Monday, March 31, 2014

Pope Francis Receives GC27 Members

Pope Francis Receives GC27 Members

from austraLasia #3408

ROME: Monday, March 31, 2014

On Monday, March 31, Pope Francis received in audience the members of the Salesians’ 27th General Chapter. The affectionate encounter took place in the Sala Clementina. Here are the full texts in English of the Pope’s address to the chapter members and of that of the new Salesian Rector Major, Fr. Angel Fernandez, to the Holy Father.

Fr. Angel Fernandez
Dear Pope Francis,
Dear Father,

We are very happy to be here with you. Thank you for this opportunity to meet you. For us it is a very precious gift and a unique occasion, allowing us to express the feelings we bear for you in our hearts. We love you, Father! We greatly value your courage and your testimony. With joy we see your great love for the Lord Jesus, for the Church, and your desire for the profound renewal of the whole Christian community over which you preside in service and love.

We know very well that for Don Bosco, love for the Pope meant love for the Church and love for the mission. Our meeting would have no meaning were it not accompanied at the same time by the desire to express to you, dear Father, our willingness to renew our charismatic and missionary commitment to the Church and the world with particular attention to the young, especially the poorest and most abandoned. So we accept your invitation to open the doors of our houses and our hearts, to be announcers of Gospel joy, believing strongly in a God who loves human beings and desires their salvation. In the words of Gaudium et Spes, we want to share the joys and sorrows of today’s world and of the young people who live in it, fully committing ourselves to building the Kingdom of God.

During this general chapter, with the theme of being “Witnesses to the radical approach of the Gospel”, we have felt that we are deeply in tune with your apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. This text has enlightened and guided our reflection. It has been an occasion to reflect deeply on our Salesian charismatic identity, bearing in mind at the same time the need to interpret what Don Bosco experienced and passed on to us, in a way that is relevant. We have identified a path to renewal in which we commit ourselves to living the mystical dimension of consecrated individuals who intend to give absolute primacy to God, the Lord of our life. Moved by the Spirit of Jesus, therefore, we want to be “seekers and witnesses of God”, joyfully accompanying young people on a journey of human and Christian growth.

We are proposing to renew the prophetic witness of our fraternal life. In a world often torn by conflict at every level, it seems to us that our religious life has as one of its principal tasks witnessing to the joy of a communion of brothers who feel they are all disciples of the Lord. It is a fellowship that involves our daily life, our work, our prayer, and it becomes in itself a proclamation of a life expressed in new relationships inspired by the words of the Gospel and able to attract young people to the precious experience of a life given for others according to Don Bosco’s charism.

In our mission we want to reaffirm our desire to be servants of the young, through an educational proposal inspired by Gospel values and with a generous commitment to transforming the world. We want to reaffirm the criterion of Don Bosco’s choice: preferential availability for the poorest of the young, the most disadvantaged peoples, those on the margins, in traditional missionary settings, and in the more secularized societies.

We welcome, dear Pope Francis, your words and proposals for an ecclesial choice of the major guidelines which will guide us over the next six years.

With the entire Salesian Family, I take this opportunity to thank you for having agreed to come to Turin for the second centennial of Don Bosco’s birth. With the affection of children. we assure you of our prayers, as we entrust your mission to the Virgin Help of Christians, Mother of the Church. and we ask for your paternal blessing.

Angel Fernandez Artime
                                                   Pope Francis

Dear confreres,

You are very welcome! I thank Fr. Angel for his words. My wish for him and the new general council is that you may know how to serve by guiding, accompanying, and sustaining the Salesian Congregation on its journey. May the Holy Spirit help you to recognize the hopes dreams and challenges of our time, especially of the young, and interpret them in the light of the Gospel and your charism.

I imagine that during the chapter—whose theme is “Witnesses to the radical approach of the Gospel”—you always have Don Bosco and the young before you; and Don Bosco with his motto, “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle.” He reinforced this program with two other things: work and temperance. I recall that when I was in school, the siesta was forbidden! Temperance! For the Salesians and for us too! “Work and temperance,” he said, “will make the Congregation flourish.” When we think of working for the good of souls we overcome the temptation to spiritual worldliness; we do not look for other things, but only God and his Kingdom. Temperance, then, is a sense of balance, being satisfied, being simple. May Don Bosco’s and Mama Margaret’s poverty inspire every Salesian and every community of yours to an essential and austere life, one that is close to the poor, transparent, and responsible in managing goods.

