Sunday, August 31, 2014

Homily for the 22d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
22d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Aug. 31, 2014
Rom 12: 1-2
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Rom 12: 1).

In the ancient world, the Jewish people offered sacrifice to God, and pagans to their supposed gods, in several ways, including burning incense, pouring out wine on an altar, setting aside bread or other food, and especially animal sacrifice:  bulls, sheep, goats, and fowl.  Paul’s readers in Rome would’ve been very familiar with all those practices carried out in the temples of the pagan gods.  In some places, as we read in the OT and we know from the history of the Americas, human sacrifice was practiced.

Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac, with a ram caught in a bush nearby--
mosaic in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington
Christ changed all that for his followers.  As the Letter to the Hebrews says, he offered his body once for all (7:27).  No further sacrifice is necessary beyond the body of Christ offered on the cross.  Nothing more need be poured out beyond his blood.

It’s precisely his body and blood that we offer in the Eucharist, offering him to the Father as a sacrifice of praise and atonement, uniting our wills, our hearts, our minds with all that Jesus brought to Calvary—with all of Jesus that was raised up by the Father on the 3d day, so that we might be raised up with Jesus.

But this morning St. Paul urges us to take another sacrificial step:  “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.”

A living sacrifice, not a dead one, like the animals slain upon an ancient altar, and their bodies then either burned or consumed in a sacred meal.

How do we followers of Christ offer our bodies as living sacrifices?  I’ll suggest 3 ways.

1st, when we come to worship the Father thru Christ our Lord, led by the Holy Spirit, we worship not only with our souls and our minds but with our bodies.  Some Christians really put their bodies into their worship—the “holy roller” type and those we call charismatics.  In some cultures, even ordinary Catholic worship is extremely lively; if you’ve ever been to the Bahamas or to Africa, you’ve seen that, and you might very well see it in an Afro-American parish.  The more sedate Catholic culture that we’re familiar with, whether it’s influenced by the Irish or the Italians or the Germans or the Poles, doesn’t go for the shaking, the dancing, the hand-waving, and shouting “Hallelujah” and “Amen” during the sermon.  But we still worship God with our bodies:  we sit, we kneel, we stand, we process, we respond verbally, we sing, we burn incense, we light candles, we use art and music, we celebrate sacraments that appeal to our senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell—we pour water and smear oil, we touch and taste the Holy Eucharist, we vocalize our sins and hear the words of divine pardon, husbands and wives give their bodies to each other, in all of this worshiping God with our bodies, offering our whole bodies and our whole hearts to God in union with Christ’s self-offering.

Yes, we use water!
I think I lifted this pic from The Deacon's Bench
2d, we offer God the aches and pains and trials of every day that come to us with and thru our bodies.  How many of you went to Catholic school?  How many times did Sister tell you, “Offer it up” when something hurt or the weather was hot or you were disappointed by something that happened (or didn’t happen)?  Once we reach a certain age, when we wake up in the morning, one of our 1st thoughts is, “What hurts today?  Is it my back, my hip, my knees, my shoulder, my arthritic hands?”  Then there are medical procedures and physical therapy, restricted diets, limits on physical activity that we enjoy.  Younger folks struggle to get up in the morning to go to work or get the kids ready for school.  Some of us do manual work, whether it’s cleaning the house, maintaining the car, laying brick, landscaping, craftsmanship, typing, working machinery.  The weather doesn’t please us because it’s hot and humid, or cold and damp, or it’s rained on our picnic (the heat and threat of thunderstorms forecast for this afternoon and evening have induced Fr. Jim Mulloy and me to cancel a camping trip).  In all of this, our bodies come into play.  It’s all something we can offer to God “as a living sacrifice,” as “spiritual worship” because our interior intention presents it humbly to him.

Nor does this offering of our bodies have to be something difficult or painful.  We can also offer God something we enjoy.  There’s a story about St. Teresa of Avila enjoying a delicious meal and praising God for his goodness.  Yes, we praise God for the legitimate pleasures of life—fine food, pleasant weather, good exercise, the beauties of nature, family gatherings, the holy sacrament of matrimony.  This too is our “spiritual worship” when we present it to God with gratitude.

