Sunday, February 22, 2015

SLMs Thriving in Cambodia

SLMs Thriving in Cambodia

This  year we have 4 Salesian Lay Missioners serving in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.  There are 2 at each of the 2 schools of the Salesian Sisters, and they're all both doing fantastic ministry to the young female students and having a marvelous experience.
Clare Pressimone (Mohnton, Pa.), Maggie Hutchinson (Gibsonia, Pa.), Amanda Cisneros (Yoakum, Tex.), an unidentified volunteer from another country, and Sarah Taylor (Thomasville, N.C.) on 1/31/15. (Photo from Clare's blog)
These 4 SLMs were among 20 commissioned last August.

All 4 are blogging about their service and their adventures, most recently about celebrating the feast of St. John Bosco, including a royal visit to Clare and Sarah's campus: (Clare)

Latest posts of

Please remember all our SLMs--in Bolivia, DR Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and elsewhere--in your prayers.

Homily for 1st Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
1st Sunday of Lent
Feb. 22, 2015
Mark 1: 12-15
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan” (Mark 1: 12).

On the 1st Sunday of Lent, we always hear one of the gospel versions of Jesus’ 40 days in the Judean wilderness and his temptations, which follow his baptism by John.  This Sunday also has its own proper Preface noting Jesus’ long fast and his victory over “the ancient serpent.”

Today in the “B” cycle of the lectionary we hear Mark’s sparse description—just 2 verses, lacking the interesting dramatic details of Matthew’s and Luke’s versions.

 “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.”  This is the Spirit that just came down upon him at the Jordan River.  The Spirit seizes him and drives him to an intense experience of combat with evil:  “tempted by Satan for 40 days.”  We’d like to think that when we give ourselves to God all will be peaceful in our souls.  Au contraire!  The devil gets riled up, goes and finds 7 other spirits more evil, Jesus says in a parable, and tries to reclaim the soul that has cast him out (cf. Matt 12:45).  We read in Sirach, “My son, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials” (2:1).  So if you feel yourself beset by temptations of anger, avarice, envy, gluttony, laziness, lust, or pride, know that Jesus has been there, and he’s at your side now.

Implied in Mark’s 2 verses is that those 40 days are also a period of Jesus’ communion with his Father, signified by the action of the Spirit and the references to the desert, 40 days, and the presence of the angels (1:15).

The desert is a place of testing for God’s people, and in the testing they’re formed as a people.  It took the Hebrews 40 years to complete their desert journey, to pass their testing and come to the Promised Land; they failed one temptation after another.  Like the prophet Elijah—who spent 40 days in the desert on his way to Mt. Horeb and a renewal of his prophetic vocation—Jesus is so attuned to the Spirit’s lead that he doesn’t need years; 40 days are enuf for him to turn Satan away and gird himself for his own prophetic mission.

Unlike Matthew, Luke, and today’s preface of the Eucharistic Prayer, Mark says nothing about Jesus fasting for the 40 days.  When he says “the angels ministered to him,” he may mean that they provided him with what he needed, just as God sent ravens to bring Elijah food when he was in a wilderness hideout and, subsequently, when he fled into the Sinai desert, an angel brought him food and water to sustain him on his 40-day journey.  God is providing for those who put their trust totally in him—providing not extravagance or even comfort, but what’s necessary.  We can also infer that Jesus is so united with his Father that the angels serve him as readily as they do the Father.

Mark adds the unique note that “he was among the wild beasts” (1:13).  That’s a suggestive line—suggestive of the Garden of Eden, when our innocent ancestors dwelt harmoniously with every kind of animal; suggestive also of the messianic age foreseen by Isaiah when “the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them” (11:6).  Jesus is the one who will restore harmony to the universe by renouncing the serpent’s temptations, unlike our ancestors.  In today’s deeply troubled world, so much in the thrall of hatred, violence, nationalism, racism, egoism, and many other -isms, Jesus is the key to restoration and redemption.

After his desert experience, Jesus is ready to begin his ministry.  That starts on an ominous note:  “After John had been arrested” (1:14).  Mark is already warning us of what happens to prophets.  Being filled with the Holy Spirit, doing battle with Satan and winning, placing one’s life in God’s hands—all that is no protection against evil people in the short run.  Like Darth Vader and Voldemort, Satan has his allies, and they claim their temporary victories.  As Jesus tells those who are arresting him in Gethsemane, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).

But Jesus sees beyond the short run.  Daily communion with God during 40 days in the desert will do that for you.  He goes right into the territory of Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, who had arrested John, and starts to preach:  “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand” (1:14-15).

