Sunday, May 26, 2013

Homily for Trinity Sunday

Homily for
Trinity Sunday
May 26, 1983
Rom 5: 1-5
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“We have peace with God thru our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5: 1).

When I was younger, I used to wonder what the Trinity meant—not only how it could be understood but what difference it made in the practical life of the believer.

Holy Trinity by Maulbertsch
I still don’t understand very much of what it means to be three Persons in one God, and I grasp only a little of this doctrine’s significance for us.  But it is significant.

In the Trinity we experience God’s love.  We experience God’s love for us in the historical person of Jesus Christ, thru whom we have been restored to peace with God (5:1) and had our sins forgiven.  We experience God’s love for us in the permanent, trans-historical presence of the Spirit, who pours into our hearts God’s love (5:5).

Sin has alienated humanity from God:  original sin put our race at odds with God, and our personal sins deepen the gulf between each of us and our Creator.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has bridged the gulf and restored friendship and peace between our race and his Father.  This is grace, a favor from God granted to us because of his love for his Son and his love for all of us in the Son.

Humanity stands in God’s grace, thanks to Jesus Christ (5:2).  But each of us needs to be touched personally with the grace of Jesus Christ.  Each of us needs personally to have her sins forgiven and needs to be restored to peace with God.  How is Jesus Christ made present to us 2,000 years after his earthly life?  The Holy Spirit of the risen and life-giving Jesus is poured into our hearts, revealing God’s love to us, incorporating us into the divine life of the Father and the Son.  The Spirit is the personal love of the Divine Family for each other, and he is the personal love of God in us, the personal love we return to God, the personal love we extend to one another.  All that the Father has is Christ’s, and all that is Christ’s he has made known to us (cf. John 16:15) in the Holy Spirit.

So I may not be able to explain the Trinity to you or even to myself.  I don’t need to.  I only need to know that God loves me and he loves you.  He has revealed his love in Jesus Christ, and he continues to reveal his love thru the Holy Spirit, who lives and reigns in our hearts and in heavenly glory, forever and ever.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fifth Announcement: Champaign

Fifth Announcement
SDBs to Get a Kick from Champaign

"I get no kick from champagne" is the opening line of Cole Porter's great tune "I Get a Kick Out of You," sung by Ethel Merman in Anything Goes (1934).

On May 21 Fr. Tom Dunne announced by letter to the province that the SDBs have accepted the offer of Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria to take on pastoral care of Holy Cross Parish in Champaign, Ill.

The Salesian Sisters have been in Champaign since 2011 as part of the pastoral staff of St. John's Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois. They're overjoyed at learning that their brothers will be coming to join them.

Fr. Tom plans to assign 3 SDBs to begin with: a pastor, a confrere who will become part of the Newman Center chaplaincy staff, and an assistant pastor to serve Spanish-speaking people, who are a strong presence in Champaign-Urbana. He believes that these new forms of ministry match up very well with the criteria established for Salesian works by the 25th General Chapter (2002). Bp. Jenky's proposal came up for an extensive discussion at the provincial chapter in March.

Fr. Tom did not announce the names of confreres will take on this new pastoral work.

The SDBs are already serving in the Midwest at St. John Bosco Parish in Chicago. The FMAs, in addition to their presence in Champaign, also serve at St. Patrick's Church in St. Charles, Ill. (Rockford Diocese).

Update: The Peoria Diocese's newspaper, The Catholic Post, has published a story about the coming of the SDBs:

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Homily for Pentecost

Homily for
May 19, 2013
John 14: 15-16, 23-26
Acts 2: 1-11
Rom 8: 8-17
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“We will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14: 23).

A few days ago Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna disclosed one of his perceptions about how the Holy Spirit guided the recent conclave in a very surprising direction.

As you know, in the days following Pope Benedict’s announcement of his resignation, numerous lists of papabili were drawn up.  Until the last couple of days before the actual conclave, none of those lists included Cardinal Bergoglio, and then only 1 or 2 did.  Those 1 or 2 may have been reflecting the movement of the Spirit that Cardinal Schönborn spoke of.

The Austrian cardinal recounted how he experienced the Spirit’s presence twice.  One, before the conclave, he could talk about; one, within, he couldn’t.  He said that shortly before before the conclave he met a couple from South America whom he knew, whom he knew to be prayerful people.  He asked whether they had any advice for him.  The woman whispered one word into his ear:  “Bergoglio.”  And, says the cardinal, he took this as a serious sign of the Spirit’s speaking.

