Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Salesian Volunteer Programs

Salesian Volunteer Programs

Many SDB and FMA provinces sponsor programs that enable young people--and some not so young, too--to volunteer their services, their time, their attitudes, and their love for less advantaged youngsters in other parts of the world.  For example, such volunteer programs exist in the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, Japan, Korea, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Poland, and the Czech Republic, to list those that come readily to my mind.

We've blogged here every August about the Salesian Lay Missioners, a program of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle that sends volunteers presently to Bolivia, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and sites in the U.S.  For example, go to http://sdbnews.blogspot.com/2014/08/salesians-commission-20-lay-missioners.html

The SLM Website provides a "blogroll" whereby you can follow posts from many of the volunteers about their lives, activities, spiritual reflections, challenges, friendships, and apostolates.

Salesian Volunteers, the program of the San Francisco Province, has just come up with a fine promotional video.  This program places volunteers in California and Mexico.

Both U.S. programs--the one in New Rochelle and the one in California--take volunteers from anywhere in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. See their Web sites for more information!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Homily for 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Oct. 26, 2014
1 Thess 1: 5-10
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thess 1: 6-7).

We began reading 1 Thess last week, and so we know that the “us” and “we” of today’s reading are Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, who have brought the Gospel to Thessalonica.  Their preaching seems to have been very successful, and if Paul’s testimony in this passage is true, that success would seem to be in part because the missionaries have backed their preaching by their actions:  “You know what sort of people we were among you” (1:5), people worthy of imitation.

If the whole Church is missionary, as the 2d Vatican Council has reminded us, and Pope Francis has reminded us; if all of us are to be evangelizers of the people and the culture that we inhabit—then the 1st form of our preaching is necessarily our lifestyle, our example, and not our homilies, catechism lessons, radio programs, Facebook, etc.  Contrariwise, the scandalous lives and words of some Christians serve to drive some people out of the Church and to alienate some who weren’t believers to begin with.

St. Paul
St. Mary's Church,
Fredericksburg, Va.
Paul takes that role-modeling a step further:  “You became imitators of us and of the Lord.”  “The Lord” here refers to Jesus, whom every Christian is called to imitate, on whom every Christian is supposed to model himself or herself.  Paul is also saying that he and his collaborators are doing exactly that, so that by imitating them the believers at Thessalonica are at the same time imitating Jesus.

Isn’t that the way we’re all supposed to live, sisters (and brothers)?  to live so that people see Jesus in our actions and words, and are attracted to imitate those admirable actions and words?  In recent years, how many kids have wanted to be no. 2—not Avis, but Derek Jeter?  They pretend to hit like him, field like him, throw like him, and perhaps hope someday be a Yankee like him.  Shouldn’t young people look at their parents, their teachers, their church leaders, their coaches or Scouting leaders, and see role models whom they want to imitate and who are worthy of imitation?  If we don’t provide good models of Jesus and the saints for them, then we leave them only athletes and entertainers to look up to.

Paul says that the Thessalonians “received the word in great affliction, with joy in the Holy Spirit.”  That seems like something of a contradiction, affliction and joy both coming from the word—the word of the Gospel that Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy have preached.

How might God’s word afflict us?  By calling us to conversion!  Who finds change easy and welcome, especially moral change?  Even we who already profess to be Christians find it hard to shake off our sins, to renounce our vices.  Doesn’t the idea of going to confession, admitting our guilt out loud and committing ourselves to greater fidelity, afflict many of us, maybe most of us?

Secondarily, God’s word is a source of affliction for those who take it seriously because a serious Christian life is a sign of contradiction in the world.  We don’t feel at home in our contemporary culture, do we?  We’re afflicted, or conflicted.  We may feel pressured to conform; as kids may be pressured to engage in inappropriate behavior, so may adults be.

At the same time, the word of God gives us “joy from the Holy Spirit.”  We receive the word of forgiveness, of reconciliation with God, and of God’s offer of eternal life—all reasons for profound joy and peace of heart.

That kind of joy is contagious.  “You became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”  By imitating Paul and his companions, by imitating Christ, by committing themselves to conversion of life and taking on the hostile world, the Christians of Thessalonica have themselves become models for other believers.  While Paul may be exaggerating to some extent about how far their fame has spread, still, it’s no little thing that all the local churches of mainland Greece, such as those at Philippi and Corinth, look up to them.

“From you the word of the Lord has sounded forth,” Paul continues (1:8).  Paul uses a word suggestive of a trumpet blaring out a regal command or a battle signal, something really noticeable, something one must pay attention to.  The Thessalonians haven’t kept their faith quietly to themselves, like the ill-fated servant in Jesus’ parable (Matt 25:14-30) who buried his master’s gold talent in the ground, carefully preserving it but also leaving it barren and useless.  Rather, they’ve let the whole world—at least the Christian portion of it—know that they’re disciples of Jesus Christ.

What that “sounding forth” entailed is a bit hard to say.  Did they send out missionaries?  Did they send messengers of fraternity to the other Christian communities?  Did they send financial assistance to the needy?  Were they outstanding hosts of travelers coming from the other churches on either ecclesiastical or personal business?

