Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fr. James Naughton (1938-2013)

Fr. James Naughton, SDB (1938-2013)

Fr. James Naughton, SDB, 75, died at 2:25 a.m. on Nov. 27 in the rectory of St. Theresa’s Church in Leeds, Ala., where he had been pastor since July 1, 2000. Suffering from terminal skin cancer, he came home from the hospital on October 28 and began receiving hospice care. The weekend before he died, he’d told Fr. Dennis Donovan that he didn’t expect to last until Thanksgiving, and he was right.

St. Theresa’s beloved pastor had had an earlier battle with cancer that cost him the sight in one eye.

Fr. Jim had been a Salesian for 56 years and a priest for 46 years.

James J. Naughton, the elder of Michael and Mary Cody Naughton’s two sons, was born in the Bronx on Jan. 27, 1938, and was baptized in the family’s parish church, Holy Family, on Feb. 14 and confirmed there in 1946. He attended Holy Family’s parochial school and was a member of the Dominic Savio Classroom Club (before Dominic’s canonization in 1954). In later years Fr. Jim said that even then he “saw something special in the life of St. Dominic Savio and his relationship with St. John Bosco.” That sentiment and the influence of his parents shaped his priestly and religious vocation.

Jim entered Don Bosco Juniorate in Haverstraw, N.Y., as a high school seminarian in 1952 and graduated in 1956. From there he was admitted to St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Newton, N.J., part of a class of 39 clerical and coadjutor brother novices, guided by master of novices Fr. Aloysius Bianchi. They made their first profession of vows on Sept. 8, 1957, in Newton.

Bro. Jim earned a B.A. in philosophy from Don Bosco College in Newton in June 1962 and carried out his practical training by teaching at St. Dominic Savio High School in East Boston from 1959 to 1963.

In 1963 Bro. Jim went to Italy for his immediate preparation for the priesthood at the Salesians’ theological school in Bollengo, near Ivrea in Piedmont. He was ordained in the basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin on March 18, 1967.

Upon his return to the U.S., Fr. Jim served until 1976 with passion and notable success as vice principal at Don Bosco Technical High School in Paterson, N.J., leaving a lasting, positive impression on both students and faculty. He remembered that first priestly assignment fondly: “I learned a lot from the kids that I instructed. They were truly an inspiration.”

During his years in Paterson he also earned an M.A. in education at Montclair State College (1972).

From 1976 to 1979 Fr. Jim was treasurer at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J.

Fr. Jim in May 1984
Then came two years as assistant pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Harlem. He helped set up and run a computer training center for local youths in addition to helping support the parish, youth center, and summer day camp with his ministry—including the youth workers provided by the city to assist with summer programs. He sent some St. Thomas youths for vocation weekends at the high school seminary in Goshen and to the province’s youth leadership program in the summer camps. From 1981 to 1985 he was pastor of the church and director of the Salesian community, and for another nine years he was, once again, assistant pastor. He was also provincial treasurer from 1985 to 1991.

In 1994 Fr. Jim moved to Birmingham, Ala., as assistant pastor of Holy Rosary Parish, also filling in at various times the roles of youth minister, vice director, and treasurer of the religious community. The Salesians at Holy Rosary were also responsible for St. John Bosco Parish a few miles away. He was pastor from 1995 to 2000, when he moved to Leeds, a suburb east of Birmingham, as pastor of St. Theresa’s Parish. His ministry at both parishes included jail visits and visits to the sick in their homes, nursing homes, and hospitals.

An article about St. Theresa’s Church in The Leeds News (May 6, 2004) noted the pastor’s “wit, wisdom and sense of humor [that] he uses in ministering to his congregation and to residents of the community.” As a New Yorker, the article observed, Fr. Jim had had to adapt to a much slower pace of life when he came to Alabama, as well as to learn “Alabama English.” He compiled a short history of the parish, which began in the 1930s with four Catholic families.

On Dec. 24, 1996, Fr. Jim received a liver transplant at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, which saved his life and left him ever grateful to his unknown donor. “I don’t know my donor,” he told The St. Clair Times of Alabama, “but I try to treat everyone as if they were the one who donated to me or the family of the person who donated to me.”

“I was so ill in November,” he told the North Jersey Herald a couple of months later, that I couldn’t remember anything. I did not know who I was or where I was.” With his typical humor, he began to mark Dec. 24 as his “second birthday” and to tell people that he was about 40 years old—59 years from his first birthday, and perhaps 20 from the age of his liver, averaging out to 40. “You have to have a sense of humor. You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You can’t sit around and mope.”

He also quipped that the prayer at Mass “Deliver us, O Lord,” had taken on a new meaning for him.

He was a famously hard worker at whatever he did, and he had great respect for anyone else—Salesians or others—who also worked hard. Those who seemed to him to be less industrious were often the targets of his deflating humor.

He could gently mock himself, as well. After his liver transplant and his first bout with cancer, and perhaps also considering the vast geographical distance between Leeds and most of the rest of the Salesians of the province, he was wont to identify himself on phone calls as “James of Molokai.”

In 2007, at the time of his 50th anniversary of religious profession, Fr. Jim said that he had stayed young by trying to work with the young. He gladly acknowledged that he has “received more from God than I have given.”