Jesus promised to send an Advocate, one to speak for us and thru us.  He promised to dwell with us, he and the Father.  That indwelling is effected thru the Holy Spirit, our Advocate.

In the well-known story from Acts 2, we hear the 1st effects of that indwelling.  The apostles are filled with courage and rush out to begin preaching the Gospel.  They are filled with wisdom to find references to Jesus in the Scriptures and effective words to convince the crowd of the Scriptures’ fulfillment.  They are filled with a universal pastoral zeal that reaches to all nations, prophesied thru the multiplicity of tongues on display—tongues of fire and the spoken tongues of the Roman Empire.

Descent of the Holy Spirit, from a Book of Hours, ca. 1485
When we were very young and were studying the Baltimore Catechism, we learned that Baptism made us temples of the Holy Spirit.  We never saw any fiery tongues.  The only fire we witnessed probably originated with our parents, especially on those occasions when our middle names were invoked!  Maybe we heard some fire from our teachers; in my case it was more likely to be a ruler rapping my knuckles, but not only (I suppose that fire was more likely to befall mischievous boys than sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice girls).  Such instances of course aren’t the fire kindled by the Spirit.

On the other hand, now and then it may be that some preacher has lit a fire in our hearts; or some missionary on a home visit, telling tales of foreign lands and foreign peoples; or some wise old religious narrating the lives of our predecessors and our early history.  At its best, good preaching, substantive conferences, and edifying conversation answers the prayer of Jesus:  “I’ve come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49).  Our minds and hearts are opened up to the light and the warmth of the Spirit; we’re moved to respond, drawn more intimately toward Jesus, and filled with ardor to make him known to others—like the Twelve, the Virgin Mary, and other 100+ disciples in the Upper Room on Pentecost Sunday.  “The Spirit that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me” and help us also to testify (John 15:26-27).

The indwelling Spirit will enable us to join Jesus in glorifying his Father, in praying thru the sacred liturgy and other forms of prayer.  St. Maximus of Turin, whose sermons I’ve been reading, speaks of the Pentecost experience in his Sermon 11:  “It is new wine that refreshes and inebriates the Christian, but that inebriation is sobering. . . .  The holy apostles, who were filled with this new wine…spoke the wondrous deeds of God in foreign tongues and appeared, as they did so, both drunk and sober at the same time.  For they were thought to be drunk because another tongue sounded in them in a preternatural way, but they were sober because they praised the Lord with spiritual devotion in an ordinary way.”[1]  St. Paul says today, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God” are God’s children and invoke him as “Abba” (Rom 8:14-15).

The indwelling Spirit will enable us to keep Jesus’ word (14:23), to keep his commandments (14:15).  When the Spirit governs our lives, we can’t do the works of the flesh, i.e., commit sin, as St. Paul says (Rom 8:8-13).  Rather, we imitate Jesus in our patience, kindness, mercy, chastity, faith, etc.

The indwelling Spirit will “teach you everything” (14:26)—which may mean discerning the proper moral response to contemporary social and economic issues, or discerning the best decisions for guiding our own lives, guiding a community, a school, a diocese—or the universal Church, as in Cardinal Schönborn’s experience.  That spiritual discernment depends on our submission to the Spirit, letting ourselves be “led by the Spirit of God” (Rom 8:15), as Paul says, and as the cardinal intimated because he knew that Latin American couple to be prayerful.

The indwelling of the Spirit also enables us “to suffer with Christ” (Rom 8:17).  Altho in Paul’s time that often meant the sufferings of violent persecution, none of us is exempt from suffering:  from physical pain, from emotional anguish, from worry, from misunderstandings, from hurts of various kinds.  The Spirit unites us with Christ in our sufferings, “so that we may also be glorified with him” (8:17).

In all things, then, the Spirit of Jesus and his Father “confirms our hearts” (Vigil Collect alt. form) so that with Jesus and his Father we might be “the unity of the Holy Spirit,” already now in the communion of the saints, and eternally as “joint heirs with Christ” (8:17).

      [1] The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, trans. Boniface Ramsey, OP (NY: Paulist, 1989), ACW vol. 50, p. 30.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Directors Announced

Directors Announced

The fourth set of personnel announcements followed very closely on the heels of the third set (see below). Fr. Tom Dunne sent a letter to the confreres of the province on May 17 publishing the names of four priests appointed directors for the period 2013-2016.

