Sunday, April 26, 2015

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2015
Acts 4: 8-12
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

“In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene this man stands before you healed” (Acts 4: 10).

The 3d and 4th chapters of the Acts of the Apostles recount how St. Peter and St. John healed a crippled man in the temple, continued preaching the resurrection of Jesus, and were called before the Sanhedrin to explain what they’d done.

St. Peter with net
St. Mary's, Fredericksburg
The elders and leaders of the Jewish people realized that the apostles weren’t learned men; they were simple fishermen from Galilee.  But they’d done something stupendous and were drawing a lot of attention.  They were winning converts to this new way of practicing Judaism.  The leaders were puzzled and alarmed.

In today’s reading Peter gives a simple, straightforward explanation.  St. Luke tells us, moreover, that in giving his response, he’s “filled with the Holy Spirit” (4:8).  For he’s about to preach the Gospel, and, in preaching the Gospel the Church leadership always teaches under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  So Jesus promised.  In this passage, we see that in the apostles Peter and John; in our day, the Spirit works thru the apostles’ successors, the Pope and the bishops.

In the immediate context, tho, it seems that the work of the Holy Spirit is to fill Peter with courage and, to use a favorite word from Acts of the Apostles, with “boldness,” to proclaim Jesus to the very people who’d condemned him to death; to proclaim boldly that the crippled man has been made whole by the power of Jesus; that “there’s no salvation thru anyone else” (4:12).

Note that Peter says the crippled man “was saved” and that he announces “salvation” thru Jesus Christ.  There’s an intrinsic link here:  the man’s body has been saved, and a fuller salvation is offered to him and to everyone thru Jesus Christ.  The physical healings that Jesus performed, like the one that Peter and John have done here, are images of the spiritual healing that God works on sinners:  forgiving sins, restoring us to his favor, ultimately raising us to that same eternal life that Jesus Christ, risen from the tomb, already enjoys.

Our association with Jesus thru Baptism and the other sacraments, thru the life of the Church, thru our following Jesus’ teachings—all these associations with Jesus make us God’s children by adoption—as we learned in our catechism a long, long time ago when we reviewed the effects of Baptism.  St. John speaks of that today:  the love of God bestowed on us allows us to be called his children (1 John 3:1-2).

This is the restoration won for us by Jesus Christ the Nazarene.  Human beings were created in God’s image, which means we were meant from the start to be God’s children.  Sin destroyed that relationship, but Jesus has brought us back into it—as many people as are willing to come to him to be healed, forgiven, made whole in our deepest, essential selves.

Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) because he’s totally devoted to God’s flock, God’s people:  to our well-being, our safety, our salvation.  He’s intent on keeping the wolf we call the devil away and on leading us all to safe pasture.  His laying down his life indicates how far he’ll go to protect his flock, and his rising from death shows his power to restore life to the flock’s members who’ve been injured and maimed by sin.

“In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene this man stands before you healed.”  If we desire healing—not of our bodies, at least not in the present world, but of our hearts, our souls, our deepest selves—we find that in Jesus Christ.  Whatever our wounds are, no one can heal them except Christ.  Whatever our hungers are, no one can satisfy them except Christ.  Sometimes it takes us a long time to learn this.  People waste time and energy pursuing health and beauty, pleasure and power, money and fame—and they come up empty every time, hungry, unsatisfied, lost.  Despite what you see on TV, a luxury car won’t bring you joy.  Neither will a case of cold beer, some bottle of shampoo, the next blockbuster movie.  Neither will Hillary or Jeb or Marco or any of their sort.

“There is no salvation thru anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”  The apostles believed that so deeply that they died rather than renounce that name.  The nitely news shows us our own contemporaries dying for the same reason in Nigeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

Do we live each day as if we believe that?  Do our words and our relationships and behavior testify to our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, the only one whom we follow without any reservation?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Homily for 3d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Easter

April 19, 2015
Acts 3: 13-15, 17-19
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle                                                                                   

“God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3: 15).

St. Peter
Collegiate Church of St. Waltrude
Mons, Belgium
In the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles repeatedly make this twofold claim:  Jesus has been raised from the dead, and they are witnesses to this fact.  That very commission is given them in the last line of today’s gospel:  “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).

