Sunday, March 31, 2013

Homily for Easter

Homily for Easter Sunday
March 31, 2013
Luke 24: 1-12
Acts 10: 34, 37-43
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Peter went home amazed at what had happened” (Luke 24:12).

What amazed Peter?  At this point in the story, he doesn’t know!  The women who went to the tomb and found it empty don’t know “what had happened,” and when they report their discovery and the angels’ message “to the eleven and to all the others” (24:9), “their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them” (24:11).

The Women at the Tomb, by Fra Angelico
A note:  the gospels at this point refer to “the eleven” because the 12 apostles have been reduced to 11 by Judas’s betrayal.  “All the others”—wouldn’t we like to know who they were!  St. Luke tells us in the 1st chapter of the Acts of the Apostles that about 120 disciples came together in the upper room in the days between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost, but he identifies only a few of those 120 besides the 11:  “Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (1:14), and Matthias and Joseph Barsabbas, who are put forward as candidates for the place among the 12 vacated by Judas (1:23); Luke also mentions an anonymous group of women (1:14), who would have included those who went to the tomb this Sunday morning, and probably others—maybe Jesus’ friends Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42).  Maybe their brother Lazarus also was there.

So if Peter and all the others “did not believe” what Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James” (Luke 24:10) come and tell them about the tomb and what they saw and what they heard, why is Peter “amazed at what had happened”?  What does he think could have happened?

It is amazing that the large stone was rolled away from the tomb (24:2), and no one seems to know how that happened.  It is amazing that Jesus’ body is gone.  No one expected that; the women, after all, were going there to finish the hasty rites of burial that there had been no time to complete on Friday evening.

      The “two men in dazzling garments” (24:4) remind the women of Jesus’ predictions of his passion, death, and resurrection:  “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day” (24:7).  Since these women “had come from Galilee with Jesus” (24:1), they had heard those predictions—directly from Jesus, or at least from the apostles.  But the predictions evidently were so puzzling, and the events of Thursday nite and Friday so traumatic, that they completely forgot about the predictions until the 2 angels reminded them:  “And they remembered his words” (24:8).  Many of the disciples had heard the predictions, but no one knew “what  rising from the dead meant” (cf. Mark 9:10).  After the 3d time that Jesus advised the 12 that he would be handed over to the Romans, maltreated, scourged, and killed, and rise on the 3d day (Luke 18:31-33), “they understood nothing of this; the word remained hidden from them and they failed to comprehend what he said” (18:34).

So Peter is amazed. He is completely baffled.  He has no explanation for the empty tomb or the angels or the message of the angels.

Those reactions on the part of the women, of the 11, and of all the others are precisely what makes credible to us their later proclamation of the Good News:  “This man God raised on the 3d day and granted that he be visible…to us…who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41).  They came to believe that the one who had been crucified had also been raised up because they saw him, spoke with him, ate and drank with him in the days following.  This is what convinced them that something more than amazing had really happened, and they were witnesses to it.

Then they were able to look back at the predictions Jesus had made, and at the words of Moses and the prophets, and interpret them in the light of Jesus’ resurrection.  Then they were able to understand that God “appointed [Jesus] as judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness, and everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins thru his name” (Acts 10:42-43).  As Jesus went about on earth healing people—physically and spiritually, “healing all those oppressed by the devil” (10:38)—God had ratified all his doings and his words by raising him from the dead so that he might be the vehicle for the complete healing of the human race:  “Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining” (Sequence).

Is it not amazing that God should forgive us?  Is it not amazing that God should offer us “new life,” eternal life?  Is it not amazing that God should heal us completely from all the ways in which the devil oppresses us—our sins, and the death penalty?  That’s why we shout out, “This is the day the Lord had made; let us rejoice and be glad!” (Ps 118:24).

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fr. John J. Malloy

Fr. John J. Malloy, SDB (1922-2013)

By Fr. Thomas Prendiville, SDB
Fr. Prendiville, a former provincial of the SDB Western Province, is currently vice provincial and province secretary. Your humble blogger contributed to what follows, particularly as regards our Eastern Province. My 1st year here in New Rochelle was with Fr. John at DBM, his last year there (1986-1987). He was a good man to work with, a good priest, and a good "boss" to the employees.

Fr. John J. Malloy, SDB, 91, died on Wednesday morning, March 27, 2013, at St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco. He was suffering from congestive heart failure and pneumonia. He had been a Salesian religious for 72 years and a Catholic priest for almost 63 years.
Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Province
John Malloy was born in Berkeley, Calif., on March 17, 1922, the son of Charles and Agnes Malloy, who had moved to California after their marriage in Lima, Ohio, in 1917. He was baptized on two days later at St. Ambrose Church in Berkeley.

Fr. Malloy has four living sisters: Louise, Mary, Catherine and Margaret, his twin, and his brother Joseph. He was preceded in death by his parents, his brother Richard, and his sister Rita. A host of family members mourn his death and celebrate his life.