Fr. John Nazzaro, director of the Salesian Boys & Girls Club in East Boston since 2007, was appointed to a third term. The Club is in the midst of major changes at this time.

Fr. Greg Fishel
Fr. Greg Fishel was named director of the Salesian community in Belle Glade, Fla. The announcement did not indicate whether he would also serve as pastor. He replaces Fr. Joe Santa Bibiana, who has been both director and pastor since 2004. Fr. Greg has been assistant pastor of St. John Bosco Church in Chicago since 2007.

Fr. John Serio was appointed director of the community that serves Salesian HS here in New Rochelle, and president of the school, which is part of the job description. For the last year he has been on the staff of the formation community in Orange, N.J., since December acting as director there. Previously he was principal of Don
Fr. John Serio
Bosco Cristo Rey HS in Takoma Park, Md. He served as director of Salesian HS from 1992 to 1998 and thus is quite familiar with it. He is also the province's superintendent of schools. He will replace Fr. Pat Angelucci.

Fr. Dominic Tran
Fr. Dominic Tran will become director of the formation community at Orange. For the last 2 years he has been the province's vocation director, prior to which he was vice director, CYM, and dean of candidates at the formation house. Whether he will continue as vocation director was not mentioned in the provincial's letter.

Additional appointments will be made in coming days.

Third Announcements

The Third Announcements

In the province newsletter of May 16, Fr. Tom Dunne made two more personnel announcements. These had been expected for a long time because the whole province already knew that Bro. Robert Malusa and Bro. Minh Dang had applied for and been accepted for the foreign missions.

Finally has come word of the decision of the Rector Major on which missions they are destined for:  Bro. Rob for Zambia and Bro. Minh for the Middle East.

Bro. Rob, a coadjutor brother, is a native of Long Island, N.Y.  He made his first profession of vows in 2006 and his perpetual profession last August (see perpetual vows). Since 2008 he has been CYM at St. Philip Benizi Parish in Belle Glade, Fla. He served as a Salesian Lay Missioner in Sierra Leone in 2002-2003, which provided the germ of his religious vocation.

Bro. Minh came to the U.S. as a Vietnamese refugee and grew up in Northern Virginia. He made his first vows in 2009 as a brother studying for the priesthood (see first vows). He has completed his practical training as a teacher at Salesian HS in New Rochelle and Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J. He will begin his theological studies in September at the Ratisbonne Institute in Jerusalem, coincidentally in his new province,

The Zambia Province (technically, still a "vice province") was created in 1994 and includes not only Zambia but also Malawi and Zimbabwe. Last Dec. 31 it numbered 75 professed SDBs and 8 novices. The professed included 7 coadjutors, 31 seminarians, and 37 priests. The provincial house is in Lusaka.

The Middle East Province was erected in 1902 and includes works in Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. The provincial house is in Bethlehem. Not counting students from other provinces, there were 105 professed SDBs and 0 novices on Dec. 31: 12 coadjutors, 11 seminarians, and 82 priests.

Both Bro. Rob and Bro. Minh will be part of the Society's 144th Missionary Expedition, which will receive orientation this summer and be solemnly sent off by the Rector Major on Sept. 28 from the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin, in keeping with Salesian tradition going back to 1875.

Bro. Stephen Sandor to Be Beatified

Bro. Stephen Sandor to Be Beatified

(ANS – Vatican City) – Pope Francis on May 15 approved the beatification of the Servant of God Stephen Sandor, a lay (coadjutor) brother of the Society of St. Francis de Sales. Back in March, the Congregation for Saints’ Causes recognized officially that he had been executed in hatred of the Faith, i.e., he is a martyr.

The rite of beatification will take place in Budapest, Hungary, on Saturday, October 19, 2013, where Bro. Stephen lived as a Salesian and where he was hanged on June 8, 1953, by the Communist rulers of the country. The Holy Father will be represented at the beatification ceremony by Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.

Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni, Salesian postulator general, said that Bro. Stephen was sent by the Holy Spirit to the young people of Hungary to bear witness to the Gospel according to the spirit of Don Bosco. He remained with them and kept guard over them even to the point of giving his life as a martyr. He offered his life for the salvation of the young and in defense of the rights of the Church.