 “The time of fulfillment” means that Satan’s time is up and God’s on the verge of reclaiming humanity.  God’s entering history more forcefully than he has until now, more forcefully than at the Exodus, in the preaching of the prophets, or in the people’s liberation from Babylon.  Jesus doesn’t say it, but we know it:  the kingdom is personified in him.  He’s about to make the kingdom evident in his preaching, his miracles, his offer of redemption, and his rising from the dead.

His offer of redemption:  that’s the ticket to the kingdom, to the restoration of Eden and our healthy relationship with God and all of creation.  “Repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15).  Repent of your evildoing—and your evil thinking and evil desiring, as Jesus will spell out in his preaching, for out of the heart come “unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly” (Mark 7:21-22).  A little refection on our own experience will confirm Jesus’ teaching.

Repentance also means turning from omission to action where omission or failure to act is evil.  In the Confiteor we confess also “what I have failed to do.”  We’re familiar with Jesus’ parable of the last judgment (Matt 25:31-46), wherein the just are welcomed into the kingdom because they’ve fed, clothed, nursed, and visited the needy; and those who’ve ignored Christ’s brothers and sisters are condemned.

In fact, this is the theme of Pope Francis’s message for Lent, in which he implores all of us to turn away from our “selfish attitude of indifference” that leaves the world suffering in so many ways; to go out of ourselves and “be engaged in the life of the greater society … especially with the poor and those who are far away”—which may refer not so much to those who are geographically distant as to those who are alienated and marginalized in some way.

 “Believe in the gospel,” believe in the Good News, means believe that God really is close to you, really does welcome your repentance, really does forgive you, really does desire your presence in his family; and then to act like you believe all that!  Which is to say again, repent:  alter your behavior to be in tune with the Gospel.

And that’s what Lent’s all about—starting again in a desert of personal repentance, prayer, sizing up our relationship with God, and again embracing Jesus Christ, who is the Good News from God, so that, in the words of today’s Preface, we might 1st “celebrate worthily the Paschal Mystery”—that’s a double entendre alluding to both Easter and the Eucharist—and then “pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast.”

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bro. Bernard Zdanowicz, SDB

Bro. Bernard Zdanowicz, SDB (1924-2015)

Bro. Bernard Zdanowicz, SDB, ended his earthly pilgrimage early on Feb. 20 at the Joe Raso Hospice Residence in New City, N.Y., after a long illness related to heart problems. A member of the SDB community of the Marian Shrine-Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point, he was 90 years old and had been professed as a Salesian brother for more than 58 years.

Bernie was born in Trenton, N.J., on July 26, 1924, the 5th of the 12 children of Stanley and Stanislava Wisniewska Zdanowicz. The family belonged to Holy Cross Parish, where Bernie was baptized on Aug. 8, 1924, and later confirmed. He attended Holy Cross School in Trenton. The guidance of the Felician Sisters in the school and Bernie’s participation in the parish choir for many years helped foster in him a religious vocation that emerged years later.

He was graduated from Trenton Central High School in 1942, where he played football three years. Drafted into the Army, he served with the 69th Infantry Division and, following illness, in work battalions from 1942 to 1945.

After being discharged, he worked as a postal clerk in Trenton and used the G.I. Bill to get training as an auto mechanic. He worked as a mechanic from 1948 to 1953. At that time, Bro. Bernie said, he was “seized by a great devotion to our Lady and the Holy Rosary promoted by Fr. Patrick Peyton and his Family Rosary Program, and felt God’s presence and vibrant urge to give myself to God and serve his people.”

So at age 29 Bernie went with his dad to see their pastor. They looked into several religious orders but found that only the Salesians had a suitable program for “late” vocations. He entered Don Bosco Seminary in Newton, N.J., in October 1953 and spent two years doing preparatory studies. In September 1955 he was admitted to the novitiate, and on Sept. 8, 1956, professed vows with 20 young Salesians. Bro. Bernie felt “an intimate and personal encouragement from Don Bosco himself” at that time.

Bro. Bernie’s classmate Fr. Tom Juarez remembers him with deep appreciation: “Gentleness was inscribed deeply into Bro. Bernie’s person. It was there in his eyes, in his smile, in the way he walked and interacted with people. It flowed from his warm love for Jesus and Mary. You had to love him. I think of a phrase in Spanish used to describe a good person: tan bueno como el pan (as good as bread). He will be a wonderful intercessor from heaven.”

At the celebration of Bro. Bernie's 25th anniversary (a half year late, 2/14/82),
he was joined in song by DBT's DRA Fr. Steve Schenck
Immediately after his profession, Bro. Bernie was sent to Don Bosco Technical HS in Paterson, N.J., to teach automotive technology, and he remained there until 1993. His students were very fond of him, and he was well liked and respected by all of the staff. He was famous for working with donated clunkers to get them into roadworthy condition—although that might have depended upon one’s definition of “roadworthy”—for keeping the shop spotless, and for his cheerful attitude.

