Sunday, February 23, 2014

Homily for 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
7th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Feb. 23, 2014
Matt 5: 38-48
Scouting NYLT, Putnam Valley, N.Y.
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’” (Matt 5: 38).
The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch
Our gospel reading today picks up where last week’s left off.  We’ve been reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for 3 weeks and will have 1 more week of it before Lent interrupts the sequence.  (Yes, gang, Ash Wednesday is almost upon us!)

Last week and this week Jesus is teaching us how our observance of God’s law must go beyond the bare minimum of observance.  You may remember that last week he said, “Unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20).  The scribes and Pharisees, generally speaking, were pious men, very devoted to keeping the Law of Moses—they were the religious conservatives and traditionalists of 1st-century Judaism.  But Jesus calls his disciples to go deeper, to be more intense in our love of God and therefore our love of neighbor.  He calls us, in the last words of today’s gospel, to “be perfect” like our heavenly Father (5:48).

Now, obviously, we aren’t God.  We aren’t morally perfect.  The word Jesus uses in St. Matthew’s Greek (τέλειοι) has the idea of completeness or wholeness.  If our observance of God’s law, if our discipleship of Jesus, is to be complete, we have to strive to act toward other people the way God does.

And how does God treat people—which means you and me and everyone?  With even-handed mercy, with infinite patience.  Yes, there is the possibility of damnation; last week Jesus made references to Gehenna.  But final judgment belongs to God.  In this life we have Jesus’ teachings about patience in the face of persecution, about loving our enemies.

In the OT God set limits on the retribution that the Jews might seek, especially in a society less organized than ours, legally speaking; a society in which individuals often had to execute justice on their enemies or on criminals, somewhat like we imagine the Old West to have been in the absence of Wyatt Earp or John Wayne.  Thus the Book of Leviticus says, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (24:20); you could get even, but no more than that.  If someone knocked out 1 of your teeth, you couldn’t break 3 of his.

When we look at the Middle East today—from Libya eastward to Pakistan—and other places like the Central African Republic and South Sudan, we see cycles of vengeance.  That vengeance is often inflicted not merely on the perpetrators of some wrong—stolen cattle, an offense to someone’s honor, an allegation of political corruption, a physical injury, an act of terrorism—but even on completely innocent people who happen to belong to the wrong tribe, the wrong nationality, the wrong religion.  It goes far beyond the limits of the Law of Moses, which allows no more than an eye for an eye, allows an “evening-up” only from the actual perpetrator, not from his son, his cousin, the family next door.

Jesus makes a bigger demand on us:  “Offer no resistance to one who is evil” (5:39).  Then he gives several examples:  unjust assault, the requisitioning of one’s goods, forced labor imposed by the Roman military authorities.

In commanding us not to resist evil, Jesus is commanding us to be non-violent, to accept injury and wrongdoing to ourselves rather than harm someone else.  Being non-violent runs counter to our instincts of self-preservation, of self-defense, even of justice.  Certainly we have a natural right to protect ourselves from assault or robbery and to defend ourselves against lawsuits.  Jesus urges us not to exercise that right, in effect to imitate himself in his passion and death.  Very few Christians are actually willing and able to do that.  (My blood boils and my voice gets louder just as fast as anyone else’s, and if you punch me I’m likely to punch you back.)

Yet history does show us that non-violence can be powerful.  Remember Gandhi’s campaign for Indian independence and MLK’s campaign for civil rights.  Remember also that the civil rights movement was explicitly rooted in the Bible as much as in our country’s foundational documents.  (Aside:  the civil rights movement as it has evolved today, demanding “abortion rights” and “gay rights,” rejects both the Bible and biological facts; it has become “the wisdom of this world” that is “foolishness in the eyes of God,” as St. Paul says today [1 Cor 3:18].)

Matthew’s gospel was addressed to Christians who were a tiny, oppressed minority within the Roman Empire.  Jesus’ words, then, speak to the individual behavior of disciples in relation to their neighbors and civil and religious authorities.  “Turning the other cheek” is something we can do individually.  Settling an unjust lawsuit is something we can do.  “Giving to one who asks of you” is something we can do.