Whatever it was, “in every place your faith in God has gone forth” (1:8).  Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if that could be said of us?  that everyone knows what committed and faithful Catholics we are, by our words and even more by our actions?  We might think now of some of the tributes paid to the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel not only for his TV appearances, his books,  his homilies, or his teaching but also for his work for and among the poorest people of our nation;
Fr. Ben Groeschel, St. Joseph's Seminary
April 22, 2009
or of the tributes paid to journalist Jim Foley, whom ISIS murdered in August and who was a very committed Catholic.  One of Foley’s peers wrote of him:  “Foley was a devout Christian who, unlike most journalists I've known during my almost four decades in the field, was unapologetic about his heart for social justice and the inspiration he found for his beliefs in the New Testament.”[1]

How does our faith go forth—to our children and grandchildren, the people we work with and socialize with, even our fellow parishioners?

Finally, Paul gives a bit, a tiny bit, of a summary of the Gospel that he preached in the middle of the 1st century:  “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath” (1:9-10).

There you have the conversion:  “turning from idols to serve the living and true God.”  In the case of the people of Thessalonica, there was a literal turning away from idols, the pagan gods of Greece, to serve the one and only God.  A lot of our contemporaries commit themselves to different sorts of idols, different false gods, that they serve ambitiously and enthusiastically.  Those gods include money, power, fame, and pleasure in many, many forms.  A lot of Christians serve those gods, too, and all of us pay them homage from time to time—those moments that we call “sin.”  Following Jesus means giving ourselves wholeheartedly—ambitiously and enthusiastically—to serving God alone; exactly as Jesus says in the gospel today (Matt 22:34-40).  Our conversion into Jesus’ disciples is an unending process of learning to do that, repenting of our slip-ups, starting again, doing our best to “love the Lord our God with all our heart” and to practice love of our neighbor.

All of which we do because we believe Jesus is risen, and we await his return, when he’ll lead his followers into eternal life, “delivering us from the coming wrath” of God’s judgment on unrepentant sinners (judgment that was illustrated in Jesus’ parable 2 weeks ago when a guest who refused to clothe himself in the repentance that opens up for us the banquet of heaven was thrown out of the feast).  That’s also why, like the Thessalonians, we evangelize, live the Gospel publicly—so that we may be models and our joyful good example may lead others toward eternal life with our Savior Jesus Christ.

An adapted version of this homily was delivered to the Ursuline nuns at their Willow Drive convent, Oct. 26, 2014.


        [1] David McKay Wilson, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News, Aug. 24, 2014, on-line.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Homily for 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Matt 22: 15-21
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
Oct. 19, 2014

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matt 20: 21).

Tribute to Caesar
(Gustave Dore')
I liked the old translation, “Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”  In any case, that verse is one of the most famous in the NT, and not because it shows Jesus’ cleverness in evading a trap set for him by his enemies.

Rather, it’s famous because of the challenge it presents to Christ’s followers to balance our lives and allegiances between this world and the next, between what St. Augustine identified as the city of man and the city of God, or in common American speech, between State and Church.  Jesus challenges the officials or authorities of both Church and State to know what their responsibilities are and where their limits are; he challenges us citizens of an earthly city who are his followers to give due attention to both God and country.

Thru the course of history, we’ve seen many examples of Caesar, i.e., the State, trying to control every aspect of the life of his citizens, including their consciences.  Recall not only the Roman Empire’s demands that everyone worship the emperor and the gods, but also the religious wars of the 16th century, the Nazis, and Communism.  In May of this year an American tourist in North Korea, James Fowle, left a Bible in a public restroom, apparently intentionally.  He was arrested, charged with anti-State activity, and is awaiting trial and the possibility of a long prison sentence.  In our country, numerous religious institutions—schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.—many of them Catholic, but of other denominations as well, have had to sue the Dept. of HHS to defend their rights of conscience against the coercive regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare—regulations that, among other things, seek to define what is religious practice and what isn’t, and to confine religion only to worship in your church building and to catechism class.  Various institutions and individuals are being coerced by city, state, and educational authorities to approve homosexual behavior; the latest example I’ve seen is that the New England Assn. of Schools and Colleges is giving Gordon College, a Christian school in Massachusetts, a year to “review” its policy prohibiting homosexual behavior on campus because it’s sinful behavior.[1]

On the other side, there are both historical and contemporary examples of religious leaders interfering with affairs of state, e.g., Popes attempting to depose secular rulers or Muslims running or trying to run countries by strictly religious rules (the imams in Iran, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the “Islamic State” so much in the news these days).

How do you and I render to Caesar—to the State, to civil society—what is due to it, and to God what is due to him?

To start where today’s gospel starts, we owe the State taxes.  Yes, however painful that is.  Our taxes provide government services, such basic things as trash pick-up and snow-plowing, managing the public airwaves, coordinating air transportation, running the subways.  They pay for police and fire protection and help us cope with natural disasters.  We expect that governments to do something about the Ebola epidemic and not leave it entirely to Doctors Without Borders and missionaries in Africa.  Our taxes paid for the personnel and weapons that saved the world from the Nazis, saved Western Europe from Stalin, and, we demand now, will save the Middle East from the Islamic State.  (Whether our taxes are always wisely and ethically used is a separate question.)

