Saturday, August 31, 2013

Homily for 22d Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
22d Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sept. 1, 2013
Heb 12: 18-19, 22-24
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.
[at least 3/4 of the congregation on Saturday evenings in fact are laity]

“You have not approached that which could not be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them” (Heb 12: 18-19).

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, continuing his allusions to the Old Testament and his showing how the Hebrew Scriptures are either fulfilled or surpassed by Christ, now recalls the experience of the Jews at Mt. Sinai.  It was a fearsome experience, the power and majesty of God on awesome display, backed by a dire warning that no one, not even a stray goat, was to go near the mountain except Moses and his aide Joshua.  That prohibition is recalled in the one of the verses skipped over in our reading this evening (12:20), and even Moses was “terrified and trembling,” according to the 2d omitted verse (12:21).

Worship of the Golden Calf,
by W.C. Simmonds

When God spoke, the people were struck with fear.  Indeed, when their infidelity provoked his anger—e.g., with the golden calf—he struck them hard and threatened to exterminate them until Moses interceded for them.

Our sacred author contrasts all that with our experience of God thru the life and ministry of Jesus, and more especially thru his resurrection and his role as our intercessor at the heavenly court—our supreme diplomat, as it were.  He contrasts the ferocious presence of God at Sinai with the splendor of “the heavenly Jerusalem,” opened up by “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,” to his followers (12:22-24).

This heavenly Jerusalem is the dwelling place of “countless angels” (12:22) and of “the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven” (12:23).  It’s the home of “God the judge of all” and of “the spirits of the just made perfect” (12:23).

In Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (1:18) and in the Book of Revelation (1:5), Jesus is called “the firstborn of the dead,” the 1st to be raised to new, eternal life.  St. Paul also calls him “the firstborn of many brothers” (Rom 8:29).  In our passage from Hebrews, all those “many brothers” and sisters are now counted as “the firstborn,” as Jesus’ coheirs (a word we now use in our 2d Eucharistic Prayer, to the consternation of some who haven’t grasped its import).  The firstborn, you know, is the privileged one:  the one who inherits the kingdom or the estate, the blessings, the honors, rank, and titles, most of the wealth.

Thanks to Jesus, all who belong to the “assembly”—the Greek word here is εκκλησία—enjoy the privileges of being God’s firstborn, not thru a natural birth of course, but as God’s children by adoption, as Paul writes to the Romans (8:15-19).  With that adoption come all the privileges of a full inheritance!

The sacred writer refers to some of the inhabitants of the heavenly Jerusalem as “the spirits of the just made perfect” (12:23).  The just are those in a good relationship with God, “the judge of all” (12:23).  They are those who please him thru their attitudes, intentions, words, and actions, who conform their lives to God’s will in all things, like St. Joseph, the just man (Matt 1:19).  Another translation of the word for “just” is “righteous,” which was in fact the last word of today’s gospel:  “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14).

But note the passive voice in the description:  “the just made perfect,” not “the just who attain perfection” or “who make themselves perfect.”  No, the agent is God.  (That’s good news for us, isn’t it?  An ordinary day’s experience is enuf to convince most of us of the impossibility of our living entirely according to God’s will, sinners that we are.)  St. Paul says, “It is God who justifies” us (Rom 8:33), who makes us just and upright and clean and holy.  Our part is to allow him to do that, to be open to what he wants to do in us.

And how does God do his work in us?  Thru Christ.  When the rich man came to Jesus seeking perfection (Luke 18:18-23), Jesus advised him, “If you would be perfect, sell your possessions, give to the poor, and come, follow me.”  Divest yourself of all that is your own, empty yourself—and follow me.  To follow Jesus, to be his disciple, to listen to his teachings, to imitate his actions, to embrace his cross, to accept his pardon—this is how we open ourselves to God’s work in our souls; this is how God justifies us; this is the path to citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The New Jerusalem, after Dore', by Laura Sotka
The letter notes that the firstborn are “enrolled in heaven.”  In the cities of the Roman Empire, we’re told, “citizens were registered shortly after birth to record their status and thus insure their legal and social privileges.”[1]  You may also remember that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because “Caesar Augustus had decreed that the whole world should be enrolled….  So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town” (Luke 2:1,3).  Likewise, the Book of Revelation refers numerous time to those whose names are written in the book of life—enrolled, in other words, as citizens in God’s kingdom.

In the Christian mysteries—in Baptism, the Eucharist, and the other sacraments; in hearing and taking into our hearts the Word of God—we “have approached Mount Zion, and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” not with fear and trembling but with the confidence of having embraced Jesus Christ, “the mediator of a new covenant” (12:24), who leads us to his Father to present us as his gifts to the Father—a redeemed family of brothers and sisters, an assembly of holy children of God.

      [1] Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, ed., The Jewish Annotated New Testament (NY: Oxford, 2011), p. 424, on Heb 12:23.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Homily for Memorial of St. Augustine

Homily for the Memorial
of St. Augustine
Aug. 28, 2013
Provincial House, New Rochelle

In the Collect we prayed that we might be filled with the “same spirit” Augustine had, to “thirst for” and to “seek” the Lord, “fount of true wisdom” and “author of heavenly love.”