But what are Christians to do when they are no longer a tiny, oppressed minority but in fact have become the civil and religious authorities?  Can a 21st-century police officer or governor “offer no resistance to one who is evil”?  Can a disciple of Jesus serve in the armed forces and still “love his enemies”?  How does the government provide for the needy in a fiscally responsible manner?  Being a disciple of Jesus has gotten a lot more complicated since 30 A.D.!

Christians are now involved in civil government with responsibility for protecting the public welfare:  people’s lives, property, and liberty.  Would it be right for a public official to turn the other cheek for the entire city or country, while criminals or armies rampage everywhere, looting, raping, burning, and killing?  Or does love for one’s neighbor require Christians to defend people, even with force if necessary?  20 years ago, Europe and the U.S. watched a million people be slaughtered in Rwanda, and tens of thousands more in Bosnia because, supposedly, those acts of “ethnic cleansing” didn’t concern us.
Rwanda: Deep gashes delivered by the killers
are visible in the skulls that fill one room at the Murambi School
For 3 years we’ve been watching the slaughter of 130,000 Syrians.  Do we have a responsibility to intervene, or is it OK to “turn our back on” people in need (cf. Matt 5:42)?  What does loving our neighbor mean for a world power that is also a democratic society?

St. Augustine
Basilica of Mary Help of Christians
The world of international politics and diplomacy, of course, is very complicated.  Wringing our hands or turning the other cheek isn’t an acceptable policy, but finding one that is acceptable by the standards of Jesus isn’t simple either.  At the beginning of the 5th century, in the face of barbarian invasions, St. Augustine laid out a theory of just war—when, how, and to what extent a nation might use force to defend itself and its vital interests.  We all have a moral obligation to study that theory and then to apply it to the real world, just as much as we have an obligation to learn the principles of sexual morality and of respect for the life and reputation of others, which Jesus spoke of last week.

Charlie Brown said, “Even paranoids have real enemies.”  Jesus recognized that people do have enemies, even nice people like his disciples.  There are a lot of people who hate Christians and persecute them, still today.  But Jesus tells us to love even our enemies and persecutors.  Not to trust them, necessarily:  but to wish them well and pray for them—wish and pray that they might be converted to goodness rather than hatred, for example; wish and pray that they might respond to the grace that God offers to everyone, and be saved.  We need to pray for jihadists and abortionists and drug lords and human traffickers and all evildoers.  The Gospel tells us that all things are possible for God; that includes the conversion of the worst sinners.

But, lest we get into judgment—Jesus condemns those who pass judgment on others—we need to remember that conversion has to start with ourselves.  None of us is actually “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.”  None of us lives completely and wholeheartedly according to the teachings of Jesus.  We all have some way to go before, in the words of the Collect today, “we carry out in both word and deed what is pleasing to” the Father.

Friday, February 21, 2014

New Directors for 2014-2015 Announced

New Directors for 2014-2015 Announced

Just before leaving for Rome to participate in the Congregation's 27th General Chapter, Fr. Tom Dunne announced three directorial appointments for the 2014-2017 triennium.

Fr. Conway
Fr. Mike Conway was appointed to a third term as director of the SDB community in St. Petersburg and president of St. Petersburg Catholic HS.

Fr. George Atok was appointed director of the SDB community in Surrey, B.C.  The SDBs staff Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish there, and Fr. George has already been assistant pastor there since last summer.  He will succeed Fr. Mario Villaraza, who is also the pastor (but Fr. George has not been named pastor).  This is Fr. George's 1st appointment as a director.
Fr. Atok

Fr. Zak
Fr. Tim Zak was appointed director of the SDB community in Port Chester, N.Y., to succeed Fr. Tom Ruekert.  The community includes the SDB staffs of both Our Lady of the Rosary Parish ("Holy Rosary") and Corpus Christi Parish and the prenovitiate program for both U.S. provinces.  Fr. Tim has been pastor of Holy Rosary since last summer, and Fr. Tom is pastor of Corpus Christi.  Fr. Tim has previously served as director of the community in Chicago.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Two Salesians Murdered in Venezuela

Two Salesians Murdered in Venezuela

Catholic News Agency reported today (Sunday, Feb. 16):

During a suspected robbery at Don Bosco College in the Venezuelan city of Valencia the evening of Feb. 15, two Salesians were stabbed to death, and another was wounded.