As citizens in a democracy, we have an obligation to vote, to make our voices heard on election day.  Our elections help determine public policies about war and peace, social justice, public health, and all sorts of things that concern the common good.  Voting carries with it an obligation to be informed about the issues and the candidates and any ballot questions that may come up.  It’s unconscionable—sinful, in other words—to vote for someone just because the person belongs to a particular party, is a certain race or nationality, is a certain gender, comes from a certain city or state, or has Hollywood good looks.

It’s also good for us to let public officials know our opinions outside of election time, e.g., by letter-writing or peaceful public protest, or even to be involved in politics or public service.  In making our voices heard on public issues, however, it’s important that we speak the civil language.  We may not promote a certain policy to the general public—whether it’s about abortion, immigration, the environment, or civil rights—because of God’s Law or what the Bible says.  That’s a religious intrusion and doesn’t carry much weight with the U.S. Constitution or the general public.  (How religious leaders address their own congregations is another matter, of course.  Right now I’m telling you what the Gospel requires of you.)

We all have an obligation to contribute to the common good, and not just by paying our taxes and voting.  Do we get involved in our kids’ school?  in some form of youth or civic activity—volunteer work of some sort, like a soup kitchen, Midnite Run, Habitat for Humanity, EMS where that’s done by volunteers, the Red Cross, Scouting, etc.?

Jesus also tells us to render to God what belongs to God.  For us as individuals, that begins with worship, both public (as on Sundays) and private (our daily prayer).  It ought to include regular Scripture reading, an important way of listening to God.

Serving God includes more than prayer, tho.  We need to be involved in our church, our parish, performing service of some sort (greeter, usher, cleaner, council member, helper at socials, catechist, participant in the parish’s outreach to the community, etc.).

Our service to God, our adherence to Christ, is a 7-day responsibility.  We can’t be Christians on Sunday and pagans Monday thru Saturday.  A few weeks ago, a couple of guys in Montana who’d gotten “married” to each other were told by their pastor they could no longer receive Holy Communion; the bishop backed the pastor, but the parish was divided.  One of the men involved told the media, in disbelief, “We didn't think anything would happen.  Church is one thing; civil society is another.”  One Catholic blogger reacted this way:

The logical end of this thinking seems to be that it only matters what happens in Church and then once you step outside the Church (or maybe the parking lot) all bets are off until next Sunday. This is the exact opposite of truth. Christians are given a very specific task to live the gospel, not just for one hour a week on Sunday.

It's the same line of thinking which bring the loud proclamations that the Church doesn't tell me what to do in the bedroom. I've always wondered what other rooms of the house the Church is banished from? According to many, it would seem all of them.[2]

That’s why at the end of Mass we’re often dismissed with lines like “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life” or “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”  That’s why our prayers at Mass often contain lines like today’s:  “Almighty ever-living God, grant that we may always conform our will to yours…” (emphasis added).

A denarius of Tiberius Caesar
emperor during Jesus' public life

Another way of looking at our obligations to God is this.  When the Pharisees presented Jesus with a denarius, what did he ask them?  “Whose image is this?”—the image indicating ownership or title, like a brand on a steer or a corporate logo.  Now look at yourself and the people around you.  Whose image are you and they?   You all remember the verse from Genesis:  “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (1:27).  God’s image is stamped on us.  We belong to him.  To him we have to render our whole lives, our whole selves.  The teaching of Christ, in our case as his disciples, must imbue everything we say and do, wherever and whenever.

God bless you!


      [1] Matthew Archbold, “Christian College Could Lose Accreditation. Guess Why,” National Catholic Register on-line, Oct. 3, 2014: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/matthew-archbold/christian-college-could-lose-accreditation.-guess-why/
       [2] Matthew Archbold, “What Happens in Church Stays in Church,” National Catholic Register on-line, Sept. 26, 2014: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/matthew-archbold/what-happens-in-church-stays-in-church/

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Homily for 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
28th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Oct. 12, 2014
Matt 22: 1-14
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Matt 22: 1).

For the 3d Sunday in a row, we hear a parable about the acceptance or rejection of Jesus.  In Matthew’s gospel, these parables come one after the other, and they’re all addressed to “the chief priests and elders of the people” (21:23).  Moreover, they come from Jesus’ teaching in Jerusalem in the last days of his earthly life, at the height of the hostility toward him of these official leaders of the Jews, hostility that will lead to his arrest and execution in a matter of days.

The 1st 2 parables used the image of a vineyard to represent the kingdom of God.  Today Jesus uses a different image, a wedding banquet.  The image of marriage and the image of a banquet both have a long history in the Old Testament.

Marriage symbolizes the relationship between God and Israel.  That symbol carries over into the New Testament, so much that marriage is a sacrament, an outward sign of a profound spiritual reality, viz., God’s love for the human race and his desire for a permanent, intimate union with us.

