’s relationship with his people, of salvation, of eternal life.  We had an example in the 1st reading (Is 62:1-5).  This 1st of Jesus’ signs inaugurates Jesus’ “hour,” the working out of our redemption by which the broken relationship between us and our Creator is repaired.  Redemption brings us home to our Father’s house, like hostages successfully rescued—Peter preaches in Acts that “Jesus cured all who had fallen into the power of the devil” (10:38)—and the Father will throw a feast for his restored children, like the father in the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32).

The 4th reality is sacramental.  “Jesus’ signs” begin with water and wine, which we naturally associate with the sacraments, and so they also end:  “One soldier thrust his a lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (John 19:34), eternal life pouring from the cross in those signs of the Eucharist and of Baptism:  the means of our incorporation into Christ’s body, into God’s family—an incorporation that will be celebrated in its fullness when the “bridegroom rejoices in his bride” (Is 62:5) at “the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

How the World Has Changed!

How the World Has Changed!

This Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of an event that changed America, for the much worse.  Read Deacon Greg Kandra's homily on that topic:

Holiness in the Salesian Family

on Holiness in the Salesian Family

By Fr. Maria Arokiam Kanaga
General Councilor for the South Asia Region
At the end of December, the Salesian postulator general, Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni, gave the SDB general council an update regarding the latest situation of the saints, blesseds, venerables, and servants of God in our Family. We have 165 persons in the Salesian Family recognized at various levels for their holiness.

Saints - 9

There are 9 saints, among whom we have three SDBs (two of whom are martyrs), one FMA, one pupil, and four friends of Don Bosco. In the chronological order of their canonization they are:

• John Bosco, priest (April 1, 1934)
• Joseph Cafasso, priest (June 22, 1947

• Mary Mazzarello, virgin (June 24, 1951)
• Dominic Savio, adolescent (June 12, 1954)
• Leonard Murialdo, priest (May 3, 1970)
• Louis Versiglia, bishop, martyr (October 1, 2000)
• Callistus Caravario, priest, martyr (October 1, 2000)
• Louis Orione, priest (May 16, 2004)
• Louis Guanella, priest (October 23, 2011)
A canonized saint clips a candidate for canonization
Bp. Versiglia with the clippers, Fr. Charles Braga in the chair

Beatified - 116
Laura Vicuna (r) with Mother Mazzarello
There are 116 blesseds in our Family. Among these we find 5 SDB priests, one brother, 4 FMAs, 2 pupils, one Pope, and two Cooperators. There are 101 martyrs who are SDBs, FMAs, or laypersons both adult and young. In the chronological order of their beatification, they are: 

• Michael Rua, priest (October 29, 1972)
• Laura Vicuna, adolescent (September 3, 1988)
• Philip Rinaldi, priest (April 29, 1990)
• Madeleine Morano, virgin (November 5, 1994)
• Joseph Kowalski, priest, martyr (June 13, 1999)
• Francis Kesy, layman, and 4 companion-martyrs (June 13, 1999)
• Pius IX, pope (September 3, 2000)
• Joseph Calasanz, priest, and 31 companion martyrs (March 11, 2001)
• Louis Variara, priest (April 14, 2002)
• Artemides Zatti, religious (April 14, 2002)
• Maria Romero Meneses, virgin (April 14, 2002)
• August Czartoryski, priest (April 25, 2004)
• Eusebia Palomino, virgin (April 25, 2004)
• Alexandrina M. da Costa, laywoman (April 25, 2004)
• Albert Marvelli, layman (September 5, 2004)
• Bronislaus Markiewicz, priest (June 19, 2005)
• Henry Saiz Aparicio, priest, and 62 companion-martyrs (October 28, 2007)
• Ceferino Namuncurà, adolescent (November 11, 2007)
• Maria Troncatti, virgin (November 24, 2012)

Venerables - 10
Ven. Andrew Beltrami
We have 10 people who have been declared venerable. This means that the work of proving the heroic degree of their holiness is over and the decree super virtutibus has been issued. We need only a miracle to proceed to their beatification. Most of them seem to be in no hurry, naturally, for working a miracle! It does not really matter to them. But to us, yes! Four of these are priests, one brother, two sisters, one bishop, and two lay people. In the chronological order of the decree on their exceptional virtues: 

• Andrew Beltrami, priest, December 5, 1966.
• Teresa Valsè Pantellini, virgin, July 12, 1982.
• Dorothy Chopitea, laywoman, June 9, 1983.
• Vincent Cimatti, priest, December 21, 1991.
• Simon Srugi, religious, April 2, 1993.
• Rudolf Komorek, priest, April 6, 1995.
• Louis Olivares, bishop, December 20, 2004.
• Margaret Occhiena, laywoman, October 23, 2006.
• Joseph Quadrio, priest, December 19, 2009.
• Laura Meozzi, virgin, June 27, 2011.