“We thank God for this special gift to the Church and to the Salesian Family in this Year of Faith as we prepare for the bicentennial of Don Bosco’s birth,” said Fr. Cameroni, as soon as he heard the news.  “This event is a moment of joy especially for the Salesian Congregation in Hungary, which this year celebrates 100 years of Salesian presence in the country. We receive this news also as a gift of Mary Help of Christians as we begin the novena in her honor. Stephen Sandor had great devotion to the Mother of God, and he spread this devotion among the young with great enthusiasm and fervor.”

Bro. Sandor, born in 1914 at Szolnok, Hungary, came to know about Don Bosco through the Salesian Bulletin and became an aspirant in 1936. He learned the printer’s craft and made his first profession on Sept. 8, 1940, as a coadjutor brother. In Budapest he taught printing, assisted 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 by gathering up poor youths and teaching them a trade.

When the Communist regime began to persecute the Church and disbanded religious organizations, Bro. Sandor continued working underground. He found employment in a detergent factory and fearlessly but kept up his clandestine youth apostolate. In July 1952 he was arrested; his confreres never saw him again. Only after the fall of the Communists did documents come to light showing that he had been hanged in 1953.
Bro. Stephen Sandor, at the right, with altar boys at the Salesian school in Budapest

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Second Announcements

The Second Announcements

On May 9 Fr. Tom Dunne made two more announcements concerning the 2013-2014 pastoral year. They appeared in the province newsletter.

Fr. Gerard Ravasco, a member of the North Philippines Province and a veteran missionary (Cambodia), has arrived in our province to serve the Filipino population of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Surrey, B.C., for a period of 3 years.

George Hebert has been appointed principal of Archbishop Shaw HS in Marrero, La., with the approval of the Office of Catholic Schools of the New Orleans Archdiocese.  Mr. Hebert is an alumnus of Shaw (1985) and has been a public school principal in nearby Lafitte.

Mr. Hebert will replace Fr. Lou Konopelski, Shaw's principal for the last 5 years.  Fr. Dunne noted the school's progress under his leadership in "academic offerings, instructional processes, and teacher formation" as well as its re-accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the development of strategic plan.

There was no word about Fr. Lou's next assignment.  This blogger has an intuition but knows nothing official--or even rumored!

Homily for 7th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
7th Sunday of Easter
Your humble blogger's Scouting outing for this weekend was canceled, and he has no pastoral assignment--and thus no homily. To continue the Revelation sequence interrupted last weekend, here's his homily from 3 years back.

Rev 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.
May 16, 2010                                                             

“Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates” (Rev 22: 14).

The Book of Revelation’s sustained encouragement of the disciples of Jesus to stick it out thru persecution and all the other trials of life ends with the Lord’s promise to come soon (22:12,20) and the prayer of the Lord’s bride, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:17,20).  The Christian’s sole hope is that the Lord lives and will come again, bringing with him the recompense “to each according to his deeds” (22:12), including eternal life for the faithful (22:14) and exclusion for the wicked (22:15, omitted in the reading).

The voice that addresses John the Seer isn’t the same voice that he heard at the beginning of his visions, when he was instructed to write down his visions and pass along messages to the various churches of Asia.  Now it is Jesus himself speaking:  “Behold, I am coming soon” (22:12).  This message is a constant of the Gospels and of Paul’s letters; hence, of Christian teaching, incorporated also in our Creed.  The problematic part is the word soon.  That, of course, is a relative term.  What’s a human lifetime in the scale of human history, or of the age of the earth, not to mention the “length” of eternity?  Even if today our average life-spans—at least in the First World—are double those of the 1st century, they’re short enuf.  If the Second Coming and the consummation of all things isn’t really just around the corner of time, the end of our own individual time is, and if Jesus isn’t “coming soon,” we’re soon going to him.  Be faithful, whether it’s an age of persecution or one “merely” of day-to-day struggle to live virtuously.

“I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.”  Judgment, accountability, reward or punishment follow death.  It’s the ancient Christian message of the Last Things.  Nothing new or shocking there, but a message seldom heard any more, and perhaps one that too many Christians, even priests and religious and bishops, have stuck away in a far corner of their minds.  Why do we do some of the things we do?  “What was I thinking?”  Maybe it wasn’t of eternity.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13).  (If you’ve read Teilhard, you love this line.)  As far as St. John’s concerned, Christ is laying claim to divinity.  He can judge humanity because he’s God, from whom all things have come, to whom all things are going.  The disciples’ loyalty in the face of the demands of the Roman State, or our loyalty today in the face of any earthly authority, is not just to some teacher, to some prophet, but to Jesus Christ the Son of God—not “son” as metaphor of some sort, as when you and I call ourselves God’s children, but Son as an equal to be worshipped, to be obeyed, to be loved unto death, even as he has loved us unto death, to be regarded as the beginning and the end of our existence, as our purpose in life, and to whom we must answer for our lives.

