Sunday, June 29, 2014

Homily for Sts. Peter & Paul

Homily for the Solemnity
of Sts. Peter & Paul
June 29, 2014
Acts 12: 1-11
2 Tim 4: 6-8, 17-18
Matt 16: 13-19
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“The Lord will rescue me form every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim 4: 18).

The 1st two readings this morning both have our apostles, Peter and Paul, in jail.  Peter has been arrested by King Herod, who intends to try and execute him, as he’s already done to the apostle James.  Paul is in prison in Rome, writing to his disciple Timothy, expecting that he’ll soon be put to death.

Herod’s plans were upset when Peter was miraculously set free, and he escaped, to go on with his preaching of the Gospel, eventually traveling to Rome and making it his HQ, his apostolic residence or “see.”  Therefore all the bishops of Rome, right up to Pope Francis, are regarded as Peter’s successors, holding the same apostolic authority that Peter did, and Rome is called “the Apostolic See.”  Paul’s anticipation of martyrdom was indeed fulfilled, altho we don’t know how soon after his letter to Timothy.

St. Peter on his episcopal chair,
modeled on statue in St. Peter's, Rome
(Sts. Peter & Paul, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.)
Peter’s authority as an apostle comes from Jesus, as we heard in the gospel.  Christ’s Church, tho made up of human beings like us, is not a human institution.  It’s founded by Christ, and Christ is the guarantor that the Church, out of all the institutions on earth, out of all the philosophies, theologies, and other opinions on earth, only the Church is our sure guide to salvation.  “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus tells Peter, “and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against my Church” (16:19,18).  The netherworld, hades in Greek, is the world of death, hence the realm of the Prince of Darkness (on whom Voldemort, the Dark Lord of Harry Potter, is apparently based).

Jesus’ promise of the Church’s ultimate victory over Satan and over death is foreshadowed by Peter’s deliverance from jail in our 1st reading and by Paul’s great confidence that, altho he may be executed because of his preaching, yet “the Lord stood by me” and “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth” (2 Tim 4:16).  The lion isn’t the Emperor Nero, who finally did put Paul to the sword and crucify Peter, but the devil, who, as St. Peter says in one of his letters, roams about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8).

Altho the holy apostles faced discrimination and death on account of their allegiance to Jesus, they were confident that God would deliver them.  The deliverance they looked for was the same sort that Jesus himself experienced:  “the gates of the netherworld—the world of the dead—[did] not prevail” over him.  Jesus rose triumphantly from death, delivered by the power of God.  Peter and Paul anticipated a similar victory over death and all the power of Satan.  They were confident of being brought safely to the heavenly kingdom where Jesus reigns.

So are we confident, brothers and sisters.  The prayer of the psalm today is our prayer:  “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them” (34:5,8).  As members of Christ’s Catholic Church, as faithful followers of Jesus, we are confident that God forgives us the sins we repent of (“whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”—Matt 16:19) and will raise us to eternal life with Jesus.

"Permanent" flame for the Holy Year 2009
in front of St. Paul's statue
St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Catholic Journalists Meet in Charlotte

Catholic Journalists of U.S., Canada Meet in Charlotte

About 300 Catholic journalists—writers, editors, bloggers, TV and film folks, communications directors, et al.—gathered in Charlotte, N.C., June 18-20, for the Catholic Media Conference. CMC is the annual convention of the Catholic Press Association of the U.S. and Canada and of the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals. Participants came from dioceses, religious orders, and organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Near Eastern Welfare Association, Propagation of the Faith, Catholic Relief Services, tour companies, and printers from Alaska to Florida, from San Diego to New England, and from Canada.

The Charlotte skyline from my hotel window
There were also several foreign participants, such as a rep from the German Episcopal Conference, and most notably Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, who always either attends or sends his deputy.

Keynote addresses

Major addresses were given at dinners by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the USCCB; Heather King, well known writer and blogger; and Helen Alvaré, law professor at George Mason University and formerly the USCCB’s spokesman on life issues. All three speeches were very well received. In addition, Abp. Celli spoke at one of the workshops.