The growing family moved to San Pablo, Calif., in 1929, where John met the Salesians at their house of studies in neighboring Richmond. In 1935 he joined the Salesian high school seminary in Richmond, graduating from high school in 1939.

In September 1939, John entered the Salesian novitiate at Don Bosco College Seminary in Newton, N.J. On Sept. 8, 1940, he pronounced his first religious vows. In 1943, after studies in philosophy, he received his B.A. degree. From 1943 to 1946 he taught at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif., and the Salesian house of studies at Richmond. In the fall of 1946 he began theological studies at the Pontificio Ateneo Salesiano in Turin, Italy, where he earned an STL in theology; he was ordained on July 2, 1950 in Turin’s Basilica of Mary Help of Christians.

His first assignments as a young priest were in the Salesian schools of California. In 1952 he became principal of St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, and later principal of Bishop Mora Salesian High School in Los Angeles.

In the 1960s Fr. Malloy was assigned, also, to help with leadership in the Salesian province of San Francisco. In 1965 he was appointed provincial of the San Francisco Province. Two years later, he was transferred as provincial to the larger Salesian province in the Eastern U.S., based in New Rochelle.

During Fr. Malloy’s tenure as provincial, the province’s membership peaked at more than 400, most of them younger confreres. The Don Bosco Retreat House was built in Haverstraw, N.Y., permitting the confreres to make their annual retreat closer to many of the houses and in much more comfort than in the old summer camp environment of Ellenville, N.Y., as well as providing a valuable ministry to parishes, schools, and youth groups all over the New York metropolitan area. The novitiate was moved temporarily to Ipswich, Mass., while the permanent building in Newton was being renovated. Salesians took up parish ministry in the Bahamas.

Under Fr. Malloy the province carried out a commitment of his predecessor by sending the students of theology to the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio. He strengthened the PCJ faculty by arranging for Fr. Arthur Lenti of the Western Province to come to the PCJ as professor of Old Testament (1967-1975). In addition, in a short time, the province acquired an old building in downtown Columbus from the Knights of Columbus, which Fr. Malloy and a crew of young Salesians spent many weeks converting into a residence for the theologians. Fr. Malloy was a strong proponent of boys’ clubs in the province, and he saw that one was founded at Columbus’s Salesian Center with a distinct staff supplemented by the theologians.

His term completed, in 1973 Fr. Malloy returned to California as president of Don Bosco Technical Institute in Rosemead. In 1979 he was assigned to Salesian High School in Richmond as director.

When Fr. Joseph Perozzi, co-founder of the Don Bosco Multimedia Center in New Rochelle was dying, in 1983 Fr. Malloy was tapped to assume its leadership, and the enterprise became a venture shared by both U.S. provinces. His four years at DBM were challenging in terms of finances, new product, and interprovincial dynamics. In 1987 he was recalled to California to serve again as director of his alma mater in Richmond. In 1989 he oversaw the conversion of the all-boys high school to a co-educational one.

In 1990, Fr. Malloy became pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Surrey, B.C., a suburb of Vancouver. His administrative skills and his pastoral zeal added new life to the parish; he saw to the building of a youth center which has influenced the lives of countless young people in the area.

In 2001, he returned to San Francisco as pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, the motherhouse of all Salesian ministry in the U.S. and Canada. In this multi-cultural parish, he called the parishioners to a greater sense of unity and cooperation. He ardently supported the San Francisco Archdiocese in all its activities, including the Right to Life annual appeal.

Fr. Malloy’s last years, from 2007, were spent at Salesian High School in Richmond, very close to the area of his childhood. In his last weeks he was compelled to use a breathing tube; at his request it was removed the day before he died, and he rejoiced to be able to receive Communion again that day, which turned out to be the last time.

On Monday, April 1, 2013 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, there will be viewing at 9:30 a.m., a Rosary at 10:00, and the Mass of Christian Burial at 10:30. Fr. Malloy will be buried at the Salesian Cemetery in Richmond. Donations in memory of Fr. John Malloy may be made to the Salesians’ San Francisco Province, 1100 Franklin St., San Francisco, CA 94109.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Fr. Chavez's New Letter on Vocation, Formation

Fr. Chavez's New Letter
to the Salesians
Links Formation, Vocation
The future of the Congregation
depends on the quality of formation

(ANS – Rome) – Just as we are celebrating Easter, the Rector Major has given the Congregation a new circular letter, titled “Vocation and formation: gift and task.” It aims at illustrating the beauty and the demands of the Salesian vocation and formation, and at the same time showing the current situation of vocational inconsistency. The letter is in two basic parts.
Fr. Chavez at Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester in 2007