3d, we offer our bodies as a sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, when we turn away from temptations that appeal to our senses in a way that’s harmful to ourselves or others, temptations to illegitimate pleasures.  Some of the 7 deadly sins involve our bodies:  lust, gluttony, and sloth directly; avarice, envy, anger, and pride may involve them indirectly.  To tell ourselves NO to an excess of food or drink, to laziness, to a pornographic impulse (or a worse kind), to an urge to possess more and more stuff that we don’t need, to the feeling that comes (at least initially) from getting even with someone is an offering of our bodies to God.

A final note:  Paul alludes to “the mercies of God” in this self-offering.  It is a gift from God, a mercy of God, that we’re able to take part in Christ’s sacrifice, whether it’s the sacraments or any other form of offering ourselves as living, holy, and pleasing sacrifices.  God’s mercy doesn’t just forgive our sins but calls us higher—to this sacred union of our bodies and souls with our Savior Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 25, 2014

More 2014-2015 Assignments

More 2014-2015 Assignments

On Aug. 15 and 22, two feasts of our Blessed Mother, Fr. Tom Dunne announced additional pastoral assignments for the SDBs of the New Rochelle Province. Various of these had required confirmation from the dioceses concerned.

Fr. Steve Shafran
Fr. Steve Shafran has been appointed director of the community in Silver Spring-Takoma Park, Md., in addition to continuing as president of Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS. He replaces Fr. George Hanna as director. Fr. Steve was director-president of Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., from 1998 to 2004.

In Edmonton, Alta., two confreres were appointed pastors: Fr. Antony Fernando at St. Andrew Parish, and Fr. John Mariaparagrasam at Annunciation Parish. Both of these priests are on loan to our province from the Madras Province.

Fr. John DiFiore, who was pastor of St. Rosalie Church in Harvey, La., goes to St. Philip Benizi Parish in Belle Glade, Fla., as assistant pastor and youth minister.

Fr. Larry Urban, who has been pastor of St. John Bosco Church in Harvey, will serve also as pastor of St. Rosalie. He'll be assisted at St. Rosalie by Fr. George Hanna, former pastor of Nativity Church in Washington, from which the SDBs withdrew in July.

Fr. Don Delaney has been assigned to St. Petersburg Catholic HS to help with pastoral work and some school work.

Bro. Craig Spence will reside at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey while continuing his postnovitiate formation and college studies.

Two confreres have been assigned to the formation staff of the house in Orange, N.J.: Fr. Javier Aracil, leaving St. Anthony Church in Elizabeth, and Fr. Vince Pazckowski, transferred from Corpus Christi in Port Chester, N.Y.

As already noted in July, the SDBs have withdrawn from St. Anthony in Elizabeth. The former pastor, Fr. Pat Angelucci, has joined the staff of the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw. Fr. Tom Brennan, the SDB liaison to the United Nations, was in residence at St. Anthony and has moved to Holy Rosary in Port Chester.
Fr. John Cosgrove

Fr. John Cosgrove has been appointed pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Port Chester, succeeding Fr. Tom Ruekert.

Fr. Miguel Suarez moves from the provincial house to Holy Rosary and Corpus Christi as assistant pastor and youth minister for both parishes.

Fr. Mike Leschinsky has become a member of the provincial residence community here in New Rochelle.

We think this concludes the assignments for the coming year!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Homily for 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Aug. 24, 2014
Matt 16: 13-20
Woodbadge Scouters, Putnam Valley, N.Y.

“Jesus … asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt 16: 13).

Jesus has been traveling around Galilee, preaching, healing, and debating (or arguing) with people opposed to his message and his manner.  Last Sunday he’d gone out of Jewish territory into what is Lebanon today, and in today’s gospel we find him and the apostles still beyond Jewish boundaries—today it’s in the disputed territory of the Golan Heights.

Jesus is alone with the 12 for a while that he might instruct them privately.  Next week, in a passage that immediately follows this week’s, he’s going to warn them for the 1st time of his coming passion and death.

In the light of that future, today he asks them what people think about him—the profession of pollster not having been invented yet, or Facebook.  So the apostles tell him what they’ve been hearing from people in the crowds around Jesus and perhaps around their dinner tables at home (if they weren’t hanging with Jesus 24/7—some of them may have been young and unattached enuf to do that, but others were married and presumably had families; for sure, they all had Jewish mothers!).

But after they report the various opinions comes the critical question:  “Who do you say that I am?” (16:15).  Regardless of what the crowds think of Jesus, or what the scribes and Pharisees think, the 12 must think, and speak, for themselves.  Each individual must make his own decision about Jesus.  Who is he?