Abp. Kurtz of Louisville
Abp. Kurtz reminded the Catholic communicators that they share in the Church’s mission of evangelization, which sometimes includes speaking hard truths, but always with love, for which he thanked the journalists. See; and

Citing Pope Francis’s concerns, Abp. Celli said that the Church’s biggest challenge today is to present her maternal face. Catholic media, he said, are part of that presentation by how they present the Church’s teachings and activities; Catholic communicators “share the Gospel message through our personal and professional lives.” Communications networks, he said, are constructed of people, not wires. See

Ms. King charmed her audience by speaking directly from her heart as a woman who’s been deeply wounded in life and is finding healing because she’s found Christ. “How can you live in this world with some kind of integrity?” she asked; then answered, “It’s all in the Gospels.” Christ on the cross is the ultimate expression of the human condition. The Catholic Church, she said, is the “one place that has truly welcomed me and loved me and allowed me to flower as a human being and as a woman.” See

Ms. Alvaré addressed the mainstream media and our secular culture’s presentation of what women are concerned about, contrasting that with the teachings of the Church. See
Helen Alvare
In particular, she assaulted the views of Planned Parenthood and the Obama Administration. She urged the Catholic media to communicate the Church’s “amazing teaching” about marriage, sex, and parenting. “Sociological research,” she said, “is so supportive of what we teach.” She also touched on religious freedom, insisting that the Church must effectively show society what she does with the freedom she lays claim to. See

Eucharistic Liturgy

Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte (, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston (, and Abp. Celli presided at the CMC liturgies at Charlotte’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Peter’s Church. All gave much appreciated homilies. The various priests attending, as many as eight on Thursday, concelebrated, including such luminaries as Msgr. Owen Campion of Our Sunday Visitor and Fr. Tom Rosica of Salt + Light.
Abp. Celli with your humble blogger before Mass on June 20
One of the highlights of the CMC every year is the presentation of the St. Francis de Sales Award, the highest honor given by the Catholic Press Association in recognition of journalistic excellence. It went this year to Jim Lackey, a 40-year veteran of the Catholic press, especially with Catholic News Service since 1979, in tribute to “the first-rate quality of his reporting and editing and the wide reach of [his] work.”  Runners-up were film guru Sr. Rose Pacatte, DSP, and Bob Lockwood, recently retired from Our Sunday Visitor and the diocese of Pittsburgh.
Jim Lackey, 2014 winner
of the "Franny"

Fr. Mike Mendl represented the Salesians in general and Salesian Bulletin U.S.A. in particular at CMC. He took in two or three workshops a day on Thursday and Friday of the couple of dozen on the agenda.

One workshop by Fr. Matt Malone, editor of America, was about crafting an editorial approach suited to our age both ecclesially and politically. He maintains that Catholic media have to evangelize, be prophetic, and build communion. What we communicate is inseparable from how we communicate it:  the Truth we communicate is Love.

Chris Gunty, editor of Baltimore’s Catholic Review, led a workshop on a flexible approach to the changing media landscape. It’s critical that our publications use multiple platforms (e.g., print, Website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and blogs) to reach multiple audiences (differing ages, genders, regions, ethnic backgrounds, etc.). He defined the core Catholic message as moving people toward Christ by “informing, teaching, inspiring, and engaging them through all forms of media.” What one does must always be tested, evaluated, and adapted to circumstances.

Another workshop, offered by law professor Michael Scaperlanda, aimed to educate the journalists about current trends in law and religious freedom issues.
CRS panelists: Ron Lajoie, Kerry Weber, John Feister, J.D. Long, and moderator Kim Pozniak
Each year Catholic Relief Services offers two journalists a trip to one of the developing world’s hot spots. One workshop brought together the four most recent fellowship recipients, Kerry Weber of America and Ron Lajoie of Catholic New York, who went to Rwanda in 2013, and John Feister of Franciscan Media and J.D. Long-Garcia of The Tidings (Los Angeles), who went to Niger in 2012. They described in words and images what they saw and heard, especially the very impressive work being done by the Catholic Church in such places, and how their fellowship has broadened their outlook as journalists covering the Third World.

