Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Homily for 3d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Jon 3: 1-5, 10
Mark 1: 14-20
Jan. 24, 1988
St. Theresa, Bronx

On Jan. 25 of 2015, I preached without text (on the gospel, primarily) at St. Vincent's Hospital in Harrison, N.Y.  Here's a golden oldie for my handful of faithful readers.

“Jonah … had gone but a single day’s journey thru the city announcing, ‘40 days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,’ when the people of Nineveh believed God” (Jon 3: 4-5).

The little book of Jonah is one of the most interesting parts of the sacred scriptures, a masterpiece of the short story—it’s only 48 verses long—and a powerful piece of preaching.  If all we know about it is that a great fish swallowed Jonah—not a whale but a great fish (2:1)—then we’re missing a lot.

Jonah tossed overboard and into the mouth of the fish
(Notre Dame Cathedral, Tournai, Belgium)
God sends Jonah to preach repentance in Nineveh, the capital city of Israel’s enemy.  It’s like sending one of us to Teheran to tell Ayatollah and his friends to repent.  Speaking thru the sacred writer of this parable, God is telling the Israelites and us that he cares about the welfare of everyone, including people we consider enemies.

Jonah is sent, but Jonah wants no part of it.  He has already judged the Ninevites.  They’re not worthy of his efforts.  They’re too wicked.  They’re not his people.  God’s got no business picking him for such a job.  So Jonah heads in the opposite direction and God sends a storm and Jonah’s thrown overboard and swallowed by the fish and the fish spits him ashore 3 days later.  And God says, “Try again, Jonah.”

It’s not our business to be passing judgment about who deserves God’s attention to God’s mercy.  None of us is smarter than God.  Besides, if God treated us the way we think we should treat a lot of other people, we’d all be in an awful mess.

As the reading told us, Jonah goes and preaches in Nineveh.  The Ninevites respond immediately and dramatically, much to Jonah’s surprise.

Jonah misjudged the Ninevites, just as you and I repeatedly misjudge people.  We can’t see their hearts; only God can.  We can barely read our own minds and hearts, figure out our own secret motives and desires—much less anyone else’s.  We’d be a lot happier if we accepted everyone else as a fellow pilgrim in this life and left it to God to worry about their consciences.  No one, no matter how apparently bad he or she is, is beyond the reach of God’s love.

God called Jonah, and Jonah said, “No way,” the 1st time.  God didn’t take Jonah’s no for a final answer.  God is quite persistent with us, quite patient, quite gracious.

The gospel reading showed us another call, or pair of calls. And this time we’re dealing with real men and real events, not a parable.  Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John.  All 4 of these fishermen “immediately abandoned their nets” (Mark 1:18) and their families (1:20) and became Jesus’ followers.

Eventually these 4 fishermen and the other 8 apostles will become the new prophets, bringing to mankind the message of Jesus:  “The kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the gospel!” (Mark 1:14).

The invitation “follow me” Jesus is still sending out to young women and men, and even older folks.  He always needs new Jonahs and new Andrews, and Joans and Andreas too.  Could he be calling you?  Will you answer by trying to run away, like Jonah?  Or will you abandon everything for Jesus and for his kingdom, like the apostles?

If someone in your family receives this divine call, will you be generous with Jesus?  Will your faith see the mystery of a vocation to the priesthood, the convent, the monastery, as a divine blessing for you as well as for the chosen one?

The Nineveh of our 20th-century world still needs the word of God.  In the Letter to the Romans St. Paul asks, “How can they believe unless they have heard of [Jesus]?  And how can they hear unless there is someone to preach?” (Rom 10:14).

God is still reaching out to every human being, as he did in Jonah’s time and in Jesus’ time.  As he needed prophets and apostles then, he still does now.  He needs us.

Fr. Steve Shafran Named Provincial

Fr. Steve Shafran Named Provincial

Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, Rector Major of the Salesian Society, has appointed Fr. Steve Shafran as the next provincial of the Eastern U.S.-Canada Province. Fr. Steve will begin his six-year term of service on July 1, 2015.

The announcement was published on January 21 by Fr. Tom Dunne in a letter to the members of the province and then in the January 22 E-Service.

Fr. Steve is currently serving as president of Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS and Corporate Work Study Program in Takoma Park, Md. He organized the founding of the school starting in 2006 in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Washington, which co-sponsors the school with the SDBs. The school, which is part of the nationwide Cristo Rey Network, opened in the fall of 2007 and graduated its first class in 2011.

Recruiting DBCR's first freshman class in December 2006
Fr. Steve, 58, was born in Passaic, N.J., and raised in Clifton. His family is of Ukrainian origin and are members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. After graduating from Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey in 1974, Steve entered the SDB formation program at Don Bosco College Seminary in Newton, N.J., that fall and was admitted to the novitiate on August 31, 1975. He made his first profession of religious vows on September 1, 1976.