Fr. Jim presiding at Mass in Monrovia, Liberia, at the time when he was province treasurer.
San Francisco provincial Fr. Thomas Prendiville is to his left.
In Harlem Fr. Jim collaborated with the province vocation director, Fr. Mark Hyde, SDB, who later served with him at Holy Rosary in Birmingham. He writes that Fr. Jim “had a heart as big as all outdoors when it came to the young and the poor. He thrived on his ministry at St. Thomas in Harlem and at Holy Rosary and St. John Bosco in Birmingham and St. Theresa in Leeds.

“When Fr. Jim was in Harlem, he frequently organized outings for his kids to experience life outside the city: to swim, to fish, to frog, to run around and play on grassy fields in Goshen and Newton.”

“In Birmingham,” Fr. Hyde continues, “Fr. Jim worked tirelessly for the well-being of the parishes, the food pantry, and the youth center. He was ever ready to assist with the youth ministry programs of the diocese and the youth ministry and sacramental programs of John Carroll Catholic High when they had no chaplain. Whenever a nearby, or not so nearby, hospital had an emergency, needed a priest, and couldn’t get hold of their chaplain, Fr. Jim was called and immediately responded. In Leeds he gave emphasis to youth ministry and tied into our province programs. He got the people and the youths of St. Theresa in Leeds as well as number of other nearby parishes involved in the work of the Holy Rosary Youth Center and the food pantry.

“In his outreach to the young and the poor,” Fr. Hyde sums up, “Fr. Jim truly had an oratorian heart like Don Bosco’s. His apostolic zeal made the love of God present in a very concrete way to the young and the poor.”

Fr. Jim is survived by his brother Michael of Chicago, Michael's wife Carol, his nephews James, Michael, and Daniel, the extended Naughton family, and his Salesian family.

Funeral arrangements are pending. It is expected that there will be Masses of Christian Burial at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Birmingham and the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Homily for Solemnity of Christ the King

Homily for the Solemnity of
Christ the King
Nov. 24, 2013
Luke 23: 35-43
Iona College, New Rochelle
Ursulines, Willow Drive, N.R.

“He saved others; let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God” (Luke 23: 35).
(from Free Christ Images, unattributed)
Today’s gospel presents to us 2 interrelated themes:  kingship and restoration.  The Collect also referred to both of those themes.  The gospel passage is one of the most ironic in the Bible.

The rulers of the Jews have condemned Jesus for blasphemy and turned him over to the Romans for execution.  On Calvary they “sneer at Jesus,” literally “turn their noses up at him,” and mock him as a false messiah, a Christ who saved others—they acknowledge his healings, it seems—but who is powerless in his own regard.

The Roman soldiers are carrying out the execution ordered by Pontius Pilate on a charge of sedition, of “stirring up the people all over Judea,” of “opposing payment of taxes to Caesar and claiming to be Christ, a king” (23:5,2).  The soldiers join in the mockery, calling Jesus a fitting king for the Jews, echoing the official charge nailed to the cross (23:37-38).  The Romans’ charge means to insult the Jews:  this fellow, utterly degraded by torture, mockery, being stripped bare, being nailed to a cross, and hanging there in agony—this fellow is a fit king for you Jews!  We Romans are your masters, and you’d better acknowledge that, or you could wind up like your “king”—as indeed many of them did in the futile revolt of 66-70 A.D., which was alluded to in last Sunday’s gospel (21:8-10).

The irony of all this is that Jesus has truly saved others and is in the process of saving the whole human race; of carrying out his role of Messiah, the Anointed One, and establishing his authority as a king—thru his passion and death.  The irony is that he doesn’t need to save himself, and by his apparent powerlessness and his humiliation he is saving the world.  In the verse immediately before our reading, Jesus prayed to his Father to forgive his accusers and his executioners, “for they don’t know what they’re doing” (23:34).  In this sneering and mockery, neither do they know what they’re saying.

What kind of a king was Israel expecting?  What kind of a royal claimant did Rome fear?  One who would restore the house of David and the kingdom of David:  Jewish independence, Jewish glory, Jewish power over at least Judea, Samaria, and Galilee (sounds like the aims of contemporary Zionists—but David’s kingdom had extended across the Jordan into Moab and Ammon and north beyond Damascus).  The Jews would owe allegiance—and taxes—to no one but themselves and their own God.

On that score, of course, Jesus of Nazareth was a complete failure.  Which is a cautionary note for Christians today whenever we enter the political arena.  To establish the kingdom of God on earth is not our goal and isn’t within our competence.

All the gospels record that Jesus was crucified with 2 criminals, that he was between them or “in the middle.”  Thus the story places Jesus “in the midst” of sinful humanity, suffering torment, humiliation, and death right alongside the sinners whom he’s come to save, whom he alone can save.

Matthew and Mark call the 2 criminals “robbers,” whereas Luke uses the more generic “criminals,” which might also be translated “evildoers.”  Perhaps they were the sort of common highwaymen who preyed upon travelers going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, as in the parable of the good Samaritan.  Perhaps they were burglars or just petty thieves.  Maybe, as generic “evildoers,” they represent you and me, sinners.  What matters is they were “justly condemned” sinners (23:41) with whom Jesus has let himself be associated or identified—with whom he stands in solidarity, we’d say today.

One criminal joins in the mockery of Jesus, for which his comrade chastises him.  The 2d criminal exemplifies Samuel Johnson’s famous 18th-century aphorism, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”[1]  This so-called “good thief,” to whom one of the apocryphal gospels gives the name Dismas, who’s already hanging on a cross, has indeed concentrated his mind, examined his state before God, and resolved to act—like the “dishonest steward” in Jesus’ parable, our gospel a few weeks ago (16:1-8)—resolved to face his personal crisis and do what must be done to save himself.