A banquet might be associated with a wedding but need not be.  We have banquets for birthdays, sports, fundraising, civic and religious occasions, etc.  They’re always associated with festivity and usually with family and some sort of fellowship or social bond, like your recent parish dinner-dance.  The banquet becomes a symbol of eternal life—the festivity and family-belonging of being with God and one another:  “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” we say before Communion, and that sacred verse is really an invitation to the Lamb’s wedding banquet, as you see in the original verse in the Book of Revelation (19:9).  Our 1st reading today (Is 25:6-19) and psalm (23) also bring out the theme of a great banquet in the Lord’s house.

Jesus’ parable speaks of the guests originally invited to the wedding banquet of the king’s son—that Son whom we address as the Lamb of God.  In ancient times and even in modern times, a royal wedding and its related celebrations have dynastic overtones.  To refuse to show up for the celebrations implies rejection of the king and his house.  E.g., one of the issues that got Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher into deadly hot water with Henry VIII was their refusal to acknowledge the validity of the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.

So the king in the parable, after many of his favored subjects have rejected his rule, either by ignoring his invitation or by outright rebellion, extends his invitation to anyone and everyone:  “invite to the feast whomever you find” (22:9).

St. Matthew seems to be pointing toward the extension of Christianity into the Gentile world.  When we read the Acts of the Apostles, we see several occasions when St. Paul preached Jesus in the synagogs of Asia and Greece.  When most of his audience rejected God’s Word expressed in the life and message of Jesus, Paul would say, “OK, I’ll bring the message of salvation to the Gentiles since you’ve turned it down and they’re eager to hear it.”

Jesus says that the king’s “servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike” (22:10).  Jesus’ original audiences included “bad and good alike,” and I’m sure that the people to whom the apostles preached in the 1st century did too.  For sure, the Church today is made up of both saints and sinners.  In the gospel 2 Sundays ago (Matt 21:28-32), Jesus explained to the hostile chief priests and elders that “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (21:31).  Some people with bad reputations, at least, heard Jesus, believed him, and followed him toward eternal life, while those reputed to be good—those chief priests and elders—harassed him and, in collusion with the Roman authorities, crucified him.

Which brings us to this strange piece of the parable about the wedding garment.  Most weddings, as you know, involve fancy dress.  So it was in ancient times, especially among the upper social classes, like the royalty of Jesus’ parable.  What’s implied in the parable, and presumably Jesus’ audience would have known this even tho we, in a very different culture don’t, is that the host of the wedding banquet would supply the necessary garments to guests who needed them.

That understanding casts in its proper light the episode of “a man there not dressed in a wedding garment” (22:11).  This being a parable about the kingdom of heaven, we need to ask what that means.  In St. Paul to the Ephesians, we find an instruction to “put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted thru deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on [like a new garment] the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (4:22-24), and he reminds the Galatians that, having been baptized into Christ, they have been clothed in Christ (3:27).

What this fellow at the wedding banquet has done is come to the banquet—to the kingdom of heaven, or, if you will, to membership in the Church, which is the gateway to that kingdom; to the Eucharistic banquet, which is the foretaste of the heavenly banquet—without clothing himself in Christ Jesus, without accepting and making his own the gospel message, the Christian way of thinking, speaking, and acting.

This parable is also a parable of judgment:  the king judges and condemns his rebellious, murderous subjects, and he judges and condemns the one who pretends to belong to the kingdom but doesn’t behave like a proper citizen.  When the king asks him to account for his unacceptable behavior, he’s speechless.  What excuse will we be able to give the Divine Judge for our sins?  There will be no excuses for those who haven’t repented their sins and clothed themselves in Christ.

Well, this guy gets tossed into the outer darkness—into hell, in plain English—and that’s rather a bummer of an ending for the gospel.  As Jesus says at the end of other parables, “Let him who has ears to hear, hear” (Matt 11:15, etc.).

On the other hand, when “the king came in to meet the guests” (22:11), the banquet hall was full of people who’d been invited in, both good people and bad.  And he found only this one ill-clad guest, only this one who was unrepentant.  Isn’t it good news that so many are invited into God’s kingdom, accept the invitation, and are made welcome?  “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb”!

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Trail of 10,000 Acorns

The Trail of 10,000 Acorns

The six-day retreat that I made in August was more like half a retreat, what with the work that needed to be done during it, covering two religious profession ceremonies, assisting with the Salesian Lay Missioners’ orientation and covering their commissioning Mass, and (against my own preferences) editing and proofreading the regular weekly issue of the province newsletter.

After the retreat ended on August 16, I worked non-stop to finish the proofing of an issue of the Salesian Bulletin, get out assorted press releases (the professions, the SLMs, the province celebration of jubilees on Sept. 20) to the province newsletter and individual diocesan newspapers.

Section of the AT north and east of Anthony's Nose
So for about 3 weeks I was telling myself and others that I need to get out and spend a little time in the woods.  On Sept. 28 that opportunity finally came—3 days of vacation-retreat on the Appalachian Trail, hiking northward from just beyond the Bear Mountain Bridge in the town of Philipstown, Putnam County, to Fahnestock State Park in Putnam Valley.

For the 1st 2 days of the hike, the most consistent sound of the hike, over a distance of about 12 miles and thru 2 nites, was that of acorns hitting the ground. The forest along that stretch of the AT, from the bridge to Highland Road, is all hardwoods, and evidently there are lots and lots of oaks amid the maples (plenty of those) and birches and whatever else.  It was strangely quiet on the 3d day, from Highland Road into Fahnestock, with only a few acorns to be heard.  I guess there were a lot more ash or hickory; there were more beeches, and beyond Sunken Mine Road a lot of hemlocks.

