Sunday, June 30, 2013

Catholic Media Conference 2013

Hundreds Attend
Catholic Media Conference

In case anyone was wondering why I didn't post a homily last weekend (June 22-23), it's because I was out of town.

From June 19 to 21, more than 400 Catholic communicators of various stripes gathered in Denver to sharpen their media and business skills, meet or reconnect with each other, share war stories, and ponder how they might take part in the New Evangelization.

I’ve attended five of the annual conventions since 2007, and I never fail to be impressed by the commitment of these journalists, diocesan spokesmen, and others to their faith—to practicing it and to spreading it. To cite just one example, Jeff Bruno concluded a session on using images to enhance a story with this (I paraphrase): “The most important thing you can do to make your work better is to maintain a solid prayer and sacramental life.” And he’s no slouch of a photographer, judging from what he had to show and say!

At lunch on June 20, Mother Dolores Hart gave a talk that was both funny and serious
—followed by a book-signing for her new autobiography.
Most of the conference attendees were members of the sponsoring organizations—the Catholic Press Association of the U.S. and Canada and the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals—but also included Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and an African priest from the same dicastery, and journalists from several far-off countries like Australia and South Africa.

The conference began on June 19 with workshops (“master camps”) on communications plans, the use of video in reporting, building healthy organizations, the use of new media in the New Evangelization, and modern apologetics. It continued on June 20-21 with numerous short sessions in tracks geared to communications planners, editors and designers, business people, reporters, and “general interest.”

Yours truly took part in the “master camp” on “The Digital Church: A One-Day Guide to New Media in the New Evangelization,” offered by Matt Warner ( and Josh Simmons ( and

Fr. Tom Rosica, president of Canada’s
Salt & Light Catholic TV network,
chaired the panel discussion on the New Evangelization
as well as giving a major address to the convention.
On the 20th I went to sessions called “Say What?!!? Translating Churchspeak for Your Audience,” “Telling a Story Through Images,” a New Evangelization panel (which chiefly covered the impact of the papal transition), half of one on storytelling in reporting and half of one titled “The First Pope from the Americas.”
On the 21st I took in “Crafting a Social Media Policy That Lets You Sleep at Night,” “Church Trends to Watch,” “Putting News on the Nightstand, Instead of the Doorstep—How to Reach Catholic Millennials,” and “Conversation: The Identity of the Catholic Journalist in 2013” (a conversation involving Our Sunday Visitor’s Greg Erlandson and National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen).

Featured speakers at the conference luncheons and dinners included

-- Fr. Robert Barron (“Six Tips for the New Evangelization”:;

-- Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB (“What Benedict Stored, Francis Scatters”:;

-- Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles (on the U.S. immigration debate:

Abp. José Gomez addresses the Catholic Press Association at their awards banquet on June 21.
Each day included a late afternoon Mass, the first presided over by Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., the second by Denver’s vicar general, and the last one by Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver and concelebrated by Archbishop Gomez. Most of the ten or so priests attending concelebrated daily. Most of the conference attendees took part, making for some robust singing (accompanied by piano and a cantor) and elbow-to-elbow seating. Unlike previous CMCs, there were no “outings” to neighborhood churches or the local cathedral.

There was, however, a room set up for Eucharistic adoration throughout the conference, where many people popped in during the day. (It made a nice, quiet place for praying the Divine Office for me.) That seems to have been a CMC first.

A summit meeting of the America’s “Big Three” Catholic newspapers:  Jeanette DeMelo, editor of the National Catholic Register, introduces Greg Erlandson, president of Our Sunday Visitor, and John Allen, star reporter for the National Catholic Reporter before the “conversation” of the latter two about contemporary Catholic journalism, before an SRO crowd.
One of the conference’s many lighter moments: Four of the religious priests happened to be standing next to each other in the vesting room before Mass when Archbishop Aquila came over to meet us. Each of us told him our name, order, and working location, e.g., “Mike Mendl, Salesian, from New Rochelle.” Fr. Mike Lorentsen, Conventual Franciscan; Fr. Pat McCloskey, Friar Minor; and Fr. John Belmonte, Jesuit, did the same. Then Fr. Belmonte added, “This sounds like the lead-in to a joke: a Salesian, a Franciscan, and a Jesuit were vesting for Mass….”