Bro. Steve earned his B.A. in philosophy from Don Bosco College in 1979 and then did two years of practical training as a teacher at St. Dominic Savio High School in East Boston.

Bro. Steve studied theology at the Salesian Pontifical University and the Ukrainian Pontifical College of St. Josaphat in Rome from 1981 to 1984, earning a bachelor’s in theology from the UPS. Transferring to the Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, where most SDBs of the New Rochelle Province studied from 1967 till the late 1990s, he earned an M.A. in theology. He was ordained on May 5, 1985, at Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Cathedral in Philadelphia.

With DBCR students, welcoming the Rector Major,
Fr. Pascual Chavez, to the school, Sept. 26, 2007
Fr. Steve also did graduate studies at the University of San Francisco, earning a doctorate in education in 1994. His dissertation is entitled The Educational Method of Saint John Bosco as School Culture in the Salesian High Schools in the United States.

He has given addresses at the National Catholic Educational Association’s conventions on youth spirituality.

He has at least a reading knowledge of Italian, Spanish, Ukrainian, Slovak, and Russian. He also has a magnificent singing voice and has cut two CDs as fundraisers, Songs That Inspire My Life and A Christmas Collection.

Fr. Steve has had priestly assignments at Salesian HS in New Rochelle as a teacher and campus minister (1985-1986); the province’s vocation office in Haverstraw (1986-1988) and Harvey (1988-1990); Archbishop Shaw HS in Marrero as principal (1990-1993); Corpus Christi Parish in San Francisco while studying (1993-1994); Salesian Center in Columbus as director (1994-1998); Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey as director/president (1998-2004) and development director (2004-2006); and DBCR in Takoma Park as president since 2006. He was also a member of the provincial council from 1997 to 2006 with responsibility for formation programs.

Concelebrating with then-Abp. Donald Wuerl
at DBCR's Mass of the Holy Spirit, Sept. 7, 2010
In his announcement to the province, Fr. Tom Dunne described Fr. Steve as “a man rich in faith who like our father Don Bosco gives witness daily to a life centered on God and the young. He lives as a brother among his brothers, with concern for the confreres. . . . Fr. Steve has an amazing ability to work with the Church in making Don Bosco’s mission effective with the young, especially those who are poor. He has a proven ability to inspire many business leaders, local leaders, and lay people to collaborate for the good of the poorest young people. . . . He is esteemed and loved by many lay colleagues and members of the Salesian Family.”

About his upcoming responsibilities Fr. Steve offers this: “‘God writes straight with crooked lines in our lives.’ I am humbled by this call to a deeper service as a Salesian of Don Bosco. I have always been surprised at what the Lord can do if I keep close to Him and Mary. I’ve seen that up close in founding Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School and Corporate Work Study Program. I am the son of Ukrainian immigrants who knew suffering and sacrifice, teaching me to work hard and never forget God. I am my mother Olga’s son; she taught me to smile and sing, and what family really means. I have grown with the Salesians of Don Bosco since I was 13, and they have nurtured me as fathers and brothers, as mentors and friends with deep love to see the face of Jesus in the young—and then all else follows. I am grateful to our rector major for the trust and confidence he has in me in response to this call from God as he reminded me, ‘Courage; you are not alone.’ And I am grateful to our provincial Fr. Tom Dunne for his great leadership and inspiration. During this bicentennial year of the birth of Don Bosco and Year of Consecrated Life, I recommit myself to this new call to service and ask for the grace truly to be ‘Like Don Bosco, for the young, with the young’ [citing the Salesian Family’s 2015 strenna].”

At DBCR's 1st graduation ceremony, June 2, 2011,
in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in D.C.,
Fr. Steve flips the tassel of one of the grads

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Homily for Memorial Mass for Mary Quinlan

Homily for the Memorial Mass
for Mary Quinlan (1916-2014)
Jan. 22, 2015
Is 25: 6-9
Rev 14: 13
Luke 24: 13-35                                              
Our Lady Star of the Sea, North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

My dad's older sister, my Aunt Mary, was also my godmother. She died on the nite of Dec. 8, after about 15 happy years at Chambrel (assisted living and finally more intense care) in Williamsburg, Va., close to the home of my cousins Christine and Chris Ward. Prior to that she lived in Calabash, N.C., from late 1977 and worshiped at Our Lady Star of the Sea in North Myrtle Beach, about 10 miles down U.S. 17. We celebrated a memorial Mass for her there and placed her cremains in the parish's columbarium next to those of her husband Martin Quinlan (+1978).

“The two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24: 35).

