Sunday, April 28, 2013

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Easter
April 28, 2013
Rev 7: 9, 14-17
St. Timothy, Greenwich, Conn.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21: 1).
The New Jerusalem, after Gustave Dore, by Laura Sotka
Our sequence of readings leaps over many of John’s visions having to do with persecution, with God’s preserving his chosen ones, and with God’s wrath afflicting the enemies of his people.  We jump from ch. 7 to ch. 21.

In this morning’s reading the key word is new.  In 4½ verses new appears 4 times.  If you’re always looking for innovation, for new and improved, for the next big thing, this is your passage!

What’s new?  The whole of creation!  “I saw a new heaven and a new earth.  The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’” (21:1,5).  Note that in Greek, as in Latin and in many modern European languages, the word for “heaven” and for “sky” is the same, tho not in English except when we speak of “the heavens”—the heavens above or the heavens opening (with buckets of rain).

This old world we’re used to, this world which hates God and his people in so many ways, this world so full of sorrow and pain—it has no permanence.  “The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (21:1).  As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come” (13:14).

If you’re fond of the sea, as so many New Englanders are, I’m sorry about the sea’s being no more!  The Jews were landlubbers all the way, with no love for the sea and no seafaring traditions.  In the Bible, the sea usually represents chaos and monsters, and in Revelation in particular the great dragon that tries to devour God’s people and also “spews a torrent of water out of his mouth” to sweep away with the current God’s holy people (12:15).  Here in ch. 21 the meaning is that there will be no more monsters, no dragons, no chaos—no disorder or evil, in other words—in God’s new creation.

The one who addresses John the visionary spells out that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (21:4).  The old order is the creation and the civilization we live in—the one with sickness and death, war and terrorism, political and economic corruption, infidelity and exploitation, natural disasters and birth defects—sin in all its personal and impersonal forms, evils that people choose and evils of nature that we’re powerless against.

God indeed promises to end all that and “make all things new” (21:5).  Only he can do that.  Men have tried many times.  E.g., the French Revolution promised liberty, equality, and fraternity, reordered the whole calendar, made Reason the supreme goddess, attempted to subjugate religion, and martyred hundreds of priests and nuns—and produced a reign of terror, more than 20 years of war, and a dictator named Napoleon.  Various Communist regimes repeated that pattern in the 20th century and into this century.  No human effort has produced a new order that remotely resembled paradise.

One effort has been more successful than others at creating a new order of affairs on earth.  If you look at the back of a dollar bill, you’ll see on either side the 2 parts of the great seal of the U.S., which Congress adopted in 1782.  The part on the left has 2 inscriptions:  above is annuit coeptis, Latin for “He has favored our undertakings”; and beneath is novus ordo seclorum.  Seclorum is a contraction of saeculorum, a word familiar to my generation and older ones who remember the ending of Latin prayers:  per omnia saecula saeculorum, “for ages upon ages,” or “world without end,” or as our official translation renders it, “forever and ever.”  Novus ordo seclorum means “a new order of the world” or “a new order of the ages.”

The establishment of the U.S. at the end of the 18th century was “a new order” in the world of human governance, never before tried on such a vast scale, the order of representative democracy.  Unlike other attempts at creating a new order, however—such as the French, Russian, Chinese, and Cuban revolutions—our “new order” included God.  Annuit coeptis refers to him—he has favored what we’ve undertaken; and that phrase is inscribed over an eye within a triangle, iconography for the all-seeing, all-knowing Holy Trinity.  The Founders could well invoke his favor, for God and religion played a huge part in our colonial beginnings, and the Declaration of Independence refers to God no less than 4 times.

I hardly need say that the U.S. is not exactly the New Jerusalem that St. John saw descending from heaven (21:2).  It’s not earthly paradise.  As Winston Churchill said, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

With God at our side, tho, we have a chance of making some progress at improving the world, the civilization we live in, our culture.  If we have God in our hearts, the people we deal with will be more likely to encounter the compassion of God that the psalm today spoke of (145:9).  And God will be in our hearts when we take to heart the new commandment that Jesus gives us, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34-35).

The practice of love can make it seem that God dwells in our homes, in our parish, in our community.  We see that best, unfortunately, in times of disaster, like the way Bostonians and the people of West, Texas, came together and helped one another.  But we know that if we do our best to be faithful to Jesus, when he returns as Judge and establishes the new creation we will at last dwell in the new Jerusalem and experience God’s presence permanently, in a relationship as close and as intimate as husband and wife:  the “new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2).  And we shall be citizens of this city, with no more tears, death, or mourning but only joy, serenity, and love—per omnia saecula saeculorum!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Easter
Rev 7: 9, 14-17
April 21, 2013
Scouts, Putnam Valley, N.Y.
St. Timothy, Greenwich, Conn.

“A great multitude … stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands” (Rev 7: 9).