Fr. Jesus Plaza, 80, and Brother Luis Sanchez, 84 were both murdered; and Brother David Marin, 64, was stabbed in the leg multiple times, but is reportedly out of danger after having been treated at a local clinic.
Fr. Jesus Plaza celebrating Mass

Full story

On Monday, Feb. 17, ANS carried this information:

Two Salesians murdered and chapel desecrated

(ANS - Valencia) - At midnight on Saturday, February 15, two Salesians of the Colegio Don Bosco community in Valencia, Venezuela were killed. In a press release, the Salesians of Don Bosco and the Salesian Family express deep sorrow and concern about the acts of violence that occurred there. The full text:
The Catholic Church in Venezuela has suffered irreparable loss with the death of two religious of the Salesian Family who had spent so much effort serving needy young people in the vast field of education in the country.
With deep sorrow in our hearts, we are passing on tragic and painful news: around midnight on February 15, two armed youths entered Don Bosco College in Valencia and, in a violent robbery attempt, brutally murdered Fr. Jesus Plaza, 80 years of age, and Bro. Luis Sanchez, 84 years of age. In the struggle to defend his confreres, the director of the community, Fr. David Marin, was seriously injured and was taken to emergency care to be operated on. He is now out of danger.
Other than this violent abuse of community space, the delinquents also went into the chapel, where they profaned the Blessed Sacrament and stole sacred vessels and other items.
Fr. Jesus Erasmo Plaza Salessi was born June 1, 1934, in La Mesa de Ejido in Merida State. He made his first profession as a Salesian on September 8, 1952, and was ordained on August 15, 1962, in Guatemala City, where he had studied theology. He exercised his priestly ministry in all simplicity, fraternally and with particular apostolic dedication, almost always working in a parish.
Bro. Luis Edilberto Sanchez Morantes came from Boavita (Boyacá, Colombia), where he was born on October 23, 1929. His first profession as a Salesian was August 16, 1956, in Los Teques. He studied technical education and business, and spent a long and well-qualified career as a Salesian teacher among the young in high schools in Sarría, Puerto La Cruz, and Don Bosco Valencia.
With sorrow at the loss of these elderly Salesians, we also feel deep regret for the two young assailants, obviously disturbed, who committed this terrible act and cut off the lives of two men who dedicated their life to poor and needy youth. As a Salesian Family we reject any act of violence by and against any perso, and we demand that the competent authorities clarify these events and follow the path of social justice and peace which has been sorely lacking over recent years.
We ask everyone to pray for the eternal repose of Fr. Plaza and Bro. Sanchez; at the same time, we ask people to be active and vigilant in continuing to build a Venezuelan society in shared peace and safety. May the death of these two religious who have been unconditionally dedicated to the education of the poor not go unpunished; may the memory of their virtues urge us on to continue struggling for a country which is free and peaceful.

Homily for 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Matt 5: 17-37
1 Cor 2: 6-10
Feb. 16, 2014
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

“Jesus said to his disciples:  ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets’” (Matt 5: 17).

Starting last Sunday, we’re hearing for several weeks Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  What we hear today is how demanding Jesus’ teaching is.  It reminds me of what G.K. Chesterton once wrote:  “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and left untried.”[1]

St. Paul hints at this challenge too.  In our 2d reading, he contrasts the “wisdom of this age” (1 Cor 2:6)—which means the wisdom of the world, of society, of our general culture—with “God’s wisdom … which none of the rulers of this age knew” (2:7-8).  He reminds his friends in Corinth that Jesus was crucified by the powers of the world.  The world and what it values are no friends of Jesus Christ or of his disciples.