The answer that a person gives to that question determines his response to Jesus himself—to his message, to his person, to his invitations:  “Come, follow me”; “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15); “As I have loved you, you must love one another” (John 13:34).

Simon answers Jesus’ question:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16).  Christos is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means “anointed.”  Peter has identified Jesus as God’s anointed one, his agent for saving Israel and someone enjoying a very special relationship with God.  In the common understanding or expectation of the time, the Messiah would restore the kingdom of Israel with power and glory, and perhaps usher in the final age of the world, remade into a new Eden.  Because of this expectation, Jesus tells his disciples at the end of today’s gospel “to tell no one that he was the Christ” (16:20).

Undoubtedly Peter doesn’t understand, either, what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah.  More about that in next week’s gospel, when Jesus predicts his passion, death, and resurrection and Peter refuses to believe it.

Jesus addresses his question not only to the 12 but to everyone:  “Who do you say that I am?”  How we answer that is the crucial answer of our lives; our lives, here and hereafter, depend upon our answer.  Sometimes one’s answer can cost him his flesh-and-blood life, as numerous Christians find out regularly in Iraq, Nigeria, and other places.  If James Foley, a devout Catholic, had been willing to convert to Islam, he’d still be alive.

If Jesus is only a wise man like Buddha or Ben Franklin, then we may read and study his words, and take or leave them as seems best to us, based on what other wise persons have taught on our own experience, or on the fear of persecution.

Likewise, if Jesus is a respected prophet like Francis of Assisi or MLK, but nothing more.

But if we answer with Simon Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the implications are vastly different.  No longer may we study Jesus’ words and weigh them against what other wise persons or prophets have said, or our own experience.  Rather, we are compelled to weigh our experience and the wisdom of others against Jesus’ words, to measure everything in the light of his teaching, his way of life, his call to follow him.  “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” Paul writes to the Corinthians.  “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (I, 1:18,25)

In the gospel today we hear, further, of the wonderful provision that Jesus made so that we might know securely—with our eternal destiny in the balance—what Jesus teaches, what Jesus requires of us, what is truly divine wisdom and not merely human “wisdom.”

Jesus declares that he will found a community—the Greek word is ekklesia, “an assembly of the citizens who’ve been called together,” which we commonly translate as “church.”  He’ll build this community upon Peter, a name that means “rock.”  Furthermore, “the gates of the netherworld”—the Greek word is hades—shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).  The world of death—the netherworld—and death’s cause (sin), and sin’s special agent (Satan), shall not overcome Christ’s Church, which he has built upon Peter.  If we are part of this community, if we are linked with Peter, salvation from the power of Satan, from sin, and from eternal death is available to us.  Jesus guarantees it.

Jesus handing the keys to Peter by Perugino, in the Sistine Chapel
Jesus goes further, giving to Peter “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” (16:19); hence our image of Peter as the keeper of the pearly gates in both art and jokes.  Jesus gives Peter the authority to bind and to loose:  to loose people from their sins by admitting them to the sacraments and membership in the community, to bind them in their sins by judging their lack of repentance; to pass authoritative judgment on matters of faith and morals that bind our consciences as disciples of Jesus.

An example from contemporary Church life and discipleship:  A couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with some old friends.  The topic of marriage and annulments came up.  One of the party said, “I don’t think you need an annulment”; in effect, just divorce, remarry, and carry on your normal religious life.  That kind of remark seems to indicate that someone hasn’t been listening to Jesus, who says that whoever divorces and remarries commits adultery; that teaching’s preserved in 3 of the gospels (Matt 5:32; Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18), so it isn’t just a “rumor” or a whim of the Pope.  If Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, do we have to take that teaching to heart, or can we just blow it off?  Hence the role of his community, the Church, in passing judgment—binding or loosing—on the nature of marriage, the requirements of marriage, and finally the validity or nullity of a particular marriage.

The good news is that by listening to the Church, and to Peter in particular, we can’t go astray:  the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail over the truth, over our faith, over God’s grace touching us thru the Church.  Peter’s role is carried on by his successors as bishop of Rome.  When Peter speaks authoritatively on a matter of faith or of right and wrong—not on some ordinary topic like whether San Lorenzo is the best soccer team in the world (that’s Pope Francis’s team)—we know that Peter speaks for Christ, Son of the living God, and he points to us the path toward the kingdom of heaven.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

SDBs Celebrate Perpetual Profession, First Profession

SDBs Celebrate Perpetual Profession, First Profession

The New Rochelle Province was blessed on August 16 with the perpetual profession of Bro. Wilgintz Polynice, SDB, and the first profession of Bro. Rafael Vargas, SDB.