A former Salesian fondly remembers Bro. Bernie’s serenity when confreres in the Paterson community would tease him. He continues: “While I was there he often asked me to take a car to the Motor Vehicles for inspection [explaining], ‘The collar helps. When I got there the inspectors usually announced that there was a ‘Bro. Bernie Special’ in the station. They were always professional, but their affection was evident.”

Fr. Tony Mastroeni of the Paterson Diocese has this memory of Bro. Bernie: “I knew Bro. Bernie from the Tech in Paterson. During my seminary days at Darlington, and during the summer months, I ran the Neighborhood Youth Corps, a federal/state anti-poverty program whose aim it was to find suitable summer jobs for poor high school students, for which the government paid the modest weekly salary. I would always place my best boys with Bro Bernie at the Tech, for he would not only teach them auto mechanics but form them by his sterling example. Often I would visit in the afternoons, and their heads were in some engine, while in the background could be heard Brother’s radio, which was usually playing some religious station—often an evangelical one—with a strong message about Jesus. He was so good to these kids who could never afford even the modest tuition of the Tech. I think Bernie, like so many coadjutor [brothers], was our saint from Trenton.”
DBT was unable to keep up with the increasing technical sophistication of automobiles. So the auto shop was closed in 1993. At age 69 Bro. Bernie was assigned as caregiver and administrator of Blue Gate, the Salesian residence for sick and elderly confreres in Stony Point, N.Y. But he also maintained the vehicles of the adjacent Marian Shrine-Don Bosco Retreat House. With the closure of the residence in 1999, Bro. Bernie moved to the Marian Shrine to continue caring for the vehicles, help in the gift shop, and assist the pilgrims who visit the Shrine on weekends—all of which he kept up as best he could into his 91st year, despite various physical ailments.

Salesian Cooperator Arthur Yankowski of the Stony Point unit recalls Bro. Bernie’s warmth: “A smile and a Salesian greeting was always there to greet me, and I was blessed to have been there for our meetings.”

In the fall of 2014 he was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, N.Y., with a serious heart problem, and death seemed imminent. But the situation was not quite so dire, and he recovered sufficiently to return home in a couple of weeks. Bro. Bernie was genuinely disappointed not to have gone to heaven instead! But he needed more and more care and was in increasing physical difficulty, so that early in February he was admitted to hospice care at Joe Raso.

Bro. Bernie’s wake will be held in the Marian Shrine chapel, 174 Filors Lane, Stony Point, N.Y. 10980, on Monday, February 23, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in the chapel at 7:00 p.m. with Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial, presiding. Fr. Jay Horan will give the homily.

Bro. Bernie will be laid to rest among his confreres in the Salesian Cemetery in Goshen, N.Y., on Tuesday, February 24, at 10:00 a.m.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fr. Angel Fernandez Visits Chad, Cameroon, and South Sudan

Fr. Angel Fernandez Visits
Chad, Cameroon, and South Sudan

Condensed from ANS

On February 8 Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, St. John Bosco's 10th successor as Rector Major of the Salesian Society, and his secretary, Fr. Horacio Lopez, left Rome to visit Chad, Cameroon, and South Sudan. The two visitors made fraternal stops in Chad (Feb. 9-12), Cameroon (13-16), and South Sudan (17-21).
In Chad

Fr. Angel and Fr. Horacio arrived at N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, on Monday, February 9. Accompanied by the provincial and other confreres, they were brought to the house at Chagoua, where they received a warm welcome from the students, teachers, and the leaders of the youth center with traditional and symbolic gestures. They heard about the birth of the SDB presence in Chad and its future prospects. The RM addressed some words of greeting in French to the young people present and invited them to come back on Thursday, when he would return after a visit to the houses of southern Chad.

The RM shared a meal and celebrated the Eucharist with the SDB community in a spirit of great fraternity. He left at 4:00 a.m. Tuesday for the SDB house in Sarh, where a large crowd of the faithful and many curious onlookers were waiting for him at the soccer stadium. The RM greeted them and accepted traditional gifts.

He went to the SDB community, where a large number of religious, diocesan priests, and young people were waiting. He answered questions on family ministry, youth ministry, and education; witnessed a show of traditional and modern youth dances; and gave a Good Night to the young people.

On the 11th, the RM presided at Mass in the parish church, shared news about the Salesian Family with the local SDBs, then was driven to Guidolo, a village 13 miles away, to bless a new well.

After his visit to Sarh, Fr. Angel was driven to Doba, where the program included cultural activities and another session of questions and answers.