Consistency and vocational fidelity
The Rector Major highlights the need to help young confreres achieve vocational consistency, and help those who have already made a definitive choice to live their vocation faithfully. Weakness of vocation is particularly evident in the statistics which the Rector Major wants to make known to the entire Congregation so that people can be aware of the problems and then help by taking on responsibility.
There are two complementary aspects noted, basic causes of a lack of consistency and fidelity:
  • a wrong idea of vocation; this is sometimes identified with a personal project motivated by the need for self-realization. Often there are weak or insufficient motivations for beginning the journey in Salesian consecrated life, and sometimes a lack of conscious awareness; if motivations are ignored, fragility or infidelity are more likely to result.
  • The culture we live in presents opportunities but also risks. An anthropological understanding is a resource, but also a challenge for the vocational journey. There is a need for authenticity, sense of freedom, history, constant seeking for experiences, appreciation of relationships and affectivity, difficulties in renouncing things and remaining faithful – all these in a postmodern and multicultural context. These anthropological aspects, while challenging, are essential for a consecrated life that desires to be fully human and therefore credible.
Vocation and formation
Vocation is the foundation for the journey of formation, and formation is there to serve the full development of vocation. They are both gift and task.

Each individual’s life is a vocation; therefore life is a response to God’s call. Vocation is not principally a human project but God’s plan for each one: it is a plan to recognize, accept, and live. The discovery of one’s vocation is at the origins of realizing our individual lives; it takes a lifetime to live a vocation. It is a call to a mission entrusted to us by God; there is no vocation without mission. This is why mission, with vocation, gives form and content to formation.
Formation is a constant process of identification with the vocation received. This is why the letter presents the identity of the Salesian consecrated vocation and the formative methodologies that ensure the process of identification. Acquiring identity is the aim of formation.

Fr. Chavez once again proposes, as objectives, the fundamental elements of Salesian vocational identity: sent to the young (being conformed to Christ the Good Shepherd); brothers in a single mission (common life as the place and object of formation); consecrated by God (witnessing to the radical nature of the Gospel); sharing of life and mission (animating apostolic communities in the spirit of Don Bosco); at the heart of the Church (building it up); being open to real circumstances to realize the charism.
To ensure that we acquire identity and to foster the process of vocational identity, the Rector Major reminds us that the Ratio offers specific approaches that we need to adopt with more awareness and commitment. It is a case of reaching into the depths of the individual, of animating an experience of formation that unifies, of ensuring a climate of formation and everyone’s shared responsibility, of giving quality formation to daily experience, of qualifying our accompaniment, of paying attention to discernment.

At the end of the letter the Rector Major makes an appeal that formation, initial and ongoing, be an “absolutely vital priority in the Congregation,” and he turns to Mary, asking her to accompany us as she did from the beginning and throughout Salesian history.
The Rector Major’s letter, no. 416, is, apart from the Strenna 2014 commentary to come, the last thematic letter in Fr. Chavez’s mandate.

The complete text is available in Italian and French for now. It will very soon be available in other languages.

Bro. Stephen Sandor Recognized as Martyr

Salesian Brother Stephen Sandor
Recognized as Martyr for the Faith

Date for beatification to be set

(ANS – Vatican City) – On Wednesday, March 27, 2013, Pope Francis gave an audience to Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. During the audience the Supreme Pontiff authorized the Congregation to promulgate the decree of martyrdom for Servant of God Stephen Sandor, a professed brother in the Society of St. Francis de Sales; he was born at Szolnok, Hungary, on October 26, 1914, and put to death out of hatred for the Faith at Budapest on June 8, 1953.

[CNS reports that two other martyrs were recognized at the same time: Franciscan Father Giuseppe Girotti, an opponent of Italy's fascist government who died at Dachau in 1945, and Romanian Father Vladimir Ghika, killed by the Communists in 1954.]

Stephen Sandor came to know about Don Bosco through the Salesian Bulletin and immediately felt attracted to the Salesian charism. In 1936 he was accepted at the Clarisseum in Budapest, where he did a two-year aspirantate. He attended courses in printing technology at the Don Bosco Press. He began his novitiate but had to interrupt it when he was called to military service. In 1939 he was able to take up his novitiate again and eventually made his first profession on September 8, 1940 as a coadjutor brother.

He was assigned to the Clarisseum and was actively involved in vocational education. He was also an assistant at the youth center and promoted the Young Catholic Workers. At the end of World War II, he began working for the material and moral rebuilding of society, giving special attention to poor youth. His interest was in gathering them up and teaching them a trade.

In 1949 the Communist government under Matyas Rakosi, confiscated all ecclesiastical goods and began the persecution of Catholic schools. Bro. Sandor tried to save what could be saved. Almost overnight religious found themselves reduced to nothing and had to disband. Bro. Sandor had to leave his printing operations – which had gained recognition – and “disappear,” but instead of fleeing to the West he stayed in the country so he could keep working for Hungarian youth. He managed to find employment in a detergent factory in the capital, and fearlessly but clandestinely kept up his apostolate, while knowing that it was a strictly forbidden activity. In July 1952 he was taken into custody at his workplace and was never seen again by his confreres. An official document shows that he was condemned to death and hanged on June 8, 1953.
“Let us give thanks to God for this gift of the Church to the Salesian Family during the Year of Faith,” Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni, postulator general for the Salesian Family, said. “The new martyr, Stephen Sandor, a Salesian brother, is a shining witness and intercessor who followed in Don Bosco's footsteps by offering the young the Gospel of joy through a pedagogy of kindness and by giving his own life. Let us be grateful to Pope Francis for this special gift at the beginning of his papal ministry.”
The decree of martyrdom will now be prepared by the Congregation for Saints’ Causes in collaboration with the postulator general. Following this, a date will be set for the beatification, given that a martyr does not need a miracle. His complete sacrifice in the act of martyrdom, as the highest testimony to the Christian Faith, is considered to be the supreme act in his “sequela Christi.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Homily for Holy Thursday