Servants of God – 30

On 8 of these, the so called positio (Positio super vita, virtutibus et fama sanctitatis or super martyrio) has been submitted. That is, the bulk of the paperwork is over. The positio is a scientifically studied report of the life and the virtues of the servant of God, done under the guidance of the postulators of the cause and of officials from the Vatican Congregation for the Saints. Various committees in the Congregation for the Saints, made up of historians, theologians, and cardinals, are studying them.

Here is a list of those for whom the positio has been submitted, with the dates.

• Stephen Sandor, Salesian brother, martyr (Hungary), April 27, 2011. Just on Jan. 15 we heard that the cause has been accepted by the committees. God willing, we will soon have another Salesian brother beatified as a martyr.
• Attilio Giordani, layman (Italy), May 8, 2001. Study by theologians on February 5, 2013.
• August Hlond, cardinal (Poland), October 22, 2008.
• Francis Convertini, priest (India),March 11, 2009.
• Elijah Comini, priest (Italy), May 28, 2009.
• Joseph August Arribat, priest (France), October 20, 2010.
• Stephen Ferrando, bishop (India), December 5, 2012.
• Octavian Ortiz, bishop (Peru), positio will be submitted in February 2013.
Alexandrina da Costa, Cooperator and mystic

Fr. Henry Saiz, Spanish martyr of 1936

For the following, the diocesan inquest has been concluded (dates given) and the preparation of the Positio is going on.

• Ignatius Stuchly, priest (Czech Republic). November 29, 2002.
• Joseph Vandor, priest (Cuba).
March 11, 2011.
• Anthony Lustosa de Almeida, bishop (Brazil). May 2, 2003.
• Charles Crespi Croci, priest (Ecuador). February 15, 2010.

For the following, the diocesan inquest has been concluded (dates provided.

• Constantine Vendrame, priest (India). February 19, 2011. This January the decree for the validity of the diocesan inquest will be issued.
• John Swierc, priest, and 7 companion-martyrs (Poland). May 24, 2011.
• Francis Miska, priest, martyr.
May 24, 2011.
• Titus Zeman, priest, martyr (Slovakia). December 7, 2012

For these below, the diocesan inquest is going on at present (date of opening the inquest).

• Matilda Salem, laywoman (Syria). October 20, 1995.
• Orestes Marengo, bishop (India) April 12, 2007. It is due to close on February 16, 2013.
• Andrew Majcen, priest (Slovenia), September 24, 2010.
• Anna Maria Lozano, virgin (Colombia), June 7, 2011.
• Carlo Della Torre, priest (Thailand), June 12, 2012.

For the following, the “supplex libellus” (humble petition) for introducing the Cause has been presented (dates given):

• Charles Braga, priest (Philippines), February 9, 2011.
• Antonino Baglieri, layman (Italy), March 3, 2012.

Developments in 2012

• The cause of Antonino Baglieri, CDB, has been introduced.
• Sr. Maria Troncati, FMA (Italy and Ecuador) - her miracle was recognized and she was beatified.
• The diocesan inquest has begun for Fr. Carlo della Torre (Italy and Thailand). He is the founder of the Daughters of the Queenship of Mary Immaculate.
• Bro. Stephen Sandor’s cause for martyrdom has been recognized.
• Fr. Joseph Quadrio’s body has been shifted to Crocetta-Turin.
• The founder of the MSMHC, Bishop Ferrando’s, Positio has been submitted.
• Fr. Titus Zeman’s diocesan inquest is concluded in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Significant Anniversaries in 2013

• 125th of the death of Don Bosco, January 31
• 100th of the birth of Attilio Giordani, February 3
• 75th of the beatification of St. Mary Mazzarello, November 20
• 50th of the death of Fr. August Arribat, March 19
• 50th of the death of Fr. Joseph Quadrio, October 23
• 25th of the beatification of Laura Vicuna, September 3

Some Reflections
• We need to value this precious patrimony of holiness, and not reduce it to a liturgical memory. The saints are real incarnations of the Gospel in various contexts and times. These holy and extraordinary people can be highly educational, inspiring to the young of today and people in general, and hence should be made known.
• The same holiness of God is incarnated in people from various walks of life. We have popes, bishops, priests, sisters, brothers, boys, girls, youths, martyrs, confessors, mystics, missionaries, Cooperators, lay people consecrated or married, seminary professors, princes, slaves, superiors, ordinary religious, brothers, hailing from good or broken families. They work in all sorts of ministries, from leper colonies to frontier missions, from high offices of authority to humble household jobs.
• It is good to pray to the blesseds and venerables. They need a miracle, and our fervent prayers can tempt them to intercede for us and obtain a miracle!
• Working for a cause of beatification is not merely an academically arduous work. It is the recognition of the glory of God among our own brothers and sisters. They become our models and intercessors. Hence it is a labor of love for them, for ourselves, and for the future generations.
• Every saint reminds us of the “Gospel of Joy” and the “Pedagogy of Goodness” that the Rector Major speaks of in this year’s strenna. “Beatification” and “blessed” are words that indicate that these saints have achieved the height of “happiness or joy or bliss,” because they already lived on this earth the joy that comes from the Good News! Saints were blissful people because they knew that God loved them. This strong realization made them good, and enthusiastic in passing on this goodness to others. That is why, to bear witness to the Gospel of Joy and practice the Pedagogy of Goodness, we need to be saints.
There is no other way!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Haitian Provincial Visits New Rochelle