The Rite of Religious Profession was celebrated during Mass on August 16 in the chapel of the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y. Fr. Tom Dunne, SDB, provincial, presided and preached. Thirty-one priests, almost all of them Salesians, concelebrated, and a large congregation of Salesian brothers, sisters, and Cooperators participated in addition to the families and friends of Bros. Wilgintz and Rafael.

Bro. Jean Wilgintz Wilgintz, 41, made his first profession as a Salesian on August 16, 2007, at Port Chester, N.Y., where he had made his novitiate. He was born at Fonds-Parisien, Haiti, in 1973 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1998. He was a member of St. Joseph’s Parish in Spring Valley, N.Y., before entering the Salesian candidacy program in Orange, N.J., in 2004. He was attracted to the Salesians because “they walk with the poor and embrace everyone without discrimination.” After his immediate postnovitiate formation in Orange, he did his practical training at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw in 2011-2013, and then returned to Orange to begin theological studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary in South Orange.
Holding a candle lit from the paschal candle, reminding everyone of Baptism's infusing us
with the light of the risen Christ, Bro. Wilgintz pronounces his perpetual vows.

Bro. Rafael Ramon Vargas, 22, is a native of Fair Lawn, N.J., and is the son of Rafael and Carmen Vargas. He is a graduate of Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., and was a parishioner of St. Therese Church on Paterson’s East Side. While he was at DBP, he was particularly influenced in discerning his vocation by Frs. Jay Horan and Steve Ryan. He entered the Salesian candidacy program at Orange in August 2010 and did his prenovitiate year in Port Chester in 2012-2013. Fr. Bill Keane guided him through the novitiate year in Rosemead, Calif., for the last year.

Bro. Rafael professed as a coadjutor brother and will work toward a B.A. in Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University while continuing his Salesian formation at Orange. He would like eventually to make pastoral counseling his specialized ministry for the young.
Literally backed by his parents, Bro. Rafael Vargas
makes his first profession of vows as a Salesian of Don Bosco.
Bro. Rafael describes his hopes for these postnovitiate years thus: “I hope that I can truly live out being a true Salesian. To truly be committed to my community, to the young, and to living out the vows. I hope that in my studies, ministries, and in all the other things I do I may be able to do it with great passion and zeal. These next few years are a time to grow and learn, so I’m ready to go for it full force.”

Fr. Tom Dunne received the vows of both brothers. In his homily he noted the connection between Baptism and religious consecration—a connection brought out explicitly in the Rite of Perpetual Profession through the use of the paschal candle and references to “the light of Christ.” Both Baptism and religious profession are responses to God’s loving call to a disciple, who in turn seeks a more intimate union with God.

The response of the professed Salesian, Fr. Tom said, includes reflecting on the call and deepening the union, striving to live “the grace of unity,” doing everything—prayer, ministry, study, community living—with love and without limits of time or degree.

The readings that Bros. Wilgintz and Rafael chose for the day were Jer 1:4-9, Phil 4:4-9, and Luke 4:16-21. Fr. Tom pointed out that religious life, like the readings, takes one in a counter-cultural direction. The Salesian speaks for the poor and those on the margin of society. He proclaims a message of Christ crucified, which is an embarrassment to the world. The practices, activities, and expertise that he brings to community and apostolate are not enough; he needs a heart rooted in divine wisdom.

The perpetually professed confrere is presented with a cross stamped with the image of Christ the Good Shepherd. The newly professed receives a medal of Don Bosco and a copy of the SDB Rule.

Nine SDBs Renew Their Vows

Nine SDBs Renew Their Vows

The New Rochelle Province was blessed on August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, by the renewal of profession of nine young confreres. They renewed their vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity during Mass in the chapel of the Don Bosco Retreat Center at Haverstraw, N.Y., where they were on their annual retreat with about 25 other Salesians and the newly commissioned Salesian Lay Missioners (see ). Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial, presided at the Mass, received their vows, and preached.