Homily for
Holy Thursday
March 28, 2013
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

The little congregation was almost half layfolk.

“Your Only Begotten Son … entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of his love” (Collect).

You’ve heard many times, no doubt, of the threefold commemoration we celebrate in this evening’s liturgy:  the institution of the Holy Eucharist, the institution of the Christian priesthood, and the command to love one another.  That last remembrance gives Holy Thursday its other name, Maundy Thursday, from the Latin mandatum:  mandatum novum do vobis, “I give you a new commandment” (John 13:34).

The Collect, part of which I quoted, and the reading from St. Paul (1 Cor 11:23-26) emphasize the Eucharist, this “sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of love.”  The preface will put more emphasis on the priesthood.  The gospel highlighted Christ’s example of loving service and his command that we imitate him—not so much by washing one another’s feet, tho that’s a customary part of the Holy Thursday liturgy, as by serving one another in love in whatever great or humble ways we can in our community, in our families, in our ministry of teaching or advising, at our workplaces, and so on.

The Collect calls the Eucharist “a sacrifice new for all eternity” and “the banquet of his love,” i.e., Christ’s love.

The Last Supper, by Tintoretto
The Eucharist is a sacrifice because it’s the offering of something precious to God, viz., the body and blood of Jesus, according to his own words (1 Cor 11:25-26).  He himself made this offering to his Father, surrendering himself in his passion and death rather than alter the divine message he brought, rather than dilute the truth, or rather than run away from his enemies and keep silent.  He offered it freely:  “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42) and “Into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

The Eucharist is our sacrifice too.  We join Jesus in his self-offering, in 2 senses.  We also offer him to the Father as the most precious gift we can give:  “we offer you this sacrifice of praise … this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation” (EP I).  We participate in this offering.  At the same time, we offer ourselves in union with, in imitation of, Jesus.  With Jesus we offer to the Father our lives, our actions, our words, our thoughts, our selves.  We commit ourselves to the same self-surrender, the same handing over of our spirits.

The sacrifice is new, as is the covenant that it marks.  The sacrifice is new because the priest offering it and the victim offered are the same Person.  In the Old Law there were many priests thru many generations; in the New Law there’s only one, “the true and eternal Priest” (Preface), who in the Eucharist continually offers himself until he comes again.  The covenant is new because it establishes a new relationship between God and his people; indeed, creates a new people who are God’s own.  It’s new because it destroys sin, not merely covering it over or sending it away like the old covenant.  It’s new because it offers us eternal life, a permanent relationship with God, as the Collect notes:  “new for all eternity.”  It’s new because, unlike the sacrifices of the Old Law, it’s offered just once, and our daily memorial of the Lord’s self-offering brings us into that one sacrifice, never repeated, always the same, eternally offering to us God’s mercy and God’s own life.

The Eucharist is a “banquet of love” because it is food, a spiritual feast of bread and wine turned into—“transubstantiated” is the classical term—the body and blood of our Savior.  “Take and eat … take and drink,” he commands us, not in the passage we read this evening but in Matthew’s version (26:26-27).  And in John’s Eucharistic discourse, Jesus assures us that his flesh is real food, his blood real drink (6:55).

The love, obviously, is in Jesus’ self-giving on our behalf.  “This is my body, given for you” (Luke 22:19; cf. 1 Cor 11:24).  It is in his invitation for us to join him in the heavenly feast for eternity:  the master “will gird himself, have [his vigilant servants] recline at table, and proceed to wait on them” (Luke 12:37).  It is in the Lord’s abiding presence among us in this most holy sacrament:  on our altars, in our tabernacles, in our sick rooms, in Viaticum as our companion on our final journey.
An example of what the Eucharist can mean for us. Yesterday morning Fr. John Malloy, who was your chaplain here for 4 years in the 1980s, died in San Francisco at age 91. He had congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and other problems, and had had a breathing tube for some time. He finally asked Tuesday morning that it be removed, and he used an oxygen mask to help him breathe while his vital organs slowly began to shut down. But, his director informs us, he was so happy that he was able to receive Communion again, which he couldn't do with the breathing tube. And that Communion on Tuesday was effectively his Viaticum, his last Communion, because he died at 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday.