Haitian Provincial Visits New Rochelle

Fr. Ducange Sylvain, superior of the Salesian province of Haiti (2d from left in photo above), is in New Rochelle Jan. 17-18 for meetings at Salesian Missions. He has expressed the gratitude of his province to Salesian Missions for all the aid that the New Rochelle mission office has sent and has coordinated since the earthquake three years ago (Jan. 12, 2010), noting that Salesian Missions of New Rochelle was the first organization to render assistance, at the request of the Rector Major. With Salesian Missions staff, he explored how the Haiti Province and the New Rochelle office could foster yet closer collaboration, and how Salesian Missions can continue to help the Salesian Family in Haiti.

Classes were resumed in tents at most Salesian sites just 3 months after the disaster.  In the 3 years since the earthquake, the Salesians have rebuilt most of their damaged buildings.  We are now caring for some 20,000 children and youths in schools (K-12, trade schools, a school of nursing), youth centers, and food pantries, in addition to aid given to many families, especially in the Cite Soleil slum of the capital city, Port-au-Prince.

In 2010 Fr. Ducange and Fr. Pascual Chavez, Rector Major, pray over the ruins of the National School of Arts & Trades (ENAM), where some 200 pupils perished.

Dedication of the rebuilt ENAM on Dec. 21, 2012

Top photo by your humble blogger. Bottom photos: ANS.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Homily for Baptism of the Lord

Homily for the Feast of the
Baptism of the Lord
Jan. 13, 2013
Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“The Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3: 22).

Luke’s description of Jesus’ baptism is sparse in the extreme (like Mark’s).  Luke tells us a little more about what followed—about as much as Mark and Matthew do.

In some manner, the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus.  In the telling of all the Synoptics, it was visible, “like a dove”; Luke adds, “in bodily form.”  But visible to whom?  To Jesus, presumably; also to John? to the bystanders who also had been baptized?  That’s less clear.  Yet in the Church’s tradition, this feast of the Lord’s baptism is a continuation of his manifestation, his epiphany.  Last week he was made known to the nations, today to Israel.

What is the revelation made known to Jesus and, ultimately, to us?

1st, Jesus is consecrated.  It’s true that Luke has already revealed that in the narrative about Jesus’ conception, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary.  Given that, this descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus is a kind of confirmation of his relationship with his Father and of his submission to whatever his Father wants—that submission having been symbolized by his baptism and by Jesus’ recourse to prayer (3:21).  The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus is an anointing, as Luke says twice in Acts as he records samples of the preaching of the apostles (4:27; 10:38)—an anointing not with oil but with what sacramental oil symbolizes, whether in the OT anointing of kings and priests or in the NT rites of Baptism, Confirmation, and Orders.

2d, Jesus is the Father’s “beloved Son” and the Father is “well pleased” with him.  Again, this confirms what we were told thru Gabriel’s words to Mary, this Jesus is the “Son of the Most High” (1:32).  Now is added how pleasing this Son is to his Father—thru his rejection of sin, as indicated by his baptism, and by his prayerful dialog with the Father.

Luke is also telling us something more.  The words of the “voice from heaven,” the Father’s words, echo a passage from Isaiah: “Here is my servant…with whom I am pleased” (42:1).  This Son is identified with the Servant of the Lord of whom Isaiah prophesies.  We’ve already seen Jesus as a servant of the Lord:  “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house” (or “about my Father’s affairs”)? (Luke 2:49), and we’ll see him as servant as he actually goes about doing what the Father desires in his ministry and in his passion—and continuing his prayerful relationship with his Father, a theme to which Luke returns some 7 times.[1]

In the sequel to Jesus’ baptism, he’ll begin to act on the Father’s will, to live out what his baptism represents.  The 1st thing Luke will tell us of Jesus’ post-baptismal activity is:  “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days, to be tempted by the devil” (4:1-2).

In the Spirit Jesus does 2 things.  1st, he deepens his communion with his Father.  Luke doesn’t say that, but it’s implied by his 40-day sojourn in the desert, like Moses’ 40 days on Mt. Sinai and Elijah’s 40-day hike “to the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:8).  2d, he does battle with the Evil One, actually rejecting sin that he’d symbolically renounced in his baptism.

After his 40 days and spiritual combat in the desert, Luke tells us, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit….  He taught in their synagogs and was praised by all” (4:14-15).  And, specifically, he went to Nazareth and in his home synagog announced his mission, quoting from Isaiah (61:1-2):  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18).

Thus we see that the Spirit who came “in power” upon Jesus after his baptism leads him to a deeper communion with his Father, leads him to victory over sin, and leads him to a multifaceted mission of preaching and healing.