St. Augustine as portrayed
in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin
Augustine’s whole life was a thirsting for and a seeking of wisdom and love.  As we know, initially he looked in the wrong places—in sensuality, from stealing pears to living in concubinage; and in false philosophies and human learning.

But his search was sincere, and eventually he found the beginnings of wisdom and love in his Creator and his Redeemer.  That beginning wasn’t the end of his searching.  His thirst and his seeking were insatiable, and he spent the rest of his life pondering the truths, the mysteries, of the Faith in his reflections upon his own experience (the Confessions, works on sin and human freedom), on the Scriptures (numerous commentaries and sermons), on the Creed (works on the Trinity, on catechetics, and against various heretical teachings), and on current events (The City of God).

The Collect asked God to “renew in” his Church Augustine’s spirit.  Augustine’s pursuit of wisdom wasn’t only for himself but for everyone.  He was no ivory tower theologian.  He was a shepherd:  teaching his clergy and others in his circle how to live as Christians (the roots of the Augustinian monastic rule), engaging in extensive correspondence, offering a liberal hospitality, taking great care of the poor with his personal funds and those of the Church.

We might dare to call Augustine a contemplative in action, a man whose love for God and study of divine truth led him to practical love of neighbor—which, of course, is what the Gospel calls us to, and the radical renewal of our own Congregation demands.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Homily for 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
This weekend (Aug. 23-25) I was in Irondequoit, N.Y., for a funeral, and this morning I concelebrated at a parish Mass, so have no new Sunday homily.  Since I didn't preside over the funeral, I have no homily for that, either. Here's an "oldie."
Luke 13: 22-30
St. Joseph, Passaic, N.J.
Aug. 26, 2001               

“Behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13: 30).

Both the gospel and the reading from Isaiah speak of God’s call to all the nations to belong to him.  When Israel is scattered far and wide, says Isaiah, they will attract foreigners and lead them to the Lord, and those peoples shall become his own as much as Israel.  Jesus tells the Jews of his time that people will come from every quarter of the world to enter the kingdom of God, to feast at the Lord’s table.  We ourselves are testimony to Jesus’ words, for we don’t come from his land or his people, in an ethnic sense.

But Jesus’ words are uttered in a context of caution, even of warning.  He spoke to large crowds during his public life, he healed many people, he ate and drank in the homes of many and had others as guests at his house in Capernaum.  Yet on the day of judgment many of those folks, Jesus warns, may find themselves locked out of God’s house.  Few actually believed Jesus’ message and became his followers.

It’s not enuf to belong to the chosen people or to have been familiar socially with Jesus.  “Lord, open the door for us.”  “I don’t know you.”  “But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”  “I don’t know you.  Depart from me, all you evildoers!” (Luke 13:25-27).

We may think that a certain social familiarity with Jesus, a certain cultural sense of belonging to his Church, of being Catholic in our bones, assures us of closeness to God, guarantees that the gates of heaven will swing wide open for us when we come knocking.  Well, as Sportin’ Life sings in Porgy and Bess, “It ain’t necessarily so.”  Being a priest doesn’t assure me of salvation.  Knowing Catholic doctrine doesn’t assure me of salvation.  Sitting here in church Sunday after Sunday, going to Holy Communion, getting your kids baptized and married in church—none of that assures you of salvation.

On Aug. 14 some fellow’s letter appeared in the Record, giving his opinion about Pres. Bush’s decision on stem cell research.  He wrote:  “It was obviously a 100 percent political decision made by a president with a lack of vision and courage to do the right thing for the majority of the people.  I don’t see any conflict of conscience at all.  As a Roman Catholic I was always taught to believe that healing and caring for the sick was the highest calling.  Now my church and other religious groups say that is not the case.”[1]

Well, yes, Catholics are taught that healing and care of the sick are high callings.  But the Church has never said it was the highest calling or the highest priority.  The Church has never said that we may do something wrong in order to produce a good effect—in the particular case referred to in the letter, deliberately and directly to kill an innocent human being in order to help heal someone else.  And, in fact, the Church has also consistently condemned the production of human beings in laboratories, whether for experimentation or for possible implantation in the womb.  People are not commodities, not products, not means to a doctor’s or a scientist’s or a parent’s end.

Instead, what the Church has always taught as the highest calling is being a disciple of Jesus.  Do you remember the gospel about Martha and Mary that was read 5 weeks ago?  Martha was hustling to prepare and serve a meal to Jesus and her other guests, while her sister Mary sat listening to Jesus, and when Martha griped to Jesus about that—“Tell her to get up and help me!”—Jesus replied, “Martha, you’re worried about many things.  Only one thing’s necessary.  Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:40-42).

Or, to return to the topic of healing and caring for the sick, sometimes compassion toward the sick means causing them pain and trouble:  surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, physical therapy—some of you have been thru that, and you know that none of it’s pleasant, but all of it may be the highest compassion.  Likewise, Jesus is being compassionate in the fullest sense—Jesus, who was so compassionate toward all of us that he suffered torture and death for us—when he directs us to a difficult road as the way to heaven:  “Strive to enter thru the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24).  In St. Matthew’s version of the same warning—we read St. Luke here, but in St. Matthew’s version—Jesus adds, “For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction….  How narrow the road that leads to life” (7:13-14).  Even the pagan poet Vergil noted that the descent into hell is easy.

