Thursday, July 31, 2014

2014 Salesian Lay Missioners Start Orientation

2014 Salesian Lay Missioners
Start Orientation

On July 25, twenty young adults assembled at the Divine Compassion Retreat Center in White Plains, N.Y., to begin their orientation for missionary service as Salesian volunteers. There are 15 women and 5 men, including one married couple, and they come from the West Coast, the Midwest, the South, and the Northeast.

As usual, the SLM orientation includes getting acquainted with each other and with Don Bosco and the Salesian charism, and cross-cultural training. Next week they’ll assist at the summer day camp at Corpus Christi and Holy Rosary parishes in Port Chester, getting to know the SDBs and FMAs in action and practicing a little bit of the Preventive System. From August 10 to 16 they’ll be on retreat with SDBs at Haverstraw.

Adam Rudin, director of the Salesian Lay Missioners, is leading the orientation, assisted by two returned SLMs, Amber Kraft (Bolivia, 2009-2012) and Michelle Webb (India, 2009-2010), and Slavka Brigantova. Slavka is involved with a similar Salesian program in Slovakia. Amber and Michelle contribute their lived, practical experience, while Slavka brings a different set of experiences to the U.S. program and is keenly observing it as well.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Homily for 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 27, 2014
1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12
Iona College, New Rochelle
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon

“Give your servant an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong” (1 Kings 3: 9).

The setting for our 1st reading this evening/morning, from ch. 3 of 1 Kings, is the beginning of the reign of King Solomon, youngest son of the great King David.  Solomon will come to be regarded as the wisest man in the OT:  “There has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you” (3:12).  He would also be the one to build the great temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.

A 9th-c. depiction of Solomon's court
When David died (ch. 1), Solomon, a “mere youth, not knowing how to act,” according to his prayer (3:7), secured his throne with an abundance of bloodshed in the face of various palace plots, guided it seems by his mother Bathsheba (yes, that Bathsheba), the prophet Nathan, and other counselors—see ch. 2.  There’s a little irony in the Lord’s noting that Solomon hasn’t asked “for the life of [his] enemies” (3:11), since he’s already eliminated them all.  I don’t know whether anyone’s ever novelized Solomon’s life, as has been done with David, but there’s enuf material in the Bible, and too little actual historical data, for an imaginative someone to have a good time writing about him.

Then, we read in ch. 3 just prior to today’s passage, he offered a prodigious sacrifice to the Lord, “a thousand holocausts” (3:4).  It’s in response to this display of Solomon’s piety that “the Lord appears to him in a dream at nite” (3:5), as we just heard, and offers a generous grace:  “Ask something of me, and I will give it to you” (3:5).

We heard Solomon’s prayer-request:  for understanding, for wisdom, for right judgment.  He recognizes his lack of experience; perhaps he also has misgivings about how he secured his throne, and perhaps he doesn’t feel all that secure.

What is it that Solomon prays for?  It’s not, as the Lord notes, for life, for health, for wealth, for vengeance, for victory—for any of those things that so many of us associate with success in life, with happiness, with achievement.  Which reminds me of an essay in last Sunday’s Times, titled “Love People, Not Pleasure, and Happiness Will Follow,”[1] the upshot of which was that “riches and honors, power and pleasure” don’t make a person happy; they can’t fill the inner emptiness of our souls.  The formula for happiness is to love the people in our lives:  “family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, God and even strangers and enemies” (yes, the Times essayist mentions God!), and to love them in a practical, not a theoretical, fashion.  Our collect this evening/morning struck a similar note, praying that we might use the good but passing things of this world as aids on our way enduring goods, i.e., eternal ones.

But back to King Solomon.  He asks for “an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”  He recognizes right off that his kingdom is really God’s kingdom; the people are God’s people, not his people.  He rules as God’s viceroy, so to speak.  He too is under God’s authority.  It’s a piece of wisdom to know where we stand in the universe, and not even for kings and presidents is it at the top of the pile.  The beginning of wisdom, the Bible says, is reverence for God (Prov 9:10; Ps 111:10).