What else does Luke say to us?  He quotes John:  “One mightier than I is coming.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (3:16).  The baptism that we have received, you and I, isn’t John’s baptism but Jesus’.  We have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  That Holy Spirit, 1st, has made us too the beloved sons and daughters of the Father, well pleasing to him; and 2d, is supposed to set us on fire to do as Jesus did:  to establish a firm and fervent relationship with our Father, to empower us to resist sin and live for our Father, and to empower us for mission, for making God’s Spirit present to our neighbors—by announcing to them glad tidings at least in how we treat them, by being agents of healing for them (in our presence, our words, our actions).  St. Paul urges us “to live temperately, justly, and devoutly” (Tit 2: 12), as examples of what that means.  All of this—closeness to our Father, resistance to sin, being agents of God’s Spirit in the world—that’s how we can be, as our prayer this evening pleaded, “always well pleasing” to the “almighty, ever-living God” who made us his “children by adoption, reborn of water and the Holy Spirit.”

During his public ministry, according to Luke, Jesus will exclaim, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (12:49).  The earth will blaze, humanity will be set on fire, when we children of God in Jesus Christ act in the power of the Holy Spirit like Jesus—not with miracles but with prayer, with virtue, with goodness to all.

[1] See note to 3:21 in New American Bible.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bro. Dave Verrett

Bro. Xavier “Dave” Verrett, SDB

Bro. Xavier Verrett, SDB, universally called “Bro. Dave,” died at 11:15 p.m. on Jan. 3 at the Rehabilitation and Health Care Center of Tampa. He was 88 years old and had been a Salesian brother for 63 years.

He had lived in the Salesian retirement community, St. Philip the Apostle Residence in Tampa, since 2011. Death seems to have come from a combination of old age, a stroke in November, and dementia that he suffered for several years.

Bro. Dave was a native of Louisiana and spent most of his life in the Salesian works in the New Orleans suburb of Marrero. “He was very proud of being a ‘native’ Cajun,” writes Fr. Steve Shafran, a former principal of Archbishop Shaw High School in Marrero.

Early Life

Xavier and a twin brother, Francis, were born to Erclede and Rosa Broussard Verrett on Nov. 22, 1924, in New Iberia, La. Bro. Dave doesn’t seem to have known his father; he described his mother as a housewife. Brother told Fr. Dennis Donovan, director in Tampa, that his parents were struck by a car and killed when he was seven years old, but that cannot be confirmed.

Not long after birth he and Francis were brought to St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum in New Orleans, where they was baptized on Dec. 26, 1924. Francis died young, but we haven’t learned exactly when. Brother also indicated to Fr. Donovan that after his parents’ deaths he was put into an orphanage where he was miserable; again, that cannot be confirmed.

(The archives of the Archdiocese of New Orleans confirm the date and place of Baptism and his parents’ names. But nothing else can be learned, at least in part because of storm damage to some of the archival records.)

At a date unknown, Dave was placed in the archdiocese’s Hope Haven Orphanage in Marrero, run by the Salesians. One confrere recollects that this happened shortly after the Salesians assumed direction of the orphanage in the summer of 1933. Dave was confirmed in the local parish church, Immaculate Conception, on June 6, 1940.

According to his Don Bosco Seminary (Newton) registration card, Dave entered the aspirants’ program there on Sept. 21, 1945, intending to become a Salesian coadjutor brother. The card lists the Rev. C.J. Moskal as his guardian; Dave was two months short of legal adulthood (21) at the time. Fr. Celestine Moskal was director of Hope Haven.

Young Brother

In September 1948 Dave entered the novitiate, and he made his first profession of vows as a coadjutor brother, “Bro. Dave,” in Newton on Sept. 8, 1949. He made his perpetual profession on June 6, 1955, in New Rochelle.

As was common at the time, Bro. Dave was sent immediately to the active apostolate in a house of formation—in his case, to Don Bosco Tech in Paterson, which was simultaneously a technical/trades school, an aspirantate for young men seeking to become coadjutor brothers, and a training school where young brothers mastered their crafts. Bro. Dave learned cabinetmaking in Paterson from a master teacher, Bro. John Cauda.

Bro. Dave went on to teach cabinetmaking for his first 18 years as a brother (1949-1967): in Paterson (1949-1953, 1961-1967), at Mary Help of Christians School in Tampa (1953-1960), and at Hope Haven (1960-1961).

In 1967 he returned to Marrero, this time to the Salesians’ new apostolic ministry, Archbishop Shaw HS, where he served until 2009, running the bookstore and performing numerous chores around campus. His skills went beyond cabinetry; he could fix radiators, refrigerators, and many other things in the school and the Salesian residence. He believed that cleanliness was next to godliness and insisted on it in both the house and the school. He also believed that everyone should work hard, as he did.

Bro. Dave’s novitiate classmate Fr. Ed Liptak calls him a “very fine, ever busy and straightforwardly humble man!” That does not begin to tell the tale. Any Salesian who served at Shaw has lively recollections of Bro. Dave.