Walking with Jesus isn’t all warm feelings.  Sometimes it’s hard choices, unpopular opinions:  to do good rather than to feel good; to exercise tough love; to put others ahead of oneself; to swim against the currents of a materialistic and hedonistic and “I want it now” culture—the wide and easy road to perdition.  (That’s mixing my metaphors, of course, since one doesn’t swim on a road.  Maybe I should say, “Swimming against the wide river that sweeps one over a deadly waterfall.”)

Last week Jesus asked his listeners, “Do you think that I’ve come to establish peace on earth?”, and he answered, “No, I tell you, but rather division.”  He went on to speak of households divided by their decisions for or against him (Luke 12:51-53).

Our age, our culture, wants toleration of every opinion and lifestyle; wants compromise in every disagreement.  The Gospel, however, does not compromise about sin:  “Depart from me, all you evildoers!”  The Christian who ate and drank in the Lord’s company but didn’t repent of his sins and attempt to change his ways will be wailing and grinding his teeth, will find himself cast out of the kingdom of God—just as Jesus warned the chosen people in his own time.

Therefore, brother and sisters, don’t listen to those who tell you that the Church has to accommodate itself to the morality of our time, that the Church has to understand how people are nowadays, that the Church has to get “with it”—that we have to accept and even approve of pornography, of divorce, of sex outside of marriage, of homosexual behavior, of contraception, of abortion, of in vitro fertilization, of embryonic stem cell research, etc.  Instead, “Strive to enter thru the narrow gate.”  Read the word of Jesus in the New Testament, believe what you read, practice what you believe, and trust in the power of Jesus to forgive whatever wrong you do thru human weakness.

      [1] Dennis Benigno, letter to the editor, Aug. 14, 2001.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Two FMAs Make First Profession

Two FMAs
Make First Profession

Sisters Elfie Del Rosario, FMA, and Jennifer Kane, FMA, professed the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience for one year in a Mass of Religious Profession on August 5 at Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, N.J.

With their parents in the pew behind them, Sr. Elfie Del Rosario (left) and Sr. Jennifer Kane take part in their Mass of Religious Profession.
Sr. Karen Dunn, FMA, provincial of the Salesian Sisters’ Eastern Province, received their vows. Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial of the Eastern Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco, presided at the Mass and preached.

The large chapel was nearly full with Salesian sisters, Sisters of Christian Charity, relatives of the two newly professed sisters, Salesian Cooperators, other friends of the sisters, and some young women doing several days of vocational discernment. Ten priests, including five SDBs, concelebrated.

Sr. Jennifer is a native of Corning, N.Y., and served 16 years in the U.S. Air Force and National Guard before entering the convent. The Catholic press paid some mind to her vocation story last May, e.g.,

Sr. Elfie was born in Nigeria, grew up in the Philippines, and went to college there, earning a B.S. in psychology. After graduation she came to the U.S. to join her family, who had already immigrated and settled in Union, N.J.

She worked with children with special needs for seven years before entering the convent and during her period of candidacy—she was still paying for student loans. 

She became familiar with the FMAs through a “Come and See” weekend with a group of Cistercians Sisters in Massachusetts. “Praise Jesus for that sister who lovingly said that was not my charism,” she writes. She entered the FMAs in 2009.

Fr. Tom began his homily by thanking the parents of the two women about to make their vows for nurturing their faith and their religious vocations; their parents were seated right behind them in the front pews.

Then he alluded to the three readings that the two women had chosen for the Mass, comparing their contents to three acts of a drama and drawing a parallel between that and the dramatic unfolding of Salesian religious life, with a vocational beginning, a middle, and end. Specifically, he cited article 5 of the Constitutions of the Sisters: “God our Father calls us to live our Baptismal consecration wholeheartedly consecrating us in the Spirit. United in community, we bind ourselves publicly by our vows to follow Christ, chaste, poor and obedient, totally available for his mission of salvation. In this way we proclaim our determination to live for the glory of God by our work for the evangelization of the young, walking with them on the path to holiness.”

The reading from Isaiah 43:1-7, Fr. Tom said, emphasized God’s personal love for each person, a love that calls people to live in union with him, starting with Baptism. This is the vocational beginning.

Led by the Holy Spirit, Christians respond to the divine invitation of Baptism by living according to God’s will, as brought out by the reading from Ephesians 1:3-14. The second reading also points to a call to a more intimate love, one of total self-giving to God, which the Salesian sister does through her vows and her life in communion with other sisters. This is the vocational middle.

The vocational end only starts on this day of profession, Fr. Tom said. The gospel reading of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-11) calls the religious to a more intense relationship with God, to abiding in Christ and totally sharing in Christ’s life. Christ has to be the one absolute in our lives. This connection with Jesus keeps a religious faithful to her commitment and is the source of her holiness.
At the end of the Mass, the 2 newly professed sisters expressed their thanks to God, to Mary Help of Christians, to their parents, and to many other people.