Here, saving oneself means throwing oneself into Jesus’ hands.  “He saved others”—we don’t know how Dismas knows this.  He calls upon Jesus to save him, not from his just earthly punishment but from the eternal punishment his crimes merit.  He invokes Jesus by name—the only time in the gospels this occurs (that’s astonishing, isn’t it?), making this an unusually personal encounter.  When should we be more personal with our Lord Jesus than when facing death and judgment?  So he pleads, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Unlike anyone else on the scene, he recognizes what sort of a king Jesus is.  Here is a king who rules not with armies but with mercy; a king not of raw power but of justice—in the sense of turning sinners into just people, into saints.  The “good thief” becomes good by Jesus’ word.  As one commentator puts it, “It is a perfect example of salvation through faith without achievements.”[2]

Dismas is the last of Luke’s line of repentant sinners and tax collectors welcomed and saved by Jesus, a line that includes the notorious woman who anointed his feet in the home of Simon the Pharisee (7:36-50); Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus drove out 7 demons (8:2); and Zacchaeus the tax collector (19:1-10); as well as the younger son in the parable of the lost sons and even the shepherds in the Nativity story (shepherds were despised because of their lax practice of the Torah).

What all of these repentant sinners receive—most evidently our “good thief”—is restoration.  The kingdom is restored thru the Son of David—not David’s kingdom of an independent and powerful Israel, but the kingdom of God—when men and women are restored.  Jesus promises the criminal who has acknowledged him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (23:43).

“Paradise” is the word used in the Greek version of Genesis for the Garden of Eden. Paradise is where human beings lived in perfect harmony with their Creator, with each other, and with all of creation—all of which was destroyed by Adam, “the man,” the prototypical human being.  Now the New Adam, from the tree of the cross, is restoring paradise, not in some distant future but “today.”  From the cross Christ enters his reign as the founder of the New Creation, and his subjects are all those sinners who have turned to him to be made new, to be saved, and to start living, as long as life remains, by the teachings of their king.

“Today you will be with me.”  The story of Adam and Eve’s fall suggests that God used to walk with them “in the garden at the breezy time of day,” i.e., in the cool of the evening (Gen 3:8).  In Genesis’s account, that’s when he comes looking for the man and the woman and can’t find them.  They’ve destroyed their companionship with the Creator by their sin and in their shame hide from him (3:10).  But Jesus restores the relationship between God and man.  Dismas will walk with his king, be his companion and friend, in paradise.

Not Dismas only.  “He has delivered us from the power of darkness” (Col 1:13)—all of us whom, in Christ, “the Father … has made fit to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (1:12).  Thru Christ everyone and everything has been reconciled to the Creator; “in him all things hold together,” the entire universe (1:20,17).  The chosen one, God’s Anointed, our king, has restored creation—and us.

                [1] Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, Sept. 19, 1777.
                [2] John P. Kealy, CSSp, Luke’s Gospel Today (Denville, N.J.: Dimension Books, 1979), p. 438.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rector Major Asks for Prayers for Protection of the Young

On November 19, Fr. Pascual Chavez, Rector Major of the Salesians, sent this letter to all members of the Salesian Family, asking them to observe International Day of Children's Rights, and especially to continue to work and to pray that St. John Bosco's charism be carried out faithfully in regard to educating girls and keeping them out of premature marriage.

Direzione Generale Opere Don Bosco
    Via della Pisana 1111 – 00163 Roma

Il Rettor Maggiore

Letter of the Rector Major
on the International Day of Children’s Rights

Dear Brothers and dear Sisters, Salesians, members of the Salesian Family, and young people engaged in volunteering,

On November 20 each year, the anniversary of the adoption in 1989 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, International Day of Children’s Rights is celebrated all around the world.

Since 2009, November 20 is also an opportunity for all people of faith to celebrate the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children.

For the last three years I have been sending you a message inviting all to become active in this consistent interreligious initiative promoted by the Global Network of Religions for Children and supported by Arigatou International. It is a world initiative that unites religious communities and lay organizations to strengthen global efforts to stop violence against children.

This year, on the occasion of November 20, I would like to launch the following call to prayer and action: “to promote the right to education of all children in the world as a means to fight and prevent child marriage.
The 2012 Report on the State of the World Population prepared by the United Nations Population Fund indicates that from 2000 to 2011, one-third of women between 20 and 24 years old (around 67 million) had married before they were 18 years old. 12% of them married before 15 years of age. Child marriage is a form of violence against children and a violation of their human rights that affects all aspects of their lives. It hampers the enjoyment of childhood and adolescence as it hinders the possibility to continue studying. It also has impacts on health, increasing the risk for sexual abuse and early pregnancies.

Girls with low educational levels encounter major risks of child marriage and, once married, most of them stop studying. On the contrary, girls and adolescents who complete their secondary school are one-sixth as likely to marry before they are 18 years old. Hence, education is one of the major strategies to protect girls and adolescents from early marriage.
This year I would like to invite you, on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, to promote actions, events, reflections, and prayers in order to evidence publicly the engagement of the Salesian Family in the fight against violence against children – in particular against child marriage – through prevention and education following the charism of our Founder Don Bosco.

As I already mentioned to you the past years, I believe that only if we religious leaders unite with other people of faith in a joint effort, can we provide an adequate answer to the violations of children’s dignity and human rights in the world.