“Hardest-Working Person I Ever Knew”

According to Fr. Tom Ruekert, a former campus minister at Shaw and pastor of St. Rosalie Church in Harvey, “If he saw that a new teacher, coach, or Salesian was a hard worker, immediately he befriended that person. If he perceived that person was lazy, then he would let the person know in no uncertain terms.” Similarly, he expected people to be as straightforward and unpretentious as he was; and if you weren’t, you heard about that too!

Salesian Cooperator and Shaw guidance counselor Cheryl Welch maintains that he “was the hardest-working person I ever knew. He outmoved, outlifted, outworked, and outmaneuvered the youngsters around him, and I am not talking just about the students. In most cases he was the hardest working Salesian on campus.”

Bro. Dave gave particular attention to three areas of Shaw’s large campus: the bookstore, the gym, and the swimming pool. Fr. Ruekert describes his role in each area:

“He managed the bookstore for some 40 years. He prepared paper bags with all the gym clothes; he ordered jackets, sweatshirts, and other supplies; he put all the textbooks in order from all the many shipments that came in. When the new bookstore was built, he was ecstatic. He finally had a decent workplace, where he spent many hours of his life in service.

“The gym was his ‘baby.’ He took care of it meticulously. He coordinated the set-up of the gym for school Masses, entertainments, graduation, basketball games, after-school leagues, school dances, etc. To protect the floor, he would spread plastic sheeting over the floor before the folding chairs were set out. Everything had to be just right.

“Bro. Dave did the day-to-day maintenance of the pool. He made sure it was vacuumed, the chlorine was correct, and the leaves were screened out. He loved to be in the sun.”

Love for Shaw and for Everyone

Fr. Ruekert says, “Most of Bro. Dave’s Salesian life and ministry was spent in total dedication to the youth at Archbishop Shaw High School. He loved the kids and the work at Shaw. His heart was always there, even when he would go elsewhere for a few summer assignments or when he traveled to Europe.”

Not only Salesians noticed that dedicated love. John Corb, Alicea Alexander, and Earnie Chiasson—respectively the school’s financial officer, financial secretary, and retired dean of discipline—write: “In his own special way, we all knew that Bro. Dave loved his Shaw family. We saw the evidence of that love by the way he worked so hard without complaint to make sure that every school function was carried out perfectly and by the many individual acts of kindness he performed without praise or recognition. Bro. Dave faithfully remembered us and our loved ones in his daily prayers and without question would help those in need.”

That idea of family was very important to Bro. Dave. One would suspect it was because he had never known family life until he joined the Salesian Family. From then on, he did all he could to make sure that every person he met—teacher, administrator, student, parishioner, someone sick, local merchant—knew that that person was important and loved. An oft-repeated refrain of his, usually directed to a student, was “Tell your momma you love her.” As Fr. Shafran observed, “Bro. Dave always felt himself one of Don Bosco’s boys. His early life played out like one of the poor and abandoned that our founder spent himself tirelessly for.” Fr. Ruekert completed the thought: “So many students and alumni truly saw beyond his rough exterior and deeply appreciated his genuine Salesian love for them.”

Bro. Dave seemed to know everyone on the West Bank. Consequently, some of Ms. Welch’s memories of Bro. Dave include taking him out when he could no longer drive. Their errands ranged far and wide. “It would frequently be to the places where he thought he’d misplaced his eyeglasses,” she recalls. “So it wasn’t unusual to go looking for them after school. We would go to Home Depot or Winn Dixie or Ullo’s—wherever he may have been that day and, yes, we would find them, but it was always an adventure to take driving instructions and direction from him. But everywhere we went, people were more than kind and helpful to stop what they were doing and take a look for him,” just as so often he went out of his way to help others.

Bro. Dave identified with working-class folks, which enabled him to be especially close to people like Shaw’s longtime maintenance men Charlie Celestine and Ralph Rutledge and Lois Dumas, the Salesian community’s cook. Likewise, he had a special sympathy for the students in the work-study program, who paid part of their tuition by doing chores around campus after school.

He endeared himself to countless students in his 42 years at Shaw through his personal attention to them, by attending almost every athletic event, by marching with the band in Mardi Gras parades, etc. He collected ticket money for Shaw’s football games and ran the time clock for basketball games. He sat alongside the baseball field on a chaise lounge to watch the games. He also coached golf for some years. So loyal to his Shaw boys and so intense was he as a spectator at sporting events that Shaw alumnus Shawn Heiden describes him as “an official’s worst nightmare.”

“Crusty and Feisty”

A first encounter with Bro. Dave could fool both adults and kids, says Fr. Ruekert. He “could be perceived as crusty, feisty, and demanding. But it was all an act. He let kids know that he would not take any guff or disrespect from them. When he would sub for a classroom teacher, there was no nonsense in the room. But he followed them up, not only through their four years at Shaw, but he also joined in all the alumni gatherings and reunions. He attended their weddings and funerals. He attended all their sporting events.”