Three SDBs Profess First Vows

Three SDBs Profess First Vows
for New Rochelle Province

Bros. Lenny Carlino, Steve Eguino, and Craig Spence made their first profession as Salesians on Friday, Aug. 16, at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y.

First, the serious post-profession photo: Bro. Lenny, Fr. Tom, Bro. Steve, Bro. Craig...
...then they ham it up
Fr. Tom Dunne presided at the Mass of Religious Profession, preached the homily, and received the vows.

For the next two years the three new brothers will be part of the Salesian formation community in Orange, N.J., and students at Seton Hall University in South Orange.

In addition to the three newly professed of the Eastern Province, Bro. Jhoni Chamorro professed in Bellflower, Calif., for the San Francisco Province. He also will continue his formation in South Orange. All four newly professed made their novitiate in Rosemead, Calif., under the direction of Fr. Bill Keane. Their class started with seven novices.

Bro. Leonard Joseph Carlino, SDB, 22 years old, comes from Hauppauge, N.Y. He was a member of St. Thomas More Parish there and was active in the parish’s Salesian-inspired youth group.

Lenny entered the Salesian formation program at Orange as a candidate in August 2009. He says that he “felt at home with the mission to the young, community life, and living the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience” during this period of discernment. He adds that in the different Salesian communities he saw “the witness of joy and optimism.”

In addition to his parents and the Salesian Cooperators in the parish who influenced the youth ministry, Bro. Lenny credits the parish clergy with inspiring his vocation: “One of the greatest influences on my discernment was the deacon at my parish, Deacon Bob Weisz, who always encouraged me and showed his support.  Also our two new deacons were a great support and witness.  All three, along with our late pastor Fr. Francis Midura, showed by their lives the path of holiness through everyday life, something that translates well into Salesian life and spirituality.”

Lenny was attracted by the Salesians, in the first place, because he found a certain “emptiness” in his life.  “I always wanted to work with children, teens, and young adults to some capacity.  Yet whenever I thought about being a teacher, or even working with kids, there was always something missing.  Once I entered the candidacy program, I found that what was missing was the witness aspect and complete self-gift for the young through profession.  They deserve it, and I felt called to it by God, [despite] my own faults and short comings.”

Asked what was the best part of the novitiate year, Bro. Lenny writes: “One of the highlights of the novitiate was the experience of ‘presence’ at Don Bosco Tech in Rosemead for lunch every day.  We had no specific task but to be present to the students by talking with them and playing games.  It was at the end of the year that we realized how, even though we did nothing showy or flashy, our witness of community life, of following Christ, and overall joy and authenticity was felt by all the students.  Also, we were blessed to hear their life stories, about the struggles they go through at home, and school, and with friends.  Overall, we were able to share life with them for the year, and support them through the year.”

Bro. Lenny says that he is completely open to whatever God wants for him in the future, and whatever the province may ask him to undertake on behalf of the young. He would like to include music in his ministry, “both playing and teaching it.”

Bro. Stephen Augustine Eguino, SDB, 24 years old, comes from the Bronx, where he was a member of St. Benedict Parish. His older brother Mike is a Salesian, as well, presently part of the Salesian formation community in Orange and studying theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary in South Orange.

Bro. Steve came to know the Salesians at Camp Don Bosco in Putnam Valley as well as from his brother’s attending Salesian High in New Rochelle. Steve followed his brother to Salesian, graduating in 2007. He attended St. John's University for a year and SUNY Maritime College for two years, studying engineering, before making his decision to enter the Salesian formation program at Orange in August 2010.

In addition to his brother, who “showed me what perseverance was and always encouraged me to take my faith seriously,” Steve was influenced in his vocation discernment by Fr. Steve Ryan of the Salesian Youth Ministry Office. Steve says the priest “was athletic, funny, and a genuine person who I could tell cared about my family and me in a way that Jesus calls us to love one another. He constantly welcomed me and invited me to join in different athletic and Salesian events.” He also credits a former pastor of St. Benedict’s, Fr. Richard Smith, with “helping me during the time when I felt the call to the priesthood and showing a sincere concern and accompaniment for me during that time.”

In deciding to join the Salesians, Steve says, “Everything that I enjoy and I am good at, I have learned through the Salesians. I want to share the things that bring me happiness in life. I want to share them especially with the young and poor. I want to walk with them and show them it is possible to live your life with Christ at the center through the charism of St. John Bosco.”

During his novitiate year in Rosemead, Bro. Steve found the best part of the program “was the young people we encountered from all different walks of life. They challenged us to be ready to accompany them, and they challenged us to be always authentic people and not put on a show for them for the sake of entertainment. They wanted real people to talk to and share their stories with, who would listen and not judge them, and be there as a friend who could help them in their times of trial.”

For the immediate future, Bro. Steve “wants to continue to serve the young with the fire in my heart that I have right now, especially after first profession. I want to keep that fire burning for as long as God is calling me.”