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference does a fantastic job blazing the trails, keeping them reasonably free of obstacles (especially fallen trees), and otherwise maintaining them.

Trail turns are usually indicated by just a pair of blazes, one over the other!
Sunday, Sept. 28, was sunny and unseasonably warm.  I packed my last couple of items into my pack —hot dogs and eggs—then delayed my departure while waiting for our Internet to be restored (because I still had press releases on the jubilarians to dispatch!); when the Net didn’t look like it would be ready before noon, at best, we headed off.

“We” was Fr. Mike Leschinsky and me.  He’d return the car home and on Wednesday come and fetch me.  I’d invited Fr. Mike to join me for a day hike, but he opted not to.  Around 11:00 a.m. we got to the point on Rte. 9D where the AT starts to climb the mountain behind Anthony’s Nose, and off I went with my 30-lb. pack, canteen, and camera.

I met 9 hikers coming down the trail, all day hikers who’d already been to the Nose.  I figured once I was heading away from the junction with the Camp Smith Trail (toward the Nose), I wouldn’t see many hikers.  That proved not to be so.  1st, I met a party of 5 or 6 people, young and old, with 5 dogs, who told me I looked like I knew where I was going and asked for directions to the Nose; apparently they’d kept going on the AT after climbing the mountain and missing the right turn of the CST.  Then, when I’d stopped to eat lunch at the Hemlock Springs camp site, a party of about 6 older hikers came by, heading northward.  Lunch was peanut butter on Ritz crackers, a granola bar, and water. Around the time I was finishing, the hikers returned.  “Déjà vu!” I exclaimed.  One of them answered, “Maine wasn’t that interesting, and we decided to come back.”

Hemlock Springs campsite
I crossed South Mountain Pass Road and started up Canada Hill, stopping several time to catch my breath.  Once I reached the ridge at the top, the hiking was easy, and the sun was quite warm.  At occasional spots where the trees thinned out a little, I thought maybe I should put on some sunscreen (as per the dermatologist), but it wasn’t worth it to take off my backpack and rummage thru it to find the bag with the medicals.

The trail running easily along the ridge of Canada Hill
No other hikers along this entire stretch.  Once I was past the Osborn Loop, I was in new territory for me.  I’d hiked from the bridge to South Mountain Pass Road a couple of times, and thence around the Osborn Loop once.  My legs were moaning about the exercise, my shoulders seriously painful from the weight of my pack (no matter how many times I cinched up my hip belt); the strap across the my chest popped off the left shoulder strap twice, so there wasn’t anything to be done about tightening that to reduce the shoulder strain.

I was also getting a little low on water, having brought only a canteen-full (a quart).  But Annsville Creek was a disappointment—easy to cross on a very rickety boardwalk (photo below), but not a drop to water to be seen across the whole morass of reeds and mud.  If I’d been desperate for water, I could’ve gone into the deli at the NY 403-US 9 intersection, but I knew Graymoor wasn’t far ahead (altho it was quite a bit farther than I thought).  A kind driver waved me across 403, but I had to wait for a light change to cross 9 and enter Graymoor’s property.  It was still half a mile (of agony) before I actually got to the friary.

The write-up that I’d seen about the trail was accurate:  it was yet another half mile of hiking (on a blue-marked trail) from the AT to the ball field where the friars make hikers welcome.  I stopped at a picnic area sooner, hoping there’d be a place to pitch a tent (and shorten my hike), but there wasn’t.  The pain in my shoulders gave me a chance to identify with the Savior carrying his cross to Calvary.

I paused at the friars’ cemetery to pray for the dead.  Then there was a long downhill to the ball field.  The hospitality there was all that an AT hiker could want unless he got carried away and demanded HOT water.  There’s a lot of flat, open space (it IS a ball field) to pitch tents.  There are lots of picnic tables and benches.  There’s a pavilion (which was being used for a large family picnic when I arrived).  There’s a water spigot.  There’s a shower room for one, cold water only.  There are 2 clean port-a-johns.

It was about 4:00 p.m., and 6 miles of hiking from my start, when I set my pack down on a table and picked out a shaded spot to pitch my tent.  I filled my canteen and 3 water bottles.  I gathered some small branches for firewood, made a small fire pit, and got a little blaze going easily, then prayed Daytime Prayer.  (I’d photocopied all the parts of the Office that I’d need—no lugging around a 2,200-page book!)  When the fire was down to embers, I put my 2 foil-wrapped hot dogs on them, and in 10 minutes supper was ready.  The menu wasn’t much—just the dogs and buns with mustard, followed by an orange and washed down with Crystal Lite.

I prayed Evening Prayer and read from a back issue of America.  The family picnic concluded, and the family left.  After maybe half an hour, a couple of hikers walked in and settled in the pavilion.  Eventually (after they settled and phoned out a pizza order for supper), they came over and introduced themselves as John and Henry; they were hiking just the New York portion of the AT, southward.  I gave them some tips, particularly about water (or the lack of it) and the shelters in Harriman State Park, and they advised me about the lack of water on the northward trail (which I’d already suspected).