By “the world,” of course, we do not mean creation in itself or human beings in themselves, but human nature and human institutions infected by sin.  You know very well what that world values:  power, money, fame, pleasure.  Those qualities are what make you important in the eyes of the world:  in politics, business, academia, entertainment, the media, the Twitterverse.

What does Jesus value?  “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19).  As an example, Jesus speaks of killing and anger, and of reconciliation as a prerequisite for worship—which is why we have a sign of peace at Mass.  It’s not a social moment to say, “Hi!  How are ya?  Doesn’t this weather stink?” but a deeply symbolic, almost sacramental, moment of our forgiveness of everyone who has hurt us, of our wishing everyone to be at peace with God.

Christ’s teaching challenges our public policy as well as our private or personal attitudes, words, and actions.  “Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (5:22)—what are the implications of that for criminal justice, for instance?  Does our penal system aim only at punishment, or also at rehabilitation?  When we scream, “Lock him up and throw away the key!” is our intention to safeguard society or to get even with someone we hate?  Where capital punishment is legal or is advocated for, is the motive the legitimate protection of society, or vengeance?

Jesus tells us that we can commit sin in our hearts (5:28).  (So do the 9th and 10th Commandments, by the way.)  Today’s gospel refers specifically to lust and adultery, but elsewhere both Jesus and the Bible in general warn us also about excessive attachment to material goods and to our own self-image, our pride.  Our society has little use for self-restraint; it’s all for excess (except of body fat).  Our society embraces the mottos “Grab all the gusto you can” and “If it feels good, do it,” more than it observes the Golden Rule.  Our society is blind to how pornography destroys marriages and families; blind to the impact of single parenthood on our children’s education, nutrition, and poverty, and to their future employment prospects, gang activity, and crime.  How have we come to the point where a major focus of the Super Bowl would be the sex trafficking of minors around the game?

If we want a better society, we have to start with our hearts:  with our thoughts, desires, and attitudes—not only with regard to lust but also with regard to anger, avarice, envy, gluttony, pride, and sloth, all 7 of the capital sins.  For, as the proverb says, “The thought is father to the man.”  Or, as Jesus says, from the heart come evil actions:  murder, theft, deceit, adultery, fornication, arrogance (Mark 7:21-22).

Jesus speaks further about adultery, moving from lust in the heart to actions:  whoever divorces and remarries commits adultery.  That’s certainly an unpopular teaching; many wish the Catholic Church would change it.  But as you just heard in the gospel—and it’s not only in Matthew but also in Mark and Luke—the teaching comes directly from Jesus.  Here in Matthew, Jesus adds a proviso:  “unless the marriage is unlawful” (5:32), which would allow the ending of a relationship that wasn’t a lawful marriage to begin with (what we Catholics call an annulment).  Is there a Christian so bold as to say, “Well, Jesus got it wrong.  His teaching about marriage is false teaching, and the Church should listen to public opinion instead”?

I would say that our society’s understanding of marriage isn’t so much different from that of the ancient pagan world, except that not even the pagan Greeks and Romans would’ve imagined that gays might marry.  I mean also our society’s understanding of marriage as temporary, “open,” self-centered, children optional.  “Till death do us part” now seems to mean, “Till we get bored to death with each other.”  This is an example of what St. Paul means by “the wisdom of this age” in contrast to “God’s wisdom,” God’s plan for human well-being in this life and in eternal life, a plan that includes permanence, fidelity, and fertility in marriage:  life-long, one man and one woman, open to new life even tho there are no guarantees from nature on that score.

Finally, in our gospel reading Jesus commands us not just not to swear false oaths but even to be people of such honesty and integrity that our “yes” or “no” is sufficient.  How often have you heard people emphasize their words with, “I swear it’s the truth” or “To tell you the truth” or some other phrase that stresses their truthfulness on this occasion—as if, more generally, you shouldn’t really trust them?  On the contrary, it’s high praise when we can say of someone, “His word is his bond” or “Her handshake is as good as a written contract.”