He has “no particular apostolate I hope to specialize in, but if I had to lean in a certain area it would be sports and music,” he says. “I have been blessed with many talents, and they are mainly sports- and music-related. I can use these areas to bring young people closer to Christ and show them the joys of having a personal relationship with God.”

Bro. Charles Craig Spence, SDB, 36 years old, is originally from Mobile, Ala., and belonged to Our Savior Parish there. But has spent most of his life in Pass Christian, Miss., where he was a member of Holy Family Parish.

Craig came to the Salesians as a lay missioner, serving as a youth minister and living with the Salesian community at Don Bosco Tech in Paterson, N.J., in 2001-2002. Very quickly he won the confidence of the students as well as the Salesians, and he also won the nickname “Missionary Craig.” When the school was closed in May 2002, he moved over to Mary Help of Christians Parish on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to do a second volunteer year as the parish’s youth minister (taking his nickname with him). So successful was he with the young people that the parish hired him in 2003, and he stayed on as youth minister and part of the Salesian community, which also included the novices at that time.

The New York Archdiocese closed the parish in May 2007, and Craig returned to Mississippi for several years, working still as a parish youth minister—and considering his future. Drawn by “the mission to serve the young and the poor,” by 2011 he’d decided that his future lay with the Salesians. He entered the formation program in Orange.

Bro. Craig says that the best part of his novitiate year was “having the opportunity to grow in my prayer life.” For the immediate future, he “just wants to do my duties well.”

Fr. Tom’s homily pointed to the Mass readings’ focus on God’s intention in calling people and God’s love for us.

Like the judge Samuel (cf. 1 Sam 3:1-10), Fr. Tom said, the three candidates for profession heard a call from God.  His call isn’t an affirmation of something already done but is about what God has done in and through us, and sometimes in spite of us. We don’t choose religious life; we are drawn to it by God. He calls; we respond.

Fr. Tom found three significant points in the story of Samuel’s call and what it means for us.

1. God’s call is rooted in the first moments of our existence, like Samuel’s, who was wondrously conceived in answer to his mother’s prayers. Then it’s a blessing for us, as for Samuel, to be called by name in order to fulfill a certain dream.

2. God’s call is nourished in a way of life that lives out our baptismal commitment—in family, parish, and the Salesian community.

3. Our response to the call is only the beginning. Vocation doesn’t end with first profession; it continues to nourish, challenge, and affirm us. Our posture has to be like Samuel’s: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” For the Lord to teach us, we have to be quiet and listen, and we have to remember that the servant isn’t in charge; he follows.

Mary knew that (cf. Luke 1:26-38), Fr. Tom continued.  She follows the pattern of Hannah (Samuel’s mother) and Samuel, of John the Baptist and Elizabeth; she’s faithful to her Hebrew faith.  She responds humbly to the angel that she’s the Lord’s servant.  She listened to the Lord her whole life, reflecting on what he was doing in her life.

Fr. Tom noted that on Aug. 16 we were celebrating Don Bosco’s 198th birthday.  He responded to a call from God in a dream, somewhat like Samuel’s call—a call to reach out to the young who were in need.  He was told to follow the guidance he’d receive from Mary, who became central to his entire life.

Profession is the start of a lifelong commitment to our mission and to our brothers, Fr. Tom said.  “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” is the guideline for those about to profess, and Mary is their guide.  They will find God while meeting the young.  They will meet Jesus in prayer and the sacraments, so that what God is beginning in them today may be brought to its completion.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Salesians Send Out 28 Lay Missionaries

Salesians Send Out
28 Lay Missionaries

They came from 17 states, a Canadian province, and Puerto Rico; from 24 dioceses and archdioceses; from 11 Catholic colleges, 8 public or private colleges, 2 community colleges, and retirement—to be part of a worldwide missionary enterprise on behalf of poor young people.

Eight are male and 20 are female.

They range in age from 20 to 68, with an average age of 25.  All but eight are either 22 or 23.

On Saturday morning, August 17, these 28 mostly young women and men were commissioned as Salesian Lay Missioners for service in 15 mission sites on four continents, including 3 sites in the U.S. The commissioning took place at the end of a week of retreat at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y., together with 44 Salesian priests and brothers from all over the Eastern U.S.

On Aug. 16 the SLM candidates posed in front of Don Bosco's statue, together with Fr. Mark Hyde (far left), director of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle; Fr. Tom Dunne (back, 5th from right); Adam Rudin (back, 2d from right), director of the SLM program; and 2 veteran SLMs, Amber Kraft (3d from right), who served 3 years in Bolivia, and Tom Kelly (rightmost), currently serving in South Sudan.
The 28 new volunteers were the most sent forth by the Eastern U.S. province of the Salesians since 2010, when 22 were commissioned for overseas missions and 6 for service in the States.

Eight of the new volunteers will serve in three locations in Bolivia: Natalie Baker of Springfield, Pa.; Charlene Becicka of Charles City, Iowa; Mariela Cadena of San Antonio, Texas; Julie McCormick of Traverse City, Mich.; Emmanuel Mendez of Aguada, P.R.; Antoinette  Moncrieff of Ypsilanti, Mich.; Ruthann Monsees of Hauppauge, N.Y.; and Adam Pizzaia of Jackson, N.J.