1. The evangelization of the young is the mission that the Holy Spirit has entrusted to you within the Church. It is strictly bound up with their education: the journey of faith happens as part of growing up, and the Gospel also enriches this human growth. We need to prepare young people to work in society in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel, as workers for justice and peace, and to live as people who are active in the Church. This is why you make use of the essential—and updated—pedagogical and cultural research, to respond to the current educational emergency. May Don Bosco’s experience and his “preventive system” always sustain you in your commitment to live with the young. May your presence among them be marked by the tenderness that Don Bosco called loving kindness, but also by trying out new “languages,” while well knowing that the language of the heart is the fundamental language for approaching them and becoming their friends.

The dimension of vocation is fundamental here. At times, the vocation to consecrated life is confused with the choice of being a volunteer, and this distorted view does not bode well for institutes. Next year, 2015, is dedicated to consecrated life, and will be a favorable opportunity to present its beauty to young people. We need, always, to avoid partial views so we do not give rise to fragile vocational responses supported by weak motivation. Apostolic vocations ordinarily are the result of good youth ministry. Looking after vocations demands specific attention: prayer above all, then activities which are proper to this task, personalized approaches, the courage to make the proposal, accompaniment, family involvement. The geography of vocation has changed and is changing, and this means new demands on formation, accompaniment, and discernment.

2. Working with the young, you encounter the world of exclusion of the young. This is something really terrible! Today it is terrible to consider that there are more than 75 million young people without work, here, in the West. We think of the vast situation of unemployment with its negative consequences. We think of dependencies, unfortunately many of them, but they all have a common root, the lack of true love. Going out to young people who have been marginalized requires courage, maturity and much prayer. You have to send the best people into this kind of work! The best! There could be the risk of being overwhelmed by enthusiasm, sending people of good will into frontiers like this, but they may not be suitable. Therefore it is necessary to have careful discernment and constant accompaniment. The criterion is this: the best should go there. “I need this one to make him superior here, or to study theology, etc.” But if you have that mission, send him there! The best!

3. Thanks be to God you do not live and work as isolated individuals but as communities. And thank God for this! The community supports all your apostolate. At times religious communities have tensions running through them with the risk of individualism and a scattered approach, while there is a need for profound communication and genuine relationships. The humanizing power of the Gospel is witnessed to by fraternity lived in community, made up of acceptance, respect, mutual assistance, understanding, courtesy, forgiveness, and joy. The family spirit that Don Bosco left you has helped you much in this regard, encouraging perseverance and making consecrated life attractive.

Dear confreres, the bicentennial of Don Bosco’s birth is already beckoning. It will be a propitious occasion for proposing your founder’s charism once more. Mary Help of Christians has never failed to help in the life of the Congregation, and certainly she will not fail to offer her help in the future either. May her motherly intercession obtain from God the hopes and expectations you desire so much. God bless you, and I pray for you; and, please, pray for me too. Thank you!


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Homily for 4th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Lent
John 9: 1-41
Eph 5: 8-14
March 29, 1981
MHC Academy, N. Haledon, N.J.

Once again I was with Boy Scouts this weekend--this time my own Troop 40 of Mt. Vernon--and preached from notes. Here's a really old homily on today's gospel and epistle.

“Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8).

Do you remember how you used to be afraid of the dark when you were a child?

What were you afraid of?

Darkness is probably a universal symbol of coldness, fear, evil, death, chaos.  We think of specific and tangible examples like the Dark Ages, the Black Death, the Black Hole of Calcutta, and Darth Vader.

What a powerful symbol, then, is Jesus when he proclaims, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).  He gives us a parable in action by opening the darkened eyes of a blind man, by letting in the sunshine of this world—and of the next, for the man then can see that Jesus is the Son of Man (9:37-38).
Christ Healing the Blind Man, by El Greco
We also received the gift of sight, or insight, if you like.  We see that Jesus is a prophet (9:17); he is the Messiah.  We see, too, that we are sinners, men and women beset by darkness and in need of his light, warmth, and healing.

The gospel, and the epistle, too, are about choices as well as about light.  Light already implies the alternative of darkness, and that, of course, is the choice:  “Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8).  We have chosen the light of the world over against the darkness of lewd conduct, lust, silly or suggestive talk—these vices are the darkness to which Paul is referring (cf. 5:3-5).