Emmaus Icon (Jeanne Jugan Residence, Bronx)
(c) 2004 George & Sergio Pinecross.
[For more on the inconographers, see http://www.littlesistersofthepoorboston.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=81:an-awesome-new-presence-of-saint-jeanne-jugan&catid=34:sisters-blog&Itemid=30. Contact Sergio at 978-688-6795.]
The disciples of Jesus have just gone thru the shocking experience of his sudden arrest, his trial in the dead of nite, and his humiliating and painful public execution.  Many, if not most, of the disciples, moreover, were scared out of their wits that they also might be arrested and put to death, perceived as threats to public order by the Roman overlords or the chief priests, or both.  You know how the 12, except Judas, abandoned Jesus and ran for their lives, how Peter denied knowing Jesus at all, how they cowered in the upper room behind locked doors.

Some leave for home as soon as the Sabbath is over, like Cleopas and his unnamed companion in the gospel passage we just heard.  (That unnamed companion may well have been his wife, one of the women identified as having stood with our Blessed Mother and Mary Magdalene by Jesus’ cross [John 19:25].)

So they go home despondent that all their hopes for Israel, their country, their religion, have died with Jesus.  They explain all this to a stranger who joins them on the road.

I’m sure that despondence isn’t what we feel today about our mother, grandmother, aunt, friend Mary.  We feel sad, naturally, that we’ve lost someone dear to us, someone who loved us, someone who for most of us was part of our lives as long as we can remember.  But we also rejoice that she enjoyed a good, long, happy life, even if for the last 10 years or so she wasn’t the person we knew and treasured until then.  We rejoice that for 98 years she shared love, kindness, patience, generosity, a simple faith in God with all of us—those are the “works” that “accompany” her to the presence of her Lord, as Revelation says (14:13); those are the testimony of her love for her Lord, and for the Lord’s people—not only her family, but her family above all, for as the proverb tells us, charity begins at home; charity means love, in all the forms that love takes, and the most important love is for the people who are in our lives day in and day out.  We all have experienced Aunt Mary’s love.  This basic love was her response to the love offered to her thru her relationship with Jesus—nothing fancy, nothing flashy, nothing the world would notice; just the simple, everyday following of her vocation as wife and mother and neighbor and believer in Jesus.

For all that, why aren’t we despondent at the loss of our mother—no one’s so irreplaceable as a mother!—our grandmother, our aunt, our friend?

As Paul Harvey used to say, we need the rest of the story.  St. Luke tells us that on the road to Emmaus Jesus goes thru the whole OT and “interprets to them”—to Cleopas and his companion—“what referred to him in all the scriptures” (24:27).  That must have been quite a catechism lesson, considering that it was 7 miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  As a veteran hiker I can assure you that took them a little while, especially since they were conversing.      

Even so, the pieces don’t fit together for Cleopas and his companion until they sit down for dinner, and Jesus “takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives it to them.  With that their eyes are opened and they recognize him” (cf. 24:30-31).

That brief passage is a classic description of the Eucharist, of the action that the Church daily repeats in memory of Jesus:  taking bread, blessing it with Jesus’ own words, breaking it, and giving it—his Body and Blood—to his faithful.

The Eucharistic action of Jesus completes the Scriptural understanding of Cleopas and his companion.  With the Scripture and the sacred liturgy, suddenly they understand what Jesus’ life and death mean; understand that he has been their companion along the way—risen, fully alive, and restoring their hope for Israel, but in a completely new way.

Likewise, when we consider Aunt Mary (Mom, Grandma) and her life’s journey, and consider where we are today and why, we understand it all in the light of God’s Word and of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.  Mary’s life and death reach their full meaning in her having lived what Jesus taught in the Gospels as best she could and in her faithful celebration of the Eucharist as long as she was able.  (Thank you, Christine and Chris [Ward], for helping her do that when could no longer drive herself, as well as for all the care you gave her in these last years.)

Christine Ward (nee Quinlan), Aunt Mary, Chris Mendl in May 2011
We’re not despondent but hopeful because Aunt Mary believed that Jesus is risen and he lives in his Scriptures and his sacraments, and she came faithfully to hear his Word proclaimed, made it part of her life, and received his Body and Blood so that his life became part of hers.  “This is the Lord for whom we looked,” Isaiah says; “let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us” (25:9).

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Homily for 2d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Jan. 18, 2015
1 Cor 6: 13-15, 17-20
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon

“The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power” (1 Cor 6: 13).

Between now and Ash Wednesday, which is exactly one month from today, we’ll read selections from the middle section of St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians.  These Corinthians were the little Christian church of Corinth in Greece.  We read other parts of this important letter in the Sundays of Years A and C.  (This year we’re following the B cycle of readings.)