Being a “witness” to Jesus’ resurrection and its implications takes on special meaning when we use that term, in Greek, martyr, to describe people thruout the ages like Stephen the Deacon; those being beheaded, crucified, and burned alive by ISIS and other fanatics; those being “re-educated” in Chinese prisons and labor camps; those being assassinated in Latin America for defending the poor or opposing the cartels.

To be a witness to Jesus, you know well, doesn’t mean only to die for him, be imprisoned for him, or go into exile for him.  We’re all supposed to be his witnesses—to witness by our lives that Jesus lives.

How do we do that?  Today’s Scriptures propose to us at least 6 ways.

1. We repent of our sins.  We admit that we have sinned and we pursue conversion (Acts 3:19).  If we’re not at the point where we need a dramatic conversion a la Augustine or Ignatius or Merton, we may need one from mediocrity; at the least, we need to turn away from our peccadillos, our gossip, our snide remarks, our loose adherence to truth, etc., and recommit ourselves to Jesus as our Risen Lord every day.

2. We seek knowledge; we foster learning.  Peter laments that his countrymen “acted out of ignorance” (3:17) when they demanded “the release of a murderer” (3:14), i.e., Barabbas in place of “the author of life” (3:15).  Knowledge and learning are goods in themselves:  knowledge of the created world, of the sciences and math; learning about people and cultures:  the arts and humanities; knowledge of the Scriptures, theology, and philosophy.  Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25) so that they might know him and might know what God is doing in their own lives.  All these branches of learning enable us to be more and more what God created us to be, images of himself; and better and better to love and serve one another.

3. Related to knowledge and learning is pursuit of the truth.  We pursue it, preach it, stick to it.  Knowledge and learning ultimately are in service to the truth; they are supposed to lead us to God.  Peter upbraids his audience for “denying the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14), denying plain facts evidenced by Jesus’ life and ministry.  We all know people whose motto seems to be “don’t confuse me with the facts.”  If that’s serious in an academic setting—which as teachers you all can appreciate—or in matters of public policy, it’s still more important in matters theological and spiritual.  We adhere to the Word of God (both the Scriptures in general and the Person of God’s Son), to the Creed that we profess at least weekly, to the inalienable truth of human dignity.

4. We are witnesses to Jesus by keeping the commandments.  “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3):  not only the Decalog but also the beatitudes and the 2 great commandments; and the commandment to serve one another.  “Whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him” (2:5).

5. We witness to Jesus thru our worship.  “The two disciples” who’d met Jesus at Emmaus “recounted … how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:35).  We come to the sacred liturgy to meet Jesus to testify publicly that we belong to him.  We proclaim the wonderful things that God has done for humanity in Jesus—for us personally too; and we go from our worship into the world recharged with his grace to be his agents in the world, his witnesses, by our actions and words.

6. We witness to Jesus by our joy.  In the Collect today we prayed that we might “exult forever in renewed youthfulness of spirit”; that we might “rejoice now in the restored glory of our adoption” as we anticipate the future joy “of the day of resurrection.”  How can we not be happy when our sins have been forgiven and Jesus has embraced us and made himself our companion and friend and savior?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Returned SLMs Reflect on and Share Their Experience

Returned SLMs Reflect on
and Share Their Experience

Salesian Lay Missioners Michael Gotta and Patrick Sabol were commissioned in August 2013 to serve at the Salesian secondary school, parish, and youth center in Gumbo, a suburb of Juba, capital of South Sudan. They’re both alumni of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

December 2014: Mike Gotta, Tom Kelly (finishing a year and a half as SLM),
Pat Sabol, and another volunteer named Robin
They arrived in Gumbo on August 30, 2013, with two other SLMs, Ariel Zarate and Theresa Kiblinger, who were to go on to the mission at Maridi. They remained until mid-July 2014 but had to be evacuated for a month to Kenya at the height of South Sudan’s civil war in January 2014. (The Salesians remained, but both they and the SLM directors back here thought it prudent for the young volunteers to get out of harm's way when the war seemed likely to come to Juba.)