An ebullient Peter Finney,
editor of New Orleans’s Clarion Herald,
just presented with the St. Francis de Sales Award
by the CPA, shows off “Franny” to Fr. Janvier
from the communications dicastery in Rome.
Awards were presented at luncheons on the 20th and 21st to individuals for outstanding work in the news and communications fields, including the CPA’s St. Francis de Sales Award for outstanding journalism to Peter Finney of the New Orleans Archdiocese’s Clarion Herald. Each of the sponsoring associations held its own awards dinner; on the 21st the CPA honored numerous newspapers, magazines, and books in over 200 categories, usually with first, second, and third place citations.

Besides the work and fun of the convention, I had the pleasure of visiting my cousin Kathleen and her husband Butch, who live just outside Denver--a 45-minute commute for me each of the convention days. Then I spent the weekend with them (June 22-23).  They showed me around the area a little bit--things that they hadn't taken Dad and me to when we visited them on a vacation in the late '80s. From their backyard there's a great view of the Rockies, and a large lake is across the street from them.
Sun sets over the Rockies as a couple walk their dog along the shore of Standley Lake, Arvada, Colo.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Homily for 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 16, 1983
Luke 7: 36-50
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“O God, … since without you mortal frailty can do nothing, grant us always the help of your grace” (Collect).

The Collect or opening prayer acknowledges our helplessness.  It doesn’t admit outright that we’re sinners, but I think we can read that between the lines.

No such ambiguity in the 1st reading (2 Sam 12:7-10,13) or the gospel (Luke 7:36-50).  Sin’s there in big, bold, scarlet letters:  David’s sins, the sins of an anonymous woman.

David’s sins are named and condemned publicly by the prophet Nathan:  adultery, murder, ingratitude for all God’s gifts.

The Sinful Woman at Jesus' Feet, source unknown
We’re left to guess at the sins of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with precious oil.  Many early and medieval commentators identified her with Mary Magdalene, but modern commentators don’t think so at all.  Whoever she may be, evidently she’s notorious—and we don’t really need to try to guess at her sins.  That’s not the point of the story.

The point, of course, is that thru Jesus God forgives her, for she regrets her sinfulness, admits her sinfulness, and seeks pardon.

David, likewise, once he’s confronted, confesses his sins humbly and begs for God’s mercy, and God pardons him (12:13).

We have 2 huge sinners, then, in these 2 stories—huge in human eyes, at least.  Both are forgiven immediately upon repenting and turning to God; upon admitting their “mortal frailty,” their guilt, either explicitly like David or silently like the woman at Jesus’ feet.  They realize that they’re in a fix from which they can’t escape on their own:  God has passed judgment on David, and the sinful woman realizes that God will judge her, as well—not to mention the judgment that everyone in town has already passed upon her.  Their “mortal frailty can do nothing” to make their situations right.  But the grace of God can do something.

What encouragement for us!  Whatever sins we’ve committed, long ago or recently, huge or tiny or in-between, public or private—“the help of God’s grace” will touch them, forgive them, destroy them!  All we have to do is admit them, be sorry for them, confess them, turn away from them.

God loves us, and Jesus is his very particular way of showing that.  Simon the Pharisee says to himself, “If this man were a prophet…” (7:39).  A prophet is someone who speaks for God, as Nathan does in the 1st reading.  So, yes, Jesus is definitely a prophet!  More, of course.  He offers God’s unconditional love and pardon to the sinful woman and to us.

We don’t have to do great deeds 1st.  We don’t have to become saints 1st.  Great deeds and sanctity follow, as in our prayer:  “Grant us the help of your grace that … we may please you by our resolve and our deeds.”  When he forgives us, we become holy, become his friends, become capable of doing what will please him.