John’s vision of the heavenly liturgy, partially described from ch. 5 last week, continues.  The angels, the living creatures, and the elders who were included in the vision last week, as we read from ch. 5, are joined now (in ch. 7) by “a great multitude which no one could count” (7:9). and that multitude joins in the everlasting worship of God “day and nite in his temple” (7:15).

In the book of Genesis, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky or the sands of the seashore, and in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (22:17).  John’s vision shows those promises fulfilled.  Here in God’s heavenly temple is this countless multitude “from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (7:9).  Every nation receives the blessing of salvation; all these are God’s people because, like Abraham, they have been faithful:  “these are the ones who have survived the time of great distress” (7:14).

The great crowd are all wearing white robes and holding palm branches.  The white robes are liturgical garments.  Their worship of God and the Lamb is priestly service.  More than that, they symbolize purity and innocence.  Where do the purity and innocence of these worshipers come from?  One of the elders explains:  “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”; their robes will reflect the glory of the Lamb himself—the glory that we note when Jesus was transfigured and “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3).  The Lamb’s blood that saves Christians, as we noted last week, saves us not by marking our doorjambs but by washing us.  When the water of Baptism is poured over us, when the Lord’s body and blood enter our bodies and our hearts, we are washed clean, we are transformed, we are made new, we are made holy, we are made worthy of joining the imperial court of heaven and taking part in the divine liturgy.  All of the baptized do priestly service in their public worship of God and the Lamb.

The palm branches have a double significance.  In the 1st place, they remind us of the crowds who hailed Jesus as the Son of David, the Messiah, when he entered Jerusalem.  So the countless multitude salutes Jesus, the Lamb, in this heavenly liturgy, recognizing him as Messiah.  In the 2d place, the palms are a sign of victory, particularly of the martyrs’ victory over their persecutors.  Traditional art of the martyrs often pictures them holding a palm branch.

The vast multitude, joyful, purified, and victorious, now enjoys what Ps 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” promises:  “The one sits on the throne will shelter them.  They will not hunger or thirst anymore” (7:15-16), and in an ironic twist, the Lamb becomes a shepherd:  “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water” (7:17).

The victory of eternal life, eternal shelter, eternal salvation, comes at a price—not the price only of the Lamb’s blood, as precious as that is, but also the price of Christians’ fidelity, of their “surviving the time of great distress.”  As we’ve noted previously, Revelation was written in a time of terrible persecution.

For sure there are Christians persecuted still today, made to pay a price in blood, in terror, in exile, for being faithful to Jesus:  Christians in China, in Vietnam, in India, in Pakistan, in Iraq, in Syria, for instance.  They face death, prison, and harassment, and some flee to avoid such fates.  In this country, too, faithful Christians are under pressure to keep their religion private—believe whatever you want and you can worship as you please inside your church building; but don’t bring your faith out publicly, and don’t object to the secularization of our culture and our laws, don’t object to what academic elites, the mass media, and politicians tell you is “correct” behavior and acceptable public policy.

The new movie 42 about Jackie Robinson celebrates his great courage and the contribution that he and Branch Rickey made to American society by integrating the major leagues.  A recent column in the Wall Street Journal observed that Robinson’s religious faith is “often overlooked.”  He was a devout Methodist who prayed daily and who practiced his faith.  When he began to play professional baseball in the Negro Leagues, he “openly scorned his whiskey-drinking and promiscuous teammates, once tossing a glass of scotch into a lighted fireplace to demonstrate how lethal liquor is.  He also stunned his teammates by declaring that he was waiting until he was married to have sex.”[1]

Our young people—and a lot of older ones—face those same temptations regularly:  the culture of drinking, of drugs, of self-centered sex; and the temptations to cheat, to lie, to take advantage of others, to bully others, even to kill when someone gets in our way (such as an unborn child).  It takes the courage of the martyrs, of truly convinced disciples of the Lord Jesus, to resist those kinds of temptations so as to “survive the time of great distress” in which we live—not that our age is any more challenging to Christians than the 1st century or any other age has been.  But this is the time and the distress that we have to deal with.  It takes courage to practice the virtues that Jesus teaches:  fidelity to God above all; obedience; sexual purity; responsibility to our obligations; saying “yes” when we mean yes and “no” when we mean no; humility; kindness; generosity; etc.

The reward for our loyalty to Christ will be more than a white robe and a palm branch, of course.  Those are only symbols.  The reward will be everlasting joy in the family of God.

         [1] Chris Lamb, “Jackie Robinson: Faith in Himself—and in God,” WSJ on-line, April 11, 2013.

A Short Three-Trail Hike

A Short Three-Trail Hike

This weekend and last I went up to Durland (formerly Clear Lake) Scout Reservation to celebrate Mass for Scouts and Scouters doing the National Youth Leadership Training course.
Yesterday (April 20) would have been a great day to go out hiking for a few hours before Mass, but that didn't fit my schedule. Last Saturday (the 13th), tho it was a mostly gray day, I was able to do that.