“Blessed are they who wash their robes…” (22:14).  Washed in the blood of the Lamb, as we heard in a reading a few weeks ago (7:14), washed in the waters of Baptism.  Apparently it was a well known refrain among the early Christians, known even to their pagan neighbors.  We read, for instance, in the Acts of the martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity that the crowd in the arena chanted, “Washed and saved, washed and saved,” when the beasts drew blood from the martyrs, “giving evidence of a second baptism.”*

Being so washed—by the Lamb, perhaps also by bloody testimony to the Lamb—entitles one to eternal life:  “…so as to have the right to the tree of life” (22:14).  This reverses the penalty of our 1st parents, who were driven away from the tree of life because of their sin.  The Lamb of God leads us back to the tree of life, for he’s the Lord of life (“the first and the last, the beginning and the end”).

Those who’ve washed their robes also have the right to “enter the city thru its gates” (22:14).  The city is the new and eternal Jerusalem, the subject of our 2d reading last week (21:10-14,22-23) and of the last 2 chapters of Revelation.  One who enters thru the gates belongs to the city.  Others have to attack the city, besiege its walls, like Joshua assaulting Jericho, or sneak in thru secret passages, like David capturing Mt. Zion from the Jebusites (2 Sam 5:6-9).  “Whoever doesn’t enter a sheepfold thru the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).  Those who belong to Jesus, however, come and go thru the gate, for he’s their shepherd and calls them by name (John 10:3).  The only way into the kingdom of God is thru the gate, which Jesus opens for his own.

“I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches” (22:16).  The “you” is plural, so it’s not only John the Seer being addressed here but all the disciples of Jesus, all the churches of Asia—and of course all the other churches who’ve received this testimony thru the ages.

“I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star” (22:16).  This is a messianic claim:  Jesus is the Christ.  He’s the son of David, but also his Lord (“root”) (cf. Ps 110:1).  He’s that star which rises out of Jacob in the vision of Balaam who shall smite the enemies of Israel (Num 24:17).  He’s the light that overcomes the darkness, the sun of justice, life arising from death.  Christ’s association with the morning star also explains the orientation of most churches toward the east, i.e., placing the altar at the east end of the church, so that the congregation worships facing east, looking toward him who is our light, our life, our hope, the one to whom we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

And that’s the conclusion, the culmination, of John’s Revelation:  “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’  Let the hearer say, ‘Come’” (22:17).  The Spirit speaks in the Church, the bride of Christ, calling for him to come to her.  She longs for her Spouse.  Every disciple longs for the Master’s return.

“Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water” (22:17)—this echoes one of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies:  “All you who are thirsty, come to the water,” come and feast on grain and wine and milk, all without cost, and have life (55:1-3).  An angel says to John as part of his vision, “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (19:9).  And it’s all a gift; it’s all grace, freely offered by God to anyone who desires it and will come to Jesus, come to Baptism, come receive the Holy Spirit:  “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as scripture says, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’  He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive” (John 7:37-39).  And the gift of the Spirit is the gift of eternal life (cf. John 6:63).

“Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).

        * “Death of the Holy Martyrs of Carthage,” Liturgy of the Hours, 2:1702.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Salesian Perspective on Social Media

A Salesian Perspective
on Social Media

This comes from ANS, the Salesian news agency based in Rome, dated May 10.

Fr. Filiberto Gonzalez, Salesian general councilor for communications, spoke recently with the online production Vatican Insider about the present situation of the Salesian Family regarding social media. Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Communications Day (May 12) is relevant and applies also to Salesians as religious, educators, and evangelizers.

Where does the Salesian Family stand in the communications field?
I think we’ve always been present in this world of communications. Don Bosco was outstanding in this area. We could even say he was ambitious – in a holy way – because he wanted to win as many souls as possible for God. When he wrote his circular letter on the spread of good literature, he said that this was one of the apostolic priorities entrusted to him by God. I also think that sometimes in this area we have been lacking in courage, and in the creativity and pastoral-educational vision of Don Bosco.