Even the poor blind man, still blinking his eyes in the light, had to choose.  “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses” (John (9:28).  Our choices affect others, inevitably, just as the blind man’s choices affected the Pharisees and his parents.  The Pharisees and his parents prefer darkness, tho they may claim to be in the light.  Few have the courage to walk with Christ in the light.

Yes, seeing can be frightening; the darkness can also be comforting.  How a baby howls when it must emerge into the light of the world from the darkness of the womb!  And don’t our eyes resist the light when we come out of a movie theater?  We can indeed resist the change that light demands of us.  We can resist the demands that Christ our Light makes of us!

Our guilt and our sin can be more comfortable than belonging fully to Christ, no matter how deadly or sterile our darkness.  There is real evil in the world and in ourselves.  It needs to be confronted, like evil of the political and economic animals to who prey on society’s weakest members, like the evil of our little jealousies, favoritisms, sharp words, inconsiderations, all more or less deliberately chosen because to change requires effort.

Let us bring our blindness to Christ and confess that he is our healer and our savior!  Let us renew our baptismal commitment, as the gospel suggests with its references to anointing and to washing (9:6-7).  The OT reading apparently was also chosen for its foreshadowing of Christian initiation and the reception of the gift of the Spirit.  The epistle concludes with what is apparently part of a primitive baptismal hymn:  “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light” (Eph 5:14).  We beg him for the courage to turn from our sin and to “walk as children of the light” (5:8).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fr. Angel Fernandez, 10th Successor of Don Bosco

Fr. Angel Fernandez 
10th Successor of Don Bosco

(ANS – Rome) – The 27th General Chapter has elected Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, provincial of Southern Argentina, as tenth Successor of Don Bosco.

The election took place March 25 at 10:20 a.m. on the first ballot. The official announcement was welcomed with long and warm applause.

Fr. Pascual Chavez, president of the assembly (and outgoing RM), invited Fr. Angel to come beside him, and said: “Dear Fr. Angel, through your confreres God has called you today to be the successor of Don Bosco. You are not called to be like the Rector Major, nor Fr. Vecchi nor Fr. ViganĂ². You are the successor of Don Bosco, not of Fr. Chavez. So, on behalf of the chapter, I ask you whether you accept.”

Speaking in Spanish, Fr. Angel said with an emotional heart: “I abandon myself to the Lord. We ask Don Bosco and Mary Help of Christians to accompany us and to accompany me, with my brother Salesians and with the Congregation, and I accept with faith.”

Fr. Angel, 53 years of age, was born August 21, 1960, at Gozon-Luanco, a small fishing village on the coast of the Bay of Biscay in northwestern Spain. He made his first profession on September 3, 1978, his perpetual profession on June 17, 1984, and was ordained on July 4, 1987. Originally from Leon province, he has been youth ministry delegate, director of the school at Ourense, member of the provincial council and vice provincial, and, from 2000 to 2006, provincial of Leon.

He was a member of the technical commission in preparation for General Chapter 26. In 2009 he was appointed provincial in Southern Argentina, and he was inaugurated by Fr. Chavez himself on Jan. 31, 2010. He has carried out that office until now. In this capacity he got to know the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, and to work with him.
Fr. Chavez (center) inaugurates the reconfigured Argentine provinces 
and their new provincials on Jan. 31, 2010, Frs. Manuel Cayo (left) and Angel Fernandez (right).
Fr. Angel has a doctorate in pastoral theology and a licentiate in philosophy and pedagogy.

Just last December 23 he was appointed provincial of the new province of Mary Help of Christians in Spain, an office which Fr. Angel will obviously not be able to take on now, since he will exercise his ministry as Father of the whole Salesian Family. 

Best wishes, Fr. Angel!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Homily for the 3d Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
3rd Sunday of Lent
March 7, 1999
Rom 5: 1-2, 5-8
Christian Brothers, Iona College, New Rochelle

[On Saturday evening, March 22, 2014, I celebrated Mass for Scouts and Scouters prepping for NYLT in Putnam Valley.  I preached from notes on the gospel of the Samaritan woman (John 4).  So--here's an oldie, but on a different text.]

“The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5: 5).