Five will serve at four locations in a country in of some religious-political delicacy: Caitlin Carey of Huntington Beach, Calif.; Veronica Coe of Benicia, Calif.; Holly Farrell of Westfield, Ind.; Matthew Pirrall of Schwenksville, Pa.; and Octavio Rodriguez of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

Five will serve at two locations in South Sudan: Michael Gotta of Steubenville, Ohio; Theresa Kiblinger of Cape Girardeau, Mo.; Patrick Sabol of Wayne, Pa.; Patricia Salgado of West Nyack, N.Y.; and Ariel Zarate of Oak Lawn, Ill.

Four will serve at two locations in Ethiopia: Erin Arnold of Upper Marlboro, Md.; Matthew Beben of Washington, N.J.; Semhar Dory of Anaheim Hills, Calif.; and Robert Sene of Surrey, B.C.

Trina Botelho of Terrace, B.C., will serve in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Two will serve at a site where the religious situation is quite sensitive.

Three will serve in the “home missions”: Isabel Guia of Miami, Fla., at Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester, N.Y.; Shannon Tipton of Woodbridge, Va., at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Parish in Westwego, La.; and Monica Wheeler of Springfield, Ky., at a site still to be determined.

Most will leave for their missions in late August and early September.  One is scheduled to go in January. Most will have a very short period of transition at their sites with Salesian Lay Missioners completing their year of service, or in a few instances, two years of service.

At their commissioning Mass on Aug. 17, at the end of their week-long retreat with about 40 Salesians, the SLM candidates stand as Adam Rudin (at right, beyond Fr. Dunne) calls their names.
Fr. Thomas Dunne, Salesian provincial, presided over the commissioning Mass on August 17. He likened this sending forth of missionaries to what the early Church did, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, and expressed the hope that these missionaries, like the apostles, would build up the local churches to which they are being sent.

He observed that Salesian missioners go out not to provide some “professional service” in a foreign country but to live as disciples of the Lord Jesus. What we bring to young people is “our simple selves,” which will be an effective presence if it is rooted in Christ.

Besides the Eastern Province’s 28 volunteers, the Salesians of the Western U.S. also are commissioning lay missioners in August: two for service in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, one for a Salesian parish in San Francisco, and one for a Salesian parish in Laredo, Texas. The four, ages 18-20, come from Montreal and from Bellflower, Calif.

Fr. Tom places a missionary cross over the head of Trina Botelho of Terrace, B.C. Trina will leave in September for a year's service in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Over the last 30 years, hundreds of Salesian Lay Missioners have served the young and the poor in schools, orphanages, clinics, and other Salesian and non-Salesian works in Latin America, Africa, and Asia as well as in various U.S. sites such as Birmingham, Ala., Paterson, N.J., Chicago, and New York City.

The Salesians of Don Bosco, the second largest religious order of men in the Catholic Church, are present in more than 130 countries around the globe, staffing schools, parishes, youth centers, and missions.
Four of the SLMs heading to South Sudan pose with Tom Kelly, currently serving in Juba (2d from left), and program director Adam Rudin (right): Mike Gotta, Pat Sabol, Ariel Zarate, and Patti Salgado.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Aug. 18, 2013
Heb 12: 1-4
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us” (Heb 12: 1).

The Letter to the Hebrews, an anonymous epistle addressed to Christians very familiar with the Old Testament, probably Jewish Christians, consists of 13 chapters.  This year, Year C in our 3-year lectionary cycle, we read from its 12th and 13th chapters for 4 Sundays , starting last week, which gives us only a tiny taste of the letter.

One of Hebrews’ themes is the faith of the great heroes of the Old Testament.  Those are the “cloud of witnesses” that today’s reading referred to—people like Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, David, and Samuel (cf. ch. 11).  Their faith, their perseverance in all manner of testing and difficulty, is a witness, a testimony, an example for followers of Jesus.  So says our anonymous author.

Their example encourages Christians to get rid “of every burden and sin that clings to us” and weighs us down while we run toward our goal of eternal life.  Here “burden and sin” seem to be the same thing.  As we read further, tho, about Jesus on the cross, we see that any serious temptation, anything that might discourage us, can be seen as a burden even if it’s not, morally speaking, a sin.

Obviously, if we are to “run the race that lies before us” and reach “Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” in God’s kingdom, we have to start by unburdening ourselves of sin.  Nothing like trying to run a race while carrying a great big backpack or wearing ankle weights!  We unshed that burden when we were baptized.  Unhappily, we pile the burden back on ourselves, sometimes loading big rocks into our backpacks, sometimes just little pebbles—our serious sins, our less serious ones that we commit day by day.  We can’t be re-baptized, but Christ in his mercy does offer us another sacrament by which to empty that backpack or even to throw it away entirely, viz., the sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance (confession).  What an advantage to our race toward Jesus!