While the bicentennial of our Saint’s birth is getting close, for us, the Salesian Family, it is necessary to retrace the path of Don Bosco, father and teacher of youth.

The Salesian Family holds in its hands an extraordinary heritage: 15 million children in 133 countries around the world. We humbly recognize this but also with awareness that, like Don Bosco in his time, we must be leading actors for their salvation. Today we need to protect their dignity and secure the enjoyment of their fundamental rights.

With the hope that the Salesian communities will be capable of promoting strong alliances in this direction, for the creation of a new culture of human rights promotion and protection,

Rector Major

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Homily for the 33d Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
33d Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nov. 17, 2013
Luke 11: 5-19

A camping trip with Boy Scouts this weekend fell thru.  Here’s the homily prepared for them.

“By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Luke 21: 19).

For the last several weeks we’ve followed Jesus as he made his way up to Jerusalem.  Mostly our Sunday gospels gave us some of the parables he told along the way—parables that help us on our journey thru life toward the New Jerusalem, i.e., eternal life in the Father’s home.

The last 2 Sundays, tho, we saw Jesus in Jericho, where he encountered the tax collector Zacchaeus and won his conversion, and finally in Jerusalem disputing with the Sadducees about the resurrection to eternal life.

This week we find Jesus teaching in the temple in Jerusalem.  It’s already past Palm Sunday, and he’s in the last week of his earthly life, altho his disciples are clueless about that.

The disciples are admiring the splendid temple, home of the one true God, sign of God’s special relationship with the Jewish people, a sign—they trust—of permanence and endurance.

But Jesus predicts its utter destruction:  “The days will come when there won’t even be one stone left upon another.  It’ll all be thrown down” (cf. 21:6).

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Commanded by Titus, by David Roberts
To imagine that must have been more shocking to those who heard Jesus than for us to imagine NYC without the Twin Towers.  As horrible as the destruction of the WTC was, and as much as our world has changed since that awful day, I don’t think anyone linked 9/11 to the impending end of the world.

But the end of the world might have seemed at hand for faithful Jews who contemplated the destruction of their magnificent temple, the dwelling place on earth of the living God.  The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all make such a connection, and they warn us—as we heard from St. Luke tonite—of terrible events that “must happen first”:  wars, “powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues … and awesome sights .. will come from the sky” (21:9-11).

That sounds like the times we’re in, doesn’t it?  Guess what?  There’s never been a time that didn’t know such afflictions, man-made ones like wars, genocides, and economic collapses, and natural ones like plagues, famines, hurricanes, and earthquakes.

St. Luke had the advantage of some hindsight as he wrote his gospel.  He knew what Jesus had said about the temple, and he also knew that the prophecy had been essentially fulfilled in 70 A.D. when, after the Jews revolted against Rome, a Roman army besieged and starved the holy city for weeks, captured it, and burned it—destroying the temple except for what today we call the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall, which for Jews is the most sacred place in the world because it’s the last remnant of God’s house on earth.

Besides the historical event of the Jewish revolt and Jerusalem’s destruction, St. Luke had also seen political turmoil and war.  The year from 68 to 69 A.D. saw 5 emperors because of a series of rebellions and coups d’etat.  And he’d seen natural disasters like the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., which buried 2 cities under 75 feet of ash and lava in a burst of thermal energy 100,000 times that released by the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. You will “hear of wars and insurrections, and there will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues and mighty signs from the sky,” indeed!

Vesuvius from Portici, by Joseph Wright
But for Christians there would be worse:  “They will seize and persecute you, they will put you in prison, and they will lead you before kings and governors because of my name…, and they will put some of you to death.  You will be hated by all because of my name” (21:12,16-17).  In this world tortured by strife and war, by all kinds of natural disasters, Christians will also face persecution because they follow Jesus.

Luke had witnessed persecution firsthand as he traveled with St. Paul in the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and on to Rome.  He’d seen Paul put in jail, attacked by mobs, threatened with assassination, put on trial, and shipped off to Rome for more prison and court proceedings.  Luke knew of Nero’s persecution in the 60s, in which Paul was beheaded, Peter crucified, and hundreds of ordinary Christians thrown to wild beasts and burned alive as public entertainment.

In all of this, Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid, not to worry, to be faithful, to persevere.  When challenged for their beliefs, Jesus will provide them with the wisdom to defend their faith verbally and the strength to stand fast against threats.  He’ll be at their side.

That’s the kind of trust, the kind of faith, the kind of hope that sustains persecuted Christians today in China, in Pakistan, in Egypt, and in other places.  It sustains us as we face a society that is becoming more and more hostile to our beliefs and to our moral values—consider how Tim Tebow has been mocked, for example—and that threatens us with legal proceedings if we preach and practice Christian morality.

There’s tremendous pressure on us from society—from the media, from popular entertainment, from the educational system, from the laws, from peer pressure—for us to buy into an individual kind of morality:  everyone decides for himself what’s right or wrong, everything is OK as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone (“hurt” being very subjectively defined, and if it feels good, do it.

N.Y. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”  You can’t make your own law of gravity; it’s a fact you have to live with, and if you defy it you may kill yourself.  You can’t decide that 2+2=5 and think that reality will conform to your wishes.  Likewise, human nature and the laws of nature are realities—and so is God and our status as God’s creatures.  We don’t decide what’s right and wrong, e.g., in the matter of the dignity of every human person (racism or genocide will always be wrong, regardless of anyone’s opinion or any law), or in the matter of abortion (it’s a biological fact that what’s conceived is a human being, and no amount of pro-choice rhetoric and no Supreme Court decision can change that), or in the matter of sexual morality, or in the matter of what marriage is.