On his Facebook page the RM chronicled his tour of the SDB communities of southern Chad:

“We are in southern Chad. We have had a long day. We got up at 3:00 a.m. and by 4:00 we were already on the road, in the middle of the night. Dawn came at 5:30. Ahead of us lay 530 miles of road, with potholes that constituted a danger for tires. A young goat ran into our pick-up and damaged the bumper–a typical missionary day!

We witnessed the reality of thousands of people who survive every day by selling something from the fields: firewood, vegetables, and so on.

When we arrived at the Salesian house [of Sahr], hundreds of people from the local Christian community were waiting for us. There was music, song, and dance, and the typical joy of Africans when they welcome their guests. Once again there is a lesson we can learn from the poor, that there is joy in life and in meeting people, even where there is poverty.

On February 13 he wrote: ”Neither the heat nor the 1,050 miles we have travelled in three days (about 24 hours’ journey on roads that were more or less passable) managed to take away from the beauty of all these meetings.

In Doba yesterday, it was impossible to communicate due to lack of technology.

We concluded the visit to Chad in three villages; these people spend their lives on the road, especially on the main road where everything is bought and sold.

We saw that water is an invaluable asset, and so is the shade of a tree. People go into their mud houses only to sleep at night or for safety when confronted by some animal.

I assure you that no one could remain indifferent after meeting these people. What struck us was their dignity even in a situation of absolute poverty or survival, and their smiles!

There is need for a lot of work, education, and development, but they have great dignity and passion for life.

We are leaving highly impressed by the life of the Salesian community and the Christian community we met there.

I cannot find words to express what these experiences mean to me. We prayed with the communities, we heard what they had to say, we shared with our brother Salesians who, day after day, give their LIFE in this mission land. There are 12 Salesians in Chad. They are HAPPY–we have seen it and can confirm it.

Friends: I invite you, simply, as far as I can in the time at my disposal, to continue to accompany our journey of pilgrimage. Let us pray for each other and for this good people who love life even though they lack many things,

Early on February 12, the RM returned to N’Djamena, where he had a meeting with the young people and the faithful of the SDB parish as he had promised. In the evening he presided at Mass for the young people and met the diocesan administrator.

On Friday, after Mass and a Good Morning talk to the students of the SDB school, Fr. Angel left for Cameroon.

A weekend in Cameroon

Arriving at Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, on Saturday morning, February 14, Fr. Angel remarked: “I am the servant, not the boss. I want to be available to everyone.”

At the SDB center of theological studies, the community welcomed him with song, traditional symbols, and a stage performance by the theology students on the theme of GC27. This was followed by a family meeting in which the young SDBs asked questions, and the RM highlighted the strengths of the Congregation and the areas for improvement.

The next morning the RM celebrated Mass and took part in the community meal, which also provided the occasion for a meeting with the apostolic nuncio. In the afternoon he visited the FMAs at Cité Marie-Dominique and had a fraternal meeting with members of the local Salesian Family, on the triple theme of communion, dynamism, and mission. The day ended with Evening Prayer and Good Night, in which the RM invited all to look to the future with hope.

On Sunday the 15th, many SDBs, FMAs, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Salesian Cooperators, and the general faithful participated in the Eucharist with the RM in the parish church. In his homily Fr. Angel invited all present to ask themselves what was their own leprosy from which they sought healing, and then to turn to Jesus with the courage of the leper who asked to be healed.

After Mass the RM blessed the site on which a new church is to be built, then held a press conference. He was asked about the significance of his trip to a continent in political, economic, and social crisis. Fr. Angel said he had come to support his brothers who live in a context of crisis, and also to promote communion and dialog in communities as a way to combat fundamentalism.

In the afternoon the young people performed various cultural and artistic activities. The RM advised the young people to develop a culture of vocations, seeing life as both gift and service. It is from this perspective that all forms of Christian vocation are born.

Welcome to South Sudan

On February 17, Juba International Airport was flooded with colorful banners, traditional dancers, children, and youths from the SDB mission at Juba to welcome the RM. Activities in the airport came to a standstill. As soon as Fr. Angel arrived, he was interviewed by the national television.

The Salesian Family was led by the SDB and FMA provincials of East Africa and the delegate for Sudan and South Sudan. A police escort led the Salesian convoy to the mission, where the RM surprised everyone by mingling with the traditional dancers and child dancers. People were astonished by the familiarity, warmth, and fatherliness of the RM as he moved along and greeted everyone on his way to the mission.
A short greeting, prayer, and blessing followed the rousing welcome. Fr. Angel’s first message was the joy that he felt among the happy faces of a nation that had suffered long years of war. He was struck by the poverty of the neighborhood, the simplicity of the people, and the smiling faces greeting Don Bosco’s successor. He was proud that the Salesian Family was very close to this vulnerable population and exclaimed more than once that Don Bosco is truly present and at home among the poor.