Both Pat and Mike (no, this is not the start of a joke!) assisted with an SLM discernment weekend in New Rochelle on April 11-12 (preceding post), driving up from Washington and Philadelphia. They enjoyed their reunion with SLM batch-mate Manny Mendez (Bolivia, and now at Holy Rosary in Port Chester), Adam Rudin, and Fr. Mark Hyde. The warmth of their reunion made a big impression on the seven SLM candidates.

I had a few minutes (too few) to get them aside for a little interview. No direct quotes here, but the substance of their answers.

What were your responsibilities in Juba?

Mainly we taught in the secondary school, which enrolls youths and young adults of both sexes between the ages of 14 and 30. That spread comes from the unavailability of schooling in much of the country, and its interruption by years of war. So when some teens or adults get a chance to start or return to school, they come. There’s no GED program!

Some of the students and the staff early in the school year
When the school year started, we had about 65 pupils, but when the fighting broke out in December, refugees flowed into the city and the Salesians welcomed everyone in our compound—which not all places did. Consequently, our school enrollment went up to 180.

We also had administrative duties; in fact, just two weeks into the school year the principal, Fr. Patrick, died very unexpectedly. Fr. David was named principal but was so busy with his other responsibilities that a lot of the administrative work was delegated to us. One of our particular duties was to interview prospective students. Entrance criteria weren’t very strict, but the kids did have to know English because that’s the language of instruction.
We helped out in the parish and ran the attached youth center. The parish has three Masses each Sunday, one each in Arabic, English, and Bari, the local language. The Bari Mass got the biggest crowd; altogether, about 1,000 people came to Mass each Sunday, and of course on major feasts like Easter there were many, many more.

What was your most rewarding experience?

Mike: Learning to love the people. They came from many different places and brought a great cultural diversity, which we got to experience. And we shared some of our own culture with them. This displayed the universality of the Catholic Church.

Pat: Seeing the relationships of the people there, the struggles they went through, and walking alongside them in their daily lives and seeing them grow.

Celebration of Baptism at the SDB parish
What was the most difficult or most challenging part of your mission?

Pat: Seeing the suffering, particularly when the fighting began again. We had so many IDPs (internally displaced persons) in our compound. When we arrived, they were still experiencing the joy of their newly won independence [after about 20 years of vicious civil war against the Sudanese government]—and then in December it all fell apart.

Part of an encampment for IDPs near the Salesian compound
Mike: Seeing the hardness of heart of the leaders (who instigated the war), and of some of the people too. Some members of the two main tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer, display great hatred for the other tribe, based on very deep hurts caused by injuries inflicted upon them or their families. It’s deeper than any racism or anything we can fathom as Westerners.

What’s been challenging about readjusting to life at home?

Pat: It’s been a big change to shift from living in a Salesian community to living on my own; from working with the Salesians in ministry to working a secular job in the Philadelphia area. My life is no longer so church-focused. I have to find different ways to bring my faith into my daily life.

Mike: I have to make an internal attempt to live more selflessly in my daily life, as I saw and was so much encouraged to do on mission. I have to try to understand the struggles others are facing here. I have to try to be intentional about what I do and why I do it. Living and working in the mission was much less distracting because there was so much less materialism around us.

Photos from Pat's blog.

Seven Candidates Discerning SLM Call

Seven Candidates Discerning SLM Call

Over the April 10-12 weekend, five women and two men were in New Rochelle as part of their discerning a possible call to serve as Salesian Lay Missioners in 2015-2016. They came from Arizona, California, Florida, Nebraska, Nevada, and Pennsylvania and included a married couple with college-aged kids, a retired gentleman, and four collegiate women. Working with them were Adam Rudin, program director; Fr. Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle; Fr. John Serio, Bro. Steve DeMaio, and returned SLMs Michelle Webb (India), Mike Gotta and Pat Sabol (South Sudan), and Manny Mendez (Bolivia). Photo above includes the seven candidates, Adam (far left), Fr. Mark (next to Adam), and Michelle (far right).