The last workshop was given by two reporters from Charlotte’s Catholic News Herald on how to use Tumblr with one’s reporting: a platform with many advantages, easily customized and integrated with other platforms, and “fantastic” for multiple contributors.

In addition, early on Thursday morning there was a CPA business meeting, and on Friday afternoon about a dozen journalists from the Eastern Region met for a roundtable discussion of a few matters, including evaluating CMC 2014.

On Friday afternoon, Catholic News Service screened a new documentary called Voices of Vatican II in which ten or so surviving participants (both bishops and periti, including Pope Benedict) describe their experience at the council in interviews. Slightly less than an hour long, it’s excellently done and will be available for purchase by the end of the year ( Highly recommended!
Professor Michael Scaperlanda speaks about the current situation
of religious liberty in the U.S.

At the CPA closing dinner on Friday, June 20, awards for the last year’s outstanding publications were announced: newspapers, magazines, Web pages, and books. The hundreds of printed announcements take 36 pages of the CPA’s tabloid, The Catholic Journalist.

Our two provinces are proud to say that the Salesian Bulletin U.S.A. won three awards (not too bad out of just five entries). These included

-- 2d place for best feature article in a religious order magazine, “Salesians Educating and Evangelizing: Salesian Ministry in Various U.S. Contexts,” by J.C. Montenegro, Sr. Loretta DeDomenicis, FMA, Sr. Juanita Chavez, FMA, and Fr. Jim Heuser, SDB, SB Spring 2013. The judges noted: “The focus on youth serving youth makes this submission have a unique angle. The writing is smooth and fluid.”

-- 3d place for best essay in a religious order magazine, “Just Don’t Get Caught,” by Fr. Mike Mendl, SDB, SB Spring 2013: “An important modern issue, cheating, is wrestled with here, with clarity and thoughtfulness. Intelligently written and conceived.”

--Honorable mention for best essay in a religious order magazine. “Holiness in Don Bosco’s Style: Occupational Hazard,” by Paula Rondon-Burgos and the ANS staff, SB Late Winter 2013: “An inspiring examination of a level of busy-ness many readers can relate to, with pragmatic insights. Ms. Rondon-Burgos’s smile is as brilliant as her subject’s!”

(Thanks to Julie Asher of Catholic News Service for some of the material on the major speeches.)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Homily for Trinity Sunday

Homily for
Trinity Sunday
June 15, 2014
Ex 34: 4-6, 8-9
John 3: 16-18
Iona College, New Rochelle 
“The Lord passed before Moses and cried out, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity’” (Ex 34: 6).

The Holy Trinity, by Antonio de Pereda (d. 1669)
We’re taught that the doctrine of the Trinity is one of the core dogmas of our faith, perhaps the most fundamental of our beliefs.  Certainly it’s what distinguishes Christianity from the other religions that believe, as we do, in the one God who created the universe, rules it, and will judge us all at the end of lives, viz., Judaism, Islam, and Mormonism (I’m not sure what, if anything, Unitarians believe about God).

Yet we can’t explain this fundamental doctrine, only define it—3 Persons in 1 God—and profess and celebrate it.  Great theologians have tried to understand and explain the Trinity—e.g., Augustine, Aquinas, and Rahner.  But finally we can only say, humbly, I believe even tho I don’t understand.

One aspect of the Holy Trinity that we can grasp is that God is love.  The Trinity involves relationships—Father and Son, and their personal union that is a 3d Person.  Their love overflows, as it were, to involve us:  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).

That love seems to be the focus of the readings this evening—the “takeaway,” if you will.

In the 1st reading, God has summoned Moses to climb the mountain (Mt. Sinai) to meet him.  As you know, God had called Moses personally to his role as leader and liberator of the Hebrews, and God maintained an intimate friendship with him.  The word “love” isn’t used to describe that relationship, but “friend” is (Ex 33:12,17).  Moreover, it was to Moses that God 1st revealed his own name, in the apparition at the burning bush (Ex 3:14).  His name is YHWH, “I am,” “I am who I am,” “He who is,” “I am he who causes what is,” “He who brings into being whatever comes into being” (all possible interpretations of that mysterious Hebrew name).