The curiosity was so high that one little girl asked the mission’s director: “Is it the Don Bosco that we were talking about these days, that he would be among us? Wow!” Two little girls begged the driver of the RM’s car: “Please allow us to enter Don Bosco’s car.” They managed it with great excitement!

The day ended with a simple prayer and dinner with the Salesian Family. In his Good Night Fr. Angel emphasized: “The poor will save us. The Lord reaches out to us through the poor. I am happy that the Salesian family is here—SDBs, FMAs, and Caritas Sisters of Jesus.”

You can follow the Rector Major and his messages on social networks here.


On February 18, the Rector Major and nine others left Juba by chartered plane for Tonj, flying over the African savanna.

As the plane touched down at Tonj, beautiful melodies from the Don Bosco band greeted them. SDBs, FMAs, Missionary Sisters of MHC, and the Kakamega Sisters of Mary were on hand with youngsters from our schools, who gave Fr. Angel a rousing welcome with song and dance. He was also greeted by South Sudan’s minister of Information, Paul Dhel Gum, a Salesian past pupil from Wau.

The Rector Major blessed the John Lee Memorial Hospital, an initiative undertaken by the late Fr. John Lee (an SDB from Korea) and Fr. Omar Delasa. This was followed by the Ash Wednesday Mass and distribution of ashes, well organized by the parish and young people. In his homily the Rector Major expressed his joy and encouraged the children, teens, and other parishioners to continue to carry the flame of hope toward the creation of a more humane and just society.

Even after a long journey and in 100º heat, Fr. Angel and Fr. Horacio did not show any fatigue. They spent some fraternal moments with the FMAs and the MSMHCs. In the evening they visited Laicok, a leper village, where Fr. Angel came into direct contact with the real poor. He gave this community and their children loving attention and had the joy of blessing the construction of a primary school. His affection for the little ones was very touching.

In his Good Night to the Salesian Family, Fr. Angel expressed his appreciation and love for the Salesian mission and its special predilection for the poor. He encouraged all the members of the Family, marveling at their family spirit. He spent a brotherly evening with the SDBs, expressing his affection and acknowledging all the attention, sacrifices, and hard work done in the mission despite hardships.


On February 19 Fr. Angel and his party moved on to Wau. Again they received a warm welcome from the Salesian Family, youths, children, and parishioners of the Salesian mission.

Wau is a Catholic town, and as the Rector Major’s motorcade passed by the crowd joined in the celebration with blaring sirens, colorful banners, and songs. “Don Bosco is in the city,” was the talk of the town.

As Fr. Angel entered the FMA primary school, the children greeted him with traditional dances, songs, and creative choreography. The Rector Major, all smiles, moved around like an affectionate father, posing spontaneously for photos. Interviewed by the national TV, he stressed the conviction that the Congregation is committed to serving the poor and that the Salesians will always offer the hope that poor youngsters deserve.

At Mass the Rector Major highlighted his appreciation of the Christians’ great witness of faith and their determination to continue the journey of hope. The SDBs and FMAs had a quiet meeting with him. He listened to the SDBs as they discussed the dreams and challenges of the mission. Some youths at risk had a very personal meeting with him. He also had the privilege of blessing the cornerstones for the parish’s multipurpose hall, a new computer center, and a future Don Bosco Engineering College.

The SDBs in Wau exulted: “The Rector Major, daring the heat of the sun and the horrendous South Sudanese roads, showed his determination to be with the confreres and have his own experience of life in the mission.”


Fr. Angel began February 21 with a visit to the camp for displaced persons on the Salesian campus in Juba. It was a pastoral choice to start his official visit by meeting first the most vulnerable people in the camp. The children and babies felt at home in the company of the Rector Major and Fr. Horacio. His affection was unbounded as he took them in his arms and caressed them.

Fr. Angel moved over for the cultural program in the parish and tried some African dances. His well-coordinated movements together with the children brought joy to the folks, and he enjoyed them extremely.

Fr. Angel met the confreres of the Juba and Maridi communities and got to know the reality of the Salesian mission in those areas. He offered his recommendations for the growth of the South Sudan mission. Then he visited the FMAs.

The Eucharistic celebration in the parish brought all the Christians together, and the Rector Major guided the community with his reflections. While thanking them he also reiterated his conviction that the mission has a great future as it continues to enjoy the embrace of Christ’s love. His strength of conviction and hope led him to assure the Christian community of his continued remembrance in prayer for their country so afflicted by war.

His parting words to the Salesian Family were encouragement to remain committed to the poor and to find Christ in them.