At times our society seems to encourage lying and cheating—bending the rules, finding the loopholes, deceiving the public, trying to slip a foul past the ref, doing whatever it takes to get an A.  And then we’re shocked—shocked!—by insider trading, athletes on steroids, school administrators changing test scores, politicians taking bribes, and the guardians of our nuclear weapons cheating on their proficiency tests.  Integrity means being whole.  You can’t be partly or mostly a person of integrity, as you can’t be a little bit pregnant.  “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’” covers our whole self—all our words and actions, and as the Lord indicated earlier with reference to lust, also our thoughts and desires.

Being a faithful disciple of Jesus involves our whole self; not that we’re perfect—we have the sacrament of Reconciliation for our failures (I meet with my confessor every 2 weeks).  But it means that we commit ourselves totally to following Jesus in this life so that we may live with him forever.  “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (5:19).

                [1] What’s Wrong with the World.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Building Collapses at Don Bosco Retreat Center

Building Collapses
at Don Bosco Retreat Center

There was a weather-related disaster this morning at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y.  We're grateful to God that there was no one using the youth center at the time, or the disaster might have been a tragedy.

Fr. Dennis Donovan, the province treasurer, hastened to the scene from New Rochelle, and this evening sent out this message and the photos shown above:
The boys dorm attached to the gymnasium at the Marian Shrine/Don Bosco Retreat Center collapsed this morning around 9:00 a.m. under the weight of about 2-3 feet of now.  Nobody was in that wing at the time.  This is the section close to the picnic area near the swimming pool.  The county fire marshal has ordered the entire building closed, including the chapel, gym and other sections until further notice. An engineer will survey the structural integrity of the rest of the facility tomorrow. This will have an impact on many activities that have been scheduled for that facility.

Anyone with reservations for a youth retreat or other function using the gym building for the immediate future, should call the retreat office for further information on how the group may be accommodated.
The number to call is 845-947-2200, ext. 313.

The collapsed wing of the youth center was used as dorm space during youth overnite retreats and similar programs. The building itself dates from the early 1950s, when it was built to house Salesian high school seminarians at what was then known as Don Bosco Juniorate.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Homily for 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Feb. 9, 2014
Matt 5: 13-16
Is 58: 7-10
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You are the salt of the earth’” (Matt 5: 13).

Can you imagine snack foods without salt—chips, pretzels, peanuts?  Pretty bland, huh?  Nowadays most of us use salt to flavor a lot of our food, such as meat, fish, vegetables, potatoes, soups, and sauces.  (Some use it more carefully than others because too much salt can have bad effects on our health.)  Not so many years ago, salt was also used widely as a preservative for meat and fish, so they would keep for many months without spoiling; I suppose that’s still done in places where refrigeration isn’t available.

Thus Jesus is telling his disciples that they are to give flavor to the world, and they are to preserve the world, or keep it from going bad.

Jesus also warns about salt’s going bad, “losing its taste” (5:13).  That can’t happen, in fact —not with natural salt.  But plainly it can happen with Christians; Christians can “lose their flavor,” can stop being preservative agents in the world.  And then?  They’ll be discarded, like the weeds (Matt 13:24-30) and the bad fish (13:47-50) in other parables of Jesus about the separation of good people from evil.

Jesus goes on to compare his authentic disciples to lamps:  “You are the light of the world” (5:14).  When he says our light must shine before mankind (5:16), what does he mean?  Obviously not our haloes, because those exist only in art.  No, Jesus says that people must see our good deeds, deed which give glory to God (5:16) by reflecting God’s goodness, or letting God’s goodness shine transparently thru us, like the light coming thru the stained glass windows there (at least on a sunny day) that depict St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Vincent de Paul.  The  lives of the saints, and our lives, are our witness or testimony that God is alive in us, that we are children of the light and not of darkness.