I continued reading in my tent for a while, but by 8:30 I was done for the nite.  The nite was punctuated till at least 10 by the bells of the friary, by the hooting of an owl from time to time—and by falling acorns.

First light woke me from whatever sleep I was able to get, and I rose at 6:45, offered Mass on a picnic table for the feast of St. Michael—discovering that somehow I’d managed not to bring the stole that I always have with the rest of the backpacking Mass supplies.  Then breakfast of scrambled eggs (I forgot to bring salt and pepper) and trail mix and a good cup of coffee (instant).  I prayed the Office (Readings, Morning Prayer), then broke down the tent and packed up.  There’d been some dew overnite, but the tent fly wasn’t very damp by that time.

It was 9:15 when I hit the trail (ahead of my short-time buddies in the pavilion).  Even with my full load of water this time, about 3 quarts, the hiking was considerably easier.  There weren’t any really steep climbs, and I guess my legs had adjusted.  Even my shoulders felt a little better.

The woods of this section of the AT (between South Mountain Pass Road and Fahnestock)
are full of old stone walls, some still pretty well maintained.
The trail climbed gradually, and after setting my pack down by the trail, I took the little side trail to Little Fort Hill, which holds the ruins of something—it looked like it might have been a gazebo, but a wooden sign off to the side reading in Spanish “Missionary Virgin, Mother of the Immigrants” suggests that maybe there was a little shrine.  And there was a picnic table!  Did someone take the trouble to lug that thru the woods?  Or were the pieces brought and assembled up there?  The view wasn’t much, but once the leaves are off the trees, it probably will be a good one.  The area is flat and open, but pretty hard; it wouldn’t be easy to pitch a tent there, but otherwise it’d be a nice camping spot.

Looking up at Little Fort Hill from the AT

Missionary Virgin sign
Top of Little Fort Hill
I passed by the side trail that goes up Denning Hill.  At Fort Defiance Hill there was finally a fine vista to look at—and then a wicked descent almost all the way to the Old Albany Post Road.  I stopped there a little before noon, sat on a rock, and ate my lunch (sardines on Ritz crackers, a granola bar, and water; dummy forgot that he also had cup-o-soup with him).  There was quite a bit of traffic, locals going in and out Chapman Road, a FedEx truck, and a couple of guys going by so fast that they raised big clouds of dust (the post road being unpaved)—not very pleasant to me, sitting less than 10 feet away.  One local stopped and inquired whether everything was OK, was pleased that I was just having lunch, and asked whether I needed anything.  I replied, “Stamina!” to which he laughed, and said, “We all need that.”

The Old Albany Post Road brought me to a section of the AT that I’d been on before with Troop 40 for a Four Rivers District trek-o-ree; it must have been in the fall of 2004.  I don’t remember much in the way of the trail but do remember the hike itself because we had a couple of the moms with us part of the way and some Scouts doing their 1st hike.  Before long I was left behind with the slowest lads (not that I was slow, but it fell to me to be their shepherd), and eventually we finished at Dennytown Road, whence we were shuttled back to what was then still called Clear Lake Scout Reservation.  More famously, our Scoutmaster, an Assistant Scoutmaster, and the latter’s son got lost and wound up at the park office in Fahnestock instead of back at Scout camp.

That’s another story, of course.  A short distance beyond the road I met a couple from the NY-NJ TC (with their dog) who were out doing maintenance work (the gent’s power saw had been audible all the way up on Ft. Defiance Hill) and boundary-checking.  They tried to cajole me into joining the Trail Conference.


Colors on Canopus Hill
The hike up Canopus Hill wasn’t bad, but I still had to pause for breath a couple of times.  Once up, the hiking was pretty easy.  The only water that I found all day was in the creek below Canopus Hill Road, where I topped off my containers, using my filter.

The creek below Canopus Hill Road--
the only water between Graymoor and Dennytown Road
on this hike
From there it was a fairly short trek to Highland Road, and I was already looking for a camp site, having come about 6 miles from Graymoor.  It was only about 3:00 p.m., too early to stop hiking (and physically I could have continued); but of course I didn’t know what kind of sites I might find ahead.  About a quarter mile beyond the road, up a slight rise and still within sight of a rooftop, I found an existing camp site—with enuf room for 1 tent near a fire ring and lots and lots of fallen wood in the area.  So I decided that was the end of the day’s hiking.

I pitched the tent, gathered firewood, sat on a too-low rock, the only flat one anywhere in the area, and prayed and read for a quite some time.  Not a single soul came by.  In fact, the only people I saw on the trail all day were the NY-NJ TC couple.  I made a supper of freeze-dried chicken teriyaki, which was tasty and filling, and another orange.  (Those oranges certainly added to the weight in my pack, but they were worth it.)  Like last nite, there were a few mosquitoes, but not too many for my repellant to take care of.  I made a nice little fire and sat by it, and then by its glowing embers, till about 8:00 p.m., doing a little reading, a little praying.  Once the embers were down to only a glow, I retired to the tent.  No church bells tonite, nor hoot owls; but still lots of acorns.