Why should Salesians be present in social media? Does it make sense for them to use Facebook and Twitter in their apostolate?
If we look to the example of Don Bosco and the requirements of our Constitutions, we’ll find some basic criteria that apply in the new times in which we live, and contemporary culture and young people. These criteria can be expressed in short phrases like: where there are young people, there are Salesians also; the Salesian is open and cordial, ready to take the first step; the Salesian welcomes the values of the world and refuses to lament the signs of the times; he accepts everything that is good, especially if it’s pleasing to the young. But even that isn’t enough! The most important thing is missing. Who will communicate the love of God to the millions of young people who inhabit this new digital continent, and communicate among themselves in these new spaces and with a new language? I think this is the most youthful continent, and therefore the most Salesian one. The salvation of the young becomes the most important criterion for being present and living in social media.

Can social media become for many Salesians a new kind of oratory where they can meet young people?
I am convinced the answer is yes!  There is the physical oratory, and there is the virtual oratory. Both are real! In both of them there are young people who are searching for something. They want to learn, to share, to dialog, to express themselves, to find friends, etc. What they’re missing is someone to accompany them, someone who’s open and authentic, without any prejudice, always ready to appreciate the new culture.  The good thing about the oratory is that it’s an open space that depends on the quality of relationships, and where everyone’s helped to grow. Social media are a space where a family atmosphere can be created, with friendship, mutual education, and a search for God. In this new type of oratory, there’s space for values and activities where young people are the main protagonists, accompanied in the way Don Bosco wanted and as he did himself at Valdocco.

Would Don Bosco be on Twitter today?
I’m certain that Don Bosco would use all the social media, and not just because they happen to be the fashion. Don Bosco’s passion for God and for the salvation of young people was such that he was able to understand and make use of one of the best means available in his day of promoting culture and ideas, and Christian education, namely the printed word. He couldn’t be physically present among young people everywhere, but he wanted the salvation of the young so much that he extended his “playground” as much as he could, he multiplied his presence, he enlarged his classroom and the pulpit where he evangelized. He got involved, in an intelligent and effective way, in the area of publishing and printing, which was the best means of his time. In that way he was able to multiply many times over the number of young people and others who read his books. This was his way of bringing the Gospel to them, and spreading his ideas and sentiments and convictions. He found a way to be present wherever young people and their parents and educators were present, overcoming the barriers and limits imposed by walls and time zones.
This was his way of enlarging and multiplying Valdocco.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Homily for Ascension Thursday

Homily for
Ascension Thursday
May 31, 1984
Acts 1: 1-11
Don Bosco Tech, Paterson, N.J.

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up to heaven?” (Acts 1: 11).

Why were the disciples staring up to heaven?  Because Jesus had just physically departed from them, and they felt a terrible sense of loss.  Their friend, their leader, their teacher was gone, and they were on their own.  Many of them apparently were looking for something to happen, like an immediate transformation of the world into a perfect place to live, a return to the garden of paradise, or something of the sort.

Not only has Jesus, risen from the dead, not changed the outward appearance of the world radically, but he has commanded the disciples to take over his mission of preaching the good news, and he has left them alone.

At least it seems that they’re alone.  Obviously they don’t grasp his meaning when he says, “I’m with you always until the end of the world” (Matt 28:29), nor when he tells them, “The Holy Spirit will come down on you” (Acts 1:8).  Jesus had been such a real part of their lives, and suddenly he’s not there.  No wonder they stared into heaven!

Our situation is quite different. We men and women of 20th-century America don’t look to heaven.  Jesus hasn’t been a real part of our lives.

Instead of looking for a transformation of the world into a radically better place, we take it for granted that the world will always be the same.  Activist songwriter Bob Dylan said in an interview the other day, for instance, that working for world peace is a waste of time because it’s just not going to happen.

Although the Holy Spirit has come upon us in Baptism and Confirmation, we haven’t allowed him to transform our lives.  He’s the Spirit of the living Jesus who’s always with us.  But what difference does he make in our lives?  Is Jesus for us a person of the past, or a living person, a present person, a friend, a leader, a teacher?

Once the disciples accepted the Holy Spirit, once they believed that Jesus was with them, once they realized that they were now Jesus’ messengers in a world that needs salvation, then they could stop staring into heaven and change the world.