What sorts of good deeds do the children of light perform so that the divine light will shine before mankind?  In today’s 1st reading the prophet Isaiah commands us, in God’s name, to share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked, take in our own people when they’re in need:  “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn … and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (58:7-8), i.e., a protection for us against our enemies.  He goes on to tell us to stop oppressing people—we might think about the way we treat some family members or co-workers; and to remove false accusations and malicious speech from our behavior—things like gossip, lies, even sarcasm:  “Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday” (58:9-10).

Some of these “enlightening” actions are the same ones that Jesus explicitly commands in his parable of the Last Judgment—another parable involving the separation of good people from evil ones; the basis of the Lord’s judgment is our treatment of the needy:  the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, sick, etc.  Looking after the poor, the homeless, the refugee, the sick is not an option for the disciples of Jesus; it is a command.  The Christian who has no flavor of salt “is good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matt 5:13), is as useful as a lamp stuck under a bushel basket (5:15).

If you’ve been following the news about the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” and the Catholic Church, as well as other Christians and members of some other religions, you know that the Obama Administration is distinguishing between churches, like your parish church, and directly religious activities like the parish school, the CCD program, and seminaries; and other activities carried on by churches, such as universities, hospitals, soup kitchens, nursing homes, orphanages, all the activities of Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.  The ACA requires all employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion—all of which are immoral acts in which we may not take part or help others to take part in.  The Obama Administration says that only directly religious activity—church, parish school, religious education—is excused from this ACA requirement; indirectly religious activities like St. Vincent’s Hospital are not excused.

But what did we just hear in the Gospel and in the prophet Isaiah?  Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, taking in our own people—all of these are demanded of us.  We can’t be disciples of Jesus if we don’t do them.  That applies not only to us individually—and of course there’s only a limited amount that we can do individually —but also and especially to us collectively, to us as the Catholic Church (or other religious organizations).  That’s why we set up hospitals—like St. Vincent’s—and orphanages, nursing homes, summer camps, soup kitchens, universities, and all manner of social services.  We must do so!  And that’s why we resist the Administration’s demands that we perform or support immoral actions and claim our First Amendment rights—which come from God, not from the government—to practice our religion freely and without interference.  That's why 40-something religious organizations have taken the government to court.

Proclaiming various hard truths in our society—about what is truly good and what is grossly evil—is one way in which the Church and we as individual Catholics act as lights set on a lampstand for all to see.  Of course we must not only proclaim the truth.  We must also turn our words into deeds that shine before everyone.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Another Winter Storm

Another Winter Storm

All day today it snowed, wet, heavy snow.  We got about 7 inches.  Beautiful to look at ...
Our snowy front lawn
Clifford's Island (part of Five Islands Park), from our porch

... but treacherous to drive in; no photos of that, but I heard about some experiences this morning.

On the other hand, a few of the local urchins came to have some fun on our little hill, as usual.  This was the last pair, apparently a sister and brother:

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cardinal Dolan Celebrates Don Bosco's Feast in Port Chester

Cardinal Dolan Celebrates
Don Bosco’s Feast in Port Chester

New York’s archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has made no secret of his devotion to St. John Bosco, going back to the inspiration of his teacher Sr. Mary Bosco in second grade. His enthusiasm was on full display for Don Bosco’s feast day at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Port Chester at a special Friday evening Mass (Jan. 31), and the blessing of renovations and improvements made in the Don Bosco Community Center particularly for young people.
Cardinal Dolan, flanked by Fr. Tom Dunne and Fr. Tim Zak, pastor.
Statue of Don Bosco is seen in the background.
Holy Rosary Church was packed for the Mass with about 450 people (Fr. Rich Alejunas’s estimate), well beyond its normal seating capacity of 350.

Cardinal Dolan presided and preached; our provincial, Fr. Tom Dunne, and another 15 priests concelebrated, including SDBs from Port Chester, New Rochelle, and Haverstraw; Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, director of Catholic Charities of the archdiocese; Msgr. Edward O’Donnell from Resurrection Parish in Rye; Fr. Marty Biglin, vicar forane for South Shore Westchester and our local pastor in New Rochelle. In the congregation were FMAs from Port Chester and Sr. Karen Dunn, their provincial; SDB brothers; several hundred parishioners; and Port Chester Mayor Neil Pagano and Village Trustee Gene Ceccarelli.