When I've hiked at Durland before (often), it's almost always been within the Scouts' camp. With Troop 40 we have ventured north into Fahnestock State Park once and into the Wiccopee Reservoir area once, and some years ago a trek-o-ree started us out several miles south on the Appalachian Trail heading back toward the Scout camp (an experience famous in troop lore because our Scoutmaster, one of the assistants, and one or two Scouts with them got completely lost).

Well, on the 13th, armed with a dependable map from the NY-NJ Trail Conference (God bless them!), shortly after lunch I ventured southwest out of camp, about half a mile, to the Candlewood Trail, which is mostly an unpaved road (Sunk Mine Rd.) that skirts the boundary of the Scout camp for a good distance. I followed it northward for about a mile (all distances are map-based estimates).

There are ruins of an old homestead within the camp boundary near the road, but otherwise it's wild country.

The road crosses Canopus Creek, flowing southward out of Canopus Lake. The creek is quite lovely at that point, both upstream and down. By then one is completely within the state park.

A little farther on the Appalachian Trail crosses. My plan was to take it south and eventually loop all the way around to come out at the same place from the north.

So I headed uphill on the AT. Before long the trail was mostly ridge (yay!), well blazed, well worn, and as lonely as could be.

There were a few hawks doing their thing up in the sky (I failed to get a decent photo), but otherwise not even fauna to be seen, much less people. There were a couple of fire rings, probably just eating spots not camping places.
The small jumble of rocks in the upper center is a fire pit.
The trail eventually descended into an area with a couple of swamps

AT here crosses a runlet out of a swamp
and then emerged at a parking area on Dennytown Rd. That made about 2 miles of hiking on the AT.

On the aforementioned trek-o-ree, this parking lot was the spot where I and 2 very young Scouts were picked up, coming up from the south. The 2 had really lagged behind the main body of Scouts, and I'd stayed with them. Consequently it had gotten quite late, and the boys were worn out (not that I was exactly fresh by then). So we were all very happy to see Louis Antunez coming down the trail from the parking lot, and then to get our ride back to camp.

At the parking lot are the ruins of an old building that resembles a chapel. According to the write-up on the trail map, however, it probably was just a chicken coop! And it doesn't date from Dennytown's heyday as a mining center but from the early 20th century.

Be that as it may, I picked up the Three Lakes Trail there, skirting a swamp as I headed north. Then there was a steep climb up to a ridge,

at the top of which lies the Denny Mine, one of several iron mines in the area. Again, the map information is that these mines flourished in the 19th-century, supplying the foundry at Cold Spring. But eventually they ceased to be profitable and were abandoned.
One of several pits--some of them filled with water--that used to be the Denny mine
From the Denny mine looking eastward toward Durland Scout Reservation.
In the right foreground is a firepit.
On the Three Lakes, I encountered the 1st hikers I'd seen all day, 1st a lone guy near the swamp, then a couple with their dog coming down the steep incline to the ridge. The dog was friendly, and of course he was happy, being out for a long walk in the woods (and having just had a swim in one of the ponds).

It was while poking around the mine and trying to get a photo of a hawk that I discovered a fine pocketknife ( next to a rock where someone must have sat down for lunch. (There is also a fire ring close by.)

By this time I realized that I wasn't going to be able to complete the circuit I'd had in mind but would have to "short-circuit" my hike in order to get back to NYLT in time for Mass at 4:45.

Three Lakes Trail descended from the ridge
Looking back (and up) at the ridge where the Denny mine is

into a pleasantly wooded area and then reached Sunk Mine Rd.--a hike of about 1 mile on Three Lakes.

Instead of continuing north as I'd originally planned, I turned onto the road and headed back to camp. Along the way I had fine views of John Allen Pond and of a littler pond formed by a creek flowing out of John Allen.
John Allen Pond
The half-swampy little pond below John Allen Pond
Three ducks were enjoying themselves in the little pond.
The road was rather busy. And once I was back in the vicinity of the camp boundary, I also met 3 people doing some geocaching on the state park side of the road. The walk back on the road to camp covered about 2 miles--1 back to the AT crossing and 1 more to camp. All told, I did about 7 miles

I was back to NYLT around 4:00 p.m., with plenty of time to "regroup" for Mass with 26 Scouts and Scouters, which probably was about half of the whole group.

The setting sun strikes gold on the hills of Durland.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Homily for 3d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Easter
April 14, 2013
Rev 5: 11-14
St. Timothy, Greenwich, Conn.

A shorter version of this was preached to Boy Scouts and Scouters in Putnam Valley on Saturday evening.

“To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever!’” (Rev 5: 13).