It’s a banquet of love, finally, because “we may draw from so great a mystery the fullness of charity.”  Note that mystery in the liturgy, from μυστήριον in Greek, meaning a sacred religious rite, is the equivalent of the Latin sacramentum.  We partake of this “mystery” by consuming it, from which we are to “draw” its substance, which is the love that it symbolizes; which is the Love that it personifies.  The ultimate meaning of this sacrament is that we become what we eat and drink; that we become who we are—the body of Christ—and Christ so fills us that we act, speak, and think in charity.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Provincial Chapter 2013

Province Concludes Chapter
in Preparation for GC27
Fr. Tom Dunne's closing remarks as the chapter ended on Mar. 18
The province’s chapter in preparation for the Society’s 27th General Chapter next year concluded at 3:11 p.m. on Monday, March 18.

The chapter lasted 8 days, beginning March 11. See

Daily liturgy (Eucharist, Hours) was a vital part of the chapter's activities; on the last day we all renewed our religious profession at Mass.
The chapter prepared and approved—with abundant discussion in small groups and in general sessions—three documents to send on the GC27’s preparatory commission. Each document deals with one of the general chapter’s themes:  the Salesian as mystic, as prophet of fraternity, and as servant of the young. Each document is also brief, less than two pages.

On Sunday night, March 17, elections were held for the province’s delegate and an alternate to attend the general chapter. It took three ballots for Fr. Mike Pace, pastor of St. Benedict’s Church in Etobicoke, Ont., to be elected by the narrowest of margins, 23-21 (had there been a tie, runner-up Fr. Steve Shafran would have been elected by virtue of his seniority).
Fr. Mike Pace, elected to represent the N.R. Province at GC27; Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial; and Fr. Steve Shafran, alternate delegate
Fr. Shafran, president of Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS in Takoma Park, Md., needed just one ballot to be elected, overwhelmingly, as the province’s alternate, should Fr. Pace not be able to attend the chapter.

The chapter also heard presentations from Fr. Abe Feliciano on the Salesian Youth Movement, including early planning for Don Bosco's bicentennial (2015); Fr. Dennis Donovan on finances; Fr. Mark Hyde on missionary animation; and Fr. Dominic Tran on vocations animation.
One of the chapter's 5 discussion groups going over one of the topics
Fr. Tom Dunne spent a lot of time outlining and discussing many topics of interest to the province, such as maintaining ties with the families of deceased confreres; structure of the provincial council; restructuring the province; communications ministry; personnel; and missions animation.

Fr. Tom also presented to the chapter the Province Organic Plan, the result of several years of study and discussion by the provincial council and other leaders in the province. After some discussion and an amendment, the chapter approved the plan, which now goes to the Rector Major and his council for their review.
The chapter's work on March 13 was interrupted by the Church's work in Rome

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Homily for Palm Sunday

Homily for Palm Sunday
March 24, 2013
Luke 23: 1-49
Ursulines, Willow Drive, N.R.

“A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him” (Luke 23: 27).

Luke’s Gospel in some ways is the most personal of the gospels; he pays attention to individuals in ways that Matthew, Mark, and John don’t.  In his passion narrative, for instance, we have details about Peter’s betrayal, repentance, and leadership role unique to Luke; the interaction between Herod and Pilate; a detail about Simon of Cyrene lacking in Matthew and Mark (altho Mark gives us personal details the others don’t; John doesn’t mention Simon at all); amid the crowd, the mourning women; the repentant criminal (or “evildoer,” depending on your translation); Jesus’ prayer asking for forgiveness for his killers; Jesus’ handing his spirit over to his Father.
Simon of Cyrene and Jesus, by Titian
The detail about Simon is telling:  when the soldiers press him into service to carry the crossbeam to which Jesus will be nailed, Luke tells us, “They made him carry the cross behind Jesus” (23:26).  All the Synoptics record Jesus’ teaching that anyone who would follow him must take up his cross and do so (Luke 9:23; Matt 10:38; Mark 8:34).  This innocent bystander, the fellow in the wrong place at the wrong time, comes to exemplify discipleship by carrying a cross after Jesus, walking in Jesus’ steps.  If we read Mark’s Gospel correctly, the experience led to Simon’s becoming a disciple, “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (15:21), presumably 2 men well known in Mark’s church.

Simon’s experience invites us to ask ourselves how carrying Jesus’ cross affects us.  When we’re unexpectedly handed our crossbeam, our piece of the cross, do we fight it, bemoan our fate, protest our innocence, make sure the people around us will suffer too because we’re suffering or upset or inconvenienced?  Or do we look for how God is intervening in our lives and calling us to a closer relationship with Jesus?

Jesus takes notice of the “many women” who are “following him,” “mourning and lamenting” what’s happening to him.  They don’t intercept him; he “turns to them.”  We know that Jesus had women disciples from Galilee—another personal Lucan detail, incidentally, found in 8:1-3—who accompanied him as he went about preaching, and unlike the Twelve followed him all the way to Calvary, which Luke mentions in the last verse of our reading this morning (23:49).  But Jesus addresses these women as “Daughters of Jerusalem”; so they’re a different group.  Are they following him as disciples?  That certainly could be the case; he did have followers who lived in the holy city, e.g., Mary, the mother of John Mark mentioned by Luke in Acts (12:12), and, we may assume, whoever owned the house where the upper room was located.