In tribute to the parish’s ethnic make-up, readings were done in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. The cardinal offered to preach in Italian in honor of Don Bosco, adding that he (the cardinal) likes to eat Italian. But he stuck to English, except for “Viva Don Bosco!”

A handful of talented young musicians in the choir loft rocked the congregation with Spanish hymns and liturgical texts. They had the whole congregation and the clergy, too, clapping along with them.

Cardinal Dolan began his homily by remarking on his happiness to be at Holy Rosary and on the wonderful things he’s heard about the parish. He briefly summarized Don Bosco’s apostolic undertakings, then said, “Don Bosco started a revolution in Europe in his way of caring for the young.” He thanked the Salesians—priests, brothers, and sisters—for carrying on Don Bosco’s work, and the donors who help them do so.

After mentioning some of the dangers to young people that Don Bosco contended with, such as lack of education, unemployment, trafficking and other forms of exploitation, and idleness, the cardinal asked, “Sounds pretty contemporary, doesn’t it?” Don Bosco, he said, was dealing with what Pope Francis has called a “throwaway culture,” which disposes of people it rates as undesirable (the unborn, the handicapped, immigrants, the elderly, et al.). But the Church is at its best, the cardinal maintains, when it cares for these people, like Don Bosco.

Don Bosco, the cardinal explained, taught us to see Jesus in three ways: in the arms of his Mother, the Help of Christians; in the Holy Eucharist; and in the Holy Father. The cardinal added a fourth way: in the poor. Don Bosco, he said, understood that “nobody is trash.”

He concluded by saying, “We need St. John Bosco more than ever today!”

The cardinal gave the Mass’s final blessing holding a small reliquary of the Don Bosco, just as he did at St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the pilgrimage visit of the saint’s relic (in that case using a relic that Fr. Provincial had just given him as a gift).

After Mass the cardinal and most of the congregation walked next door to the Don Bosco Community Center, where the cardinal blessed a plaque in the main lobby honoring the Niehaus Family Legacy Endowment. Bob and Kate Niehaus established a $1 million endowment to benefit Salesian youth ministry at the DBCC for years to come.

Down the long third-floor hallway en route to the new computer media center, the cardinal was greeted by nearly 100 kids and staff from the youth center, and their families. He blessed the new Cashin-Niehaus Computer Media Center for education and career development. Dick Cashin gifted the DBCC with $250,000 for building renovations and new youth programs. Mr. Cashin and his mother Mary, and Bob and Kate Niehaus were all present at the Mass and dedications.

The entire celebration was covered by Westchester’s News 12 and a couple of local newspapers.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Homily for Feast of Presentation of the Lord

Homily for the Feast of the
Presentation of the Lord
Feb. 2, 2014
Luke 2: 22-32
Iona College, New Rochelle

“When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2: 22).

40 days after Christmas, we return to a story related to the birth of Jesus.  The Law of Moses stipulated that 40 days after the birth of a male child, his mother was to go to the Temple to be purified from the ritual uncleanness associated with childbirth; contact with human blood made one unclean, excluded from worship with the community.  As a Greek from Antioch (we think), Luke wasn’t entirely familiar with Jewish law and custom, and is simply mistaken when he implies that “they”—either Mary and Joseph or Mary and Jesus—had to be purified.  Once purified, mothers could resume their place in the community. 