While my sister and her husband were posted by Uncle Sam in Belgium for 3+ years, I had the chance to visit them twice.  Belgium’s a beautiful country with medieval churches and monasteries and castles, charming urban architecture, magnificent public squares, canals, windmills, not to mention flowers, lace, chocolate, and beer!  One of Belgium’s artistic treasures is in the cathedral of Ghent, a large multi-panel painting called Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.  The central panel depicts the scene described in today’s reading from the Book of Revelation.

Revelation uses many symbols to convey the Christian message.  In today’s 4 verses, e.g., we have a throne, countless numbers of angels, living creatures, elders, and a Lamb. The vision pictures heaven as an imperial court where God the Father rules the universe.  All the angels and every bodily creature pay him homage.

The living creatures mentioned here in ch. 5 are introduced and described more fully in ch. 4.  Their imagery is borrowed from the OT prophets.  There are 4 creatures, and each of them has a different appearance.  One appears like a lion, one like an ox, one like an eagle, and one like a man.  They represent the wild and the domestic animals, the birds of the air, and human beings—the whole of animate creation.  In a slightly different interpretation, they represent certain qualities:  nobility (that’s the lion), strength (the ox), swiftness (the eagle), and wisdom (the man); in this interpretation, these are the most outstanding qualities of living creatures.  In either case, the whole of earthly creation, represented by its most superior parts and its best qualities, is at heaven’s throne worshiping God.

With the 4 living creatures are 24 elders, also introduced in ch. 4, dressed in white garments with gold crowns on their heads, all seated on thrones around God (4:4).  These 24 elders represent all God’s people:  the 12 tribes of ancient Israel and the 12 apostles of the new Israel with all the churches they have founded.  All worship the one living God and sing his praises.  The elders represent us who are here this morning to worship God, for we belong to a church, the church of Bridgeport, headed by a successor of the apostles—at least when we get a new bishop!

God the Creator and Father of the universe isn’t alone at the throne.  “The Lamb that was slain” (5:12) is with him, sharing the same honor and glory, the same blessings from God’s redeemed people.  John the visionary, the author of Revelation, is making an obvious point, that the Lamb shares in the divinity and the honors of God the Father.  This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  This is the Lamb whom “God exalted at his right hand as Ruler and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).   “Lamb” is John’s favorite title for Jesus, used 28 times in Revelation’s 22 chapters.

And it’s an important point that the Lamb shares God’s divinity.  At the end of the 1st century Christians were being persecuted—imprisoned, tortured, exiled, and killed—because of their faith.  Our 1st reading (Acts 5:27-32,40-41) contained an explicit reminder that Christians may have “to suffer dishonor” in this world “for the sake of the name” of Jesus (v. 41), as the apostles and martyrs did.  At the end of today’s gospel (John 21:1-19), we’re also reminded that Peter died a martyr:  “when you grow old, you’ll stretch out your hands, and someone else will…lead you where you don’t want to go” (21:18), i.e., to his crucifixion on the Vatican Hill.  Like the Acts of the Apostles, John’s visions of the Lamb in heavenly glory, surrounded by the angels and saints, is an encouragement for 1st-century Christians, and for us, to persevere in our loyalty to Jesus.

The title “Lamb” suggests the Passover lamb, ritually slain by the Hebrews in Egypt for a sacred meal just before their release from slavery, and the lamb’s blood daubed on their doorposts to mark the Hebrew homes so that the angel of death would pass over them and strike down the 1st-born sons of only the Egyptians.  In a sense, the lambs of the Hebrews were substitutes for their 1st-born sons.

At the beginning of St. John’s Gospel, John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36).  The Fathers of the Church, the earliest Christian authors and theologians apart from the NT,  noted how Jesus offered himself in our place, suffering for our sins, in accordance with the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “It was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured….  He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed….  The Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all” (53:4-6).  Jesus poured out his blood so that the angel of death—Satan—would have to pass over us when he comes to claim his own.  Some of the Fathers of the Church compare the lips of Christians with the doorposts of the Hebrews; when we eat the body and drink the blood of Christ in Communion, our lips are marked with the Lamb’s blood.

How deserving of our veneration, then, is the Lamb!  “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing” (Rev 5:12), this worship to be given by “every creature in heaven and on earth, and under the earth [i.e., even the dead] and in the sea” (v. 13).  The book of Revelation urges us to be faithful, so as to be part of that heavenly scene, to be counted among the countless tens of thousands enjoying salvation around God’s throne, singing our hearts out in joyful praise.  “Oh, when the saints come marching in, I want to be there in that number….”

When you listen to the final parts of Handel’s Messiah, you hear a beautiful rendition of the hymn from Revelation ch. 5.  Every creature in heaven, on earth, and in the sea sings these hymns to God the Father and to Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain for us.  Every creature acknowledges the sovereignty of God and the Lamb over all of us.  We shout joyfully:  “Blessing and honor, glory and might forever and ever.”  Heaven, if you like, has become a giant pep rally.