2d, Solomon asks God for what he needs to carry out his particular vocation:  his vocation, in God’s place, is to “judge” the people, to render judgment, to provide justice.  How gifted he was by God will be illustrated later in this same chapter with the famous story of the 2 women who bring him an infant, each claiming to be its mother and asking him to settle their argument (3:16-28).  Such wisdom in rendering judgment is something that every parent needs—you all know that!—and every teacher, every manager of an office or business.  We’ve heard that in Baptism we’re anointed, like Christ, as kings, prophets, and priests.  As Christian rulers we’re charged to govern:  to govern our families, to govern our students, to govern employees or anyone under our authority—and to govern ourselves (to practice self-control, self-restraint, in other words)—always to govern by the standards of Jesus.  Apart from that, what other qualities, what other virtues, are required of our particular vocation?  What does “an understanding heart” look like and sound like for a follower of Jesus in my position as a priest, a parent, a religious brother, a professor, a manager, a consumer, a citizen?

3d, Solomon sees correctly the standard of good judgment:  “to distinguish right from wrong.”  How much of our public life—and our private life—is messed up by someone’s (ourselves in many cases, but also others)—someone’s making a judgment based on one of those objects in the Times essay that doesn’t lead to happiness:  by the pursuit of power, pleasure, fame, or something like that?  Why was JFK’s famous Profiles in Courage so notable?  Was it because a politician’s or a “public servant’s” acting on principle (right and wrong), rather than on partisanship or polling results, is so rare?

But we don’t have to look at Washington or Albany to find shortcomings in the making of distinctions between right and wrong.  We can look at ourselves, as we ought at the end of every day, and ask ourselves whether we’ve acted at critical moments—and ordinary ones, as well—from selfishness or generosity, from anger or from kindness, from fear of what others will think or from conviction, etc.  Have we treated people with love?

Solomon’s prayer, then, can be our prayer too:  to beseech the Lord for the graces of our own vocation, for the wisdom to know what’s right and wrong, for the courage to act on what we see.
18th-c. Russian icon of King Solomon

                [1] Arthur C. Brooks, “Love People, Not Pleasure,” NYT, July 20, 2014, pp. SR 1, 6-7.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Salesians Withdrawing from Elizabeth, N.J.

Salesians Withdrawing
from Elizabeth, N.J.

Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial, announced in letters dated July 12, 2014, that the SDBs will withdraw from pastoral ministry at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Elizabeth as of Aug. 17.  The 2 letters were addressed to the confreres of the New Rochelle Province and to the parishioners of St. Anthony, to be read at all the weekend Masses.

The SDBs have served the parish community of St. Anthony, and the wider community of the city of Elizabeth, for 91 years.  Fr. Tom said that the decision was made with much thought and prayer; the bottom line "was the effect of a gradual decline of Salesian personnel available for ministries in our province," he wrote.

Fr. Tom thanked the people of St. Anthony for the honor of serving them and for their collaboration of so many decades.  He also thanked the confreres who served in pastoral ministry there.

Four SDBs made up the final community assigned to St. Anthony and await new assignments:  Fr. Pat Angelucci, the pastor; Fr. Javier Aracil, assistant pastor; Fr. Tom Brennan, in residence and Salesian liaison to the United Nations; and Bro. Craig Spence, youth minister.

In his letter Fr. Tom also noted that the SDBs have withdrawn from 5 parishes in the last 8 months (Montreal, 2 in Birmingham, Washington, and Elizabeth).  In each case, it was a matter of available personnel to carry out the Salesian mission effectively (which means not only sacramental ministry but also significant youth ministry).