They did change the world, or at least a substantial portion of it.  The apostles made the civilization of Rome more human by Christianizing it.  Missionaries brought not only Christ but learning and a new sense of human dignity wherever they went.

The apostles, of course, could only begin to carry on the good news of Jesus—that Jesus is life, that Jesus obtains the forgiveness of our sins, that all of us are God’s children.  Each succeeding generation of the disciples of Jesus has had to carry on the mission, to be the witnesses of Jesus to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8).

Now Christ counts on us, on this generation.  Geographically, the gospel has been proclaimed just about to the ends of the earth.  In time, it has not.  To every human being, it has not. 

But now the angels wouldn’t say, “Men of America, why do you stand here looking up to heaven?”  The apostles looked for a heavenly solution to their problems and their hopes, and had to be fired into action on Christ’s behalf.  We don’t even think about heaven, about sin, about grace, about the lordship of Jesus Christ.  Our activity is entirely earth-centered:  jobs and money and vacations and SATs and girlfriends and arcades and cars—and on and on.

Men of America, are those realities of the earth going to transform the world we live in?  Will they make mankind less violent, less greedy, more helpful, more generous, and more closely-knit into a single human community in which all men and women are not only created equal but treated equally?  In which all men and women can read and write and work and have enough to eat and live out their days in peace.

We men and women of the 20th-century, particularly we of America, have to begin looking again to heaven.  We have to begin looking again for Jesus:  “this Jesus who has been taken up” but who “will return” too (Acts 1:11), this Jesus who is with the Father and also with us, this Jesus who shares with us his power to heal the sick and broken world, to forgive sin, to change the hearts of individual men and women, to make a real difference in the history of the world.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Homily of 6th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2013
Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29
St. Vincent's Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

If anyone has been following my 4-week sequence of homilies on Revelation this year and was hoping to find another this week--apologies.  I was posted to St. Tim's only those 4 weeks, and this week I thought the congregation I had would profit more from the homily here (written out the day before with them in mind).  I went thru 35+ years of old homilies (or 12 cycles of the "C" readings) looking for one for this Sunday on the Revelation reading but apparently it's one of the very rare readings on which I've never preached.

“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…” (Acts 15: 28-29).

Both our 1st and our 3d readings this morning, from the Acts of the Apostles and from St. John’s Gospel, speak of the Holy Spirit, specifically of the Spirit’s active presence in the Church.  The apostles and elders of the Church, gathered in council in Jerusalem, reach a decision with the aid of, the Holy Spirit.  This is the same Holy Spirit whom Jesus at the Last Supper promised the apostles would be with them as an Advocate to “teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26).

So we have in these 2 readings a core scriptural teaching, viz., that the Holy Spirit is given to the Church to teach the Church, to guide the Church, to keep the Church faithful to Jesus, so that we may be saved.  It was true in the 1st century, and it’s true in the 21st century.

Now let’s look at what the Church was deciding and teaching in the 1st century and what that means in our century.  This council of the apostles and elders assembled in Jerusalem because of a huge controversy—an argument—going on.  In large areas of the eastern Mediterranean world, Gentiles were being converted to Christianity by St. Paul, St. Barnabas, and other missionaries.  Jewish Christians—most Christians at this time were Jewish, like the apostles and all Jesus’ earliest followers in the Holy Land—and many of them wanted these Gentiles to convert to Judaism, believing that God could save us only thru the Law of Moses and the Law’s fulfillment in Jesus Christ:  “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).  Not only circumcision was involved, but the entire Torah, all its moral and ritual practices, such as what foods were clean and unclean, and what festivals to celebrate.

Image of St. Paul, Cathedral of St. Paul, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Our reading skips over St. Luke’s summary of the debate at this council (St. Luke is the author of the Acts of the Apostles).  We jump to the message that the council published, which stated that the Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to be saved, but there were some fundamental moral teachings that they would have to accept:  if you keep these, “you will be doing what is right.”

What did these moral teachings involve?  The council’s message speaks of “meat sacrificed to idols, blood, meats of strangled animals, and unlawful marriage” (15:29).  It calls these issues “necessities,” i.e., if you want to be faithful to Christ, you have to follow these teachings.  These teachings we could summarize as being concerned with true worship, respect for life, and sexual purity.