The Law also required that firstborn sons be redeemed, as the firstborn of the Hebrews had been saved in Egypt when the angel of death passed over the land and struck down the firstborn of man and beast thruout the land, except in the homes of the Hebrews whose doorposts had been marked by the blood of the paschal lambs.  Thus Luke says that Mary and Joseph were presenting Jesus to the Lord.  He omits any reference to the price of redemption, which was 5 shekels, distinct from the purification sacrifice.  Again, he may not have known of this legal requirement.  Or he may have been making a theological statement by omission:  the redeemer of humanity was not himself in need of redemption,

On the other hand, Luke is careful always to present Mary and Joseph, as well as Jesus, as observers of the Law, which is in fact the reason for their going up to Jerusalem on this occasion.  That leads us to understand an important point:  our relationship with God must include observance.  In some circles today, it’s fashionable to be “spiritual” but not “religious.”  To be sure, legal observance—whether it’s Sunday worship or Lenten fasting or the entire Ten Commandments or anything else—isn’t the sum total of religion.  Religion is fundamentally about our relationship with God.  But external observance is the 1st, necessary step in that relationship, like flowers or sweet words between spouses.  Without externals, religion or relationships dry up.  Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  Religion is public, not only private.  It involves who we are and everything we do.

Part of the rite of purification was the offering of a sacrifice, either a lamb and a pigeon, or for the poor, 2 pigeons.  Luke tells us that Mary offered 2 pigeons, and thus that the family was poor.  In the gospels, and the rest of the NT for that matter, we see Jesus’ constant attention to the poor, the neglected, the outsiders.  He identifies with the poor and the neglected, right from his birth in borrowed lodgings, the attention given him by lowly shepherds, and his exile in Egypt, thru his association with outcasts during his ministry, thru his parable of the last judgment (Matt 25:31-46), to his death on a cross, stripped naked and almost completely abandoned, and his burial in a borrowed tomb.  Hence the Church’s attention to the poor and the sick, to the homeless and the unemployed, to refugees and immigrants, and her insistence that the well-off share from their abundance, just as Jesus has shared his divinity and gift of eternal life with us.

Presentation of the Lord window
Our Lady of the Valley Church
Orange, N.J.
If the 1st scene in the gospel passage is the Holy Family’s coming to the Temple and offering their sacrifice, the 2d scene is Simeon’s arrival.  Luke calls him “righteous and devout” (2:25), like Zechariah and Elizabeth (cf. 1:6) and Joseph of Arimathea (23:50), and here Luke tells us what makes Simeon “righteous and devout”:  he was “awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (2:25).

“The consolation of Israel” means the Messiah, the one anointed by God’s Spirit to comfort his people and redeem them, as in the 1st lines of the 2d part of the Book of Isaiah, nicknamed the “Book of Consolation”:  “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her servitude is at an end, her guilt is expiated” (40:1-2), or in the 17th-century English of the KJV employed by George Frederick Handel, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.  Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.”

Simeon is truly looking for salvation, and thus he is open to the action of the Holy Spirit in his life, and the Holy Spirit leads him to the redeemer.  Mary and Joseph have come to the Temple, in part, to redeem their son; but they hear their son announced as the redeemer:  “my eyes have seen your salvation, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel” (2:30,32).  This child is the light—the daybreak sung by Zechariah in his canticle a little earlier in Luke’s gospel—who will lead God’s people out of “darkness and death’s shadow” (1:78-79).  He is the light announced by the angels amid the glory of the Lord, “who is Messiah and Lord” (2:9-11)—not for Israel only, but also for the Gentiles, Simeon says, for he will fulfill Isaiah’s prophecies, e.g., “I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations” (42:6).

Simeon teaches us how to find the Lord:  to look sincerely for him and to be open to where the Spirit will lead us:  “He came in the Spirit into the temple” (2:27).  So, as I said earlier, we must be in a relationship with the Lord, must be speaking with him, listening to him:  in Scripture reading, in the sacred liturgy, in prayer; opening our hearts, our minds, our souls to him, bringing him our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, our problems and our praises; and then allowing the Holy Spirit to settle upon us (that same Spirit with which we were endowed in Baptism and Confirmation) and to comfort us, guide us, enlighten us.

After all that, Simeon was ready to “go in peace.”  He was speaking of death—which we pray the Holy Spirit will enable us to face peacefully when it’s time, because we have seen the Lord’s salvation.  But whatever we do, whatever we speak, whatever we decide, wherever we go, we can do in peace after speaking to the Lord about it and letting his light guide us.