In most modern translations, that proper name is rendered LORD with all caps, and so it is in our passage this evening.  “God stood with Moses there and pronounced his name, ‘LORD,’” i.e., YHWH.  And the Lord YHWH tells us more about himself:  “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”  He comes to be with Moses, to be with Israel, to be their kind and merciful protector, to stand by them faithfully, to save them from the oppression of the Egyptians.

This is the God who sends his only Son to take human deliverance 3 steps further.

The 1st step is to deliver his people from spiritual oppression, from sin, and even from death, the ultimate result of sin, and not only from earthly slavery.

The 2d step is to deliver all of humanity, and not just a single nation, from that oppression.  “God so loved the world,” not “God so loved Israel.”

The 3d step is to bring those whom he saves thru the Son into a close relationship with himself:  a fellowship, a communion, membership in the divine family.  Moses’ intimate relationship with God prefigured that communion of heart and will.  In Christ it’s extended to every man and woman who “believes in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).

God is 3.  He is relational.  He is a community.  In his graciousness and mercy, he draws us into his community; he shares with us his love; he makes us family.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hiking Ramapo Torne

Hiking Ramapo Torne

Ramapo Torne is a large rock outcropping, more than 1,100 feet in elevation, looming over the Ramapo Pass—which is now the route not only of the Ramapo River but also of the New York State Thruway (I-87) and State Route 17.

Having driven those highways innumerable times since the 1960s, I was eager to get up to the torne.  Two earlier attempts, one in August 2010 ( and another in June last year (I think), failed—the 1st because I made a wrong turn and we wound up at the Russian Bear, and the 2d because we ran out of time and had to turn back.
On June 6-7 I finally made it, hiking a loop trail from the Reeves Meadow parking lot, up Reeves Brook Trail to 7 Hills Trail to Hillburn-Torne-Sebago Trail, then down HTS to a different portion of 7 Hills to Pine Meadow Trail.  According the Harriman Trail Guide, that loop totals almost exactly 5 miles.  They were strenuous miles, even the downhill sections.

I invited Fr. Jim Mulloy (see, e.g., to join me, but he wasn’t free.  So I did a solo jaunt.  I did meet a few day hikers on the way in on Friday, 3 at the summit, and a lot of them on my way out on Saturday.

The Reeves Meadow lot on Friday afternoon was almost full.  Judging roughly from the trail map, the parking lot is about 500 feet about sea level.  I set out around 2:10 p.m., and it took me a good 3 hours to cover 2.85 miles up to Ramapo Torne, with 3 or 4 short stops to catch my breath and drink some water (and eat some trail mix once).

Reeves Brook
I followed Reeves Brook Trail for most of its length, 1.35 miles up to 7 Hills Trail; it’s pretty as it follows the brook.  At 7 Hills the climbing began in earnest, a hard 1-mile slog with several steep ascents, most notably the one up Torne View, also about 1,100 feet elevation.  The views up there are panoramic and worth the hike. 
Looking west from Torne View
After its steep descent into a ravine,  
This was steeper than it looks!  I'd just come down
one leg of the descent from Torne View
the climb up the back side of Ramapo Torne is pretty gradual and very scenic—I describe it as “park-like.”
The rear of Ramapo Torne
from Torne View

Along the HTS on the rear of Ramapo Torne

This time when I got to the HTS Trail, I made sure to go to the right and not to the left!

Trail maintainers have painted labels and arrows on the rocks (right and center).
You can also see HTS's orange blazes on a tree at left.

A half mile on HTS brought me to the summit of the torne around 5:00 p.m.  There were excellent views of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Ramapo Pass, and the forested hills to both east and west. 
You can see the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines in the distance.
Much closer is Mahwah's Sharp Plaza (the tower in upper right),
and directly beneath me is the Town of Ramapo.
I took in the views, gathered some small branches and twigs—there’s no shortage of deadwood—and sat down to do some reading and praying.  An friendly older couple came up from the other direction, taking in the views and stopping to chat.  A younger solo hiker came up from the same direction I’d used, and went right on by with just an exchange of hellos.