The scene painted by John is a liturgical one, one of public worship.  Our liturgy attempts to echo the heavenly liturgy.  Ideally, crowds of grateful Christians would fill our churches and sing out God’s praises, communing heart and soul with their Lord and Savior each resurrection day, each Sunday.  If we fully understood and appreciated what our Lord Jesus has done for us, we’d see Sunday worship not as an obligation but as a privilege—the privilege of singing God’s praise.

In 1988 the people of Ukraine celebrated the 1,000th anniversary of the their conversion to Christianity.  There's a little story about that.  It seems that Vladimir, prince of Kiev, wanted his subjects to adopt the most sublime religion they could find.  He sent deputations far and wide to see how other peoples worshiped God.  They visited the Moslems along the Volga River and Jews living in the Crimea.  In Germany they found Latin Christianity—that’s our kind.  But when they met Byzantine or Greek Christianity in the great cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, with its clouds of incense, its chanting and ritual, its mosaics, icons, and vestments, they thought they’d surely found heaven:  “We did not know,” they reported, “whether we were in heaven or on earth.  It would be impossible to find on earth any splendor greater than this, and it is vain to attempt to describe it….  Never shall we be able to forget so great a beauty.”[1]  So Prince Vladimir and the people of Kiev became Christians with Eastern liturgy and laws.  And so the Ukrainians and the Russians remained until the Communist persecutions of the 20th century, and so many of them remained despite persecution, like the apostles of old, and so their religion has risen to life again in what used to be the Soviet Union.

There probably are very few Catholic churches and Sunday liturgies today that a non- Christian would mistake for heaven.  But if heaven on earth isn’t here around the altar of the Lamb, around God’s living Word, where shall we find it?  We won’t, until we become convinced that God loves us and desires our presence; until we desire his presence and want to be part of that “countless number” of creatures shouting and singing before him, thanking him for our brothers and sisters, our community, our local church, thanking him for wiping out our sins, thanking him for Jesus.

Our weekly worship, our weekly communion with Jesus, is a dress rehearsal for eternity.  In heaven, of course, our love will be perfected.  In the meantime, we love and we worship as best we can, and we try to turn the world around us—all of it, not just our church building—into a little bit of heaven by our faith, our hope, our love, and our worship.

         [1] Quoted by Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions (Baltimore: Penguin, 1964), p. 89.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Lost Pocketknife

Lost & Found

Lost: one valuable pocketknife

Found: at Denny Mine off the Three Lakes Trail in Fahnestock State Park, April 13

Owner may contact this blogger at and describe the knife, including the specific inscriptions on either side of it.

Irony: a better knife than the one I lost and found on my last 2 trips to Durland Scout Reservation, whence I hiked today on the Candlewood, Appalachian, and Three Lakes trails. For that lost and found story, see post from last month:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Nobel Laureate Praises Fr. Ugo de Censi

Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa
Praises Salesian Fr. Ugo de Censi
and His Work in Chacas, Peru

(ANS – Chacas) – “Only in Chacas can the poor be sure of a plate of food, a bed to sleep on, and a doctor to visit them in time of illness. In the rest of the world where values that Fr. Ugo calls ‘diabolic’ are the order of the day, the poor die of hunger and people look the other way.” Thus wrote the Nobel laureate in Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, in an article published in the Peruvian newspaper La Republica on April 7. He acknowledged the work of Salesian Fr. Ugo de Censi, and, as often happens in his writing, he mixes social criticism and poetry, but always with a strong dose of reality.
“Chacas and heaven” is the title given to the article, which begins with a description of the district of Chacas: “The extraordinary beauty of this place is not only physical, but also social and spiritual, thanks to Fr. Ugo de Censi, an Italian who came to Chacas as parish priest in 1976. Despite his 90 years, Fr. Ugo is tall, well-spoken, friendly, robust, and agile. His energy is contagious, and he has a will that can move mountains.”
The article speaks also about what is needed to bring young people to God: “The best way to attract young people to religion and to God, at a time when the rest of the world is trying to escape from God and religion, is to encourage them to live the spiritual life as an adventure, giving their time, their strength, their knowledge, and their whole life to combatting human suffering and the great injustices endured by so many millions of human beings.”
Referring to what Fr. de Censi said, the Nobel laureate stated: “Fr. de Censi’s ideas are very much his own and must often have caused anxiety to his superiors in the Salesian Congregation and in the hierarchy of the Church, not to mention economists and sociologists. He insists that money and intelligence are the work of the devil, that the contorted sermons and abstract ideas of theology and philosophy do not lead to God. They are more likely to lead people away from God. Reason is not of much help, either, in getting to know the Supreme Being. For Fr. Ugo, it is not a question of trying to explain God, but of desiring him, thirsting for God, and when one finds him, abandoning oneself in fear, to that exaltation of the heart which comes from love.”
Vargas Llosa details the work done by Fr. Ugo, but says, at the same time, that a mere list is cold and incomplete, that one needs to experience the reality in order to understand it. He has built two electricity stations and reservoirs that provide electricity and water to the city and many surrounding districts and villages, as well as several schools, a hospital with 60 beds and the most modern medical equipment, a nursing school, workshops for sculpture, carpentry, and furniture design, farming enterprises that use the most modern methods of cultivation while respecting the environment, a school for mountain guides, for carving, for restoring colonial works of art, a glass factory, and workshops for stained glass, textile factories, cheese factories, mountain refuges, hospices for disabled children, cooperatives for farmers and tradesmen, churches, and canals for irrigation. August of this year will see the opening of a university for the education of adults in Chacas.”
All this work would have been impossible without the support of many Italian volunteers, of whom he says: “At present there are about 50 volunteers in Chacas and 350 in the entire region. They live modestly, the single ones in community, and couples with their children in houses among the poor, and they take no stipend.” Many of them remain in Chacas with their children. The Noel laureate says of them: “It is amusing to see that crowd of children with fair hair and blue eyes at Mass on Sunday, together with local children, all singing in Quecha, Italian, Spanish, and even Latin.”
The article concludes by affirming the need for a world where there are many men and women willing to give their lives to help their neighbor: “It is encouraging to live in Chacas, even if only for a few days, and to discover that even in this selfish world there are men and women who give their lives to doing good and helping others, and who find in that self-giving and sacrifice the meaning and justification of their own lives.”
The complete article is available on the site of La Republica. In the section of the WebTV of there is a video on the work of Fr. Ugo de Censi, produced by Missioni Don Bosco.
Editor’s note: Products of Fr. Ugo’s workshops are available commercially at Artesanos Don Bosco, 828 S. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21230.  410-563-4577