The letter addressed to the SDB confreres also noted an adjustment in the pastoral arrangements for the 2 parishes that the SDBs staff in Harvey, La., on the West Bank of the New Orleans metro area.  Fr. Larry Urban, who has been pastor of St. John Bosco Church, will also serve as pastor of St. Rosalie Church.  Another SDB priest will serve as parochial vicar for St. Rosalie but reside with the SDB community as Archbishop Shaw HS in Marrero (Shaw is about a mile from the church, tho in the next town over).  The New Orleans Archdiocese will assign another priest to live at St. Rosalie and assist in pastoral work.  The 2 parishes remain distinct in all respects except sharing the pastor.  The change is effective Aug. 1.
Students of St. Rosalie School assembled in the playground/parking lot
in October 2005 for a visit of the SDB provincial one month after Katrina.
The church roof, behind them, shows some hurricane damage.
Fr. John DiFiore, pastor of St. Rosalie for the last 4 years, awaits a new assignment.  Since Fr. George Hanna, erstwhile pastor of Nativity in Washington, was assigned to Abp. Shaw's community later in July (province newsletter, July 17), it seems that he'll be the priest designated for ministry at St. Rosalie.

Homily for Funeral of Helene Lorenzo

Homily for the Funeral
of Helene Lorenzo
July 24, 2014
Rev 14: 13
John 6: 51-58
Salesian Missions, New Rochelle              

Helene Gaito Lorenzo worked as the province’s bookkeeper for some 30 years. She retired around 1996 and wanted her funeral rites celebrated here if possible, which her loving family was all in favor of, as well. In the absence of the director of the community (on vacation), the task/honor fell to his vicar, your humble blogger.

[I hope to have a photo of Mrs. Lorenzo eventually.]

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.  Yes, let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them” (Rev 14: 13).

A little less than 2 weeks ago, the Salesian Sisters were celebrating their jubilarians, the sisters professed for 40, 50, 60, 65, even 70 years.  Fr. Jim Heuser began the serious part of his homily—his homilies never begin seriously—by observing why we were there:  not because we love the Salesian Sisters, but because God loves the Salesian Sisters.

That apropos here, too.  Yes, we’ve come because we loved Helene Lorenzo and because she loved us; but the more fundamental reason we’re here is because our Lord Jesus loved Helene and continues to love her.

The Lord Jesus loves all of us, of course—each of us individually and all of us together as his people.  He showed his love for Helene, in particular, by calling her to belong to him in his Church—calling her in Baptism to enter the mystery of his death and the resurrection, inviting her to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man” in the Eucharist (John 6:53), forgiving her sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation.  Helene lived in the Lord every day, and so she was fully prepared to “die in the Lord” when her days ended and she passed over, we trust, in Jesus’ love, to the endless day where God has destroyed death forever and wiped the tears from all faces (Is 25:8).

The Lord Jesus showed his love for Helene by working thru her.  The works that accompany her as she goes to the Father are the works she did in the power of Jesus, day by day, as she lived in the Lord:  works such as her 44-year marriage and her family life.  While she and John weren’t blessed with children of their own, she was a mother figure to many of you, and perhaps for a few priests and brothers as well.  At one point, Jesus compared himself to a mother hen in his concern for the people of Jerusalem (Matt 23:37), and we may say that Helene had a like concern for so many people—a work that accompanies her.

Most of Helene’s working life was done for religious institutions, mainly the Salesians.  Her work wasn’t a job but a ministry, a way of serving the Lord Jesus by helping, indirectly, young people in schools and youth centers and immigrants and other needy folk in our parishes.  Helene’s office work underpinned much of what the Salesians were able to do for the young and the poor during the 30 years that she kept our books, as well as supporting church ministry earlier at OL of Victory, and even what the public authorities did for the poor in Mt. Vernon.  No doubt, in her last years she sustained our ministry with her prayers.  These works, done in and with Christ, accompany her as she goes to the Father.