Once they’d passed, I set up my tent just off the trail in a fine little spot covered with soft grass. 
Fr. Jim had urged me to sleep under the stars, but there were insects to contend with; I was glad I’d remembered repellent.  I was going to leave the fly off the tent, but a west wind made it a bit cool.  I found a fairly flat rock out of the wind and set up my stove to boil water for my dinner of freeze-dried chili mac with beef, followed up with an apple and washed down with Crystal Lite. 
Cooking gear after supper, and trash bag
I hung up a bear bag with tomorrow’s meals, gathered more firewood, and did more reading till sunset, which came around 8:30 p.m. 
I set a small fire on the rocks, somewhat sheltered from the light west breeze, and I kept the fire small—mostly for atmosphere as I continued reading (and took a few photos). There were a lot of stars, altho the city lights in the distance must have cut down on stellar visibility a good deal, and a half moon.  The only sounds were the highway traffic down in the valley and some crickets.  So peaceful!
From the Bronx to the Narrows
Around 9:30 I let the fire start to die, and by 10:00 it was down to embers, which I spread out a bit on the rock.  When I judged that fully controlled, I went to bed—on a much softer bed than I usually have in the woods, that soft grass plus my air mattress.  I got a much better nite’s sleep than usual when I camp.

The decision to use the tent proved wise; I found light dew in the morning.  The sun awakened me around 5:30 a.m., but I wasn’t ready to get up till after 6:00.  No hurry, no need to be anywhere till well after noon.

As soon as I’d risen and freshened a bit, I offered Mass, then boiled water for coffee and oatmeal, followed by an orange.  I was happy that my backpack would be weighing about 5 pounds less on the way home, with less water, no fresh fruit, and most of the other food gone.  I prayed the Hours and slowly did my packing up.  I had to wait for the sun to dry out what the dew had dampened—parts of the tent and fly, the ground cloth, and my slippers.  I cleaned up the rock where my fire had been. 
I finished reading the issue of America that I’d begun last nite, and decided it was time to finish packing and head back to civilization.

I set out around 10:00 a.m.  The descent on the west side of the torne was very much steeper than the one up the back had been, and it required extreme caution especially with about 30 pounds on my back (tent, pad, water, lunch, clothes, first aid kit, stove, fuel, water filter, mess kit, hatchet, rope, trash, etc.).  HTS goes down .55 mile before it meets 7 Hills.
One of those spots I wasn't very eager to go down
with a full pack on my back
About 15 minutes down HTS I met a party of about 10 Korean day hikers coming up.  They were stopping to catch their breath.  We exchanged greetings and took each other’s photos.  Here's most of their group:
The steep descent continued, alternating with some fairly level bits, for much of the 1.4 miles of 7 Hills before it ends at Pine Meadow Trail.  HTS crosses Beaver Brook several times and is rather pretty, at least with the trees in full leaf and water in the brook. 
One of the trail crossings of Beaver Brook
I met several pairs of hikers and one pair of couples.  Around 11:40 I reached PMT and stopped for lunch—in the shade rather than waiting till I got to the parking lot, .2 mile farther, where there isn’t much shade.  Lunch was a can of tuna on crackers, with coffee.  A lot more hikers passed by.
Seven Hills Trail crosses Beaver Brook
Eating in the woods was good also because I’d probably have felt guilty eating by the parking lot when it was jammed full and people kept coming in looking to park.  Cars were parked up and down 7 Lakes Drive, probably well over 100 in all.  It was, after all, an excellent day for hiking, as Friday had been.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Homily for Pentecost

Homily for
June 8, 2014
1 Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13
John 20: 19-23
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12: 4).

In the Church at Corinth, it seems that there was a competitiveness concerning spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues, healing, teaching ability, etc.  St. Paul had to remind the Christians that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” to the entire Church, the entire body of Christ, and not for the glory of one individual.

We don’t see spectacular gifts much in the Church, e.g., healing or speaking in tongues.  Certainly there are many gifted people who use their talents, theirs gifts from God, for the benefit of the Church:  singers, preachers, teachers, financial advisors, architects, decorators, cleaners, etc.  There are many different ways of serving Church, both humble and grand; what matters is to do it for the benefit of everyone.