He became a priceless liaison between current school administrations and numerous Shaw alumni (as well as those of the Salesians’ years at Hope Haven). Earnie Chiasson states, “Many alumni will recall how Bro. Dave guided and directed them during study hall to make sure they stayed awake.”

Ms. Welch adds: “In my 18 years at Archbishop Shaw High School, he is the person that I am asked about the most: ‘How’s Bro. Dave? Where’s Bro. Dave? Tell Bro. Dave I said hello.’ And then I would hear the visitor’s favorite Bro. Dave story—all expressed in love and sincere fondness. He was truly, truly loved by the people of the West Bank.”

Ms. Welch also saw Brother’s tough exterior and soft interior: “He ran a tight ship when it came to uniform pick-up; that was when incoming parents and students had their first encounter with Bro. Dave. He understood when a family was in need and did not hesitate to make arrangements with them to get what they needed. If a young student did not seem appreciative of what his parents were trying to do for him, Bro. Dave quickly corrected that young man’s attitude—making another friend for life.”

For many years Bro. Dave kept a coin collection that he was very proud of. He loved to share what he’d learned about the coins. That really impressed principal Fr. Shafran, among others: “My greatest image of Bro. Dave was when I would search high and low for a special coin to add to his collection for his birthday and asked him to display the collection along with a history lessons for some classes. He would beam, his eyes wide, and his smile broad, reflecting that child-like heart. ‘Thank you,’ he would say—that spoke volumes, for he felt honored and respected—precious like those coins, yet with much greater value.”

When Bro. Dave moved to Tampa, he left his coin collection in Marrero. Fr. Lou Molinelli director of the Marrero community, learned that it was worth more than $100,000 and used it to establish a scholarship fund in Bro. Dave’s memory. No doubt that would have pleased Bro. Dave very much.

On the occasion of his 50th anniversary of religious profession in 1999, one of the original Archbishop Shaw HS buildings was named Verrett Hall in his honor—the one where the old bookstore had been, of course.

Faithful Salesian

“Bro. Dave loved community life,” says Fr. Ruekert. “He was faithful to community prayers, Mass, meetings, etc. He always did more than his fair share of serving the community. If something was broken, he would find a way to fix it. He insisted that confreres not leave dirty dishes for the cook to clean up. In his feisty way he would correct confreres who would leave their mess in the kitchen, dining room, or community room. He himself would always pitch in to do dishes.”

Former Shaw principal Fr. Mike Conway remembers Bro. Dave’s penchant for decorating: “One of Dave’s ultimate joys in life seemed to be decorating for special occasions such as birthdays and feast days. His favorite time was always Christmas. Year in and year out, he always had a special place for particular Christmas items and decorations, and God forbid you try to change it! He always reveled in the beauty of his creations and would welcome people into the residence to share in the joy of the decorations. For me this desire of Dave’s was the reflection of the heart of a simple soul who simply wanted to bring joy to people.”

Fr. Ruekert seconds Fr. Conway: “He did decorating with a passion, and no one else was allowed to do it. For someone who was used to hard, rough work, putting up decorations might seem somewhat out of character, an oddity. In fact, he would often say, ‘Decorations need to be delicate.’ Now, very few people would have associated ‘delicacy’ with Bro. Dave. Yet he had a big heart and a soft side. Once you befriended Bro. Dave, you felt loved and accepted by a very warm person—however crusty and feisty he was on the outside or by appearances.”

Some of Ms. Welch driving errands with Brother included trips for decorations: “A favorite memory I have was taking Bro. Dave on a balloon run. Whenever there was a guest at the residence, a birthday to be celebrated, or a feast day, Bro. Dave felt it necessary to decorate with balloons. So off to Szabo’s Party Supply we would go. He ordered extra in anticipation of one or two popping on the way home, which they usually did, but he insisted on decorating with the balloons. Again, the people were more than helpful; and they would stop everything to assist Brother. It brought him great joy to be in charge of decorating, and he took this very seriously.”

Several confreres such as Fr. Ruekert note how “whenever Salesians visited Shaw, he was always available to take them touring in the local area and into New Orleans, the French Quarter, etc. He was the ever-available host and tour guide for New Orleans.”

The simple lay brother could also offer sound advice to those whom he respected. Fr. Shafran testifies: “When I was asked to become principal at Shaw, I took Bro. Dave out for a po-boy sandwich, wanting to get the scoop on the history and how I should go about the job. He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘You got a lot to learn, kid. I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go. Watch, listen, and learn. This is the South. Don’t come around thinking that you know it all.’ I had a good laugh, but he was serious, and he was right. I had a lot to learn, and Bro. Dave Verrett demonstrated great dedication, hard work, and the importance of ‘presence’ in our life and educational approach.”

Spiritual Man

Bro. Dave cared about a lot more than hard work, Shaw’s activities, and the boys. He was “faithful and focused” at prayer, says Fr. Shafran. “Bro. Dave loved Don Bosco and saw in him and his mother, Mary Help of Christians, true parental figures. Bro. Dave’s hard edge and life lessons were poured into a Salesian life marked by simplicity, humility, and hard work—lots of hard work”—three traits of Salesian spirituality.