Monday, April 8, 2013

Neither Rain Nor Hail Nor Snow Nor Gale-Force Winds

Neither Rain Nor Hail Nor Snow
Nor Gale-Force Winds
(Nor Dark of Nite, for That Matter)...

... shall stay these hardy (or foolhardy) trekkers from braving Harriman State Park in some pretty cold conditions.

Catholic schools across the country are closed during Easter week (March 31-April 7 this year), turning what is liturgically or religiously a most solemn week of holy days (one long Easter Day) into a week of holidays, as well.

So most years my confrere Fr. Jim Mulloy, who teaches, and I try to get together for a day or two of backpacking and camping. My schedule allowed only Easter Sunday evening thru Wednesday afternoon to fit in such an outing. The weather (rain) nixed Sunday.

So on Easter Monday (April Fool's Day, and Mother Nature was in a fooling mood) we met up at Lake Skannetati in Harriman State Park. He had Bro. Minh Dang with him, another SDB from the community of Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey. We left our New Rochelle car there and took the Ramsey car to Lake Tiorati, where we started hiking under cloudy skies and in mild temperatures just after noon.

We took the short Lake Tiorati Trail from the parking lot to its end at the Ramapo-
Fr. Jim and Bro. Minh with Lake Tiorati behind
Dunderberg and Appalachian trails, which run together for over a mile along Fingerboard Mt. We headed southwest up the mountain, whence we had some fine views of the lake thru the leafless trees.

We huffed and puffed a little--none of us had done any strenuous hiking for quite a while--but covered the mile from the trails junction to the Fingerboard shelter in less than an hour.
The R-D and AT (note blazes on tree) run together along the top of Fingerboard Mt.
Fingerboard shelter from the rear, north
The Fingerboard shelter is a good one--full-width platform that can sleep 8 adults; 2 working fireplaces--set on the eastern slope below the ridge, and so sheltered from any weather out of the west. There was a good view of the lake, half a mile below (not that the mountain is that high, but that's the distance down the Hurst Trail to Seven Lakes Drive and the lake)--a view you have only when the trees are bare.
Some of our firewood stashed in front of the fireplace we didn't use,
and Bro. Minh in front of the other one, which we did use but weren't using yet

We were there only a minute when we got company--a 40-ish, athletic-looking woman with her teenaged son. They were from Yorktown, Va., and were doing the AT thru the park (from the Elk Pen to Bear Mt., about 18.5 miles), with the Brien shelter as their destination for the nite; they'd come about 4.1 miles and had another 5.2 miles to go to reach that. We offered to share the shelter, in view of the impending rain, chatted a few moments, offered a little advice, and sent them along with a blessing. We thought of them often during our hiking, wondering whether they made it to the shelter before dark and how they fared on the mountains beyond it. They turned out to be the only people we saw during the 2 days we were hiking and camping.

Then it began to rain, lightly.  We went out to get water (Fr. Jim, Bro. Minh) and firewood (moi) nevertheless, until the rain got a little heavier.  The temperature started to drop, then some very fine pellets of hail fell, then more rain, then big, wet snowflakes. We got a kick out of all that--but also were getting chilled, having gotten a little wet from exertion and the first rain. We put on some drier clothing, but it was still cold. We may have been asking ourselves, "What are we doing out here in this weather?"
Bro. Minh pretends he's freezing in the snow
Then the sun came out, and with it the wind rose--not so badly in the lee of the mountain, of course.  We all got more firewood, and Bro. Minh and I passed time sawing it up; all of us moaned about the weather that had turned our spring hike into a winter one.