The geography of St. Paul's journeys (Wikipedia)
Corinth wasn’t a big city like Rome or Antioch, but it was a big crossroads for both sea and land traffic between Italy and Asia and between north and south Greece.  Paul had stayed there for at least a year and a half, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, converting both Jews and pagans to Jesus Christ and instilling in them the teachings of Jesus:  the doctrine about God, the spiritual values, and the morality of the Gospel.

Those teachings and values and morality were a hard sell in Corinth, as they are in the Western world today.  And not only in the West, as witnessed by Pope Francis’s remarks in Manila on Friday about the nature of marriage and the evil of contraception.

In particular, today’s reading from St. Paul addresses the issue of sexual immorality, for which Corinth was notorious in the 1st century, comparable perhaps to Times Square in the ’70s, Rio at Carnival time, or Amsterdam any time.  Unfortunately, even Christians were susceptible to these temptations—which shouldn’t really surprise us because we know the same temptations in ourselves, and some Christian denominations today have actually bought into the morality of the sexual revolution rather than offend people by calling sin what it is.

Paul could be writing in our time.  In this letter to the Corinthians he deals with issues of fornication and incest.  In Romans he deals with homosexuality.  In today’s passage he speaks about how we perceive and use our bodies, and here too he’s timely.

We often hear people say that they can do what they want with their own bodies.  To some extent that’s true:  how we dress our bodies, what hairstyle we adopt, how much make-up or perfume to use, even whether to get piercings or tattoos.

Paul’s approach to the body is positive rather than negative.  He reminds his disciples in Corinth—who are disciples of Jesus more than of Paul—that their bodies are not their own but God’s:  “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (6:15).  God has ransomed us from the power of Satan:  “you have been purchased at a price” (6:20).  Paul doesn’t remind his readers that we were created in God’s image (cf. Gen 1:27), but he does remind them that by the death and resurrection of Christ that relationship has been restored.

God doesn’t save only our souls.  He saves us—our whole selves, including our bodies.  “God raised the Lord [i.e., Jesus] and will also raise us by his power.”  We believe in the resurrection of the dead—another question that Paul will address in this letter—and in eternal life of our whole selves.  Without our bodies, we are not truly ourselves!

Well, then, if Christ has ransomed our whole selves and thru Baptism made us part of his own body—“whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (6:17)—and destined us for eternal life with him, then how we treat our bodies and what we do with our bodies does matter very much.  “The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.”  The Lord has given himself up for us—for our bodies, our souls, our whole selves; and he continues to give himself to us sacramentally in the Eucharist—and so he has a claim on us.

Those of you who are my age or older remember that the Baltimore Catechism taught us the effects of Baptism, one of which is that we become temples of the Holy Spirit.  That’s straight out of St. Paul:  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (6:19).  The Spirit of God the Father and of God the Son, the Holy Spirit, dwells in us as his temple.  He makes us holy like himself thru Baptism and the other sacraments and thru our listening to and taking in the Word of God and thru our prayer lives.

In the news now and then we hear stories of attacks on churches—churches bombed, burned, or shot up in Nigeria, Iraq, India, or elsewhere.  Or we hear of some act of violence committed in a church, such as an assault or a murder.  We’re even outraged when someone assaults a sacred image in a church or robs the poor box or steals the baby Jesus from a Christmas crib.  We consider such actions as sacrileges, as abominations.

St. Paul by El Greco
Paul’s making the same point about ourselves as temples of the Holy Spirit, as people whose bodies belong to God and are meant to “glorify God” (6:20), not be used just for our own pleasure, for our selfishness thru sinful behavior, such as—in Paul’s world—premarital relations, adultery, homosexual activity, and sexual trafficking; and in our world, besides those actions, such an explosion of pornography that, dollar for dollar, it’s one of the biggest businesses in the world (maybe bigger than arms sales); also the use of contraceptives and artificial means of conception:  “the immoral person sins against his own body,” and Paul maintains, against the body of Christ, against the Holy Spirit whose temples we are.

If we were to go beyond the immediate context of this passage in Paul’s letter, we could speak of other matters that concern our bodies and how we use them, how we treat them—for example, about health issues like diet, exercise, drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse; about euthanasia and other end-of-life questions; or even about the environment, which has an impact on our physical lives and which Pope Francis intends to address in an encyclical this summer.  But, as the Italians say, “Basta!”  That’s enuf for one homily!

God bless you—your whole selves, body and soul!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Salesian Archbishops Bo and Sturla Named Cardinals

Salesian Archbishops Sturla
and Bo named among new cardinals
This news was published by ANS on Monday, Jan. 5, in Italian but not in English.  Your humble blogger translated it on Jan. 8 and sent it to ANS, which published it in English on Friday, the 9th.
(ANS –Rome) – During his Angelus talk on Sunday, January 4, Pope Francis announced the names of the new cardinals whom he will nominate at the consistory of February 14. He informed the crowd in St. Peter’s Square: “As was already announced, next February 14 I will have the joy of holding a consistory, during which I will nominate 15 new cardinals, who come from 14 nations and every continent, manifesting the inseparable ties between Church of Rome and the particular Churches of the world.”