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Homily for 2d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Easter
John 20: 19-31

This Sunday (April 12, 2015) I celebrated a vigil Mass for Boy Scouts in Putnam Valley, N.Y., and a morning Mass for the patients at St. Vincent Hospital in Harrison, N.Y., using the epistle (1 John), the gospel, and the collect for my texts but without a written text. So, as per my custom, here's an oldie--which evidently has been recycled once already!

April 22, 1979
OL of Prompt Succor, Westwego, La.
April 18, 1982
DBT, Paterson, N.J.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).

One of my junior religion students tells me he feels at a disadvantage because he doesn’t see and hear Jesus the way the people of the 1st-century Palestine did.  I sense that a lot of his schoolmates agree with him.  Wouldn’t our faith be stronger if we could see Jesus, raised from the dead, as Thomas did?

Incredulity of St. Thomas by Guercino
This student and many of us probably experience occasional doubts about God, about salvation, about resurrection, about eternal life, about miracles.  We say, “If only I were able to see Jesus, then all my doubts would be cleared away.”

Such doubting is not wrong.  It is part of a process of reflecting on our belief.  Religion is not something to be taken forever exactly the way we first heard it.  We all face a time when we question Santa Claus, and that time perhaps marks the transition from childhood into adolescence.  Linus, of Peanuts fame, will remain a child as long as he accepts unquestioningly his belief in the Great Pumpkin and his need for that security blanket.  Of course, we all know Linus is right in one matter:  there really is an Easter beagle.

So a maturing faith must face doubts and ask questions.  The great theologians of the Middle Ages—St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and others—described their work as “faith seeking understanding.”  It was a process of questioning and of careful consideration of as many options as their minds could devise.  St. Augustine struggled with his beliefs and his way of living for 20 years before coming to the truth and accepting the Christian faith.

Our age is more skeptical than earlier centuries.  We ask the most basic questions:  Is there a God?  Does he care about us?  Can we know good from evil?  Does anything make any difference?  Is there life after death?  Did Jesus really rise?  Is the Church really God’s instrument of salvation?  How do I know the Bible is true?

To ask those questions, or ones like them, is almost a necessity for us.  The apostle Thomas was as ordinary a person as we are.  We need to face the questions, not to run away from them, not to say Christians have no doubts.  Every virtue, including faith, grows thru struggle and temptation.  We can depend on God only when we recognize our own weakness.

The 4th-century monks of Egypt tell a little story about a certain abbot named John the Dwarf.  He “had prayed to the Lord and the Lord had taken away all his passions, so that he became [impassive].  And in this condition he went to one of the elders and said:  You see before you a man who is completely at rest and has no more temptations.  The elder said:  Go and pray to the Lord to command some struggle and be stirred up in you, for the soul is matured only in battles.  And when the temptations started up again he did not pray that the struggle be taken away from him, but only said:  Lord, give me strength to get through the fight.”[1]

So, be not disturbed if you have doubts of faith, or any other temptation for that matter.  Be disturbed if you don’t.

We might for a moment consider that other point:  If I could see Jesus….  Remember that Jesus preached to thousands, but his followers were few.  The chief priests and scribes witnessed his miracles as well as the ones the apostles did after the resurrection, but they didn’t come to faith.  It was one of his closest followers who betrayed him.  The 1st-century Jew had no advantage in faith over us at all.

How, then, did some recognize Jesus for who he was—our Lord and God, in Thomas’s words?  The key is in his word.  He is the Word of life.  We hear what he says, and God’s Holy Spirit moves us to believe in his word and in him.  We know God speaks thru him because the message of truth strikes to our hearts and invites us to be converted and to give ourselves to God.

A concluding story may serve as an illustration of the power of God’s word addressed to us and asking for our faith.  It’s a bit long, but it’s true.

Around the year 385, a young pagan scholar from North Africa, seeking fame and fortune, took a teaching position at the Roman emperor’s court in Milan.  There he came under the influence of St. Ambrose, the noble and learned bishop of Milan.  He was amazed at Ambrose’s celibacy and also at his eloquence.  He began going to Mass to hear Ambrose preach.