“The Rector Major conquered the hearts of those in South Sudan, and he has left behind a beautiful memory of his visit with his gestures of affection, love, and hope-filled words. Thank you so much, Fr. Angel, and a warm hug from all your sons in South Sudan,” said the Salesians in Juba.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Two new Salesian cardinals

Two new Salesian cardinals

(ANS - Vatican City) -  On Saturday, February 14, Pope Francis reminded the 20 new cardinals he was creating of the Church’s mission: “Dear new cardinals, this is the way of the Church—not only to welcome and accommodate those who knock on our door, but to go out with evangelical courage, without prejudice, and without fear, and search for those who are far away.”

Among the new cardinals are two Salesians, Archbishop Daniel Sturla of Montevideo, Uruguay (right, above), and Archbishop Charles Maung Bo of Rangoon, Burma (left).
During the ordinary public consistory for the creation of the new cardinals, Pope Francis said: “The cardinalate is certainly an honor, but it is not honorific. This we already know from its name–‘cardinal’–from the word cardo, a hinge. As such it is not a kind of accessory, a decoration, like an honorary title. Rather, it is a pivot, a point of support and movement essential for the life of the community.” 
Those were the opening words of his homily. He proceeded with an analysis of St. Paul’s well-known hymn to charity (1 Cor 13). This was followed by the rite of creating the new cardinals, their profession of faith, and their oath of loyalty and obedience to the Pope and his successors.
In an interview with the news agency Zenit, Cardinal Sturla said that he considers the cardinalate an award for “the good things done by the Uruguayan Church” and “for the Uruguayan people” rather than a title to his credit–remarks very much in tune with the Pope’s message.
In Uruguay, the Church is struggling with the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics in Latin America. In the same interview, Cardinal Sturla said: “The Catholic Church has launched a program for the proclamation of the faith. The results have been good in terms of commitment to the poor and social concerns. . . . Another major challenge is that of vocations to the religious life, the priesthood, and laity committed to the life of the Church. My desire is to bring the Church everywhere, calling for a strong missionary evangelization in a secular environment in a pluralistic society.”
In a report, also with Zenit, Cardinal Bo said, “With the good will of the government and of all the people of Burma, we can arrive at reconciliation among all ethnic groups, leading to peace and to full development.” Cardinal Bo is the first cardinal in the history of his country, which has a strong Buddhist tradition. He sees the bicentennial of Don Bosco’s birth as a good opportunity to revive the Church’s involvement in Burma, especially by laying emphasis on the education of young people. “The example of Don Bosco’s work for the young, with his Preventive System based on kindness and tenderness, is very relevant at the present time and should be revived and strengthened.”
(The 2 newest SDB cardinals bring SDB membership in the sacred college up to 9, of whom 5 are under age 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave: Cardinals Oscar Rodriguez, Angelo Amato, Ricardo Ezzati, Bo, and Sturla.  The 4 elders are Cardinals Miguel Obando, Joseph Zen, Tarcisio Bertone, and Raffaele Farina.)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Homily for 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Feb. 15, 2015
Mark 1: 40-45
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon

“A leper came to Jesus and, kneeling down, begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean’” (Mark 1: 40).

This is the last Sunday of OT that we’re going to see until June 14, and the gospel we just read is the last of our sequential readings from St. Mark until then.  We’ll jump from the 6th Sunday of OT (today) to the 11th Sunday in June, and our gospels will leap forward from the end of Mark 1, where we are today, to Mark 4.  (Don’t be afraid to pull out your Bibles at home and see what we’ll be missing in public.)  In the meantime, as we go thru Lent and Easter over the next 13 weeks, and then the feasts of the Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi, we’ll read thematic passages from St. Mark and St. John.

Over the last few Sundays we’ve read from Mark 1, which has been a summary of Jesus’ public ministry.  He announces the nearness of God’s kingdom and calls for repentance.  He preaches in the synagogs of Galilee, gathers disciples around him, cures illnesses, and drives out demons.

Today a leper approaches him and begs to be cleansed.  Note the difference between being cured and being cleansed. That difference has to do with the perception of leprosy—or any other skin disease, such as eczema or even a bad rash—in the ancient world:  seen not just as a disease that was feared, loathed, and not understood—like AIDS or Ebola in our time, especially in the undeveloped world—but as a disease that made its victims “unclean” in a moral and religious sense too.  The leper was effectively excommunicated—cast out of the Jewish community.  If you’ve seen Ben-Hur, you’ll remember the leper colony where Judah eventually finds his mother and sister.  That effective excommunication of the afflicted is a treatment too often inflicted in our time on those suffering from AIDS or Ebola, including even disease-free family members of Ebola victims.  E.g., a good number of the orphans whom the SDBs are caring for in Liberia and Sierra Leone have been rejected by their extended families and home villages.