The root meaning of the word liturgy is “public service.”  Liturgy is a kind of work, the best of works.  It’s primarily the work that God does—saving us thru the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, in which we participate when we celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments.  Helene’s lifelong, faithful participation in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, is another good work that accompanies her to the Father.  Jesus accompanies her to the Father, with his promise, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him (or her).  … The one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (John 6:56-57).

“Blessed,” indeed, “are those who die in the Lord….  Let them find rest from their labors” (Rev 14:13), eternal rest, in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Homily for 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Rom 8: 18-23
July 13, 2014
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“The sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Rom 8: 18).

In our reading from the Letter to the Romans last week, St. Paul assured us that, if we try to live virtuous lives, the Holy Spirit already lives in us and we’re somehow already sharing in eternal life.

A passage that comes between that reading and today’s calls us “children of God” and therefore “God’s heirs, joint heirs with Christ”—heirs of eternal life and all the blessings of God’s kingdom—“if only we suffer with Christ so that we may be glorified with him” (8:16-17).

We come to today’s passage, which speaks of our sufferings and indeed of the sufferings of all of creation:  “all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now” (8:22).  Creation—including us human beings—knows a lot about suffering:  physical suffering (not only labor pains but many kinds), mental and emotional suffering.

In another place in Romans, St. Paul links suffering to sin, and Christ’s suffering is the price he paid because of sin; not his own sin, but ours.  We can’t claim to be sinless except insofar as we’ve been forgiven by Christ, whose passion and death atone for our sins.

St. Paul invites us to join our sufferings with Christ’s, to share in his work of redemption, to help Christ, so to speak, lift the created world out of its futility, out of its slavery, bringing mankind into “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (8:21).  Creation waits eagerly for Christ’s work of redemption to be completed—which will occur when he returns in glory on the Last Day, and in the Last Judgment reveals who are God’s children.  Till then, “we groan within ourselves [and sometimes out loud!] as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23).

At the same time, St. Paul seems to say, creation will be renewed; creation will be restored to the way God meant it to be, everything in good order, beautiful, serene, harmonious; and our healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy souls—all saved by Christ—will enjoy that creation to the max.

With that hope, the hope of sharing in the glory that Christ Risen already enjoys, “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”  So even in our sufferings, the inevitable sufferings of life, we have hope and we can be joyful.  Suffering hurts, and we don’t embrace it, don’t welcome it; we do fight against it.  But when it can’t be avoided—because of what nature has done (e.g., Hurricane Sandy), because of what other people have done to us (e.g., violence, a family fight, problems at work), because of an accident, because of illness, because of everything that comes with aging, even because of our own stupidity (why did I do that?)—then we join our sufferings with Christ’s; we realize we’re one with God’s own Son; and we look to having our adoption as God’s children completed when Christ comes in glory and brings us into his glory.

There’s something else we do about suffering.  We try to alleviate it.  We try to remedy people’s problems—pain, hunger, unemployment, homelessness, violence, discrimination, illness, etc.  We try to prevent problems in the first place.  That’s why we, as Christians, do so much for society:  hospitals, education, soup kitchens, adoption services, care for refugees, etc., etc.  We anticipate the day when “creation itself will be set free from slavery to corruption” by trying to bring a little freedom, a little healing, a little more justice into people’s lives already, now.  That’s why we tell the government that our schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other social services are just as much a part of our faith, our religion, as our churches, rectories, and convents, and we have to be free to practice our faith also in our schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other social services.

Salesian Fr. Pietro Zago and some of his students from Lahore
bring aid to victims of an earthquake in Pakistan in 2006.
So, sisters and brothers, keep up the good fight, as St. Paul encourages us in another one of his letters (2 Tim 4:7).  Fight against the suffering of others as best you can, seeing that as God’s work.  And unite your own sufferings that you can’t dodge with those of Christ; that union also is God’s work.  And look toward the glory that we hope to share with Christ Jesus our Savior.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

FMAs Celebrate Jubilarians

FMAs Celebrate Jubilarians

Today more than 400 people gathered in Cedar Grove, N.J., to honor 12 Salesian sisters celebrating jubilees--40, 50, 60, 65, and 70 years of religious profession.  Or, as homilist Fr. Jim Heuser said, "We didn't come here because we love the Salesian Sisters but because God loves the Salesian Sisters," and we came to celebrate that love.