At the same time, he continued his ambitious, vain, and pleasure-seeking ways, all the while recognizing the emptiness of his life.  He began to question that meaningless life and the selfish self who led it, but he could not break with it.  He couldn’t leave behind the very evil he was beginning to detest.

He read some of the pagan philosophers and came to understand the existence of a spiritual world.  He saw evil as a distortion of a man’s spirit.  But still he couldn’t bring himself to change his own self-centered and lustful life.

Then this man discovered the Scriptures, especially St. Paul, with their message of deliverance from the flesh and from worldliness in Jesus Christ.  But still he couldn’t bring himself to change, to act on what he saw as good and right.

The influence of Ambrose weighed on his soul.  The holiness of life of his mother, St. Monica, spoke to his heart.  Yet he couldn’t bring himself to make the sacrifices that practicing chastity and renouncing fame and money would require of him.  He resolved to begin, but did not; tried to begin, but could not.

One day, meditating in his misery and on the example of earlier Christian heroes who had once been like him, he heard a child’s voice, chanting again and again from next door, “Take up and read; take up and read.”  Realizing that such words belonged to no children’s game he knew of, he saw in them a sign from heaven and went to the Scriptures.  He opened the volume and read the first paragraph he saw:  “Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in debauchery and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:13-14).  With a word of Scripture personally addressed to him, all the gloom of doubt and hesitancy vanished away.  At the age of 30, St. Augustine, future bishop and doctor of the Church, was converted to Christ.

St. Augustine
(Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, Turin)
In the same way does Christ speak personally to us, to our needs, to our doubts, to our fears, to our desires.  He is still alive and speaking to us today.  You will meet your Lord and your God in the Scriptures and in the sacraments, personally inviting you to faith, as he did Thomas and Augustine.

     [1] Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, xci.

The Annual Easter Hike

The Annual Easter Hike

Every year during Easter week, while Catholic schools are on holiday, Fr. Jim Mulloy and I try to get together for a couple of days of hiking and camping, usually in Harriman State Park, which is convenient, has hundreds of miles of well-marked trails, and has good lean-to shelters.

In 2009, however, we made a foray into the Catskills that didn't work out so well, thanks to my own carelessness.

In 2010 we had only 1 nite available and, interestingly, encountered a hiker at Bald Rocks who came down from the Adirondacks to enjoy our more modest state park!

We didn't do a hike in 2011.

In 2012 I had to go out solo, on the Pine Meadow and Suffern-Bear Mountain trails, and made the mistake of not bringing a tent.

In 2013 we had a remarkably cold and windy--but sunny--outing, visiting Fingerboard and Stockbridge shelters.

Last year I didn't blog our hike into some of the lake country of the park.  Sometimes it just gets too hectic in the communications office! We included 2 friends (photo) for a 2-day, 1-nite jaunt. It was cold and sunny, and we had a good time:

This year we didn't have much luck with weather after my calendar opened on Easter Tuesday.  The rest of the week had rain in the forecast until Friday afternoon, and I had commitments again on Saturday.  So we planned to take our chances on the rain on Tuesday afternoon thru Thursday morning, pretty sure we could land a shelter in mid-week when almost everyone would be back in school and the weather would deter sane folks.

Given the forecast, we considered making Fingerboard, Big Hill, and Stockbridge our destination. Tom Jones is open on 2 sides, Brien Memorial leaks, and Stone Memorial is a real trek to get to. We opted for Big Hill.
Big Hill Shelter, built 1927, from the west
After parking along the road near St. John's Church, behind 2 other cars, we took the connecting trail down to the Long Path, glad it wasn't raining (which it had been doing in New Rochelle and on my way toward Ramsey to pick up Fr. Jim) and hurrying to reach the shelter before the rain caught us. Maybe hurrying too much; only about 10 minutes into our hike, Fr. Jim tripped and fell hard. He seemed to be OK, tho, except that a toe hurt. So we continued, stopping to catch our breaths a couple of times.

Neither of us had hiked this approach to Big Hill in a while, and we'd forgotten how long it takes to reach the old turnpike woods road, altho the Long Path kind of skirts it in a few places. We were hoping to meet some day hikers coming out (returning to those 2 cars), but we met no one. So with some trepidation we finally approached the shelter after about an hour on the trail.