We Christians have taken and will continue to take a lot of heat and scorn and maybe more from sticking by our faith and its true teachings.  Jesus commands us, nevertheless, to “give testimony” (21:13), to give witness that he and only he is the standard of truth.  Only he has risen from the dead, and only he can save the world from death:  “not a hair on your head will be destroyed [by everlasting death].  By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (21:18).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Philippines: Damage Reports and an Appeal

The Philippines:
Damage Reports and an Appeal

Compiled mainly from ANS and FMA news services

The Salesian mission offices around the globe have sprung into action in support of the operations to help the people devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, which ripped through the central Philippines on Friday, November 8. Salesian Missions in New Rochelle is one of the centers answering the Congregation’s urgent appeal for aid to the victims.


“Salesians were on the ground and able to respond immediately,” said Fr. Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, referring to the fact that Salesians have been working to help vulnerable children and families in the Philippines since 1950. “But they need additional help, and we are responding to that call.”

Haiyan carried maximum sustained winds of 195 mph. (Some media reported that such winds were recorded at sea, and the winds over land were appreciably weaker.) According to the New York Times (November 9), the unusual speed with which the hurricane passed through the islands lessened the damage that it might otherwise have caused from wind and rain. Nevertheless, news media report that the death toll as of November 14 is almost 2,400; they also predict that it may climb to 10,000. About 620,000 people have been displaced, 2,000 are unaccounted for, and 10 million people have been otherwise affected. About 4 million children have been deprived of their families.

Reports from the SDB Northern Province (FIN), based in Manila, indicate that the works there did not suffer much damage. The same was true of the FMA works in the northern islands.

from SDB Annuario 2013
The SDB and FMA communities on Cebu Island (see adjacent map) suffered no major damage, since they are located south of the worst of the typhoon’s winds and water. The FMAs’ Mary Help of Christians School at Minglanilla along Cebu’s east coast sheltered 800 persons for two days, feeding them with food supplies (photo below) that had been collected earlier for the relief of earthquake victims on Bohol Island (stricken on October 15). The sisters and volunteers took turns cooking noodles, rice, and canned goods. They also provided for their basic necessities, listened to their stories, and consoled them. There is heavy damage in the houses of children from the youth center and the school. Electricity and communications were cut off in almost the entire province and were partially restored after two days.

The East Asia regional meeting of ACSSA (Salesian History Association) had just concluded, and the return flights of many of the participants were cancelled. They were able to depart when the storm had passed.

Two SDB communities were in Haiyan’s direct path, one in Borongan in East Samar Province, and the other in Dumnagas in Iloilo Province on Panay Island. No communication is currently possible with these two communities. The community in Borongan City, however, had reported that the city was chosen as the command post for relief operations in Eastern Samar Island. There are three Salesians working in that community.

At the FMAs’ St. Mary Mazzarello School in Negros Occidental Province, trees were uprooted, electric poles fell down, and the roofs of the library building were stripped away. Electricity was restored in the school after two days, but a large part of the neighboring towns will need more than a week to get their power back. Classes are still suspended. Several students lost their houses while others suffered heavy damage.

At Mary Help of Christians School in Mindoro Oriental Province on Mindoro Island, roofs of the boys’ dormitory were blown away, trees were uprooted, and drainage was blocked, causing a knee-high flood. On Mindoro the parents of two FMAs were admitted to the hospital.

The typhoon made its sixth and last landfall in the northern part of Palawan Island, where the FMA community is at Puerto Princesa in the island’s center. There hasn’t been any news from there (as of November 12).

One sister reported that her family sustained heavy property damage at Coron on Busuanga Island in the Visayas archipelago, directly stricken by the typhoon, but the family are unharmed.

As of November 8, from the news that the FMAs had received, the families and relatives of the sisters are safe, except that they had not yet gotten any news of families from Tacloban on Leyte Island, where 90% of the buildings were flattened.

From the Web page of the FMAs
The provincial communities in both Manila and Cebu City (FIS) are functioning with normal communications. The SDB communities of both FIN and FIS and the FMA Province (based in Manila) have joined the national drive for relief efforts on behalf of the people who have lost their homes, property, and even their loved ones in the typhoon and its aftermath, which has included shortages of food and potable water, medical supplies, sanitation, and shelter.

FIS suspended various activities to concentrate on emergency relief operations. Students, teachers, and lay collaborators in our institutes are involved in the collection, preparation, and packing of relief goods that will be sent to the various islands affected by the typhoon.

The 266 SDBS and the FMAs operating in the country are currently all engaged in coordinating aid to the population and providing first aid to the needy. The Salesian houses in Cebu were chosen as the Official Help Center, in cooperation with the National Crisis Management Unit. 25,000 emergency kits have already been distributed from there.

Bishop Precioso D. Cantillas, Salesian bishop of Maasin, Leyte, writes: “By God’s mercy and loving care, my diocese had been spared from great destruction. A parish church has been damaged at the roof. We have mobilized our faithful for help for our neighboring dioceses. We have no electricity till now and for the coming weeks. Fuel is in limited supply. Food is still available in the local market. For now, we try to gather from our faithful as much help as we can to extend to the neighbors in dire need.”