The big party began with Mass, starting a little after 11:00 a.m., and a formal luncheon followed. There was Fr. Jim's excellent homily during Mass, and Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Cruz of Newark, the presider gave a fine talk at the end of Mass about his experience with the FMAs, going all the way back to his boyhood in Cuba. All during dinner a running slide show put the jubilarians on display (from their infancy thru their early FMA years to the present). And there were no speeches (nor did Sr. Mary Rinaldi hold one of her famous 50-50 raffles).

Eight priests, seven of them SDBs, concelebrated the Mass with the bishop.  The sisters provided the music--all the Mass parts plus contemporary hymns.

The celebration of Mass took place at the dining venue because the Sisters had expected their chapel in North Haledon to be under renovation. By the time they realized the renovation wouldn't have begun yet, the announcements had all been sent out; so they decided to keep Mass, as well as dinner, at The Grove.

The jubilarians included Sr. Mary Winterscheidt (70 years), her sister Sr. Patricia Winterscheidt (65), Sr. Gloria Machado (65), Sr. Antoinette Cabrera (60), Sr. Esther Cruz (60), Sr. Anna Ragogna (60), Sr. Mary Rinaldi (50), Sr. Grace Ruiz (60), Sr. Mary Terzo (50), Sr. Margarent Rose Buonaiuto (40), Sr. Teresa Gutierrez (40), and Sr. Phyllis Neves (40).  (Unfortunately, there were no silver jubilarians this year.)

Everyone was very pleased with the accommodations, the service, and the meal at the Grove.  The only complaint your humble blogger heard (including from himself, but not only) was that it was too cold.

Your blogger didn't bring his camera with him (and on that half a dozen people remarked).  But he hopes that one of his FMA contacts will supply a photo or two for him to pop into this post later.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pastoral Assignments for 2014-2015

Pastoral Assignments for 2014-2015

It's many months since the new directors (and re-appointments) for the coming pastoral year (July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015) were announced. A few changes were announced about a month ago, such as Fr. Richard Alejunas's taking up priestly service within the archdiocese of New York (on Staten Island, specifically), and the "permanent" assignment to the provincial house of the two priests who moved up here from Birmingham at the beginning of February.  Fr. Ken Germaine is now the province's archivist.
Fr. Ken Germaine in the archival library
On July 6 Fr. Tom Dunne announced more assignments. Most of them concern the confreres in formation.

After they make their first profession of vows on Aug. 16 (God willing!), Brothers-to-be Rafael Vargas of our province and Benita Guerrero of the Western Province will join the postnovitiate community in Orange, N.J., and take up studies at Seton Hall University.

Bro. John Langan
Two confreres who've just finished at Seton Hall and the immediate postnovitiate period, Bro. John Langan and Bro. Steve DeMaio, will start their practical training.  Bro. John is assigned to Abp. Shaw HS in Marrero (and in fact is already there for summer camp) and Bro. Steve to Salesian HS here in New Rochelle.

Bro. Steve DeMaio
By the grace of God, we're sending five men to the novitiate in Rosemead, Calif., next month--our current batch of prenovices, Ron Chauca, Branden Gordon, Josh Sciullo, Simon Song, and Fr. Derek Van Daniker.

We have two young men starting the candidacy program.  Since they already have college degrees, they'll be posted to Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey rather than the formation community in Orange. (Fr. Jim Heuser, the director at DBP, is a former master of novices as well as former provincial and knows a bit about the formation of candidates.)

Fr. Ken Rodes, who's been here in N.R., will take up the administrative position of Bro. Kevin Connolly at the SDB retirement home in Tampa, and Bro. Kevin will come up here to join our community.