So, sisters and brothers, accept the love and mercy Jesus offers you.  If you’re Catholic, seek out the hospital chaplain and bring him your sins, like David and the woman who came to Jesus.  And start on the road of being Jesus’ friend, made holy by his love.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Seventh Announcements

Seventh Announcements

Fr. Provincial's 7th set of announcements was issued by letter to the confreres of the province on June 4 (and carried 2 days later also in E-Service).  Your humble blogger is a bit late posting them because he was doing the final copy and the proofreading for the spring issue of the Salesian Bulletin, so that it could be at press while he's on retreat and not be left "sitting" for an entire week.  Besides, spring is passing away quickly!

This 7th set of announcements was all about personnel and covered the ground from British Columbia to New York--in other words, almost the entire geographical spread of the province.

Fr. George Atok will move from Elizabeth, N.J., to Surrey, B.C., remaining an assistant pastor.  There's a large Filipino community in Surrey, so he'll be busy.

The staff for the new work in Champaigne, Ill. (see below), was announced:  Fr. David Sajdak, pastor of Holy Cross Parish (moving from assistant at Surrey); Fr. Joe Santa Bibiana, assistant with charge of Hispanic ministry (moving from pastor-director in Belle Glade); and Fr. Bill Bucciferro, campus minister at UI (moving from the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw).  No one has been named yet to replace Fr. Bill as coordinator of the Shrine.

Fr. Steve Leake will become assistant pastor at St. John Bosco in Chicago, moving from staff of the Marian Shrine.

Fr. Tim Zak will become pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester, moving from the same office in Chicago.

No pastor has been named for Chicago yet; Fr. Greg Fishel will serve as administrator until mid-August before he moves to Belle Glade (see below).

Fr. Franco Pinto will become coordinator of the retreat team at Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw, where he was already on the team; he replaces Fr. Jim Berning (gone to vocation work, based in Orange).

After making their first profession, God willing, in mid-August, our present novices will resume academic studies at Seton Hall University in South Orange and at the Salesian formation house in Orange. They are Lenny Carlino, Steve Eguino, and Craig Spence, who will be professed brothers when they make that transition.

On the vocation front, we have an unusual but not unheard of situation: 2 diocesan priests are entering the candidacy program with the intention of becoming Salesians.  Fr. Dennis Hartigan from the Toledo Diocese actually was an SDB in formation once upon a time (1970s), and will join the community at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey.  Fr. Derek Van Daniker comes from the Lexington Diocese and will be part of the retreat team in Haverstraw.

Fr. Tom promises another round of assignments "within the next ten days" (from June 4).

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Homily for 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
10th Sunday
in Ordinary Time
June 9, 1983
Gal 1: 11-19
Luke 7: 11-17
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin … but it came thru a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1: 11-12).

The main issue in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is law vs. grace:  Judaizers demanding that Gentile converts take on the entire Law of Moses as part of their acceptance of the Gospel, and Paul’s insistence that Christ in himself reconciles humanity with God.

Paul didn’t come to that conviction easily.  As you know, he’d been a ferocious foe of the Gospel:  “I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it,” and “I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions” (1:13-14).

But “when God … called me thru his grace [and] was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (1:15), everything changed.  Meeting Jesus Christ personally changed Paul’s understanding of being in a relationship with God and of salvation.  Meeting Jesus Christ personally changed Paul himself.
Conversion of St. Paul.
Painting in basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome

The Gospel supersedes all human considerations, even such venerable traditions as those built on the Torah:  “the gospel is not of human origin”—not that the Torah is, either; that was what Paul had to wrestle with, the balance between 2 forms of revelation, 2 ways of being in relationship with God.  God himself, by revealing his Son to Paul, showed Paul how grace overcomes our failures to observe the Law; how grace is more powerful than the condemnation our failures merit; how grace comes from God but so many practices that had grown up around the Torah were of human origin (as Jesus himself bemoaned in his controversies with the scribes and Pharisees).