In the opinion of some commentators, these women’s mourning for Jesus seems to reflect a prophetic passage about people mourning for the Messiah:  “They shall look on him whom they have thrust through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a first-born” (Zech 12:10).  I’m sure you recognize the 1st part of that passage, which John cites with reference to the soldier’s spearing Jesus’ side (19:34-37).  If that prophetic allusion is indeed Luke’s intention, then we have a yet stronger case that these women are followers of Jesus in the sense of discipleship.

But Jesus mildly admonishes them, telling them not to weep for him but for themselves and for their children.  For a horrible fate is in store for Jerusalem their mother, days that will make of feminine barrenness not a curse but a blessing; women who haven’t borne children will not have to witness what the Romans will do to their children.

In so deflecting the women’s sympathy for him, Jesus is acting as the authentic Christian, who feels for others instead of himself.  That his feeling leads to action is evident, of course, in what he’s going thru at this moment, giving his body and offering his blood of the new covenant for his people (Luke 22:19-20).  His words also constitute a final warning for Jerusalem of what will happen to the unfaithful city.

He continues the warning with the equivalent of “You can run but you can’t hide”:  “People will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’” (23:30).  There will be no escaping the consequences of the city’s unfaithfulness.

The final part of his words to the women seem to be a proverb of some sort (23:31), which the commentators interpret in various ways.  One way is that Jesus is the “green wood,” the innocent man suffering an unjust punishment.  If God so permits innocence to perish, “what will happen when it is dry?”  What will happen to those who really are guilty in God’s eyes?

The words that Jesus addresses to the women are meant also for Luke’s readers.  We are guilty; we are dry wood.  What will be our fate if we don’t turn to God, if we’re as faithless as the inhabitants of Jerusalem?  There will be no hiding from God’s judgment on the Last Day:

            Behold the trembling sinners rise
          To meet the Judge’s searching eyes.
          Then shall with universal dread
          The Book of Consciences be read
          To judge the lives of all the dead.[1]

We are warned, then.  But we also note the mercy offered to us:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (23:34).  How often are our sins the result of some fully deliberate and studied choice, and how often the result of some dumb impulse, only half chosen?  May the Father forgive us thru Jesus’ intercession!

When we see how Jesus treats the repentant criminal—who represents all of us “evildoers”—we have unlimited hope:  “You Who did … mercy for the robber find,/Have filled with hope my anxious mind.”[2]

May our following of Jesus, then, include his cross, his compassion for others, true repentance of our sins, and finally, his total trust in our heavenly Father, so that our last breath may be the same prayer he uttered:  “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (23:46).

        [1] Dies irae, St. Joseph Daily Missal (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1961), p. 1243.
        [2] Ibid., p. 1244.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pope Francis Receives Rector Major -- and Mary Help of Christians

Pope Francis Receives
Rector Major
-- and Mary Help of Christians

(ANS – Rome) – On the afternoon of March 21, the Rector Major and his vicar, Fr. Adriano Bregolin, were received by Pope Francis at the Vatican, in an encounter with all the hallmarks of great familiarity. The Pope spontaneously accepted Fr. Chavez’s letter of homage, indicating that he would be ready to visit Turin in 2015.

“It was a brief meeting: 15 minutes but very intense, in which we handed the Holy Father the letter I had written for the inauguration of his pontificate, and the statue of Mary Help of Christians, which he immediately kissed,” the Rector Major tells us.
Pope Francis (without his zucchetto!) welcomes Fr. Pascual Chavez and Fr. Adriano Bregolin, holding a statue of Mary Help of Christians, to whom the Pope has been specially devoted since his youth, it appears
“Everything we have seen and felt since that first presentation in St. Peter’s Square, on that unforgettable evening of his election, we re-lived and experienced in person this evening: his attractive congeniality, great simplicity, warmth, and ability to listen and relate. He recognized me, and the embrace with which he welcomed me made me feel his great sense of fatherliness.”

The Pope’s humanity is also shown in his particular attention to Fr. Chavez in person. “He asked me about my health, because he had heard I was not well. He also asked me when I would be finishing my mandate as Rector Major. I told him that, thanks be to God, I had recovered in health to the point where I could continue my service and that I would finish as superior within a year.”

The conversation did not lack reference to Pope Francis’s fellow-feeling for Salesian spirituality and work: “Together,” Fr. Chavez continued, “we recalled a number of events: when asked at Aparecida whether the beatification of Ceferino Namuncurá could take place not in Buenos Aires but Chimpay, he gave his reason thus: ‘In Patagonia the Salesians have done everything’; his time as a past pupil at the Salesian school in Ramos Mejia; his devotion to Mary Help of Christians expressed by going to the shrine at Almagro every 24th of the month to celebrate Mass; he himself reminded me that he had been baptized there by a Salesian, Fr. Enrico Pozzoli; we also spoke of his attachment to the San Lorenzo soccer team, where he holds membership.”