Part of the image on the Holy Shroud
The author also speaks of Jesus “enduring the cross, despising its shame” (12:2).  The sinless Son of God bore a great burden too.  He faced the temptation to run away, to refuse the cross, as we know from reading the gospel passages about the agony in the garden.  Some commentators estimate that the crossbeam Jesus carried toward Calvary—not the entire cross, just the crossbeam—may have weighed about 80 pounds, physically a great burden.  Carrying that was only a part of his burden, of course, since he’d been brutally whipped and beaten beforehand, and once at Calvary he was nailed to that cross thru his wrists and ankles—excruciating pain—and then slowly suffocated suspended on that cross while also enduring the mockery of the soldiers and bystanders.  The cross was shameful because it was a form of execution reserved for slaves and common criminals of the worst sort, stripped naked and exposed to the world in very public places (as the gospels say of Jesus).
“Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners,” Hebrews says, “in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (12:3).  Jesus was completely innocent of any crime, any sin.  We can’t say that, at least in regard to sin, or in regard to some bad habits.  We may suffer something we don’t seem to deserve; most of us suffer things we don’t seem to deserve.  In the 1st reading, we heard how poor Jeremiah the prophet was unjustly persecuted by the princes of his people (Jer 38:4-6,8-10).  Our Christian ancestors didn’t deserve persecution by the Roman Empire, other pagan rulers, the Nazis, or Communist governments.  Our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt right now are having their churches attacked and ransacked and burned, and their lives are in danger; Egypt is only the latest episode in that old story.

In a more ordinary way, we may suffer unjustly because of things that people say about us, or because the someone blames us for something that wasn’t our fault.  We may suffer from an accident we didn’t cause or from a natural disaster.  We all get sick or injured.  We all have aches and pains.  Most of us aren’t eager to get up in the morning.  Some of us hate our commutes to work.  The youngsters suffer from having to go to school—at least that’s what they think now, regardless of how they’ll view it in 20 years.  We can all add something to this list of undeserved or disproportionate suffering.

The Scriptures tell us to look at Jesus and take courage.  When we suffer, he’s alongside us, “leading” us and “perfecting our faith.”  We walk in his steps.  If we “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,” it’s not that we won’t feel pain or anxiety, and that we won’t die; it’s that we have hope:  “for the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross … and has taken his seat  at the right of the throne of God” (12:2).  Jesus tells us in John’s gospel that he has gone ahead of us to prepare places for us (14:2-3); the Collect alludes to that today:  “O God, you have prepared for those who love you good things which no eye can see,” and it prays that “we may attain your promises, which surpass every human desire.”

So, whether we endure persecution or discrimination of some kind because we are believers, because we try to do what’s right even when people think we’re weird or crazy or obnoxious; or we endure the common suffering of the human condition—we run this race toward Jesus, with Jesus, toward promises, gifts, that will fulfill us far beyond our wildest dreams.  “Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” makes suffering a bit less of a burden, gives us boundless hope and inner joy.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption

Homily for the
Solemnity of the Assumption
August 15, 2013
Rev 11: 19; 12:1-6, 10
Luke 1: 39-56
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars” (Rev 12: 1).

Our Lady of the Valley Church, Orange, N.J.
“Who is this woman clothed with the sun?” we might ask.  Within the context of Rev 12, the sign is not clear.  Consequently, scripture scholars have proposed Israel, the Church, and the Virgin Mary as this woman.

If one interprets the woman to be either the Israel of old, or the new Israel which is the Church, one interprets the woman to be God’s holy and resplendent people.

Or else one interprets the woman to be Mary, the type or model of God’s holy people, resplendent as the mother of the Redeemer.  Obviously this is the interpretation that the Church means for us to take today.  Mary is the woman who comes from among God’s people and has “a place prepared by God” (12:6)—a place in heaven as the 1st among the redeemed; a place in salvation history as the one whose fiat made the redemption possible; a place in our hearts as one who cares for us with a mother’s love.

Mary has come to this place because she is a woman of faith.  “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled,” Elizabeth proclaimed (Luke 1:45).  Mary is the 1st to believe in the Gospel:  to believe that God, through her Son, would show his mercy from generation to generation to those who fear him; that he would exalt the lowly and fill the hungry and do great things for all of us (Luke 1:49-50,52-53).  As the 1st to believe, she is rightfully the mother of the redeemed as well as of the Redeemer.  A special place with Christ and Mary is prepared for every believer, and so she remains “a great sign in the heavens.”

Mary is glorified not for her own sake but for the sake of God’s people, whose member she is, whose type she is, whose helper she is.  She is glorified for the sake of God’s glory in Christ:   “the glory of God is man fully alive” (Irenaeus).  Christ’s victory over death is God the Father’s victory; Mary’s victory over death is the 1st fruit of Christ’s victory:  “in Christ shall all be brought to life, each one in proper order” (1 Cor 15:22-23).

In celebrating the heavenly glory of Mary, we glorify God in Christ, who won the victory; and we anticipate our own final redemption as part of God’s holy people.  This final redemption of ours is foreshadowed not only in Mary’s assumption into heaven but also in this Eucharist of the Lord, who promised us, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54).