That we are sinners is self-evident.  The 2 stories that frame Paul’s theological reflection on justification this evening illustrate the range of our human sin.  In the Exodus story the Hebrews in the desert offend God directly by displaying a lack of trust in his leadership.  In the Gospel the Samaritan woman offends God indirectly by her sinful interpersonal relationships.

That God would extend forgiveness to us is less evident, but conceivable.  Every religion seems to have some kind of ritual for seeking forgiveness, for making atonement, usually involving sacrifice.  But who could ever have imagined that God’s forgiveness would be given thru his only Son?  “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ….  For Christ died at the appointed time for the ungodly” (5:1,6).  The sacrifice of atonement for our sins is not a sheep or a bull but the Lamb of God.

When the Jewish people celebrate the seder in a few weeks, they will celebrate their own mysterious inclusion so many centuries ago among those whom God ransomed from Egypt.  I don’t know whether they have the same sacramental sense concerning Israel’s journey thru the Sinai—if I may apply the Christian theological term sacrament to such a similar concept by which the people of today are saved by what God did long ago.  Does the 20th-century Jew thirst along with Moses’s companions, and does he too witness Moses striking the rock, and does he too drink from the flowing water?  I don’t know.

But we 20th-century Christians are mysteriously included among the disciples in the upper room, on Calvary, at the empty tomb, around the risen Christ.  What happened so long ago to Peter, James, and John, to Mary of Nazareth, Mary of Magdala, and the Samaritan woman, happens to us and for us today, and in the process transforms us from sinners to saved.

How so?  “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Jesus offers the Samaritan “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14), which refers not just to baptism but especially to God’s presence that comes to us in that sacrament.  In ch. 7 John makes this connection explicit:  At Jerusalem for the feast of Booths, “Jesus stood up and exclaimed, ‘Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as scripture says, “Rivers of living water will flow from within him.”’  He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive” (7:37-39).

This imagery of living water flowing from within a person, John paints for us also at the crucifixion:  “One soldier thrust his lance into [Jesus’] side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (19:34).  This flowing water, as well as the blood, is the life of the Church of Christ.

The living water is the sacramental symbol of the real presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit of God connects us personally to the saving mysteries, puts us into the upper room, atop Calvary, within the empty tomb, around the risen Lord.  In faith we drink deeply of the Spirit and are justified:  cleansed, made whole, made holy.  “The love of God [is] poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Paul writes, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  Here’s a mystery!  He uses the past tense:  “we were sinners.”  The gift of the Spirit is so powerful that we are fundamentally changed, and now we stand—present tense—in grace, at peace with God and full of hope for a share in God’s glory (5:1-2), rather than filled with shame in God’s presence, like the 1st man and woman in their sinfulness (Gen 3:10).

If only we didn’t keep reverting to sin and shame!  If only we didn’t keep grumbling against the Lord and testing him (cf. Ex 17:3-7)!

But our thirst for the living water of grace can still be quenched.  Lent, in particular, calls us back to our watery spiritual origins, to our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, into a life that is dead to sin and alive to God in grace, thru the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We will use the sacrament of reconciliation to renew our conversion to Christ.  The Holy Spirit still pours God’s love into our hearts thru this 2d sacrament of forgiveness.  In sacramental penance, we sinners again find our “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” as, once more, the Holy Spirit does his thing in us.

In Lent we also practice specific acts of penance to remind us to die to sin and live for God.  We pray, allowing the Holy Spirit to connect us to Jesus and the Father; we don’t know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself inter-cedes for us (Rom 8:26-27).  At the Eucharist we invoke the Spirit over our gifts of bread and wine, that they might become our food of everlasting life, the very body and blood of Jesus, who “is truly the savior of the world” (John 4:42).

Every day—not just in Lent—we beg Jesus, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty” (John 4:15) for eternal life.  Every day the Holy Spirit offers us the blood and water of Calvary.  Every day “God proves his love for us” and restores our hope of loving and being loved—for eternity.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Homily for 2d Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Lent
Gen 12: 1-4
March 16, 2014
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“The Lord said to Abram:  ‘Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you” (Gen 12: 1).

Otto Anton Mendl, an 18-year-old German-speaking Hungarian, arrived at Ellis Island on July 3, 1906, after a 10-day voyage from Antwerp, Belgium, aboard the Red Star Line steamship Kroonland.  An uncle who lived in Harlem had paid his fare, but he had only $6 in his pocket. Young Otto listed his occupation as “laborer,” but eventually he found work as a skilled metalworker, settled on the Upper East Side, married, started a family, became a citizen, bought a house in Queens and a summer cottage in Mastic Beach, and lived the American dream.