The FMAs reported on November 13 from Thai Binh, Vietnam, on Haiyan’s progress into Vietnam and southern China:

The passage of Typhoon Haiyan leaves us no pause. After provoking thousands of deaths in the Philippines, on November 11 at about 4:00 a.m., the typhoon reached landfall in Vietnam, where it weakened and then proceeded toward southern China. The province of Quang Ninh was the hardest hit. According to the first estimates made by the civil protection of the Asian nation, it left at least 14 dead, 4 dispersed, and about 80 wounded. The consequence was a huge flood that provoked a lot of damage to homes (more than 2,000) and ships (about 90). The typhoon also passed through the province of Thai Binh, where our community of Trai Gao is situated, although it was weaker by then. The FMAs and the girls are safe. The people with their experience immediately helped the sisters to safeguard the house. Due to this, there was only one roof tile blown away. Many trees were knocked down by the strong wind, and some roofs of the houses in Thai Binh were blown away, but no one was hurt. The Vietnamese people set up a “refuge” to weather the storm. Many persons left their homes to take refuge there. Even if their homes were lost, at least their lives were safe. Let us strengthen our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Vietnam and in the Philippines while we entrust ourselves to the prayers and the support of everyone.

From the Web page of the FMAs

Monday, November 11, 2013

Aid Urgently Needed for Philippines

PHILIPPINES: Salesian Missions Responds to Typhoon Devastation, Issues Urgent Call for Donations

By MissionNewswire at November 11, 2013

(MissionNewswire) Salesian Missions has launched an emergency fund to support the relief efforts of Salesians in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. The effort is part of an international response by the Don Bosco Network.

Donations are urgently needed to get food, water and other life-saving supplies to the victims. Since the Salesians were already working in the affected communities, they were able to begin responding immediately.

To make a donation, people are urged to go to and select “Philippines Typhoon Emergency” on the Donate Now page. The funds raised by Salesian Missions will be used to help deliver life-saving aid to vulnerable children and families affected by the devastating typhoon.

“Salesians were on the ground and able to respond immediately,” said Fr. Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, referring to the fact that Salesians have been working to help vulnerable children and families in the Philippines since 1950. “But they need additional help and we are responding to that call.”

Salesian missionaries, students and volunteers worked over the weekend to prepare an initial 30,000 food packages to help victims. Additional funds are necessary in order to meet the continued need of victims.

In addition to preparing the distribution of life-saving aid, Salesian buildings that withstood the storm have been opened to the communities to offer shelter. Families are sleeping in gymnasiums and classrooms that have been converted into safe havens for the homeless.

Salesian missionaries in the Philippines have reported that in works in Cebu and Manila are functioning and have lines of communication and are able to coordinate a response. They are still waiting to hear from Salesian-supported communities that were in the direct path of the hurricane—and remain without any lines of communication.

The Salesians had already been working to help victims of the Oct. 15 earthquake, and report that the situation is dire.

We are trying to link up with others to help in the relief operations,” said Fr. George P. Militante from Cebu. “We are hearing that the basic needs for food, water, tarps and temporary shelters are the priorities.”

To donate, go to and select “Philippines Typhoon Emergency” on the Donate Now page.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Homily for 32d Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
32d Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nov. 6, 1983
2 Macc 7: 1-2, 9-14
Luke 20: 27-38
Our Lady of Pompei, Paterson, N.J.
This morning I preached at St. Vincent's Hospital, Harrison, N.Y., without a written text. Here's a 30-year-old homily on the same Scriptural texts; some of the specific references to current events are dated, obviously, but the principles evoked are not.

At the beginning of November we’re about halfway between Easters.  While every Sunday is a celebration of the life of our risen Lord shares with us, on this Sunday the Church reminds us more directly that “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life” (2 Macc 7:9), “that the dead are raised” (Luke 20:37) and “all live for God” (20:38).

The OT books of the Maccabees describe the persecution of God’s people by pagans, their courage, their resistance, and their faith in the resurrection of the just.  In particular, the 7th chapter of 2 Maccabees relates how a mother and the 7 sons are horribly tortured and killed rather than renounce God and God’s people.  Their belief that God will judge all mankind and raise up the good to eternal life sustains them against their tormentors.

Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees
by Antonio Ciseri
Jesus outwits the Sadducees by teaching a resurrection to a transformed, eternal life.  The greatest trick that Jesus played upon his opponents, however, was his own resurrection on the 3d day after his crucifixion.

We believe in the resurrection.  We believe that God has called us in Christ to live forever—to live in health, happiness, peace, friendship.  This has been the belief of the followers of Jesus ever since the women discovered the empty tomb and spoke with the Risen One.

How much do we believe it?  Would you be willing to die rather than renounce Christ?  It’s unlikely that we’ll ever face that test the way heroes of Maccabees did, the way thousands of Christian martyrs have, even in our own century.  We thank God that we live in a country where we can practice our faith without fear.  Yet 10 or 20 years ago, the Catholics of Chile, of Nicaragua, of El Salvador could also live in peace; today they must make choices every day.

Nor are we without choices.  Our belief in the resurrection can sustain us, has to sustain us.