Cheryl Welch saw in Bro. Dave the personification of another part of Don Bosco’s spirituality. “When I think of Bro. Dave, I think of what Don Bosco told us: ‘I promise you bread, work, and paradise.’ He worked effortlessly and tirelessly for all the boys of the West Bank and their families. He moved chairs endlessly, he wrapped packages meticulously, and he was always the first one up in the morning and the last one to lock up the place.

“As for bread, Bro. Dave had a running joke that he was trying to lose another 30 pounds! He did not hesitate to comment on somebody’s diet or lack thereof—but it was in good nature. He shared his fruit and reminded us all of what he like to eat and not eat.

Paradise—he longed for the Lord. Believing in the teaching of St. John Bosco, he modeled himself on him and lived his life for the young. He was tough, but it was always out of love and to help people realize their full potential.”

Doing It the Right Way

Bro. Dave was completely down-to-earth.  Everyone knew that he loved a good beer, loved to work on his tan either at a beach or on the roof of the school, loved visiting good friends. Fr. Shafran adds that he accompanied his friends—and they were many—in good times and bad.

Ms. Welch enjoyed teasing Bro. Dave, who would tease right back: “A familiar phrase that Bro. Dave used to say to me was, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ Then he would grab my hand and let out a big laugh.” She adds, “It is amazing to me that somebody can be so well loved and remembered and just respected for his true sense of self. Bro. Dave never put on airs.”

Numerous, too, are the testimonies that “Bro. Dave wanted to do things his way, and that was because he found it to be successful, so he didn’t want to change. He got it done, and more times than not it was done with precision.” Thus Fr. Shafran.

As financial administrator, John Corb was nominally Bro. Dave’s immediate supervisor. He, Alicea Alexander, and Earnie Chiasson must have been chuckling as they wrote: “Who can forget how he taught us to do things the correct way, which, of course, was his way and the only way. And we all remember how he reluctantly expressed his opinions on different issues until he convinced you that you were wrong and he was right.”

Doing things Bro. Dave’s way was the right way—it was never more obvious than when Pope John Paul II visited New Orleans in 1987. Fr. Pat Angelucci, who was Shaw’s director at the time, describes the aftermath of the papal appearance at the Superdome: “Brother Dave will always be remembered for the way he led the Shaw kids in dismantling the Superdome in 20 minutes! EVERYONE said it couldn't be done in the two hours before the big game to follow. The archdiocese was prepared to pay extra money to the Dome. The crew at the Dome gave this long explanation as to what was to be done. In the end Earnie [Chiasson] told the kids to do what Bro. Dave told them; everyone watched in amazement as we took down and put  away over 10,000 chairs in 20 minutes! All the work of Bro. Dave!”

When John Paul met with religious in St. Louis Cathedral during that visit, Bro. Dave had a spot in the front pew and was proud to have been able to shake the Pope's hand.

Community Servant

Bro. Dave’s service to the community included not only the Salesians and Archbishop Shaw HS but also the wider community. He would quietly visit the sick in their homes and in West Jefferson Medical Center, and the elderly at the Wynhoven senior residence.

Bro. Dave was an honorary life member of the Knights of Columbus, St. Thomas More Council 7226, at Our Lady of the Visitation Parish in Marrero. He took his First Degree in 1979 and advanced to the Fourth Degree in 1985, and he is described as a hard-working member—selling candy, helping with carnivals, etc.

Failing health led to Bro. Dave’s unofficial retirement in 2009, but he remained at Shaw for two more years.

Alumnus Shawn Heiden summarized Bro. Dave’s life and apostolate: “Bro. Dave spent the majority of his life at Archbishop Shaw High School serving in many capacities—golf coach, teacher, bookstore manager, and maintenance assistant. His unique spirit will always be symbolic of the life of dedication he led. He truly exemplified Don Bosco’s spirit of helping those less fortunate. He had a genuine love of Archbishop Shaw, and he knew that his call to serve God meant being a true team player willing to do anything and everything asked of him. He was a true servant, and he will be sorely missed by the entire Archbishop Shaw community.”

Mr. Corb, Mrs. Alexander, and Mr. Chiasson offer this joint tribute: “Whenever the alumni or other members of the Shaw family meet, Bro. Dave’s name will be spoken with the deepest love, respect, and fond remembrance. We thank God that we have been a part of his life, for we know that we are better men and women because of it.”
Bro. Dave amid summer campers in Tampa, 2011 (Fr. Dennis Donovan)

Last Rites

Bro. Dave’s funeral rites were celebrated at Mary Help of Christians Church in Tampa on Jan. 7 and at the Marian Shrine Chapel in Haverstraw on Jan. 9. Fr. Steve Ryan director of the Salesian community in Tampa presided and preached there. At Haverstraw Fr. Tom Dunne provincial, presided and Fr. Jim McKenna, a former director of Archbishop Shaw HS, preached.