I smelled campfire smoke as I came near, but we were fortunate: the shelter was empty. There were still hot embers in both fireplaces, tho. Evidently some day hikers had gone out by another route, or perhaps they were backpackers heading further, one way or the other, on the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail, which crosses the Long Path at the shelter.

So we dumped our backpacks and, still in our ponchos, went out to round up firewood. There was almost none to be found near the shelter, certainly nothing substantial--lots of twigs.  It had rained, and everything was damp. So were we by the time we finished!

We observed that a good bit of standing wood had been cut by previous occupants of the area--always a no-no in the state park.  Eventually, ranging hundreds of feet in either direction along the SBM and general area, I managed to find some more serious firewood--all of it quite dead--on Tuesday and Wednesday, some of which I had to cut with my very reliable Sven folding saw.

More distressing than the hunt for firewood, which we'd expected, was the amount of litter in the vicinity of the shelter.  I don't think I've ever seen so much: various kinds of paper, food wrappers, beer cans and bottles, water bottles, and other detritus. We packed a good bit out with us in addition to our own little bit of trash.
Fr. Jim reviews the trail map before going for water.
We haven't found a lot of firewood.
Fr. Jim performed his customary chore of going to fetch water, which involved a long hike to the Third Reservoir.  While he was gone, I prayed part of the breviary, then started a fire so that we'd have coals for cooking when he got back.

In the meantime, the clouds lowered, and it drizzled.  Visibility got down to a couple of hundred feet.

When Fr. Jim returned, he took his turn with the breviary while I cooked hot dogs on my little grill over the fire, and added cheese and crackers to the menu.  I topped my supper off with an orange.

The temperature seemed to be dropping; it must have been in the low 40s, and it certainly was damp.  So gradually we added layers of clothing, and we kept the fire stoked.  Lots of talking about past hikes, school, Salesian doings.

Not very long after dark, both of us retired to our sleeping bags.  When I had to get up in the wee hours (that could be a pun!) to go visit Mother Nature, the sky had cleared, and in the 36-mile distance the lights of Manhattan shone wonderfully.  I didn't think to take a photo.  Besides, it was really cold!  While outside in the wind, which was brisk, I shivered like a leaf.  So I put on more clothing and got back into my bag as soon as I could.

I woke up (after a fitful sleep in any case) with dawn and bird song. The sky was still low, but at least it wasn't raining.  Before long, the sky cleared quite a bit, remaining gray (and no more Manhattan). I could see the Hudson off in the eastern distance.
That horizontal sliver of water in the distance is the Hudson River.
I got up at 6:45 and restarted the fire--didn't even need a match because the embers were still not from last nite.  That took off the chill inside the shelter.  I cooked scrambled eggs, but to my distress I'd forgotten to restock my instant coffee and had enuf for only 2 cups--1 on Wednesday, 1 on Thursday. I finished breakfast with a granola bar. I prayed Readings and Morning Prayer.

Then I went foraging for more firewood, venturing a quarter mile out along the SBM (photo above; see yellow trail blazes).  By my 2d trip back with wood, Fr. Jim had gotten up.  I cooked eggs for him too (I had the skillet-mess kit, and the backpacking stove; he didn't). His ankle was giving him a lot of pain--a result of that trip yesterday that hadn't revealed itself until the middle of the nite, he said--and he suggested we not stay the 2d nite. Besides, the forecast was for still colder weather and more rain in the afternoon and evening. So we decided.

That gave me the opportunity for more breakfast: some oatmeal and that 2d cup of coffee!

We continued to feed the fire for another hour or so, chatted, read a bit. Around 10:30 we celebrated Mass, using the shelf of the other fireplace as our altar.

Then we packed up. As we were finishing that, a day hiker approached cautiously, not wanting to disturb us. I called out a welcome, and she came up, a middle-aged woman (apparently), named Amy. She was obviously a
The blue-blazed Long Path heads north toward St. John's Church from Big Hill.
veteran of the area and was toting her own firewood! She took advantage of the remains of our fire and soon had a nice little blaze going as we finished our packing and chatted with her.