Part of the congregation of SLMs and SDBs at
Assumption-profession Mass on Aug. 15
Bros. Lenny Carlino, Eddy Chincha, Steve DeMaio, Steve Eguino, Travis Gunther, John Langan, Craig Spence, and Dieunel Victor renewed vows for one year. Bro. Adam Dupré renewed for three years. (In recent years, it is the practice that SDBs make annual vows for their first 3 years of profession, then one profession of triennial vows before perpetual profession. It’s not uncommon, however, for a confrere to extend his temporary profession by a year or 2 before making perpetual, or final, vows.)

Bro. Steve Eguino reading at Mass
Fr. Tom’s homily linked the Virgin Mary to profession. The reading from Revelation (11:19; 12:1-6,10)  reveals that Mary is integral for the grace of salvation of all people because God sent his Son through a woman. Mary was invited to a special relationship with God: as mother and as participant in the plan of salvation. She said “yes” and responded with her Magnificat (Luke 1:39-56), attributing everything to God and placing herself as his servant. She entered a relationship of intimate union with God. Her relationship with her cousin Elizabeth was one of tender charity and great service. She exemplifies the mysticism, community, and service to which the Salesian is called.

Fr. Tom also pointed to Mary’s role as Don Bosco’s guide and support, given to him in his first dream when he was bewildered by the command to turn wild animals into gentle lambs. Mary became their shepherdess. She fills the same roles of guide, support, and shepherdess for Salesians. She is also an example of evangelization and reaching out to the poor.

From the left: Bros. Steve DeMaio, Travis Gunther, Adam Dupre,
Steve Eguino (in back), and Lenny Carlino; Fr. Tom Dunne;
Bros. Craig Spence, Eddy Chincha, Dieunel Victor, and John Langan

Salesians Commission 20 Lay Missioners

Salesians Commission
20 Lay Missioners

The SDBs of the St. Philip the Apostle Province commissioned 15 young women and 5 young men as lay missionary volunteers on Thursday, Aug. 14, at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw, N.Y. As Salesian Lay Missioners, they’ll serve for a year at Salesian missions, or those of a similar nature, in Tampa and Belle Glade, Fla., and in Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, and South Sudan. Most will begin their service in September.
The commissioning took place at a Mass within a retreat that included the 20 SLMs and about 35 SDBs. Fr. Tom Dunne, our provincial, presided over the Mass and the commissioning rite, and Fr. Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle, preached the homily.

Introducing the Mass, Fr. Tom linked the commissioning rite, as well as the upcoming rites of religious profession, with the union with Jesus Christ that began with the Baptism of everyone involved.

Fr. Mark observed that each of the SLMs had heard Christ call her or his name and had responded with a willingness to head into a place unknown to make Christ known and carry on his mission of sharing the Father’s love for humanity. Like the saint of the day, Maximilian Kolbe, they’re called to “give up” and to “hold fast”: to give up their lives—or a piece of their lives—for the sake of others, and to hold fast to the Church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel.

Fr. Tom blessing the missionary crosses, assisted by Slavka (hidden) and Adam
The 20 SLMs range in age from 20 to 31 and include a married couple. They come from Arizona, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

They include graduates from Bowling Green, De Sales, Indiana Southeast, James Madison, John Carroll, Long Beach State, Northern Colorado, Notre Dame, Rutgers, St. Edward’s, Vanderbilt, and Western Carolina universities and Belmont Abbey and Cabrini colleges.

Several have been employed for a few years since college, e.g., in church ministry, in hospitality, and as teachers.

As missioners they’ll serve in youth centers, orphanages, middle schools, high schools, catechetical programs, and retreat programs. Those who will teach in academic settings will instruct in English language, computer science, accounting, and secretarial skills.

The SLMs expect to serve primarily with a “ministry of presence” and to grow as Christians by loving, as unconditionally as they can, the children and young adults to whom they are being sent.

The volunteers had a rigorous screening before being accepted into the program. Immediately prior to their commissioning they had more than three weeks of orientation, which included an introduction to St. John Bosco and the Salesians, cross-cultural training, a week’s service in the Salesian summer day camp at Port Chester, and a retreat. Most will have a month or so to close up personal business and say good-byes before departing for their assignments.
Part of the SLMs orientation involves camaraderie, forged in part by an outing to Bear Mountain State Park (on a somewhat wet Aug. 12 this year). Your humble blogger celebrated Mass with them before lunch in one of the pavilions, and then we all hiked up the 1,300' mountain.
The orientation weeks were planned by the SLM director, Adam Rudin, with Fr. Mark. Mr. Rudin led the orientation with generous and capable assistance from returned SLMs Amber Kraft (Bolivia, 2009-2012) and Michelle Webb (India, 2009-2010) and a leader in the Slovak Province’s volunteer program, Slavka Brigantova.