Tuesday dawned, if you can say that, with fog.  It didn’t look like a promising day even tho rain wasn’t forecast (as of Sunday a.m.) till possibly in the afternoon.  I got up at 6:30, said Mass on the little flat rock, had oatmeal, trail mix, and coffee for breakfast, prayed the Office, and broke camp.  This time at Mass I discovered something else missing:  the weekday Scripture readings.  How did I manage that?  Fortunately, there were 1 NT reading and 1 Gospel with the proper Masses for St. Jerome (Sept. 30) and St. Therese (Oct. 1), so I used those, twice.

At 9:05 a.m. I was on the trail, aiming perhaps to get all the way to Fahnestock’s campground, or certainly close to Rte. 301.  About a mile along, up on a ridgetop, I came to a really nice camp site.  Too bad I hadn’t known of it on Monday afternoon!  It was about a quarter mile before the intersection with the Three Lakes Trail.

After last nite’s supper and clean-up, this morning’s breakfast and clean-up, and several hand-washings, I was down to about 1 pint of water, which I had to nurse for more than 2 hours till I got to Dennytown Road.  I’d totally forgotten that there’s a water spigot there, and hadn’t noticed the “W” on my map either, so I went right past the road and the clearing and looked for water to pump from a runlet or the swamp.  Just as I was about to settle for a little puddle in a runlet, a young couple came down the trail from the north and informed me (on the basis of their reading) that there was a spigot back at the road.  They went on as I was collecting my bottles, and then a 2d young couple came down the trail.  I hiked back a quarter mile with them, leaving my pack and even my camera by the side of the trail.  This couple was from South Carolina and had started the AT in Maine on July 15 and were just taking their time going south as far as they could before it got too cold or they got tired; then they’d bus home.  We caught up with the 1st couple at the water spigot, where we all filled up.  This couple had hiked from Georgia to Harper’s Ferry, then flown to Maine and were making their way back to Harper’s Ferry; I didn’t ask where they were from.  I gave them water and camping info about the trail ahead and wished them well, and from them I picked up a useful piece of information about a trail marking in Fahnestock.

From Dennytown Road north I was on somewhat familiar terrain again, having hiked that section out of Durland Scout Reservation in April 2013.  About a mile up the trail I came to a nice spot to stop for lunch, shortly before noon.  By now the sun was out brightly too.  Just as I was setting up my stove to boil water for that cup-o-soup, a guy popped over the rocks, said hello, and asked whether he could stop in.  His name was Mike also, and his trail name was Obi-won.  I assume that he was another Maine-starter.  Again we shared some trail information.  He didn’t eat; just chatted.  And he was on his way again before I finished eating my peanut butter and crackers.

Lunch stop north of Dennytown Road
From there it didn’t seem to take very long to reach Sunken Mine Road.  My legs were doing OK, but my shoulders were bothering me again, and from here on I was having to stop every 15 minutes or so to sit and rest.  The trail beyond SMR was new to me, and apart from the ascent just beyond SMR wasn’t particularly challenging altho it did climb quite a bit.  After descending a lot and crossing some wetlands (amid which there’s a decent camp site), and after crossing the Three Lakes Trail again, one comes to an old rail bed that’s now converted into AT.  That brings you almost right up to NY Rte. 301, which I was very happy to reach, a little before 3:00 p.m.

On north side of Sunken Mine Road is a swamp. The AT passes on its east side,
and a creek flows from it, which the trail crosses and which even at this time of year has water.
Between the ridge north of Sunken Mine Road and Rte 301, much of the AT looks like this.
The old rail bed with the AT running over it.
At 301 were 2 signs advising hikers to avoid the highway and continue north on the AT for 1.5 miles, then take the green trail to the beach and concession stand.  (My young friends back at Dennytown Road had complained that the sign said “green,” but the blazes actually are blue.)  My gut told me just to walk up the highway, but the shoulder on the left side going east (toward the park office) was really narrow).  I figured the office is probably close to the beach and concession stand.

NOT!  Big mistake.  I called home to get word to Fr. Mike that he could pick me up in the campground on Wednesday morning, then started this 1.5-mile trek, which was the worst section of the trail that I did in the 3 days—lots of climbing and descending, and of course my shoulders were really moaning now, and my legs weren’t so happy either.  And the sky had clouded over again, causing me to fret about rain.  It took me an hour and a half to get to the beach, which was deserted, and so was the large complex of concession stand, bath house, first aid station, etc.  There was another hike up to the highway, which I finally reached about 4:45.  I was relieved to see a sign reading “Campground” directly across the highway.

Canopus Lake
A hundred yards or so in, there’s a small registration office.  It was deserted, with a sign directing campers to go back to the highway and proceed a quarter mile to the park office.  Not with my pack, I wasn’t!  Besides, I was confident that the office closed at 5:00 (as per our Scoutmaster’s experience), so it would be pointless anyway.

I went looking for a camp site, not right on the road just in case my presence might be challenged by either a park ranger or someone who’d actually registered for the site.  I came shortly to the bathroom, showers, and water spigot, and I found a decent site off the road not far away.  I dumped everything on the picnic table, routed out my soap and backpacking towel, changed down to gym shorts, and went up and enjoyed a warm shower.