So this leper comes to Jesus asking for more than healing; he desires:  to be cleansed.  Cleansed, he’ll be restored to the community of Israel; will be able again to take part in the life of his family and his people, in daily life and in ritual.  That’s why Jesus, having healed him, does something he hasn’t done with other people he’s healed, like Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31) or the possessed man in the synagog (1:21-27).  He sends him to show himself to the priest and offer the prescribed sacrifice so that he can be publicly certified as clean and be readmitted to the community of Israel (1:44).

When Jesus sees and hears the leper, Mark says, he’s moved with pity.  He has a feeling of compassion from deep inside himself for this suffering human being, and he acts on that compassion, stretching out his hand to touch the leper—which makes Jesus himself unclean in the eyes of the Law—and heals him (1:41).

There, brothers and sisters, you have an image of Jesus’ entire mission, the Son of God’s reason for becoming human and living among us.  We are all unclean with sin, unfit to belong to the community of God.  But Jesus announces that the kingdom of God has come to us, calling us to repent our sins and believe the good news:  “I do will it.  Be made clean” (1:41).  He has come to touch us, flesh of our flesh, and make us whole; to restore us to God’s family.  “Go and show yourself to the priest” now means “Turn to the Church, which touches us today with the priesthood of Jesus in the sacred liturgy.”  “Go and show yourself to the priest” in confession and be cleansed of your sins, be reconciled with God and with his people.  “Go and offer the sacrifice that Moses prescribed” is for us an invitation, rather, to offer the sacrifice of Jesus, this Holy Eucharist, which makes present right here his body and blood, his passion, death, and resurrection, by which we are saved.

There’s another aspect to this story, too.  Jesus is moved with pity for the suffering of a leper, and his compassion moves him to effective action.  Thus he sets for us, his followers, an example:  we must exercise a similar compassion for the suffering.  As he tells the lawyer who was questioning him, after narrating the parable of the Good Samaritan, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

That’s why we’ve seen—and been moved by—Pope Francis washing the feet of prisoners, embracing the sick and the disfigured, visiting refugees on Lampedusa and in Istanbul.  (Those refugee kids from Syria and Iraq at Istanbul, by the way, are in the care of the Salesians.)  That’s why the Church all over the world, thru Caritas International, Catholic Relief Services, and many religious congregations, is on the front lines to assist the victims of natural disasters, war, sickness, and discrimination, without regard for the religion, race, nationality, or politics of the people in need of the compassion of Jesus.  That’s why the Church operates hospitals and schools, is present in refugee camps, and advocates for the disadvantaged people of the world like migrants, immigrants, orphans, Ebola patients, child soldiers, and the victims of human trafficking.  That’s why priests and nuns marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and hundreds of thousands of Christians march in our time in defense of unborn human beings.  That’s why Abp. Oscar Romero, who will soon be beatified as a martyr, and countless other priests, sisters, and lay people have spoken up, and in many instances given their lives, on behalf of the poor and the powerless against greedy and corrupt governments and social systems in places as diverse as Latin America and India.  So Jesus teaches us.

And our Holy Father has taken up this theme in a message addressed to us for Lent[1]:

Jesus “is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us.”  Oftentimes, when we live a healthy and comfortable lifestyle, “we forget about others.”

“We are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure. ... Our heart grows cold.” This “selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference.”

“God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation.” One of the most “urgent challenges” of today’s world, “is precisely the globalization of indifference.” This “globalization of indifference” is a reality that Christians must confront by going outside of themselves.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together,” from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, reminds us of the Church. The love of God breaks through the barriers of indifference we frequently put up.

“But we can only bear witness to what we ourselves have experienced.” The Pope encouraged the faithful to turn to the sacraments during Lent — particularly the Eucharist — in order to better imitate the Lord. During Mass, “we become what we receive: the body of Christ. In this body, there is no room for the indifference that so often seems to possess our hearts.”

Pope Francis concluded his message by praying that, during Lent, each person receive “a heart that is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart that is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.”

Therefore, sisters and brothers:  let the compassion of Jesus touch your heart and lead you to repentance and spiritual healing, and in turn be the compassion of Jesus for people who are suffering today.

       [1] Condensed from Elise Harris, “Wondering What to Give Up for Lent? Try Indifference, Pope Says,” National Catholic Register, Jan. 27, 2015, on-line.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Homily for Wednesday, 4th Week of Ordinary Time

Homily for Wednesday
4th Week of Ordinary Time
Feb. 4, 2015
Heb 12: 4-7, 11-15
Dominican and Franciscan Nuns
Wartburg, Mt. Vernon

“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him” (Heb 12: 5).

The Letter to the Hebrews there quotes from the OT Book of Proverbs.  The advice, of course, can be addressed also to daughters.