Fr. Paul Grauls
Fr. Paul Grauls leaves Nativity Church in Washington, from which the SDBs are withdrawing, and will go to Mary Help of Christians Center in Tampa as part of the pastoral team there (parish, youth center, retreat center).

Fr. Tom assures us that there will be more assignments, especially after some of the necessary arrangements with dioceses have been made (for parish postings).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 6, 2014
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.

“O God, in the abasement of your Son you have raised up a fallen world” (Collect).

We resumed Ordinary Time the day after Pentecost, June 9.  Finally, we celebrate an Ordinary Sunday instead of some special feast, as we’ve done the last 3 Sundays.

The Collect this evening could very well have been an Easter season collect with its contrasting themes:  abasement and raising up, slavery and gladness.  The reference to slavery is also nicely timed with our Independence Day weekend—only by coincidence, to be sure, for such things don’t figure into the calculations of those who prepare the liturgical books in Rome.

God’s Son was abased, our prayer says, brought low from his place in heaven.  There’s an allusion there to the early Christian hymn that St. Paul quotes in Philippians:  “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as human beings are” (2:6-7 NJB).  Altho human beings tend to consider ourselves the peak of God’s creation—and that’s right in a theological sense—yet it’s a comedown for the Son of God to become human, a far bigger descent in dignity and splendor than any monarch ever suffered on being overthrown and cast into prison.

The Latin word in the Collect translated as “abasement” is humilitas, which in other contexts might be rendered “humility.”  Its root is humus, “earth, dirt.”  Our utmost lowliness as human beings is related to our earthiness; and this is what God’s Son took on, “assuming the condition of a slave, becoming as human beings are.”  In fact, human, too, comes from humus.  The traditional words of Ash Wednesday cut to the core of our being:  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The Son’s abasement or humiliation in our human condition had a purpose:  to “raise up a fallen world.”  Christ didn’t sink into our human muck and get stuck there; he grabbed hold of our humanity and thru his resurrection and ascension elevated it to the same place where he’d come from, the throne of God.  Christ has restored to humanity the dignity we had when 1st we came from God’s hand, before we fell into sin and rebellion, into hatred, into loathing goodness like Mordred in Camelot (“Fie on goodness, fie!”); before we fell into “slavery to sin.”

This weekend we celebrate our freedom and the aspirations of the entire human race for freedom—aspirations we sometimes find in July 4 rhetoric and do find scattered in elements of the day’s liturgy.  July 4, of course, is about political liberty and its related themes like economic and religious freedom.  We’ve just concluded our 3d consecutive Fortnight of Freedom, trying to raise public awareness of current threats to religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

But when the Collect speaks of slavery, it specifies “to sin.”  God’s Son has rescued us not from political tyranny but from diabolic tyranny, from the rule of sin, of hatred, of selfishness, of despair in our lives, from what St. Paul calls the works of the flesh (Rom 8:9-13)—our personal lives and our lives as a community of human beings.  God’s Son took the condition of a slave and was tempted as we are; unlike us, he lived always in freedom, not yielding to the devil.

Through the forgiveness of our sins in Christ, we’re “rescued” or redeemed or restored to friendship with God.  We’re empowered to live in the Spirit like Jesus, to do the deeds of the Spirit.  We’re given hope of inheriting heaven with Jesus, of attaining the gift of “eternal gladness” alongside our Risen Savior.  We pray God to fill us, his faithful people, “with holy joy.”

Joy comes from being in God’s grace, from living as his children, and that joy is holy because it’s based on God’s own life filling our souls, our hearts, our very existence.  This joy spills out of us and infuses the community:  our families, our workplaces, our social interactions, even our political interactions as we live out our relationship with Jesus—a relationship that leads us to imitate his virtues, to make his goodness our own:  his “graciousness,” his “mercy,” his “great kindness,” his “compassion,” his “faithfulness” (Ps 145).