The Salesian Lay Missioner program has sent thousands of young (and sometimes older) volunteers to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and U.S.-based missions over the last 30 years. The SLM program is based at Salesian Missions in New Rochelle.

This year’s batch will be missioned to:
            Bolivia: Cochabamba                          Karen Dziekonska
                                                                        Brittany Redmond

            Bolivia: Montero                                  Kelsey Lamb
                                                                        Gabbi Poetzl
                                                                        Cara Welker

            Bolivia: Santa Cruz                              Jamie Korsgaden
                                                                                Becky Lograsso

            Bolivia: Yapacani                                Connor Bergeron

            Brazil: Manaus                                     Tara Bailey
                                                                        Molly Young

            Cambodia: Phnom Penh                      Amanda Cisneros
                                                                        Maggie Hutchison
                                                                        Clare Pressimone
                                                                        Sarah Taylor

            South Sudan: Gumbo (Juba)                Matt Bauer
                                                                        Kevin Kho

            Florida: Belle Glade                             Matt Marinelli

            Florida: Tampa                                    Jennifer Kennymore

Part of every Salesian retreat is a short entertainment on its last nite, following supper. When the SLMs are taking part, they also provide some numbers, usually of a musical sort.  Some are some serious songs or poetry, some are light-hearted.  And then there was this:

Clare wrote the lyrics to that little number called "Don Bosco's Style":

1. It’s Don Bosco Style.
Don Bosco Style?
We are all here ’cause we have something in common.
Put on this earth to do so much more than walk on.
You know we heard the call to love all of God’s children.
Led by that guy from Turin.

2. Don Bosco said, it ain’t enough to simply love them, no.
Don Bosco said, they got to know that lovin’ feelin’, go!

3. Don Bosco called, each one of us to serve around the world, around the world, all around the world.
We’re from New York, PA, and Cali, New Jersey, MO, Canada, Ohio,
Texas, Holland, Mass, Virginia, Mexico, Rhode Island, yo!
We got so many in this province here alone-one-one-one!

4. That’s Don Bosco Style.
Bosco Style.

5. That’s Don Bosco Style. 
Bosco Style.

6. That’s Don Bosco Style.
Heyyyyyyyyyy, Mother Mary,
Help, Help, Help, help, help, Help of Christians,
Heyyyyyyyyyy, Mother Mary,
Pray, pray for us, pray-ay-ay-ay-ay.

When he was a kid John Bosco had some dreams and visions.
He felt the call to be a priest and help all age of chilluns.
He answered loud, and devoted life to Mary, opened or-a-tories, what?
Home, Church and school, and playground were the four important parts,
But most of all, Bosco called all of us to work with heart,
No matter where, we gotta use that reason, religion, kindness, around the world, all around the world.

We SLMs head off to Asia, Florida, Bolivia,
South Sudan, Cambodia, and Brazil, that’s where we go!
Evangelizin’ as Salesians! Yeah, yeah, yeahhhh!
That’s Don Bosco style.
Bosco Style.
That’s Don Bosco style.
Bosco Style.
That’s Don Bosco style.

Heyyyyyyyyyy, Mother Mary,
Help, Help, Help, help, help, Help of Christians,
Heyyyyyyyyyy, Mother Mary,
Pray, pray for us, pray-ay-ay-ay-ay.

Our time with you is coming to an end, so we just have to say, listen up,
Our time with you is coming to an end, but we just want to say: Thank you SDBs!
All together now!

Heyyyyy, Mother Mary,
Help, Help, Help, help, help, Help of Christians,
Heyyyyyy, Mother Mary,
Pray, pray for us, pray-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay.
That’s Don Bosco Style!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Homily for 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Matt 15: 21-28
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
Aug. 17, 2014                                                             

“A Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, ‘Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!’” (Matt 15: 22).
Christ & the Canaanite Woman
Juan de Flandes, c. 1500
The gospel reading today is one of the more challenging passages in the NT.  Jesus seems to be a little hard-hearted, reluctant to help someone in need.  What’s going on?

Earlier in this chapter, Matt 15, Jesus has been arguing with the scribes and Pharisees (15:1-9) and dealing with his own disciples’ lack of understanding (15:10-20).  Now Jesus has left Jewish territory; it would seem—we can’t say, for sure, on the basis of what Matthew tells us—that he wants to get a break, get some R&R.