Otto and Terez Mendl with daughter
Mary and son Otto Jr., ca. early 1920.
Their youngest, Johann (John),
was born in Sept. 1920.
Most of us have grandparents or great-grandparents who came to America at the end of the 19th century or beginning of the 20th, having left behind their homes and their homelands, escaping oppression or poverty or lack of work or some other misfortune, or just having a sense of adventure and hope.  Like many, many others, my grandfather may have been fleeing from being drafted into the arm—in his case, the army of the Austrian Empire.

People like Grandpa at least had an idea where they were going.  They may not have been fully informed, like the Irishman who moaned, “Not only were the streets not paved with gold; they weren’t paved at all, and we were the ones who were going to pave them.”

19th-century immigrants had read in newspapers and letters about the New World and what they might expect there.  They knew they’d have plenty of opportunities to work, to improve their lives, to enjoy freedom.  They’d be able to keep in touch with parents and siblings back in Europe, even able to return if they chose to, as many Italians did for various reasons.

How all that contrasts with what happens to Abram.  God suddenly tells him to pack up his family and his flocks and go “to the land that I will show you.”  Where is that?  He’d not told.  How will he get there?  Obviously he’ll have to walk or riding an ass, but more he’s not told.  What will await him there:  promises of blessings (12:2-3), but more he’s not told.  He does seem to be told, however, that his move will be definitive; there will be no returning to his father’s house.  He goes without roadmap, GPS, AAA assistance, or Motel 6.  There are no telephones, no Skype, no Facebook to guide him forward or re-connect with the folks back in Mesopotamia.

All Abram has to go on is God’s promise of a great future, of family, of blessing.  Great faith is demanded of him.  And “Abram went as the Lord had directed him” (12:4).  He doesn’t know where God will take him or by what route.  He doesn’t know what peoples he’ll find along his route or in this new land or how they’ll receive him.  He doesn’t know how God will carry out the promises he’s made. He knows only that God’s worthy of his trust.

That faith of Abram, whom God renames Abraham in Gen 17, is why in his Letter to the Romans St. Paul holds him up as a model for Christians:  “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (4:3).  Our righteousness, our being in a right relationship with God, rests on our faith, specifically our faith in Jesus Christ.

Journey of the Family of Abraham,
by Giovanni Benedetto, 1664
Abram was called to set out on a journey.  We’re on a journey of a different sort, not moving from one physical place to another, but moving from sin to virtue, from death to life, from earth to heaven.  We are pilgrims, the Church often reminds us, on a long, difficult, often dangerous road toward our homeland, toward our Father’s house.

Like Abram, we’ve never seen this land we’re heading for.  But we have faith that Jesus will lead us there; he’s gone before us.  Jesus has left us his holy Word and the sacraments and the teachings of his Church as our guides along our journey.

Many temptations try to lead us off-track or make us quit our journey altogether.  Our consumer society tells us that eternal happiness consists in possessions, in piles of money, big houses, fancy cars.  Our Playboy society tells that eternal happiness consists in sexual satisfaction, fine food, and every other kind of pleasure.  Our celebrity society tells us that eternal happiness consists in being famous.  Our egoistic society tells us that eternal happiness consists in being powerful.

In our hearts we know that’s all baloney!

In our hearts—still, it takes faith for us not to listen to all that baloney and mistake it for filet mignon—instead of journeying along with Jesus.  Jesus shows us the land to which he’s leading us—where we shall be transfigured gloriously and want to stay forever.  Listen to Peter this morning:  “Lord, it’s good that we’re here.  If you wish, I’ll make 3 tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matt 17:4)—with the implication that he can stay there and enjoy this sampling of heaven indefinitely.  But the road to heavenly glory includes the cross:  “Don’t speak of the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (17:9).