For instance, the Gospel challenges us to be people of peace.  The Holy Father frequently reminds us of this and our American bishops have recently done so in a major pastoral letter.  We all know that war has a cost and a risk; we’ve certainly been reminded of that in the last 2 weeks.  But somehow we’re more afraid of the risks of working for peace—the peace of forgiveness and reconciliation of members of our own family, the forgiveness and reconciliation of whole nations.  I’m not a pacifist myself; but many Christians read the Gospel to mean they must be complete pacifists, suffering evil rather than doing violence themselves, and trusting in God’s justice and the resurrection of the just.  Not only do we have to respect these people, but we have to hear them.  That may be what God is calling all of us to.  Frightening, isn’t it?  That’s the tension of living in this world and being children of the resurrection.  That’s one of the choices we have to make.

Another instance is more familiar to us.  We face death frequently.  Our friends and relatives die.  We hear and read of thousands of people dying from earthquakes, of hundreds dying from the bombs of madmen.  Death isn’t pretty or pleasant.  It isn’t part of God’s plan for us.  We can face it only when we remember some truths of the Gospel.

First truth:  With the exception of infants, the innocent don’t suffer.  The 269 on KAL Flight 007 weren’t innocent; our Marines weren’t innocent; your Aunt Tillie who died of cancer wasn’t innocent; I am not innocent; and you are not innocent.  We are sinners.  We may not be murderers or rapists.  But we sin daily, and we know it.

Second truth:  The only one who can truly claim innocence died painfully on a cross.  He shared in our suffering by choice, not because suffering and death are good but because he had to overcome them in order that we might overcome them.  Maybe when little children suffer, we can see Christ-figures in them. 

Third truth:  Jesus Christ has conquered our sinfulness with his love, our death with his life.  He was raised up, and we shall be raised up to life—regardless of our being sinners, so long as we have surrendered our lives and our hearts to him.  We can face death, as we all must, because our risen Lord Jesus is at our side.

A month ago we were all watching Cardinal Cooke die.  There was a good and holy man.  He edified us most in his hour of suffering.  Why?  Just because he was good?  Because he wasn’t afraid of death, because he was confident of Christ’s love in his pain, because he saw himself united to the cross of Jesus and destined to live forever in Christ, because all of us want to die like that.

Well, we can die like that only if our faith in the resurrection is real.  That faith is a gift from God, of course; but it’s a gift we are free to accept and to nurture, a gift we must make our own every day when we choose good over evil, when we see beyond the material world, when we look beyond the temporary death of the body to the God of Abraham, of Jesus, and of all the living.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Blessings of Altar Servers

The Blessings of Altar Servers

Deacon Greg Kandra notes the "installation" (if that's the right word) of 38 new altar servers in his Brooklyn parish and then launches into the benefits to be seen in this thriving ministry for the young (from about 5th grade up to college-age, he reports).  See

Homily for 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nov. 3, 2013
2 Thess 1:11—2: 2
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“Brothers and sisters:  We always pray for you” (1 Thess 1: 11).

Some of the Fathers of the Church in the earliest centuries of Christianity called Christians the “soul” of the entire world.  We are the ones who give life, hope, and love to humanity—and just to humanity but to every aspect of creation, which, as St. Paul says in his Letter to the Romans, is groaning as it hopes for redemption (8:19-22).

St. Paul - St. Peter's Square
One of the ways by which we give life to the world is prayer.  Prayer, I should mention, is an exercise of our basic Christian priesthood, the common priesthood of all the baptized.  That priesthood enables all of us to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice thru the hands of the ordained priest.  And within the Eucharist, as well as in other sacramental rite and in our private prayer, we intercede for many people for many concerns—our “general intercessions” at Mass and in our liturgical prayer, our intercessions for our family members and friends, for those who are suffering from natural disasters or war or any of the terrible circumstances of life; or we pray for the needs of the Church like vocations, the missions, and so on.

A little story.  I keep in my breviary a list of people who’ve asked me to pray for them—usually for something to do with their health, or just in general, as when someone says, “Father, please pray for me.”  At one Catholic Press Assn. affair, I met a certain gentleman who became a good friend and who asked me to pray for his particular ministry.  So he’s been on my list for a few years now.  So at one CPA convention—I think it was in Pittsburgh 2 or 3 years ago—we happened to be together for lunch, and since I had my breviary with me, I showed him that he was on my little list.  Lo and behold, a short while later the lunch speaker got up—some priest whose name I don’t remember—to speak about forgiveness.  In the course of his address he said more or less that when we talk about forgiving our enemies and those who’ve hurt us, it’s not enuf just to put their names on some sort of prayer list and think we’re done.  Well, Owen and I looked at each other and then about fell out of our chairs laughing.

When we offer prayers for people, we’re doing what Paul and his co-workers did:  “We always pray for you.”

Paul isn’t praying for his friends—the local church at Thessalonica that he had converted, established, and guided, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles—in some general sort of way.  He prays very particularly that God will make them worthy of the call that he—God—has given them, and that God will bring to fulfillment all the purposes for which he has called them.

There we have powerful indications of what we should really be praying for.  Not that we ought not to pray for peace or good weather or improvements in the economy or good judgment from our political leaders or such things—but the bottom line for everyone is that we respond to God’s call.  That covers everything for which we were created.  Do you remember your Baltimore Catechism?  Why did God make you?  “God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this world and to be happy with them forever in the next world.”  That’s our calling.

Paul puts that this way:  “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you … in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.”  So our prayer ultimately is for the glory of God, by the gift of God (which is what “grace” means).  Our Collect this evening prayed about God’s gift and asked him to help us “hasten to receive the things [he has] promised”—to respond to his call to share in Christ’s glory.