If something like that is the case, this Canaanite woman is interrupting the peace and rest that Jesus and the apostles are seeking and, no doubt, need.  She’s intruding.

She is, moreover, a Gentile, a non-Jew, a pagan.  The Jews would naturally be prejudiced against her, look down on her, and want nothing to do with her.  Jesus doesn’t automatically act that way—when a Roman centurion came to him with a similar plea, he was very receptive (Matt 8:5-13)—but he does initially ignore this woman and then speak harshly and dismissively to her, it certainly appears.

This woman even comes with faith.  Notice how she addresses Jesus:  “Lord, Son of David.”  Tho not Jewish, she recognizes him as Messiah!  She’s steps ahead of the apostles, even, in that recognition, and way ahead of the scribes and Pharisees who are giving Jesus such a hard time.  She probably doesn’t have a deep understanding of what Jesus’ messiahship means—the apostles haven’t got a clue, either—but she recognizes that he has power over the demons.  She appeals to him for a kind of salvation—not eternal salvation but liberation from this demon who “is tormenting her daughter, whatever that may mean.  She makes the cry of a concerned mother:  Jesus, Lord, save my daughter!

When the disciples beg Jesus to shoo her away—“She’s a pest!  Get rid of her!” (cf. 15:23)—he answers them that his mission is to Israel, not the Gentiles.  Jesus demonstrates the very issue that the early Church would struggle with for at least a generation, maybe longer:  Is Jesus the Savior of all people, or only of the Jews?  Does God care about the pagans, or only the Jews?  Here, he limits himself, and God’s care, to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24).

She pleads again with him.  Her address, “Lord” a 2d time, could be taken to refer again to Jesus as Messiah, the way that title is used in Ps 110, for example (not that this woman from Phoenicia would have known Ps 110).  The other way of using the title Lord is as a divine address, the equivalent of YHWH, God’s personal name:  e.g., when St. Paul proclaims in Philippians, “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”(2:11).  The woman could be recognizing Jesus’ divine power, which not even the apostles have done yet.

And again, Jesus denies her—with an insult!  “It’s not right to take the children’s food”—God’s gifts to Israel—“and throw it to the dogs” (15:26).  He’s calling her a Gentile, a dog—as great an insult as you can utter in the Middle East.  Dogs are scavengers that roam the streets and the fields.  They’re unclean.  They’re not welcome in polite society.

But the woman’s not insulted, or at least doesn’t indicate she is.  She’s humble, realizing that she’s imposing on Jesus and is crossing the line of a cultural taboo, the line of separation between Jews and Gentiles, like that between Jew and Palestinian today.

She’s also quick-witted.  She has a comeback:  Yes, you might have to feed the kids first; but the dogs get the table scraps! (15:27)

Jesus admires that.  He’s also aware that the scribes and Pharisees have been refusing to come to the table of his teaching, his healing power, and his forgiveness.  So what should happen with the “leftovers” that they won’t partake of?  Even more, he can’t resist this woman’s faith—the faith that acknowledges he’s the Messiah, that he’s the devil’s master, that he acts with God’s own power, that he can save anyone.  “Woman, great is your faith,” he exclaims.  “I grant your wish” (15:28).

By listening to the prayer of a Gentile woman, Jesus also signals how the Church will eventually settle the great argument—not too strong a word—about whether to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles.  Those, like St. Paul, in favor of taking in the Gentiles could point back to Jesus’ own actions:  responding not to blood or nationality, but to faith.  It’s faith in Jesus Christ that saves us, not our race or external religion.

This Canaanite woman shows us what faith-filled prayer is like.  She’s persistent.  She’s not put off.  She won’t take no as God’s final answer.  She just keeps at it, even to the point of annoying the heck out of the apostles (which probably didn’t take much).

She’s humble.  She knows she needs help.  She can’t save her daughter, as none of us can resolve our most fundamental concerns, especially those of the heart and the soul.  She pleads, perhaps on her knees, perhaps prostrate, completely helpless—which is the only position in which God can help us.  That, as you may know, is the starting point for A.A. and similar groups; it’s the necessary starting point of our spiritual lives.  I don’t have the answers.  I don’t know how to overcome my sins.  I don’t know how to get to heaven.  I need God.  I need Jesus as my Savior.