For the Christian, the cross means putting others ahead of ourselves, making sacrifices, living simply and not extravagantly, speaking honestly and not deceptively, forgiving and not “getting even,” living chastely, being faithful to our spouses, not indulging our sexuality outside marriage, and much more.  St. Paul sums it up in the 1st line of today’s 2d reading:  “Bear your share of hardships for the gospel” (2 Tim 1:8).  Like Abram, we need great faith to walk on the path God has opened for us thru the passion and death of Jesus.  But that path is one with immense blessing at the end:  “Our Savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality” (1 Tim 1:10).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

One Year with Pope Francis, a Salesian Pope

One Year with Pope Francis,
a Salesian Pope

This item, posted this morning by ANS, has been slightly edited by your humble blogger.
Visiting the Salesian parish of the Sacred Heart in Rome in January,
Pope Francis is greeted by the faithful--and also by non-Christian beneficiaries
of the Salesians' ministry to immigrants in the parish.
March 13 marked the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. It’s been a very full year. Pope Francis has provided many good ideas and examples that are valid for everyone, but especially for those who spend their lives working for the salvation of youth. This “pro-Salesian Jesuit,” as he says he was once described, has been for all of us an excellent source of inspiration.

People who knew him well in Argentina were aware that he was a great devotee of Mary Help of Christians and a fan of San Lorenzo de Almagro—the soccer team founded by Fr. Lorenzo Massa, SDB; that in his youth he studied for two years at a Salesian school; and that he had great admiration for the Salesian missionaries in Patagonia (“I see in them the story of a fruitful life”) and devotion to Blessed Ceferino NamuncurĂ¡ and Blessed Artemides Zatti. All this became public knowledge shortly after his election as Pope.

What we may not have expected was that even as Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio would continue to show gestures and expressions of esteem toward Don Bosco and his spiritual heirs. Yet he has done so right from the beginning. Just eight days after his election, he welcomed the Rector Major and his vicar with great cordiality when they paid a private visit. A week later when he had lunch with some Roman priests, two of his seven invited guests were Salesians—Frs. Maurizio Verlezza and Antonio Petrosino.

As other Popes had traditionally done on the feast of the Assumption of Mary, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Castel Gandolfo (even tho he wasn’t staying there for the summer, which most Popes do), and as usual he met the Salesian community that serves the parish church of St. Thomas of Villanova. Then on Jan. 19 this year the Pope paid a pastoral visit to the Salesian parish of the Sacred Heart in Rome. Even though it is located in the center of the city (across the street from the city’s main train and bus depot), it is a parish that serves many people who are seriously marginalized. 

Meetings are not the only thing that matters. It’s above all in his words and gestures that we can see Pope Francis’s Salesian style, starting with his first words from St. Peter’s balcony on March 13: “Buona sera.” Think also of the expression “fate casino” (kick up a racket, create a stir) that he addressed to young people on World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, or his constant advice to young people not to let anyone steal their hope, or the affectionate, grandfatherly attitude that he always shows to small children, especially if they happen to be sick.

Words and gestures like these reveal to the world the spirit of Don Bosco: “It’s enough that you are young for me to love you very much.”

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Homily for 1st Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
1st Sunday of Lent
March 9, 2014
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.                                                                                

“Grant, almighty God, through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ, and by worthy conduct pursue their effects” (Collect).

In the Collect of this 1st Sunday of Lent, we lay out two purposes for the season:  that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ, and that we may pursue the effects of those riches.  And we identify one means by which we pray God will guide us toward those goals of the season:  “the yearly observances of holy Lent”; and one outcome for which we pray:  “worthy conduct.”

We might note that the 3-fold practice of faithful Christians is touched upon in this prayer:  right doctrine, right worship, and right living—right doctrine in our “understanding of Christ”; right worship in our “observances of holy Lent”; and right living in our “worthy conduct.”  These 3 aspects of Christian fidelity all fit together to make up orthodox faith; not Orthodox with a capital O, as in Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox, but small-o “orthodox” meaning correct, proper, and leading to salvation.

What are we praying for, more precisely?  What do we desire in Lent from almighty God?  Note right away that the key to the season’s beneficial outcome is in his hands.  Our actions and wishes don’t make the season successful or grace-filled—don’t make us holy; but his actions in us do.  We pray that he may “grant” us “growth in understanding” and “effective pursuit” of “Christ’s riches.”  We pray that we may receive what he wants to give us.