The Rector Major and Fr. Bregolin also presented Pope Francis with a number of invitations, which he accepted most readily: “Introducing to him the director of the Vatican community, Fr. Sergio Pellini, we invited him to visit the [Vatican Polyglot] Press and the community, and he said he would do so. I then renewed the invitation to come to Turin for May 24, 2015, for the feast of Mary Help of Christians, on the occasion of the bicentennial of Don Bosco’s birth. His answer left room for hope: ‘Why not?’ Finally, Fr. Adriano Bregolin asked him to keep the statue of Mary Help of Christians in his study as the Help and Mother of the Church, and again he said, ‘I will do that.’”

The Rector Major and his vicar then took leave of the Pope, and they thanked him for granting this opportunity to greet him personally. They renewed their offer of prayer and closeness on the part of the whole Salesian Family and especially of the Congregation.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rector Major Writes to Pope Francis

Rector Major Writes
to Pope Francis

(ANS – Rome) – On March 20 ANS published the text of a letter which Fr. Pascual Chavez, SDB Rector Major, had delivered to Pope Francis on the 19th, the day in which Francis was solemnly inaugurated as bishop of Rome and successor St. Peter. Here is the complete text.

Your Holiness,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Salesian Congregation and the entire Salesian Family to express sentiments of tribute and our best wishes at your election as bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff. I am writing on this day of the solemn inauguration of your pontificate; may it be an enduring one, filled with all God’s blessings. We knew that we had a great pastor in Benedict XVI, and we are now grateful to the Lord for having given us another great pastor in his successor, in you, Your Holiness, beloved Pope Francis.

As Christians and Salesian religious, it is our desire now to express our joy at your appointment. We renew our loyalty and assure you of the filial respect for you that we have inherited from Don Bosco. He often expressed this in words full of affection and faith when speaking of Peter’s successor.

“Whoever is united with the Pope is united with Jesus Christ!” (MB VIII, 567; omitted in English translation)
“We shall be totally dedicated in all things to the Apostolic See wherever the Lord may send us at any time” (BM 15:205).
“The Pope’s request is my command” (BM 5:571).
“The Pope’s word must be our norm in everything and at all times” (BM 6:282).

Thus spoke our Founder Don Bosco, and this is how we feel in our hearts today.

I would like to tell you, Your Holiness, that immediately after your election was announced, I spontaneously and joyfully recalled the beautiful and unforgettable experience of Church at Aparecida in May 2007, where I had the grace of knowing you and greeting you personally. Together we took part in the work there, the celebrations and meetings at the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean bishops; we met again at the meeting of Argentine bishops, which you presided at, so we could establish the place and arrangements for the beatification of the then-Venerable Ceferino Namuncurá.  I will never forget your words, full of esteem for the work of our Salesian confreres in Patagonia, and your intervention so that Chimpay could be the place for the celebration.

I am well aware of your closeness and affection for the Salesians, especially at the Almagro community where Fr. Enrique Pozzoli, who was your spiritual director, lived; and for Fr. Lorenzo Massa, founder of the San Lorenzo soccer team. I was very much appreciative of your testimony on behalf of our coadjutor brother Blessed Artemides Zatti when you were the Jesuit provincial, and for your fatherly concern as archbishop of Buenos Aires for our confreres. I have always experienced much joy at your well-known devotion to Mary Help of Christians, which so many of our confreres recall.  

From the moment of your election and when you presented yourself, we have been fascinated by the name you took as Pontiff, a name that picks up many of your own characteristics and which proclaims a program of renewal in the Church, returning it to its true identity and to the Gospel through simplicity, austerity, and keeping its gaze fixed on the Lord Jesus.

Your Holiness, we welcome and make our own your wish to have “the courage – yes, the courage – to walk in the Lord’s presence, with his cross; to build the Church on the blood of the Lord poured out on the cross and to confess his glory: Christ crucified. And so the Church will move on ahead.”

In fidelity to the Church and our Founder Don Bosco, we accept this invitation of yours, Your Holiness, and we promise that we will always keep it present in our personal lives, our pastoral choices, and our apostolic programs.

We assure you of our prayers. May the Holy Spirit assist you in the delicate task Providence has entrusted to you, and may the Virgin Mary always be your Help in your ministry.

Along with this letter we are sending you, as a sign of our closeness, a statue of Mary Help of Christians. It would be a great gift for us if we could present it to you one 24th of May, in Turin in the basilica of Mary Help of Christians, which Don Bosco built with so much love. Perhaps in 2015, when we celebrate the second centennial of his birth.

In a spirit of filial obedience, today and always we assure you of our devotion and affection.