Among the new cardinals are the Salesians Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon (Rangoon), Burma, and Archbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla, archbishop of Montevideo, Uruguay.

Abp. Charles Bo
(source unknown)
Archbishop Bo’s nomination represents tremendous news for Burma, where the Catholic Church has been present more than 500 years; for the Salesians it represents and confirms the importance of their presence, which has been part of the Calcutta Province for 80 years.

Archbishop Charles Maung Bo was born at Mohla on October 29, 1948. He was ordained on April 9, 1976. He prefect apostolic of Lashio for six years (1985-1990); from 1990 to 1996 he was bishop of the newly-erected diocese of Lashio. Transferred to the diocese of Pathein in 1996, he continued as apostolic administrator of diocese of Lashio until 1998, and after that for a year as administrator of the archdiocese of Mandalay; in 2003 he was named archbishop of Yangon.

He is currently in charge of the Office of Human Development of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, a member of the Commission for Religious of FABC, and a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Archbishop Bo is the first Burmese cardinal.

Abp. Sturla receiving the pallium from Pope Francis
in 2014 (ANS)
Archbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet, SDB, was born on July 4, 1959, at Montevideo. After earning a bachelor’s degree in civil law at the John XXIII Institute, he completed his studies in philosophy and education at the Salesians’ Michael Rua Institute in Montevideo.

He studied theology at what was then called the Bishop Mariano Soler Theological Institute of Uruguay, earning a licentiate in theology in 2006. He entered the novitiate in 1979 and made his first religious profession on January 31, 1980. On November 21, 1987, he was ordained. After his ordination he served as vicar of the Salesian novitiate and postnovitiate, director of the Salesian aspirantate and master of novices, director of the John XXIII Pre-university Institute, and professor of Church history.

On October 28, 2008, he was named Salesian provincial for Uruguay, and shortly after was elected president of the Conference of Religious of Uruguay. On December 10, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI named him titular bishop of Felbes and auxiliary bishop of Montevideo. On February 11, 2014, Pope Francis promoted him to archbishop of Montevideo, Uruguay. Within the Episcopal Conference of Uruguay he has been put in charge of the Departments of the Missions and of the Laity.

“Let’s pray for the new cardinals, so that, by renewing their love for Christ, they may be witnesses of his Gospel in the city of Rome and in world, and with their pastoral experience may give me strong support in my apostolic service,” Pope Francis concluded.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Homily for Feast of Baptism of the Lord

Homily for the Feast of the
Baptism of the Lord
Mark 1: 7-11
Collect (alternate)
Jan. 11, 2015
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John” (Mark 1: 9).

Window by Malate
St. Mark gives us the bare-bones version of Jesus’ baptism by John—the verse I just repeated, and 2 more about the appearance of the Holy Spirit and the pronouncement of the Father (1:10-11).

Was it Jesus alone who saw and heard these phenomena, or did John also, or any bystanders?  You’d think that something so remarkable, if witnessed, would cause a stir.  We have no evidence of that.

So, the way Mark tells the story, only Jesus witnesses these wondrous phenomena.  Some interpreters hold that from this whole experience—John’s preaching, his baptism, the descent of the Spirit upon him, and the Father’s affirmation—Jesus as man comes to understand who he is and what his mission is.

Be that as it may, Mark, Matthew, and Luke all agree that Jesus’ next step will be a spiritual retreat of 40 days, fasting and praying in the wilderness and being tempted by the devil.  (One of those passages is always our gospel reading on the 1st Sunday of Lent.)  Jesus will emerge from that retreat to begin his public ministry.  The experience of his baptism and his 40 days of communion with his Father are transformative for Jesus—not in his essence, for he was always the Son of God and always filled with the Spirit; but what happened at his baptism and in the desert transforms the course of his incarnated life.  From the life of a quiet and pious carpenter in Nazareth (we presume, without any authentic knowledge, that he followed Joseph’s trade), he takes up the life of a preacher, healer, bringer of God’s love and mercy, and becomes the redeemer of the human race.  The divinity hidden within him for 30 years will now “appear in our very flesh,” as our Collect notes—appear effectively.  Outwardly like us, he’s inwardly filled with the Spirit of God—this is now made manifest—and is able to give that Spirit to his fleshly brothers and sisters.  “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” John preaches (1:8).