The Collect refers to “the riches hidden in Christ, which alludes to what we also call “the mysteries.”  What is hidden in Christ?  Eternal life!  Our Lenten observances lead us toward Easter, our annual celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection.  His resurrection is a hidden richness in that we don’t see or hear or otherwise perceive Christ risen from the dead.  We don’t fully understand how we share in his death and resurrection.  But we believe—it’s a matter of faith—that we do share in his death and resurrection thru the sacraments, thru “these sacred mysteries.”  In the Eucharist we touch and taste and consume the humanity and the divinity of Jesus Christ.  In the other sacraments we encounter the Divine and are touched by grace—by forgiveness, by the power to live virtuously in imitation of Christ, by a filial connection to the Father, who invites us to spend eternity in his home.

When we ask God to grant us a deeper understanding of the riches hidden in Christ, we pray for a deeper faith in Christ, a deeper relationship with Christ; a faith and a relationship that ultimately will bring us to a full share in his risen life, making “the hidden riches of Christ” effective in us, as they have been in the saints.
1st temptation of Jesus, by James Tissot
We pray that God will lead us to such deeper knowledge of Christ, such a deeper relationship with him, “thru the yearly observances of holy Lent.”  Our observance of Lent is a gift from God, a grace, that draws us into the mystery of Christ.  The Latin text means, literally, “exercises of the Lenten sacrament” (or “Lenten mystery”).  Our observances or exercises include fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which unite us more closely with Christ, who fasted and prayed in the wilderness, as we hear in today’s gospel (Matt 4:1-11).  Our fasting also includes the self-denial that is our resistance to temptation, as Jesus resisted the devil; in other words, our fasting from sin.  Our prayer might mean being more faithful to a few minutes of private time with God every day, or more frequent attendance at Mass, or some daily reading of the Sacred Scriptures.  Our almsgiving—which might mean alms of money, of goods, of time, of attention, of kindness and patience—unites us with Christ, who “went about doing good, healing all who were in need” (Acts 10:38; Luke 9:11).

But our yearly observances of holy Lent, our “exercises of the Lenten sacrament,” means, in the 1st place, our participation in the liturgy of Lent.  Catechumens are going thru the last stages of their preparation for Baptism, with various rituals and prayers.  We who are already baptized continue to listen to the Word of God; we come to Sunday Mass, and, I hope, also the solemn liturgies of the Sacred Triduum at Lent’s end, and, as I said a moment ago, perhaps also to some weekday Masses.  At some point during this season, we all need to celebrate the sacrament of Penance, and we might consider returning to the practice of our youth, going to confession every few weeks instead of every few months.

Pope Francis at Sacred Heart Parish in Rome
in January. (ANS)
Which brings us to the last point of the Collect, the 2d means that God uses to “pursue the effects” of Christ’s riches in us:  “worthy conduct.”  The Latin word is conversatio, which doesn’t mean “conversation,” as in talking nicely to and about other people (which is a good thing, of course, even a noble thing); rather, it means “conversion,” as in a conversion of our morals, of our behavior.  Our relationship with Christ initiated in the sacred mysteries is supposed to have a concrete effect in our lives, to change us, to bring us more closely into conformity with the Lord Jesus, to make us look more like images of God.  Lent is a season of conversion to Christ—for catechumens and also for us who have professed our Christianity for many years.  What part of our life have we not yet given to Christ?  What sinful inclination do we still cling to?  Part of our dealing with such questions, part of our ongoing conversion to Jesus, is our encountering him regularly in the sacrament of Reconciliation, not once or twice or 4 times a year, but monthly or more.  Just last month, Pope Francis spoke of this in one of his general audiences:  “If a lot of time has passed, don’t lose even one more day.  [It wasn’t even Lent yet last month!]  Be courageous.  Go to confession.  The priest will be good.  Jesus will be there, and he’s even nicer than the priest.  Even just on a human level in order to vent, it’s good to speak to a brother, confessing to the priest these things that weigh so heavily on your heart.  Don’t be afraid of confession.”  Then, referring to the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Pope said, “I tell you, every time we go to confession, God embraces us and celebrates.”[1]

May the Lord help us truly to grow in our understanding and our love for our Lord Jesus and to imitate him more closely during this holy season.  God bless you!

            [1] As reported by Catholic News Service, Feb. 19, 2014.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Salesian Statistics

Salesian Statistics
Writing from the 27th General Chapter of the SDBs, Fr. Mike Pace, our delegate from the Eastern Province, posted at his blog today (3/7/14):

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Homily for 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
8th Sunday of Ordinary Time
March 2, 2014                                                            
1 Cor 4: 1-5
Wartburg Home, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

“Servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4: 1).