But the most important gift of the Holy Spirit is the one we find in today’s gospel reading:  “Jesus said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (20:21).  And this gift is available to everyone, not just a few.

The peace that Jesus offers isn’t a worldly peace like civic harmony and good will, or political bipartisanship, or an international treaty.  Jesus said something like that at the Last Supper:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you” (John 14:27), words that we echo in the Communion rite at Mass.  Jesus grants interior peace, peace of soul.  That peace is something we all desire, something we all need, something entirely independent of our physical, political, and social circumstances.  That peace is found in a healthy relationship with God.

When we sin, we damage that relationship.  But Jesus restores it.  We hear him in today’s gospel giving to his apostles, and thru them to his Church, the power to forgive sins, to cleanse our guilt, to reconcile us with God:  “Peace be with you.  I send you with the Holy Spirit to forgive sins” (cf. 20:21-23).  Peace and forgiveness are linked, both flowing from the presence of the Spirit.

In one of Jesus’ arguments with the Pharisees, they said, “No one but God can forgive sins” (Mark 2:7).  Quite true.  It’s precisely God who acts:  “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus tells his apostles.  By the Holy Spirit they forgive sins, and by the Holy Spirit the Church continues to forgive sins.

If you want to be at peace, turn to God.  Bring him your sins and let him erase them.  Filled with divine peace, bring peace and good will and forgiveness to your family, your neighbors, and the people you work with.  Led by the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to you, make your own little contribution to a more peaceful world.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Homily for 7th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
7th Sunday of Easter
June 1, 2014
1 Pet 4: 13-16
Iona College, New Rochelle

“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet 4: 14).

The introduction to the First Letter of St. Peter in the New American Bible, which is the official Bible of American Catholics, published by our bishops—the one we use in our Lectionary—describes the letter as one encouraging Christians “to remain faithful to their standards of belief and conduct in spite of threats of persecution.”  Depending on where and when one lived in the Roman Empire, there might have been outright persecution with the forfeiture of personal goods, imprisonment, torture, and possibly death.  Or, as the introduction says, “The problem addressed would not be official persecution but the difficulty of living the Christian life in a hostile, secular environment that espoused different values and subjected the Christian minority to ridicule and oppression.”  (Does that sound familiar?)

The Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua, Felicity, and Companions
at Carthage, 203 A.D., from the Menologion of Basil II
Such harassment, such insults, such persecution, Peter says, are a “share in the sufferings of Christ” and are linked to our share in “his glory” when that glory will be fully revealed, when he “comes again to judge the living and the dead” (Creed).  Hence, suffering for and with Christ is a cause for rejoicing. (1 Pet 4:13)  It’s a sign of heavenly blessing (4:14).

Those words of Peter are similar to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:  “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matt 5:11-12).  But “woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way” (Luke 6:26).

One should be ashamed of evil behavior—Peter gives some examples (4:15)—but not of belonging to Christ.  “Glorify God because of the name” of Jesus Christ, he exhorts us (4:16).

Persecution is a real part of Christian life in vast parts of the word today, from the Central African Republic (where there was a massacre at Our Lady of Fatima Church last week) and Nigeria (you know about the Christian schoolgirls who’ve been kidnapped) through Sudan (where a Christian mother has been condemned to death for “converting” to Christianity even tho she was raised as a Christian from infancy, because her father was Muslim) and Egypt (where churches have been burned and Christians killed) across the Middle East to Pakistan and in parts of the Far East.  People are assaulted, kidnapped, driven into exile, and murdered for their faith.

Refugees in one of the Salesian compounds in Bangui, Central African Republic (ANS)
It’s not just a foreign issue.  At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington on May 13, Professor Robert George of Princeton University—one of the leading Catholic intellectuals of our age—advised listeners, “The days of acceptable Christianity are over.  The days of comfortable Catholicism are past.”[1]  He went on to say that our contemporary culture is losing its tolerance for Catholics (and other Christians) who hold fast to the teachings of the Gospel.