For instance, in today’s gospel Jesus has no concern for the stipulations of the Law about uncleanness.  By touching the coffin—older translations use the word bier, indicating probably that the body was only enshrouded and was being carried on a litter or stretcher—Jesus incurred uncleanness.  “The bearers halted,” Luke says (7:14); they must have been quite shocked!  Jesus was violating custom, obviously, but also the Law, in a ritual sense.  As in so many other instances, that didn’t matter to him:  what mattered was to proclaim the kingdom of God and to make the kingdom present in people’s lives.  He does just that by restoring the dead young man to life, restoring joy and hope to his mother—and to the awestruck crowd, who “glorified God” (7:16).

Restoring life is the core of the Gospel that Paul preached, that Gospel of divine and not human origin.  Resurrection is beyond human comprehension, as Paul experienced when he tried to preach it in Athens:  “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, ‘We should like to hear you on this some other time’” (Acts 17:32)—in other words, this is a little too far out for us to hear any more of.

Now note what Paul does to confirm his understanding of this outlandish Gospel—not only the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins leading to eternal life, but, further, that all this is grace, not dependent on our moral perfection but on God’s love.  After a period of meditation and prayer in Arabia, and then some preliminary preaching in Damascus (1:17), he “went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas and remained with him for 15 days” (1:18).  Paul tested his theory of the Gospel, as it were, against the opinion of Peter, against apostolic authority given by Jesus.  Then he was sure of the authenticity of his own revelation, his own encounter with Jesus, and of his understanding of what that revelation of the Gospel meant.

So, brothers and sisters, Paul shows us how to receive and take up the Word of God.  We haven’t received any direct revelations from Jesus; at least I haven’t.  But we have God’s authentic Word, already certified by apostolic authority, i.e., the Bible.  Like Paul, we need to reflect on it, meditate on it, pray with it, and let it guide our lives.  And like Paul, we need to measure our understanding of that Word—its interpretation, its meaning for our lives—by what apostolic authority teaches.  What is true Gospel teaching?  That teaching cannot be measured against any human origins, against any general sorts of human wisdom, against popular opinion, against elections, against the entertainment industry, against the ideas of today’s men of Athens (the academic and media elite).  Rather, what does Peter say when we confer with him—which today, of course, means, What does Peter’s successor teach?  That’s where we find the teaching of Jesus, “the great prophet” who was—and still is—“God visiting his people” (Luke 7:16).  That’s where we find what God has revealed to us so that we might have eternal life.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sixth Announcements

Sixth Announcements

I note that a couple of dozen people are paying some attention to the provincial's personnel announcements.

About 10 days ago Fr. Tom put out another letter with assignments--nothing earth-shaking.  He informed us where the men completing their practical training will go to study theology (3 to the Ratisbonne in Jerusalem, 1 to Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall U.) and where the men about to start their practical training will go (1 to Don Bosco Retreat Center, 2 to Salesian HS, 1 to Abp. Shaw HS).

He also announced Fr. Jim Berning's appointment to vocation ministry, based in South Orange, and Fr. Lou Konopelski's appointment to the teaching staff at Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey).

Newly ordained Fr. Miguel Suarez will replace Bro. Rob Malusa as CYM at St. Philip Benizi Parish in Belle Glade, Fla., and Fr. Jim Zettel will become youth minister at St. Benedict's Parish in Etobicoke, Ont.  (Their ordination is scheduled for June 29.)

This week (June 2-8) Fr. Tom is at the confreres' retreat in Lutz, Fla.  He may well discuss coming assignments with some of them, and with the men he'll be on retreat with next week (June 9-15) at Haverstraw.

Homily for Corpus Christi

Homily for Solemnity of
Corpus Christi
June 2, 1983
Gen 14: 18-20
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

Laity in attendance at the brothers’ Saturday evening Mass almost always outnumber the brothers.

“In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram” (Gen 14: 18).

Abraham's Meeting with Melchizedek, by Dieric Bouts the Elder, 15th c.
One of the most mysterious persons in the whole Bible appears in our 1st reading this evening.  These 3 verses—that’s his story!  Based only on that, he comes up again in Ps 110, which was our responsory, in which the Messiah is called “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (v. 4), and in the Letter to the Hebrews, where, again, Christ is identified as a priest like him, and the letter expands on that:  Christ, like Melchizedek, is designated a priest by God, and he’s without ancestry or descendants, eternal, without beginning or end (ch. 5 and 7).