I prepared a supper of cup-o-soup, freeze-dried turkey breast and mashed potatoes, and my 3d orange.  The turkey was pretty dry, the potatoes pretty tasty.  Then I prayed, did some reading, and finally pitched my tent.  I’d waited for that in case of what I called a challenge, above.  By 8:00 I was in the tent; no reading this time, except for Night Prayer.

I usually don’t sleep well when I camp, and this 3d nite was the most sleepless of my 3 nites.  There weren’t any acorns to keep me awake, and traffic on the highway, while audible, wasn’t excessive.  The screen door of the bathroom banged fairly regularly for a while.

In the wee hours, there was a rain shower, not a surprise.  Fortunately, it didn’t last long.  I was glad that I’d covered my backpack with my poncho (my tent being barely large enuf for me).  At 1st light, before 6:30, I got up, figuring I’d better break camp before any serious rain might come along.  I celebrated Mass on the picnic table, packed my gear in a light drizzle, and hiked up to the registration office, which has a little roofed porch.  I settled down there to cook my breakfast (oatmeal, trail mix, coffee again), pray, and read until Fr. Mike came.  A pretty steady drizzle began to fall.  A park ranger stopped by at one point to check on me and invite me to let them know if I needed anything.

Set up for Mass on the picnic table at Fahnestock
Fr. Mike arrived around 9:30 a.m., and my little vacation-retreat was over.  By 10:50 I was back in my office, sending out press releases about SDB jubilarians.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fr. Dennis Hartigan Professes Vows as a Salesian

Fr. Dennis Hartigan
Professes Vows as a Salesian

In the presence of 25 Salesians, the 830 students of Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., the school staff, a priest and a deacon from the Diocese of Toledo, family members, and Ohio friends, Fr. Dennis Hartigan, SDB, made his profession as a Salesian, for one year, on Friday, October 3.

With Fr. Jim McKenna and Bro. Bernie Dube' as witnesses,
Fr. Dennis pronounces the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience
as a Salesian. Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial, receives his profession.
Fr. Dennis returned to the Salesians as a candidate in July 2013 after 33 years as a priest of the Toledo Diocese in Ohio; he had been a Salesian in temporary vows from 1971 to 1977 but departed to become a diocesan priest. As a candidate he taught religion at Don Bosco Prep, and he continues as a teacher there. Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial, received his profession.

Fr. Dennis was born in Kearny, N.J., in 1950, and after his graduation from Kearny High School entered the Sons of Mary program at Don Bosco College in Newton in 1969, where his classmates included the future Fr. Jim McKenna and Bro. Bernie Dubé. Last Friday Fr. Jim and Bro. Bernie were the official witnesses of Fr. Dennis’s renewal of Salesian profession.

After his first profession on September 1, 1971, then-Bro. Dennis completed his college studies at DBC, then did two years of practical training as a missionary in the Dominican Republic. He started theological studies in 1976 at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, where almost all our province’s men went for theology from 1967 until the late 1990s. But at the end of his first year and the expiration of his triennial vows, Dennis opted to seek the diocesan priesthood, was accepted as a candidate by Bishop Donovan of Toledo, and transferred to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West in Cincinnati.

Fr. Dennis was ordained in 1980 and spent the next 33 years as a parish priest, high school teacher and administrator, and college professor. He earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Dayton in 2004.

Fr. Tom Dunne rehearsed some of those biographical details for the DBP students as he started his homily. He observed that in Ohio Fr. Dennis had retained his Salesian spirituality and brought it to his ministry in the Toledo Diocese. His priorities were the same; only the manner of living them out as a diocesan priest was different.

After being vested with the medal of a temporary professed SDB
and receiving a copy of the Constitutions, Fr. Dennis makes his way
back to his seat with the other concelebrants.
But Fr. Dennis felt called, finally, to live those priorities by vow in the context of religious community and to evangelize the young through living poverty, chastity, and obedience as a member of a community.

The vocational journey of Fr. Dennis, Fr. Tom said, is a lesson for everyone’s life. He continually discerned God’s movement in his heart. God has a role for us in life, a way for each of us to contribute to society, and we go through life trying to discern that role. It’s a process of listening and being sensitive to the movements of our hearts.

Fr. Tom expressed his appreciation for how Fr. Dennis made a transition from using a PhD in education to teach at the university level to teaching five periods of freshman religion at DBP, and doing so with great joy.

We all rejoice, Fr. Tom said, because Fr. Dennis has answered God’s call, and we rejoice also because of the support his vocation has received from the DBP community—SDBs, staff, and students.

At the end of Mass, Fr. Dennis spoke, making three points. 1st, he thanked Fr. Tom for all his assistance in the long process of returning to the Congregation, then thanked the SDBs of Ramsey, the students, and the rest of the confreres of the province for their support. 2nd, after commenting on how proud he has been to represent DBP in the area (and how much he’s enjoyed teasing alumni of certain other schools), he urged the students to listen to Don Bosco’s call to become his sons and continue his apostolic mission. Finally, he explained how joyful it is to be a Salesian in general and a member of the DBP community in particular, commenting on some of the fun the SDBs have at home.