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ninth Announcements of 2013-2014 Pastoral Assignments

Ninth Announcements
of 2013-2014 Pastoral Assignments

A few days ago, Fr. Tom Dunne informed the province of four more assignments for the year ahead.  Three were pastoral:  a director for the new community in Champaign, an assistant pastor in Elizabeth, N.J., and a coordinator for the shrine sector of the Marian Shrine-Don Bosco Retreat Center.  A 4th formalized a change of residence for a senior confrere.

The senior confrere is Bro. Joe Tortorici, who has been at St. Philip Residence in Tampa for a couple of months already for health reasons. Now he's actually assigned to the Tampa community. Bro. Joe had been part of the Abp. Shaw HS community in Marrero, La., for about a dozen years, where he was a beloved contributor to the school's talented marching band.

Fr. Santa
Fr. Joe Santa Bibiana was named director of the SDB community at Holy Cross Church in Champaign; earlier, he'd been appointed assistant pastor with particular responsibility for Hispanic ministry in the Champaign-Urbana area.  For the last 9 years Fr. Joe was director and pastor of the SDB community in Belle Glade, Fla.

Fr. Paul Chuong Nguyen, fresh from a lively presence at WYD in Rio with a large contingent of Vietnamese-American pilgrims, will move from Tampa to Elizabeth to serve as assistant pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church.

Fr. Quinto
Fr. Armand Quinto has been appointed coordinator of the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., succeeding Fr. Bill Bucciferro, who has gone out to Champaign to be part of the campus ministry team at the University of Illinois. Fr. Armand moves from Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Orange, N.J., where he was assistant pastor and treasurer of the SDB formation community. At the Shrine he'll oversee daily Masses, regular confessions, pilgrim groups, and other activities (under the general direction of Fr. Jim McKenna, director of the Haverstraw community).

Homily for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Aug. 11, 2013
Luke 12: 35-40
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Be like servants who await their master’s return … ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks” (Luke 12: 35).

Last Sunday at a Salesian summer camp in England, a 27-year-old Salesian seminarian was engaged in activity with some youngsters.  Suddenly, without warning, a large tree branch broke off and smashed his head.  Despite immediate first aid and helicopter transport to a hospital, he was killed instantly.  (No one else was hurt, thank God!)

Yesterday Lindsey Stewart was supposed to marry Brian Bond in Piermont, across the Hudson.  On the evening of July 26, they and 4 friends were crossing the river in a power boat.  They struck one of the construction barges moored in the river, which the survivors claim they never saw.  Lindsey and Mark Lennon, the best man, were killed. That story was widely covered in the newspapers and on the radio and TV; most of you probably saw or heard it.

“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival,” Jesus says in today’s gospel (12:37).  Blessed are those disciples who are ready when the Lord calls them and who welcome his coming (or their going to him, if you prefer to put it that way).

Last February, Pope Benedict gave as one of his reasons for resigning his desire, or his need, to prepare for death—to prepare to greet our Master, the Lord Jesus.  But as the news informs us every day, not everyone lives to be 86 and has the luxury, so to speak, of putting his material and spiritual affairs in order.  Very, very often, death comes suddenly and unannounced, like a thief in the nite (cf. 12:39)—in an accident, a heart attack, violence.  It was true in Jesus’ time, and obviously it’s still true.  “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (12:40), or we will be summoned before the Son of Man.

The Last Judgment, by Jan van Eyck
We all know this.  But we don’t think about it very often, do we?  Are we ready and waiting for the Master’s return, or ready and willing to go to him and present an accounting of our lives—of our actions, our inactions, our words, even our thoughts and desires, as our confession of sin at the beginning of Mass states?

When we were in school, our teachers probably advised us that the best preparation for an exam, whether it was the SAT, the Regents, or just a classroom test, was diligent daily study—attentiveness in class, reviewing notes, reading the assigned material, doing our homework.  Cramming isn’t a highly effective way to study.  It doesn’t work very well, does it?

Neither is putting off our spiritual conversion until we’re facing a serious illness or the decrepitude of old age a serious approach to our salvation—that’s like cramming.  What if the Lord gives us a pop quiz, as he did Brother Greg, Lindsey Stewart, and Mark Lennon?  What does diligent daily study consist of?

Of course, 1st it’s necessary that we enroll in the class, isn’t it?  We have to sign up for Kingdom of God 101.  We have to commit ourselves to live out the sacrament of Baptism that we received so many years ago, to be true followers of our Master, the Lord Jesus.

Such commitment means, as our baptismal promises say, renouncing Satan and all his evil; doing our best to live lives of virtue and not of sin—whatever form sin may take (review the 10 commandments, for starters).

Then such commitment means talking to God on a regular basis—what we call prayer; and listening to what he has to say, thru his written Word (the Bible), thru the teaching of his Church, thru his voice in our hearts (that’s the reverse half of prayer).  Just as we look forward to visiting our parents (or our children, as the case may be) or old friends, we look forward to this regular contact with our friend Jesus and his Father—contact that enlightens us, strengthens us, empowers us to resist Satan and all his evil, and to do the right thing, the good thing in God’s eyes.

When we live that way, as best we can, then we’ll be “ready to open immediately when our Master comes and knocks,” and we’ll be among those servants whom Jesus calls “blessed.”

God bless you!