St. Paul has been speaking of the factions in the Church at Corinth, groups that claimed to follow Peter, Apollos, Paul himself, or simply Jesus (cf. ch. 3).  He isn’t pleased by such divisions, of course, and pleads for unity based on the truth of the Gospel and not on any particular personality.

In today’s passage, he urges the Church to look at the apostles not for their particular qualities but for their God-given roles:  “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

Paul is speaking of himself and his collaborators, and of other apostles whom some would see as his rivals for influence in the Church.  No, no, no! he exclaims.  We’re all Christ’s servants.  We all have the mission of preserving and handing on the mysteries.

There would seem to be some parallels with the Church in our time.  Besides our terrible fracturing into denominations—some of which manage to get along with each other fairly well, some not at all well—we have our Catholic factionalism.  Instead of bickering over loyalty to Peter, Paul, or Apollos, we may witness squabbles over loyalty to Francis, Benedict, John XXIII, Pius X, or even Pius V.

Paul, however, reminds us that we are all servants of Christ, and serving Christ is the 1st responsibility of any apostle, of any Church leader.  Conservative or liberal, reader of one NCR or the other NCR—or any other sort of Catholic, lay, religious, cleric—needs to be focused on Christ, on the Gospel.  Those who hold leadership positions are “stewards of the mysteries of God.”  The mysteries are God’s, not the steward’s!  The steward must safeguard the mysteries and, as Jesus says in one of his parables, “distribute the allowance of food at the proper time” to the members of the household (Luke 12:42).

What are these “mysteries”?  That word comes up more frequently in our liturgy now, with the revised translation, than it used to.  The word may refer to the liturgy itself or to the sacraments more generally.  Or it may refer to God’s entire plan to salvation for us, which he effects thru Christ, thru the Church, thru the sacraments, thru the Word.  Of all that, Paul, Peter, Apollos—and the apostles’ successors—are stewards.

How we discern and live God’s plan for our salvation is part of “the mysteries.”  Religious life is one way of responding to God.  Such a response identifies us as “servants of Christ,” women and men who belong totally to Christ.

In the post-Vatican II overhaul of religious life—which was supposed to be a renewal thru a return to the Gospel and the founding charism of any given institute—we often found communities turning into imitators of the Corinthian Church, i.e., broken into factions over rules, leadership styles, forms of ministry, habits, living arrangements, etc.  Perhaps your own institutes had some of these experiences, which would not tempt you to look back fondly at “the good old days.”  I suspect that some of this dynamic is also at play in the current relationship between the LCWR and the Vatican, altho there may more serious dynamics at play in that relationship, as well; St. Paul warns the Galatians, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let him be anathema!” (1:8).  All of that post-conciliar upheaval didn’t do religious life—or the Church—much good.  We might have benefited from keeping our focus on Christ.

Bishops leaving St. Peter's after a session of Vatican II (Wikipedia Commons)
Thus Paul speaks to us today, too.  He challenges us to remember who we really are:  “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  Our loyalty isn’t to any particular habit, rule, custom, ministry, etc., but to the Lord Jesus.  If you aren’t “stewards of the mysteries” in a sacramental sense, you certainly “stewards of the mysteries” in an evangelical sense.  You, too, are charged to be faithful to the Gospel, to preserve the Gospel, to hand on the Gospel, and to do so in accordance with the Dominican charism, or the Franciscan charism or the Alphonsian charism.  That is the trust that you have received, and, Paul says, “It is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (4:2).

Paul goes on to speak about judgment.  Plenty of people in the communities that Paul founded or passed thru passed judgment on him and his co-workers, about the details of his preaching or its style or, probably, his personality.  He relies not on human judgment but on the Lord’s judgment, and he urges the Corinthians to do likewise:  “do not make any judgment before the appointed time” (4:5), i.e., before the 2d Coming and the Lord’s complete revelation of his divine plan and of our participation in it.  That’s evidently good advice for us too, who are so ready to form judgments about the motives of Sr. So-and-So and how she practices the rule or how she prays or whom she associates with, etc.  We’d do better to pray that Sr. So-and-So, in all her doings and all her words, show herself a servant of Christ and be a good steward in sharing the mysteries of God—and praying that we be such ourselves.