Rome, March 19, 2013

Fr. Pascual Chavez Villanueva
Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Lent

This past weekend (March 16-17), I was taking part in the provincial chapter (see an earlier post, below).  I did "escape" while we were free on Saturday afternoon and evening and celebrate Mass for Troop 40 on their camping trip, but that homily had not a word written down beyond the Scripture texts.  So--here's one for the same set of readings from 9 years back.

March 28, 2004
Is 43: 16-21
Nativity, Brandon, Fla.
Epiphany, Tampa

“See, I am doing something new!  In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers” (Is 43: 19).

Our 1st reading, a prophecy from the book of Isaiah, refers to the glorious moment of Israel’s history when the Lord “opened a way in the sea” and allowed the Hebrews to cross in safety, then drowned Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen and powerful army when they followed in pursuit.  For anyone who’s seen The Ten Commandments, the image of Moses parting the Red Sea, the Hebrews marching across, the waters swallowing up the Egyptians must be indelible.  This exodus was a great event, a foundational event, a defining event of God’s people, like the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock, the Union victory at Gettysburg, the March on Washington in our own history.  To this day the Jewish celebration of Passover every spring commemorates and relives, in what we might call sacramental form, the deliverance of their people from Egypt, God’s decisive victory over their oppressors.

But Isaiah quotes the Lord YHWH as telling the Israelites to forget about past heroics, for he’s about to do something new and equally wondrous.  This new wonder will, in a sense, be the opposite of the past miracle.  Instead of clearing water out of their path:  “In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.  I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people I formed for myself” (43:20-21).  YHWH is about to deliver his people from their oppression once again, once more bring them back to the Promised Land from a long exile.  As punishment for their sins the Jews have been in their Babylonian Captivity for 40, 50 years—forced into exile in Babylon, whose ruins are near modern Baghdad.  We’ve all seen TV film of the Iraqi desert landscape.  Now God is about to use the might of Persia to destroy Babylon and let his people go home thru that barren desert.  But for them it won’t be barren.  He will make it spring to life as a safe route for them, just as the Red Sea once was.  And they shall be saved anew, formed again as his beloved, chosen people, “that they might announce [his] praise” (43:21).

Water—how necessary, how life-giving.  It can make a desert bloom in the ordinary cycle of nature, when some wasteland gets its little bit of seasonal rain, or by the art of man, like Palm Springs.  During Lent our catechumens anticipate the saving water of Baptism, and believers recall their Baptism and turn again toward the Lord in repentance for their post-baptismal sins.  We still need the mercy of God to wash over us.

And God’s mercy is ever ready to carry out some new marvel of salvation.  In Jesus Christ God said to all mankind, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!”  We see an example of that in today’s gospel, when Jesus doesn’t condemn a sinful woman even tho the Law of Moses would do so.  He protects her from the blood mob and sends her on her way with a new start in her spiritual life:  “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11).  All of us got a new spiritual start at Baptism; to all of us a renewal is offered repeatedly in Reconciliation (Penance).  Unfortunately, we aren’t able to put entirely into practice what Jesus tells us:  “sin no more.”  We try, we fail, as we suppose the woman in the story did—tho we hope henceforward she avoided at least the mortal sin of adultery.

The mercy of God, aptly symbolized by water, is always available to us.  But it is contingent upon a change of heart, an intention of sinning no more.  This is perhaps what so clearly defines Catholicism in contemporary culture:  we still identify right and wrong, virtue and sin.  We still condemn sinful behavior and urge people to change.  So much of the society we live in holds to an anything-goes morality, live and let live, tolerance and understanding and non-judgment.  That’s what drives the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision mandating homosexual marriage and those public officials promoting it in Massachusetts and elsewhere:  all sexual behavior between consenting adults is equal.  One dare not say it’s contrary to God’s created order, it’s harmful to society, it’s sinful.  But Christ does say certain behavior is sinful and we must change:  “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Our lives when they’re ruled by sin are barren, desert-like.  When will a better life come to Israelis and Arabs?  When both put aside their hatred, their greed, their pride, their sin.  When will my life get better?  When I give it over to Jesus and seek his will in my life rather than insisting on my own way and stop running down people who’re in my way.  Is there some behavior in my life that I persist in justifying to myself, tho the word of God or the teaching of Christ’s Church tells me it’s wrong?  The water of mercy, of God’s peace, will come upon me and make me feel alive inside and even out, only when I humble myself before him, as the woman in the gospel was humbled before Jesus.  St. Paul describes his experience of that in today’s 2d reading, how his acceptance of the grace of Christ Jesus led him to put aside his whole previous way of thinking and acting and striving to get ahead:  all that was a pile of rubbish (the Greek word he uses means “manure,” to use a word I can say in the pulpit); all that matters now is Paul’s faith and knowledge of Jesus and the power of his resurrection (Phil 3:8-10).  Paul has found the life-giving water of God’s mercy and confessed his sins.  The same opportunity is ours, because God never ceases to do new wonders, to form us into a people for himself, that we might announce his praise.