“Meat sacrificed to idols” would be tainted with idolatry.  True worship of God can have nothing to do with idols, with false gods, with any God than the God who revealed himself to Moses and who reveals himself thru Jesus Christ.  Not many of us are tempted to set up statues of Zeus or Athena or of some earthly ruler and worship them, burn incense to them, or offer food sacrifices to them, as was done in the 1st century.  But we are certainly tempted to worship false gods:  money, leisure, pleasure, fame, for instance.  How many people sell their souls to make money?  How many people have more important things to do on Sunday morning (or Saturday evening) than to go to church?  How many people are addicted to destructive behaviors?  There certainly are idols that tempt us to be unfaithful to God.  “If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.”

“Blood” and “meats of strangled animals” involve respect for life.  Blood signifies life; we speak of one’s “life blood.”  When your blood flows freely within your body, you’re alive.  When it spills out of you—as happened to 3 of the victims of the Boston terrorists—you die.  God alone is the Lord of life, and so the Jews couldn’t consume blood.  That particular detail we don’t consider significant any longer; if we did, I guess we couldn’t enjoy a rare steak or prime rib!  But we do have to respect life, human life above all.  The taking of innocent human life—e.g., thru abortion, mercy killing, assisted suicide—is always wrong.  The indiscriminate killing of non-combatants in warfare (or thru terrorism) is always wrong.  The use of the death penalty except in defense of society, and going to war except as a last resort for self-defense, is wrong. Whatever might harm our own selves or others is always wrong, e.g., the abuse of drugs or alcohol, smoking, reckless driving, self-mutilation, professional boxing (where the intent is to inflict bodily harm), physical, verbal, or emotional abuse of others, etc.  “If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.”

“Unlawful marriage” of course concerns sexual purity or chastity.  When many people hear the word “morality,” they think 1st of all, and maybe only of, sex.  Well, everything we’ve mentioned already, and a lot more, are moral issues.  But sexuality of course also is a moral issue.  It goes to the heart of who we are as persons because we all have bodies, and our bodies are either female or male.  Somehow in God’s design we are made in his image, even if he doesn’t have a body—altho the Son of God took on a body and became Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ.  We relate to each other thru and with our bodies:  with our 5 senses, with our emotions.  How we treat each other thru and with our bodies bespeaks our respect for the divine image that each of us is.  None of us wants to be seen or treated as merchandise, as property, as nothing more than the means of giving someone else pleasure.  Our relationships are meant to build us up, make us whole, point us toward God’s love, and to be life-affirming.  Anything less—using others thru premarital sex, adultery, homosexual acts, contraception, strip clubs, pornography—is self-centered, destructive of self or of others, not an image of God’s love for humanity, not life-affirming. “If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.”

In our prayer earlier, the Collect of the day, we prayed that “we may always hold to” our honoring “of the risen Lord” “in what we do.”  The teaching of the apostles and elders in the 1st century and the continued teaching of Christ’s Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, remind us today of some of what we must do to be faithful to Jesus our risen Lord:  to worship God alone, to respect human life, and to practice sexual purity.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The First Announcements

The First Announcements

On May 2 Fr. Tom Dunne, our provincial, made the first announcements concerning the 2013-2014 pastoral year.

The province has been waiting for personnel announcements for many weeks. This announcement was both modest and large:  modest in that only one Salesian is affected directly, and large in that it signifies a major change in the scope of the province's Youth Ministry Office.

Fr. Abe Feliciano
To wit: The YM Office this summer will relocate to the provincial house in New Rochelle, and its director, Fr. Abe Feliciano, will become part of our community. The change in scope entails "giving primary focus on animating the local communities to an effective evangelization of the young through the development of functioning youth ministry teams, competent youth ministers, and the broader educational-pastoral communities," in the words of Fr. Tom's announcement. That is in contrast to the practice that has evolved over quite a few years of the YM Office running programs.

In a separate communication published in the province's newsletter, Fr. Tom announced the temporary relocation of the SDB personnel of Salesian Boys & Girls Club in East Boston. In view of the physical relocation of the SDB residence from one side of Byron St. to the other, Frs. John Nazzaro and Rich Putnam will take up temporary residence in the parishes where they serve on weekends, and Bro. Bernie Dube has taken up temporary residence in the provincial house. Fr. Rich Cressman has been assigned to Mary Help of Christians Center in Tampa and will not return to East Boston.
The SDB residence at the corner of Bennington and Byron Sts. will be moved across Byron St. and be set adjacent to the parking lot/playground of the Boys & Girls Club.