A fire, lit earlier than we'd have preferred, warmed us up quite a bit.  We prayed Evening Prayer, then fixed our suppers. Fr. Jim shared cheese and crackers and hot dogs with buns with Bro. Minh; I had half a pack of Ramen noodles, half a package of freeze-dried beef stew, some of the cheese and crackers (Fr. Jim always carries a good stash of those), and an orange, washed down with a pint of Crystal Lite.

We did a little walking and exploring up on the ridge and thru the campsites adjacent to the shelter.  We saw a couple of deer that weren't at all skittish around us.
This guy was about 50 feet from me
Up on the ridge we really felt the wind, and none of us stayed up there very long. But there was a really good view--all the way to the Hudson and to Westchester County beyond.
Ridgetop of Fingerboard Mt. near the shelter. Up here the AT comes in
from the west to link up with the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail.
With dark, we admired the stars; none of us is an astronomer, so we could identify only the Big Dipper and Orion's Belt. Fr. Jim spotted a satellite, briefly.  And it got really cold, eventually dropping below freezing, colder still with such wind as hit us below the ridge.  We fed the fire and yakked until about 9 p.m., when we all turned in, reasonably snug on our bags.  Fr. Jim got up a couple of times during the nite to stoke the fire. 

We began to stir at dawn and got up around the same time as the sun. We restarted the fire--the embers from last nite were still glowing under the ashes. Then we celebrated Mass, with numb fingers. (By the end of the trip my right thumb had chapped open from the cold, as it often does, despite my wearing gloves much of the time.)

Breakfast followed.  Fr. Jim always goes light--Irish soda bread and a bagel this morning.  I go for substance--scrambled eggs, an energy bar, and coffee (sine qua non, whether camping or at home).  Then packing up, tamping down the fire, and departure at 8:30 a.m.

Bro. Minh had an obligation back at the Prep and took off down the Hurst Trail to return to the Prep's car at the Tiorati parking lot, taking our trash with him (as well as a little bit we'd collected that wasn't ours).  Fr. Jim and I continued southwest on the R-D. That part of the trail, all the way to the Dunning Trail (2.7 miles), was new to me.

The sun was out, gloriously so, but the wind was blowing strong and cold from the west, letting up every once in a while and when we dropped into the lee of something or other. But we had a couple of mountains to hike over--up to Fingerboard's 1367-foot summit, down to Times Square, up and down Hogencamp Mt. (1353 ft.), then part of the way up Black Rock Mt. (the highest point in Harriman, according to the trail guide, at 1382 ft.), until we reached Bald Rocks shelter.
Along a pleasant stretch of the R-D, Fr. Jim takes a short breather
before we'll be crossing a patch of icy snow--one patch among many
Discretion's the better part of valor: Fr. Jim goes down a steep lot of rocks, with some ice,
 on his rump. With such caution we both survived this hike!
The descents were tough in a couple of places, not only on account of steepness but also on account of snow or ice, still lingering in the shady places all over the park and added to somewhat by yesterday's rain. On the other hand, there was a lot of ridgetop hiking, which both Fr. Jim and I like--not much up and down, easy on the feet (whether the trail's rocky or dirty), not much in the way of trip hazards, and some terrific views.

The storm damage all over the park was terrible, and we passed thru some large areas of shattered trees. We can't give enuf credit to the NY-NJ Trail Conference for their work in clearing passages thru those areas and many other places along the trails, and for maintaining the blazes, many of which came down with the trees they were on.

You'd have to be blind or totally distracted to miss this trail marker!

The rock at left is blazoned "Times Square" and has trail markings on it.
All around--arboreal devastation.
One of the worst areas of devastation was Times Square, where 3 trails cross: the R-D, the Long Path, and the Arden-Surebridge. It was about an acre of trees strewn around like matchsticks, and we had a bit of trouble finding the R-D thru it. Then it was up Hogencamp Mt., where we took a breather and drank some water, and I ate an energy bar. We took some pix too.
Your blogger on top of Hogencamp Mt. The gray bag atop my backpack is a 2-lb., 1-man tent, which I didn't need on this trip. But the last time I backpacked without it I didn't get the shelter I was counting on. See
 Be prepared!
The descent brought us to a little creek with a rude log bridge. 

A little farther, and I discovered the welcome yellow blazes of the Dunning Trail--and the unwelcome sight of an ascent, starting up Black Rock Mt.

But we knew we were close to our destination, and in a few minutes Bald Rocks shelter was in view. Fr. Jim had been very worried it would be taken and we'd have to pitch our tents and deal with the wind all day and nite. Not so. No one around. It was just about 11:00 a.m.