The other day I was reading an on-line essay about Bl. Junipero Serra, who will be canonized in September during Pope Francis’s visit to Washington.  The essay told how the holy friar sometimes whipped himself in the pulpit to impress upon his congregation the importance of bodily penance and mortification.  That’s probably not the sort of discipline of which our sacred writers (Proverbs and Hebrews) are speaking.

I always remember with amusement something that good Abp. Gene Marino used to say when he lived with us in New Rochelle:  “In the Middle Ages they did penance by fasting and the discipline”—meaning self-scourging—“but now we have meetings.”

St. John Bosco urged young Dominic Savio and his other pupils to do the penance of daily life.  He forbade Dominic, for instance, to sleep with too light a blanket during Turin’s harsh winters or to put pebbles into his bedding to make it uncomfortable.  The proper discipline for a youth, rather, is to obey his parents and teachers, to do his schoolwork and chores, to put up with hot or cold or wet weather, and to be kind and helpful toward his peers.

Dear sisters, you’re excused from homework!  But the rest is still good discipline for us, isn’t it?—to obey our superiors and the nursing staff, to put up with the weather, to do such duties as we may have.  We are called to be patient with the faults of others and to be kind in our speech—that’s discipline!  “Strive for peace with everyone,” Hebrews says (12:14).  We may not like the food we’re served—it’s probably rather bland and doesn’t have a lot of variety?—but we don’t have to complain about it.  How about the discipline of paying a compliment to someone or of saying thank you to someone who assists us (which most of you already do)?

Yes, there are countless ways in which the Lord continues to discipline the daughters and sons whom he loves, and ways in which we can share in Christ’s sufferings, as Hebrews says elsewhere, so as to share also in his glory (cf. 10:32-38).

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Homily for 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Feb. 10, 1991
Job 7: 1-4, 6-7
Mark 1: 29-39
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

This weekend I stayed home after hand surgery that leaves me in a splint and sling for at least a week.  So here's an oldie on the day's readings.

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope” (Job 7: 6).

The book of Job is a lengthy meditation on human suffering.  You and I have seen people in pain and grief.   We’ve heard of people being victimized by terrible natural disasters, and now we are TV witnesses to the death and destruction of war.  For these reasons and for others, all of us have at one time or another, like Job, had “troubled nights told off” for us, when sleep wouldn’t come and darkness dragged (7:3-4).

We might draw 2 lessons from today’s brief passages from Job and from Mark.  The 1st is that lasting happiness is not possible in this life.  “Is not man’s life on earth drudgery?  Are not his days those of a hireling?  He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who longs for his wages (Job 7:1-2).  While much of our race has progressed in easing the burden of labor, labor we still must, whether in the field or factory or laundry or classroom.  While we have progressed marvelously in medicine and health care, we must still contend with illness, accident, death, and grief.  Democracy is generally an advanced form of government, but it doesn’t root out corruption or self-seeking, and it brings its own problems of demagoguery and apathy.  With the best of intentions, we still manage to misunderstand other individuals and other cultures and cause hurt.  And, as we well know, not everyone has the best of intentions.  So if we were expecting eventually to create heaven on earth, we haven’t gotten very far since the sacred writer reflected 2,500 years ago on the plight of Job.

Many people would therefore agree with Job: “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again” (7:7).  It was for such people that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).  The 2d lesson of the readings is that Jesus is the cure for all the ills of mankind: “They brought to him all who were sick or possessed by demons.  And he healed many…” (Mark 1:32, 34). 

Last week Jesus drove an evil spirit out of one particular man.  This week he drives a fever out of a particular woman, and he proceeds to cure many of their ailments.  Eventually he will explicitly forgive sin, the root of every evil known to man, from stubbed toes to nuclear war.

Getting religion, meeting Jesus, doesn’t relive us of worry, pain, persecution, or death.  Read the life of any saint, beginning with the sinless Mother of God.  When Job asks, “When shall I arise?” and adds, “The night drags on,” he means only a literal nite of tossing and turning in affliction, or figuratively all the dark problems of life.  But Christ turns Job’s question into a search for everlasting life:  “When shall I arise?” on the last day, when Christ returns in his glory.  “The night drags on”—the night of the grave and of the devil’s work—but only for non-believers, for those who reject Christ, his good news, his way of life.  Our days are full of hope even when we know pain and grief.  We shall see happiness—eternally.  The Lord “heals the broken-hearted and binds their wounds” (Ps 147:3).  Jesus’ ministry prefigures our healing and our happiness; his resurrection and ascension assure it.  So instead of moaning with Job, in the rest of our Eucharist we shall “sing praise to our God, for he is gracious” (Ps 147:1).