Our prayer this evening in the Collect was “that we might be inwardly transformed through him.”  Christ shares our human nature, and in him our nature has been suffused with grace by the descent of the Spirit.  In Christ our nature is again—for the 1st time since Adam’s fall—pleasing to the Father.

We pray that we—individually, you and I, each of us here; and every believer—might be transformed thru our union with Christ, the God-man so Spirit-filled, so pleasing to our Father.  We pray for an inward transformation, for outwardly we already resemble Christ, “who shares our humanity in order that we might share in his divinity.”  If it sounds radical that we should share in Christ’s divinity, recall that this is a teaching of the Fathers of the Church, and it’s also a prayer at every Mass, whispered (usually, following the rubric) by the priest as he adds water to the cup of wine.  Christ in his human nature receives the Holy Spirit so that human nature might be entirely renewed and made whole.[1]

What happens when we are “inwardly transformed” and become like Christ?  What are the indications that our nature is being divinized, being suffused with the grace of the Holy Spirit?  We cast out of our lives the disfigurement of sin so that the Holy Spirit may reconfigure us into the likeness of Christ—and for that of course we need plenty of divine help:  the grace of the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, the graces of our particular vocations, and the power that comes from the Word of God that we listen to, read, and take into our hearts.  We become more concerned to hear the Father’s voice, to listen to what the Father asks of us, to attune our wills and desires and aspirations to God’s will, like Jesus.  The inward transformation of our hearts and souls gives birth to an outward transformation of our lives, so that we become servants of our brothers and sisters like Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45); who washed his apostles’ feet (John 13:1-17); who patiently taught and healed; who gave his life to ransom us from Satan’s power (cf. Mark 10:45).  Thru us, when we’ve been inwardly transformed, the Spirit testifies to God’s love for all his children:  “In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments” (1 John 5:2), particularly the commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us:  to forgive, to heal, to show mercy.

May the Holy Spirit, who descended on us in our sacramental Baptism and Confirmation and who remains close to us every day, truly transform us into God’s children in our thoughts, words, and deeds.

     [1] Cf. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, LOH 1:604.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mike Blanco Workshop Blessed at Provincial House

Mike Blanco Workshop Blessed
at Provincial House

A new workshop for the maintenance needs of the provincial house was dedicated on Friday evening, December 26, in memory of Mike Blanco, whose generosity made it possible. Mike, Fr. John Blanco’s brother, died last April. Fr. Steve Dumais led the liturgical blessing rite, assisted by most of the confreres of the community.

Fr. John speaking about his late brother's service
during WWII, life as a Salesian brother for some time, marriage, and continued love for the SDBs
The room seems originally to have been the coal cellar of John Stephenson's mansion, then (I’ve heard) became a Salesian wine cellar. When I came here in 1986, it was maintenance man Ed Amori’s workshop. But when the house no longer kept a permanent maintenance man, early in the new millennium, it became something of a junk room. Now, thanks to Mike Blanco—and to William Diaz and Fr. John, who did the renovations—it’s a beautiful workroom, more elegant, and more useful, than ever.

Mr. Diaz's crew laying a new floor in the workshop-to-be
Two views of the finished workshop
Fr. Steve blessing the shop

Homily for the Epiphany

Homily for the Solemnity
of the Epiphany
Jan. 4, 2015
Prayer over the Offerings
Ursulines, Willow Drive, New Rochelle

“Look with favor on these gifts of your Church, in which are offered now not gold or frankincense or myrrh, but he who by them is proclaimed, sacrificed and received, Jesus Christ” (Prayer over Offerings).

Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico
Well, that prayer that we’ll pray over the offerings in a little while is pretty awkward grammatically, and it certainly wouldn’t win a Hemingway prize for directness or clarity.  It is, however, theologically rich.

1st recalling today’s Gospel, it refers to the gifts of the magi to make a contrast with the gifts that we present here today as our offering to the Divinity—to the Father, not to the newborn King of the Jews.  These are our gifts, the Church’s gifts; we ask the Father to “look with favor” upon them.

That word “look” is intuĂ©re in the Latin text, which means—according to a fine commentary on the new presidential prayers—“to gaze into.” [1]  We pray the Father to look into the inner reality of these gifts and not just their surface, and to find favor with that deeper reality.

The gifts right now—as we make the prayer—are just bread and wine.  But bread and wine are not what we’re about to offer to the Father, are they?  They’ll become the body and blood of his beloved Son Jesus, on whom his favor rests—the one who by the gifts transubstantiated in our sacred mysteries “is proclaimed, sacrificed and received.”