But plenty of campers had been around--that was plain to see. There are a lot of nice campsites behind the shelter and a couple down the western side of the ridge. There wasn't a stick of firewood to be found in the area, and anything smaller than 3" in diameter had already been sawed off the many large fallen trees.

Happily, we took off our packs, having trudged 2.9 miles in 2.5 hours. Fr. Jim went off to find water, and I went off to find wood; there was plenty about 100 yards off, and somewhat down the hill. I did a lot of sawing and a lot of hauling, both of what I'd cut and of some stuff that didn't need to be cut.
Five good-sized tree limbs that I dragged uphill about 100 yards to the shelter; I always pack sturdy clothes line in my pack, which may serve as just that as well as a tarp support or as an aid to hauling stuff.
After a lunch of tuna and crackers and an energy bar, I did some reading--and continued finding firewood. I think Fr. Jim had more cheese and crackers for lunch when he eventually got back after a pretty long search for good water. Then he took a nap and sawed a different kind of lumber.

The Bald Rocks shelter apparently leaks a little; there were wet spots here and there on the bare rock half of the floor. Previous campers had attempted to stuff bits of plastic in various openings at the top of the walls, just below the roof.

This shelter has only a half-platform and can sleep only 3 comfortably, 4 in a pinch. Without water on the other half, which isn't level, you could of course sleep 3-4 more. We used part of that space for our firewood.
Fr. Jim in Bald Rocks shelter with his radio, trying to find a weather forecast.
Just a prediction of more wind!
The nice thing about the shelter is the center fireplace, radiating heat directly into the shelter. It was quite effective once we lit our fire around dusk. The shelter is just a little below the ridge and got a lot of the wind that had continued blowing all day. If the wind let up for a moment, or you could get out of its way, it was very pleasant in the sun.

So we passed the afternoon. Eventually we prayed the Divine Office, started the fire, and prepared our suppers. Mine was the second half of the Ramen noodles and the beef stew, with a bit of Fr. Jim's leftover sausage thrown in, and some more of his cheese and crackers; another energy bar; and another orange. I drank hot tea.

We didn't have a lot of conversation in us, and the sun had scarcely set when Fr. Jim crawled into his sleeping bag.  I continued to feed the fire while praying the Rosary. But well before 8:30 I too turned in. But I got up every time I saw the fire had died down, till past midnite, to stoke it up again. So we were comfortable enuf despite another sub-freezing nite.

During the nite and when I first got up in the morning (at 6:30, after dawn but before sunrise), I thought the wind had stopped. It was quiet right at the shelter. But that proved to be either temporary or illusory. In any case, I got up to tap a kidney and restart the fire, which was down to buried embers; I gave Fr. Jim a false alarm about rising for real. We both went back into our bags, but only for about 15 minutes.

It was so cold that we agreed not to celebrate Mass there; I did so after I got home, and that was Fr. Jim's plan too. So we went right to breakfast. Fr. Jim had just a bagel. (How can he manage on that?) I had the de rigeur coffee plus oatmeal, an energy bar, and the rest of the soda bread that Fr. Jim had brought and didn't want.

We packed up, put out the fire, double-checked the shelter for our stuff--and each strapped a shopping bag with trash to his pack. Most of that was garbage we'd picked up around the shelter; a little of it was our own.

And at 7:55 a.m. we set out for home, going east on the Dunning Trail for 1.4 miles, with a little ascent to the scenic Bowling Rocks and their fine views, including one of the shelter. That spot isn't as barren as it used to be, with brush and pines growing back after a years-ago fire.

I think this was a shot southwestward;
certainly it's from Bowling Rocks
For sure that's Bald Rocks shelter, from Bowling Rocks

The approach to the lake is especially scenic, with conifers and streams, including one little cascade right where the trail crosses.

Then it was down into the woods, the trail pretty much following an old woods road. And we were out of the wind.

At the Long Path we turned south and then eastward again to Lake Skannetati, a march of 1.3 miles.

We traversed it with great care. I was mindful of the bad fall I had on a slippery rock in the Catskills 4 years ago (

And in a few minutes more, the parking lot was in view--with a car in it that wasn't ours and a live human being--the 1st we'd seen since 1:00 p.m. on Monday.

That turned out to be a woman about to day hike with 2 dogs. She graciously agreed to take our picture with the lake behind us (a set-up more or less demanded by the position of the sun anyway).

The 2.7 miles of our hike out, mostly downhill and not steep, had taken just an hour and a half.

By 10:00 a.m. we were at Don Bosco Prep for some coffee and a mid-morning snack, and by 11:15 I was home in New Rochelle. Despite the cold--which really was pretty miserable when combined with the rain on Monday, despite the appellation of a "winter camping trip"--it was a good outing. Nothing like God's nature, good confreres as companions, and no timetable, provided you've brought the right gear with you for the place and the conditions.