The costs of discipleship may be personal, familial or professional, he said.  Standing up for the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life and marriage—teachings which he said are “not fourth-class Gospel truths” and must be proclaimed with all of the Church’s revealed teaching—may lead to charges of “bigotry” or waging a “war on women” or that Christians are an “enemy of reproductive freedom.”  “To believe in the Gospel is to make oneself a marked man or woman,” he said.[2]

Professor George reminded his audience that Jesus triumphed over his persecutors, and the test that we face, if we hope to take part in his triumph “when his glory is revealed” (4:13), is that we be faithful witnesses of the Gospel.

And if we are faithful witnesses to the Gospel, our secular culture is going to oppose us.  We’ll be labeled as bigots for maintaining that marriage necessarily includes both mutual love and procreation.  We’ll be labeled “anti-woman” for defending the lives of unborn human beings.  Our institutions risk financial ruin if they won’t provide contraception, sterilization, and certain forms of abortion, and there’s serious pressure to include all forms of abortion.  In Massachusetts and Illinois the Church has already been excluded from adoption services because we won’t place children in homosexual households.  You all remember the Legion of Decency?  The Legion of Decency’s ratings system as a criterion for acceptable entertainment went the way of the dodo bird a long time ago, and who even knows that the Catholic News Service still reviews and rates movies on behalf of our bishops?[3]

The civil rights movement produced a sense of “black pride.”  The women’s movement has promoted not only women’s rights but pride in being a girl or a woman.  Other identify movements have done the same.  It’s nothing new that on March 17 the Irish put their identity on glorious display.  St. Peter is exhorting us to rejoice and take glory in who we are as followers of Jesus Christ, and therefore truly to follow him, even if that means being unpopular, disliked, or harassed.  If “the Lord is my life’s refuge,” as today’s psalm says, “of whom should I be afraid?” (27:1).

Unlike 1st-century Christians, those addressed by St. Peter, in 21st-century America we can speak up freely and even push back for our rights and for what we believe is right.  That’s why there are dozens of cases in the federal courts right now against the contraception and other mandates of HHS.  In the land of the free we shouldn’t have to hide our identity like 1st-century Christians or those who lived behind the Iron Curtain.  We shouldn’t be “insulted for the name of Christ” and made to suffer for it by the government, the mass media, or society’s self-styled elites.  We can and must continue to defend unborn human life, identify marriage as ordered toward the procreation and raising of children as well as toward mutual love, and speak for the rights of people in our country and around the world to food and shelter, to a decent livelihood, to education, to respect for their persons, and to freedom of conscience.

Our steadfastness in adhering to Jesus, in our words and our actions, depends upon our doing what the apostles did, according to the Acts of the Apostles:  “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (1:14).  We pray in union with Mary and the whole Church to be filled with the Holy Spirit, who is our wisdom, knowledge, strength, and courage.

                [1] Peter Jesserer Smith, “National Catholic Prayer Breakfast: Era of Comfortable Catholicism Is Over,” National Catholic Register, May 15, 2014, on-line.

                [2] Loc. cit.


Homily for the Ascension of the Lord

Homily for the
Ascension of the Lord
May 29, 2014
Acts 1: 1-11
Eph 1: 17-23
Matt 28: 16-20
Christian Bros., Iona College

Jesus ascends to heaven to join the Father in sending the Spirit (Acts 1:4-5).

The apostles, however, are still concerned about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel (1:6).  Jesus is not restoring that kingdom but expanding the Father’s kingdom “to the ends of the earth” (1:8), to include everyone.

The Ascension, by Gustave Dore'
The “men of Galilee” are chided for “standing” around “looking to heaven” (1:11).  They have work to do:  “making disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe Jesus’ commandments” (cf. Matt 28:19-20).

Jesus is gone physically, but he is with us thru his Holy Spirit, making of us, his Church, his body (Eph 1:22-23), filled with his power (Matt 28:18) to save humanity by sharing “the riches of glory in his inheritance” (Eph 1:18).

The ascension is a sign of our goal, which the Collect pointed out:  “where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.”  And it is a challenge to us to carry out a mission, to make disciples to the ends of the earth.