In the context of Genesis, the focus of this little episode is on Abram—whom God will rename Abraham 3 chapters later.  In our liturgy of Corpus Christi, however, the focus is on Melchizedek for the obvious reasons of his presenting bread and wine and his being a priest who blesses God’s friend Abram.

The reading began, “In those days,” which isn’t part of the biblical text.  The 1st part of Gen 14 tells how a coalition of nomadic raiders struck several towns and carried off a lot of captives and booty, including Abram’s nephew Lot and his people and flocks. Abram got his own people together and chased after the raiders, defeated them, and returned with all the goods and captives.  The “kings” of the towns that had been attacked came out to welcome back the victorious sheik Abram—that’s “in those days.”

Commentators on Genesis suggest that the bread and wine that Melchizedek “brought out” was a triumph feast for Abram and his men.  Christian tradition, on the other hand, including our venerable Roman Canon (the 1st Eucharistic Prayer), has seen in Melchizedek’s action a priestly sacrifice, an offering of gratitude made to “God Most High” on behalf of those whose people and goods had been recovered (“redeemed” would be a valid biblical term in this context).

That Christian tradition thus sees in Melchizedek a “type” of Christ, a Christ figure.  He is both a king and a priest, and he offers bread and wine to God (at least in the Christian reading of the passage).  Moreover, as the Letter to the Hebrews comments, he’s “king of Salem, that is, king of peace,” for that’s what Salem means (cf. shalom), and “his name (malki-sedek) means righteous king” (Heb 7:2),.  Both peace and righteousness are properties that we associate with Christ, our king, who brings us peace by reconciling us with God and sharing with us his own righteousness or justice, his good standing, his right relationship before God—which he did “by the blood of his cross,” by offering his body for us (cf. 1 Cor 11:24).

Unlike almost any other character in the Old Testament, Melchizedek appears out of nowhere, without any reference to his ancestry.  Nor are we told that he had any offspring.  You know how so many genealogies there are in the OT and how many people are identified as “the son of so-and-so, the son of so-and-so.”  But for Melchizedek there’s just what we heard this evening:  no father, no son.  Nada.  Hence the references to his eternal priesthood:  “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”  The self-offering of Christ, the son of God, is eternal, tho made but once on the altar of Calvary, because it’s offered to the eternal God by the eternal God on behalf of sinners everywhere and at all times.

"You are a priest forever": stained glass
in the provincial house chapel
(formerly in the Salesian novitiate chapel at Newton, N.J.)
Moreover, when like Melchizedek, Jesus brought out bread and wine “on the night he was handed over” (1 Cor 11:23) and told his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (v. 24), he instituted a perpetual memorial of that one sacrifice.  Each time we offer the bread, become his body, and the cup, become his blood, we offer that one eternal sacrifice of the God-man to the eternal God.  “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (11:26).  The bread and wine presented by Melchizedek the “eternal” priest of God Most High, foreshadow the bread and wine used by Jesus at the Last Supper, and still used by Jesus the eternal priest at every Eucharist.

And when we disciples “proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes,” when we announce day by day the sacrifice of his body and blood on our behalf, we announce that he has redeemed us, won us back from the evil prince who has held us captive in our sins, i.e., the Prince of Darkness.  This bread and wine are like the bread and wine brought out by Melchizedek to celebrate Abram’s victory—but much better because they have become the body and blood of our Victor King.  The Messiah, as Ps 110 says, “rules in the midst of his enemies” (v. 2).  Christ has conquered his enemies death and death’s Dark Lord and has obtained our release from our sins.  He has won that victory for us, and each Eucharist is a reminder, a memorial, of that, and a renewal of his pledge that thru “this wondrous Sacrament … we may pass over to the heavenly realities here foreshadowed” (Preface II of the Holy Eucharist).