Now the Father can hardly help seeing the body and blood of his beloved Son when we offer it to him, and we would suppose can hardly help gazing upon the Son with favor.  So what are we praying for?  According to the commentary to which I referred, that the Father see us as well.  The bread and wine will become the body and blood of Christ.  Are we not the body of Christ?  We pray that the Father will see us joined to Christ and look favorably upon us too, us who form part of the “whole Christ.”  We pray that when the Father sees the gifts, he see also us who present them, and when he sees us gathered here, that he see his Son in or with us.  After all, the offering of our Eucharist is really Christ’s offering, Christ’s sacrifice, isn’t it?

Our prayer says that by these gifts of God’s Church Jesus Christ is “proclaimed, sacrificed and received.”

Celebrating the Eucharist, we proclaim the death and the resurrection of Christ until he comes again.  We proclaim that he is what the gold, frankincense, and myrrh signify:  our king, our God, and our redeemer thru his cross.  We pray the Father to keep all that before him, to be mindful of it, as he looks upon our gifts, and us united with his Son in this offering of the Son.

As we celebrate the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is made present—not re-enacted, for Christ offered himself once, for all.  But thru the sacred mystery the sacrifice of Jesus is re-presented, made present—not again but still; thru the sacred mystery “the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present” (CCC 1364).  As the Father was pleased with Christ’s self-offering on Calvary in time, in 30 A.D. (or whatever the year was), he is eternally pleased with that sacrifice, which we join Christ now in offering, making his self-offering our own—and offering ourselves alongside Christ.

In these gifts Jesus Christ is received.  After we proclaim him, after we offer ourselves to the Father with Jesus, Jesus gives us himself in the Eucharist, cementing our union with him.  We become what we eat—and we pray that it may truly be so, that we become perfect images of Christ.  If our union is truly one of hearts, one of commitment to the Father’s will like Jesus’ own commitment, the Father can only look with favor on the gifts we offer:  not only Jesus Christ, but ourselves in Jesus and Jesus in ourselves.

                [1] Daniel J. Merz and Marcel Rooney, OSB, Essential Presidential Prayers and Texts (Chicago: LTP, 2011), p. 28.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Homily for Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Homily for the Solemnity of
Mary, Mother of God
Jan. 1, 2015
Num 6: 22-27
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon

“The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Num 6: 26).

January 1 is, liturgically, the solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.  It also commemorates the circumcision and naming of Jesus, mentioned in the gospel reading.  It’s the 1st day of the new civil year, 2015.  We speak of 2015 A.D., anno Domini, the year of the Lord, acknowledging that time is not only civil or secular; it’s the Lord’s time 1st of all, his gift to us; and we ask him to bless it for us so that we may spend it well in his service.

And finally, the Church observes Jan. 1 as World Day of Peace.

Well, sort of observes.  Do you even know of this observance?  The Popes since Paul VI have issued a World Day of Peace message every year for 48 years and called for governments and Catholics and all people of good will to do more to foster peace in our society and the world community.  Probably most of you haven’t read Pope Francis’s message, dated December 8, or any earlier papal messages for the day.  (Not that I’ve read many of them myself.)

Think for a moment of the news you heard in 2014—news of war and violence from Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.  If you listened or read more closely, you also heard about wars, rebellions, or civil unrest in Burma, Congo, and Colombia, and no doubt I’ve missed a few places.  This is not to mention instances in our own country of drug violence, gang violence, domestic violence, sexual assaults, assaults based on some form of discrimination, shootings, and street crime.

Where does all that come from?  It seems to be rooted in our nature.  The story of Cain and Abel in the 4th chapter of Genesis tells us it’s rooted in our jealousy or envy of others, in anger or greed or pride.  (I’ve just named 4 of 7 deadly sins, haven’t I?)

The cure for our deadly sins is, as the blessing in the 1st reading suggests, to let the face of the Lord shine upon us, to let God infuse our hearts with light and divine grace.  Peace follows.

Whatever jihadists think; whatever various racists or extreme nationalists think; whatever Vladimir Putin thinks—peace can’t possibly come from the domination of others or the extermination of our enemies.  Whatever secularists think, it can’t come from abandoning public and private morality.  It can come only from our common submission to the Lord, only if we allow the Lord to “rule the peoples in equity” (Ps 67:5), i.e., in fairness and justice.  “May all the peoples praise you, O God, … and may all the ends of the earth fear him!” (Ps 67:6,8).

The papal messages for World Day of Peace usually focus on one theme or approach to peace.  This year Pope Francis asks the world to work harder to eliminate slavery.

Does that surprise you?  You thought slavery was long gone?

A news item in the NYT on 11/18/14 reports that, according to a human rights organization in Australia, “almost 36 million people are living as slaves across the globe.”  This slavery includes forced labor, forced marriages, and debt bondage.  The report also says that in the U.S. about 60,000 people are exploited as forced laborers.[1]

I’ll quote from Pope Francis’s message:

Even though the international community has adopted numerous agreements aimed at ending slavery in all its forms, and has launched various strategies to combat this phenomenon, millions of people today – children, women and men of all ages – are deprived of freedom and are forced to live in conditions akin to slavery.