“The glory of God,” St. Irenaeus said late in the 2d century, “is man fully alive.”  God’s glory is that we live to the fullest.  Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “I have come so [you] may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  That fullness of life comes from living in and with Jesus in this life:  “blessed are the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for justice,” etc., as we just heard in the gospel of All Saints.  You know how good you feel when you’ve done something truly good.  Your life is fuller!  And we pray that everyone will come to such a full life, “bring to fulfillment every good purpose” that God intends for all of us—in this life and in eternal life.

Homily for All Saints Day

Homily for the Solemnity
of All Saints
Nov. 1, 2013
Rev 7: 2-4, 9-14
Matt 5: 1-12
Ursulines, Willow Drive, New Rochelle

“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” (Rev 7: 13).

In John’s vision of the heavenly court, he sees among those sealed as belonging to “the living God” 144,000 “from every tribe of the Israelites” (7:2,4) and “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (7:9).  All this multitude wear the white robes of purity—washed clean “in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14)—and carry the palms of victory (7:9).

Who are they, one of the elders asks John.  He doesn’t know, and so the elder tells him, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress” who have washed their garments white in the Lamb’s blood.  That is, they have been faithful to the Lamb thru the great period of trial, the persecutions inflicted upon the churches of Asia at the end of the 1st century —the context for these prophetic visions.

How severe the persecutions of the Roman emperors were, we don’t always know.  For sure, some of them were terrible and affected the entire empire.  Other persecutions were sporadic and localized.  We can’t even come close to guessing the number of Christian faithful who lost their property, were exiled, were imprisoned, or were executed, but we may be sure they were “a great multitude which no one could count.”

Today’s feast seems to have its origins in honoring such unknown and unnamed martyrs who couldn’t have their own commemorations and celebrations.  Eventually, like the public cult of specific saintly confessors and virgins, it expanded to include all God’s holy people who have been admitted to the heavenly court.

The criterion for admission remains the same:  perseverance thru “times of great distress.”  And what Christian has not lived in a “time of great distress”?  Surely every human being undergoes great distress in life.  In many cases that comes specifically from one’s adherence to Jesus Christ, as is happening in our times in places like Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, and China, to name just four countries; as is happening in Western societies to people who resist the moral deterioration of our culture:  “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me” (Matt 5:11).

Others suffer “great distress” because “ they hunger and thirst for righteousness” (5:6), for the establishment of right order in the world thru respect for the rights and dignity of all people, especially of the poor and the marginalized.  They strive for various social justice causes for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and are distressed grievously by human obstruction and human weakness and other reasons.

In still other cases, the “great distress” is more mundane—the ordinary tribulations of life, of illness, of career setbacks, of old age, of religious assignments we don’t especially care for, of personal conflicts not our own fault, etc.  We all face those in one way or another at one time or another.  Our faithfulness to Jesus then calls us to deal with them as he did:  “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, etc.” (Phil 2:5-11).

It’s not easy to persevere with equanimity, with humility, with obedience to God’s will thru all life’s distresses.  As you know, “old age isn’t for sissies.”  So on today’s feast we’re invited to call upon the saints, those who have “survived the time of great distress” and share in Christ’s victory over suffering and death and sin, to call upon them for “an abundance of reconciliation” with God (Collect), i.e., for the pardon of our failures and a closer unity of heart and mind with the “ever-living God” whom we seek, for whom we “earnestly long,” as the Collect says.

The Latin text of the Collect indicates that we’re invoking the saints’ assistance before God for more than “reconciliation” or the forgiveness of our sins.  Noted liturgical scholar Fr. Anscar Chupungco has a new book out that looks at the collects of the revised Missal.[1]  He writes about today’s Collect:

What does “abundance of the reconciliation” mean?  The Latin is tuae propitiationis abundantiam or “richness of your mercy.”  Propitius and propitiatio are some of the oldest Latin terms frequently employed to denote the human sentiment of trust in the goodness of God.  The adjective propitius is used so that God will be favorably disposed to grant the petition.  Propitiatio often refers to God’s kindhearted disposition.  Thus, “reconciliation” does not adequately render the sense of the Latin word.  The following is a literal translation of the oration:  “Almighty, ever-living God, who willed that we honor in one feast the merits of all your Saints, we pray that, by the intercession of so many [the ‘great multitude which no one could count’!], you will grant us the abundance of your mercy for which we long.”  The sense of the phrase is ‘With a great multitude of saints praying for us, we can long for God’s outpouring of mercy.’”

Fr. Anscar continues with a “homiletic-catechetical note”:

According to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “The church has also included memorial days of the martyrs and other saints in the annual cycle. . . .  By celebrating the days on which they died, the church proclaims the paschal mystery in the saints who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ.  It proposes them to the faithful as models who draw all people to the Father through Christ, and through their merits it begs for God’s favor” (104).

To such an exalted doctrine the Collect for All Saints affixes a consideration quite human in its motivation.  We trust that God will listen to our prayer, because a countless number of saints surround God in the heavenly court, all interceding on our behalf.  There is strength in numbers.

So God offers us more than his mercy in the case of our sins, however necessary that is.  He offers his help, his assistance in many forms as we undergo the various distresses of our lives, trying to be faithful disciples of Jesus.  And the beg all his saints to intercede for us until that day when we will be marching with them into the heavenly court.

     [1] Anscar J. Chupungco, The Prayers of the New Missal: A Homiletic and Catechetical Companion (Collegeville: Liturgical, 2013), citing pp. 115-116.