A 3d thing about this woman, a very interesting thing, is that she talks back!  She debates with Jesus.  She does this with the humility to accept an insult but with openness and sincerity.  “You have a point,” she tells him, “but how about thinking about this?”  Yes, we can argue with God—a tradition as old as the prophet Jeremiah and the Book of Job—complain to God, even tell God off, so long as we’re speaking from our hearts and ultimately are prepared to do his will, as Jesus did.

Those 3 ingredients—persistence, humility, and sincere dialog with God—are great faith and true prayer.

Homily for 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Aug. 10, 2014
Matt 14: 22-33
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

“When it was evening, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.  When it was evening he was there alone” (Matt 14: 23).

What we hear in the gospel today immediately follows last week’s story of how Jesus miraculously fed “the vast crowd” with 5 loaves and 2 fish (Matt 14:13-21).  In St. John’s account of this episode (6:1-15), the people react by wanting to make Jesus their king; they want to overthrow Herod and replace him with Jesus.  And Jesus flees.  Matthew doesn’t voice that concern, the danger of a political revolution.  But perhaps it lies behind Jesus’ sending his disciples away; he doesn’t want them catching any revolutionary fever from the crowd and misunderstanding what his real mission is—they already misunderstand it badly enuf!

In any case, Jesus is alone, and he turns to prayer.  Have you ever noticed, as you read the gospels, that Jesus is the only one who prays?  The best the disciples can do is ask him to teach them to pray—and that’s mentioned only once, by Luke, as coming from one disciple (11:1).  Even when he invites them, pleads with them, to pray with him in Gethsemane, all they can do is fall asleep (Matt 26:36-45).
Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (detail),
Marian Shrine, Haverstraw, N.Y.

Jesus alone prays.  Jesus alone is totally united with the Father.  Jesus alone does God’s will completely during his earthly life.  He speaks truth, does good, is always faithful.  All of that is grounded in the union of his will with God’s will, a union that comes—as regards Jesus’ human nature—from prayer.

If we wish to be faithful disciples of Jesus, people who live the truth and do good, people completely devoted to God—holy Christians, in other words—we must pray.  When that one disciple asked him to teach them to pray, he taught them the Our Father, which is the model for our prayer, whatever words we may use, whatever aspirations may surface in our hearts.

Only prayer unites us with our Father in heaven, as it kept Jesus in his human nature united with the Father thru temptations and trials.  A song from Jesus Christ Superstar poses the possibility that Jesus could’ve abandoned the Father’s will:

Nazareth, your famous Son
Should have stayed a great unknown
Like His father carving wood
He'd have made good.
Tables, chairs and oaken chests
Would have suited Jesus best--
He'd have caused nobody harm, no one alarm!

It’s thru his humanity that Jesus redeems us, and without his human cooperation with the divine will, we wouldn’t have been saved.  Only prayer enables us to discern God’s work in our lives and his will for us, that we might speak and act the way he wants us to—as followers of Jesus.

The gospel passage stresses that Jesus is alone as he prays.  There is another meaning, another implication here, another necessary lesson.  However important community is for us, however important God’s people is in our lives, in our spiritual growth, in supporting us—each one of us is responsible for himself or herself before God.  No one else can take our place in developing and maintaining a virtuous life, a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ and his Father, a life full of love for God and neighbor.  No one else will have to give an account of our lives to the Supreme Judge.  At that tribunal we’ll be alone—with our dearest friend and our Savior if we have personally given ourselves to him and have lived for him as best we can.  Or we’ll be alone and terrified before the Judge if we haven’t been faithful Christians, haven’t kept the Commandments and practiced the Beatitudes (which Pope Francis said last week every Christian should memorize because they’re the path for happiness for every person and are “a portrait of Jesus and his way of life”)[1]; we’ll be alone and terrified before the Judge if we don’t recognize him because we haven’t spoken with him and lived with him.  Only we can commit ourselves to Jesus.  Only we can make the choice to follow him.

If we do walk with Jesus, of course we’ll never be alone, and we’ll never have to fear.  He repeatedly tells his disciples, as he does today, “Don’t be afraid” (14:27)—don’t be afraid because he’s with us.  If we walk with Jesus, we will not sink (cf. 14:30).  If we walk with Jesus, we may dare to call [God] our Father,” as today’s Collect says, and be confident that we do come before the Judge of the World, “we may merit to enter the inheritance [God has] promised” to his sons and daughters (Collect).

                [1] Audience, Aug. 6, 2014.