The Holy Father identifies various forms of forced labor that are like slavery:  domestic and farm workers, workers in mines and sweatshops in places where labor regulations and protections don’t meet international norms or minimum standards.  Remember the garment factory that collapsed in Bangladesh in April 2013, killing more than 1,100 workers?

Pope Francis continues:

I think also of the living conditions of many migrants who, in their dramatic odyssey, experience hunger, are deprived of freedom, robbed of their possessions, or undergo physical and sexual abuse. In a particular way, I think of those among them who, upon arriving at their destination after a grueling journey marked by fear and insecurity, are detained in at times inhumane conditions. I think of those among them, who for different social, political and economic reasons, are forced to live clandestinely.

That sounds like the situation of people who are coming to and living in the U.S. illegally.

The Pope also mentions migrant workers forced to live under unfair labor contracts that practically bind them to their employers, who hold legal power over them.

Then he bemoans

persons forced into prostitution, many of whom are minors, as well as male and female sex slaves. I think of women forced into marriage, those sold for arranged marriages and those bequeathed to relatives of their deceased husbands, without any right to give or withhold their consent.

Nor can I fail to think of all those persons, minors and adults alike, who are made objects of trafficking for the sale of organs, for recruitment as soldiers, for begging, for illegal activities such as the production and sale of narcotics….

You’ll recall the horrors of child soldiers in Liberia and Sierra Leone during their civil wars, well depicted in the 2006 movie Blood Diamond, for example.  The front page of the Wall Street Journal last weekend carried a story called “The Child Soldiers of Syria” that describes what happens to young recruits of ISIS, and what they’re trained to do.  Can you imagine an 8-year-old learning to behead his “enemy”?

The Holy Father goes on:

I think of all those kidnapped and held captive by terrorist groups, subjected to their purposes as combatants, or, above all in the case of young girls and women, to be used as sex slaves. Many of these disappear, while others are sold several times over, tortured, mutilated or killed.[2]

That’s a clear allusion to the hundreds of schoolgirls who’ve been kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria.  Unfortunately, that’s not the only place where that’s happening.

Pope Francis goes on to review some of the causes of these abuses of our brothers and sisters, all of whom are created in the image of God and have been redeemed by Christ; who are intended to be free and to be loved, just as you and I are.  The Pope calls upon the entire human family to commit itself to ending slavery.  In his homily in Rome this morning, he exhorts:

All of us are called to be free, all are called to be sons and daughters, and each, according to his or her own responsibilities, is called to combat modern forms of enslavement. From every people, culture and religion, let us join our forces. May he guide and sustain us, who, in order to make us all brothers and sisters, became our servant.

You and I, of course, aren’t in government, and perhaps none of us belongs to any organized group that deals with these kinds of issues.  Perhaps some of us should; perhaps some of us have time and passion to commit to human rights issues—and this is one of the Pope’s specific suggestions; or time and willingness to address our state and federal legislators about these issues.

The Pope also suggests that “everyone, in accordance with his or her specific role and responsibilities, practice acts of fraternity….”  He suggests that we “ask ourselves, as individuals and as communities, whether we feel challenged when … when we are tempted to select items which may well have been produced by exploiting others.  Some of us, out of indifference, or financial reasons, or because we are caught up in our daily concerns, close our eyes to this.”  He suggests that we “practice small, everyday gestures – which have so much merit! – such as offering a kind word, a greeting or a smile.  These cost us nothing but they can offer hope, open doors, and change the life of another person who lives clandestinely; they can also change our own lives with respect to this reality.”  He could be speaking there of the many undocumented persons—many of whom are truly refugees from violence and oppression—who live all around us.  Then he urges us to “have the courage to touch the suffering flesh of Christ, revealed in the faces of those countless persons whom [Christ] calls ‘the least of these my brethren’ (Matt 25:40, 45).”

Pope Francis concludes his message with a paragraph that opens this way:  “We know that God will ask each of us: What did you do for your brother? (cf. Gen 4:9-10),”[3] which is an allusion to the Cain and Abel story.  Let no one feel enslaved on account of our pride, anger, or envy.  Each of us has many opportunities every day to bring peace to a brother or a sister in the way we treat that person—with a smile, with kindness, perhaps with a helping hand—whether that person is a stranger, a co-worker, a schoolmate, someone at the senior center or supermarket, or a family member.  “May the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”  And may the Lord make you a bearer of his peace!

                [1] Reuters, “Millions Forced to Live as Slaves,” NYT, Nov. 18, 2014.

                [2] Francis, Message for World Day of Peace, n. 3.
                [3] Ibid., n. 6.