Bro. Dave was buried in the Salesian Cemetery in Goshen on Jan. 10.

A memorial Mass is planned at Archbishop Shaw HS for Jan. 18.

Black and white photos: Archbishop Shaw HS yearbooks 1999 and 2002

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Homily for the Vigil of the Epiphany

Homily for the Vigil
of the Epiphany
Jan. 6, 2013
Is 60: 1-6
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R. 

“O Lord, may the splendor of your majesty, we pray, shed its light upon our hearts, that we may pass through the shadows of this world and reach the brightness of our eternal home” (Collect).
Stolen from The Deacon's Bench. Original source unknown.

More than the Mass texts of Epiphany Day, those of the vigil Mass emphasize light and darkness, continuing an obvious Christmas theme that’s more than appropriate, given the role of a star in today’s story, not to mention the darkness dominating the heart of King Herod.  You all know the sequel to tonite’s gospel.

The readings are the same for both Masses, the vigil Mass and the day Mass.  The light of the Lord’s presence is the powerful theme of the 1st reading (Is 60:1-6):  “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.  Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance” (60:1,3).  Today’s feast announces that this light for the nations, for their rulers and for all humanity, has dawned in the infant born at Bethlehem.

A commentary on the Collect of the Vigil Mass brings this out:  “The ‘splendor’ of God’s majesty is Christ, and the ‘light’ of Christ is the gift of faith by which we walk.”[1]

Quite realistically, the commentary also brings out that neither Christ nor our faith in him removes the darkness that surrounds us:  “‘shed its light’ renders the Latin verb illustret, which means to illuminate or radiate.  The light of faith, revealed on this day, does not eradicate the ‘shadows of this world’ but enables us to ‘pass through’ them without fear.  This is what it means to hope.  The light of faith enables us to trust in the promise of a future homeland, and this hope gives us courage to continue walking amidst the shadows.”

That observation reminds us of Ps 23, doesn’t it?  “Even tho I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage” (v. 4).

He who is at our side is none other than Emmanuel.  His rod and his staff bespeak his shepherding role (“The Lord is my shepherd” [Ps 23:1]; “I am the good shepherd” [John 10:14]).  But, to return to the “light” metaphor, the Lord Jesus is the light who points out and leads us along the path toward the “verdant pastures” and “restful waters” we desire (Ps 23:2), which speak to us of salvation, of that “eternal home” mentioned in the Collect.

We need lots and lots of light in a world that’s full of Herods.  The massacre of children, ethnic cleansing, heartless jihad, drug trafficking, human trafficking, nuclear annihilation hanging over our heads—how long a list could we make of the forms of darkness that ever threaten the valleys of our pilgrimage toward peaceful rest and harmony!

If the splendor of Christ enlightens our hearts, then we are full of hope that we can find our way thru all the darkness.  We are certain of it, as the paschal candle assures us year after year—and at our funeral rites.  Christ has overcome the darkness and reached “the brightness of our eternal home,” the home where, he tells us at the Last Supper, he has gone to prepare places for us too:  “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places….  I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).

It’s not enuf for us pilgrims in the dark world to look toward Christ for light.  If his light is “shed upon our hearts,” as the Collect prays, then that light must illuminate the world, must radiate from us.  Doesn’t he tell us that we are the light of the world, and our light must shine out into the world (Matt 5:14-16)?  He also gives us the parable of the wise and foolish virgins with their lamps, ready—or not—to illuminate a wedding feast (Matt 25:1-13).  In short, by our lives—our deeds, our words, even our thoughts and our attitudes—we who bask in Christ’s light have to enlighten the world, have to counteract the Herods of the world: the Assads and the Talibans, the drug lords and slum lords, the racists and the nativists, the merchants of sex and the merchants of death in whatever form.

A Redemptorist named Fr. Kevin O’Neil in Washington offered an op-ed reflection in the Times the day after Christmas on the darkness that so pervades our world.  It’s titled “Why, God?”  He admits that he doesn’t know any more than the rest of us “why” God allows evil to happen, like the Newtown massacre.  Then he suggests that God wants us to bring light into the darkness:

For whatever reason, certainly foreign to most of us, God has chosen to enter the world today through others, through us.  We have stories of miraculous interventions, lightning-bolt moments, but far more often the God of unconditional love comes to us in human form, just as God did over 2,000 years ago.

We are human and mortal.  We will suffer and die.  But how we are with one another in that suffering and dying makes all the difference as to whether God’s presence is felt or not and whether we are comforted or not.

We need one another to be God’s presence.

Which brings us back to that 1st reading:  “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  Nations shall walk by your light.”  Jerusalem isn’t Christ but God’s people.  Jerusalem is us.  The splendor of Christ shining in us will make the world brighter, better, more like the world that God created when he 1st said, “Let there be light!” (Gen 1:3).
Ancient of Days by William Blake
                [1] Daniel J. Merz and Marcel Rooney, OSB, Essential Presidential Prayers and Texts: A Roman Missal Study Edition and Workbook (Chicago: LTP, 2011), p. 26.