The only substantial water one has to cross on this stretch of the Long Path is Beaver Pond Creek,
for which the trail maintenance crews have provided a fine little bridge.
At 12:15 we were on the trail back toward our car, which we reached in about 45 minutes without any rest stops along the way (downhill's easier that way!). No other cars at the spot this time.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

New Provincial Council Announced

New Provincial Council Announced

On April 7, Fr. Steve Shafran, provincial-elect, announced the appointment of four confreres as provincial councilors for the period 2015-2018.

Fr. Tim Zak
Fr. Timothy Zak, SDB, will serve as vice provincial.  He is pastor of Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester, N.Y., and director of the SDB community in Port Chester (which also includes the confreres at Corpus Christi Church), and presumably will continue at least in the latter role.  The archdiocese of New York and the Salesians are in the process of arranging the new configuration of the parishes that will serve the Catholics of Port Chester, part of the archdiocese's huge reorganization of parishes this year.  Fr. Tim will succeed Fr. Steven Dumais, SDB, as vice provincial.

Fr. Dennis Donovan, SDB, was re-appointed as province treasurer, and Fr. Abraham Feliciano, SDB, as a member of the council.  Fr. Abe will continue as the province's delegate for youth ministry.

Fr. Mike Pace (by Fr. Puntino)
Fr. Michael Pace, SDB, pastor of St. Benedict Church in Etobicoke, Ont. (a Toronto suburb), was appointed a councilor.  He will replace Bro. Thomas Dion, SDB, who is stepping down after 12 years on the council. Fr. Mike was province's elected delegate at last year's general chapter, where he maintained a lively blog (of late updated with other events).

One member of the provincial council, Fr. John Serio, still has a year to run on his 3-year term of office.  Fr. John continues as director of Salesian HS in New Rochelle and the province's superintendent of schools.

Bro. Tom will, however, assume the responsibility of delegate for formation for the province, guiding both initial formation (candidacy, novitiate, postnovitiate, practical training, theology, and ongoing formation including annual retreats).  In this he succeeds Fr. John Serio, who held that office in addition to those aforementioned.

Fr. Steve also announced that Fr. John Puntino would continue as the province's delegate for the Salesian Family (liaison with the FMAs, Cooperators, ADMA, and other groups that are part of the SF).

The provincial councilors are nominated by the provincial and appointed by the Rector Major with the consent of his council (the general council in Rome).

The delegates for areas of responsibility are appointed by the provincial and aren't necessarily members of his council.

Easter at the Provincial House

Easter at the Provincial House

"Since Christ accomplished his work of human redemption and of the perfect glorification of God principally through his Paschal Mystery, in which by dying he has destroyed our death, and by rising restored our life, the sacred Paschal Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord shines forth as the high point of the entire liturgical year" (Universal Norms of the Roman Calendar, n. 18).

The Easter Triduum ("3 days") begins with the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday evening and goes through Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday.  For several years it's been our custom at the provincial residence to celebrate the triduum at home, with various priests also going out to celebrate the liturgies at the religious communities and parishes where we provide chaplaincy services.  In a slight change this year, we went away for our quarterly day of recollection on Good Friday and celebrated the day's liturgy at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw.

Here are a few photos of our Holy Thursday Mass and Eucharistic adoration, which didn't include a footwashing ritual.

Fr. Dennis Donovan presided and gave the homily, and most of the priests of the community concelebrated.
From the Holy Thursday Mass until the Easter Vigil Mass, the tabernacle is left completely empty, symbolic of the Lord's passion and burial (physical absence from the community of his disciples).  Extra sacred hosts consecrated at Thursday's Mass are kept aside for Good Friday's liturgy (which does not include Mass) and also for a few hours of adoration on Thursday evening ("stay awake and keep watch with me" until the approximate hour of Jesus' arrest).
We use the front parlor as the place of reservation for the Blessed Sacrament on Thursday evening until about 10:00 p.m.  Then the Sacrament is secreted until it's brought forth for Friday's Communion service (or to be brought to the sick on Friday).

Saturday nite's service begins after sunset with the blessing of a new fire, from which the Easter candle, symbolizing the light of Christ risen from the dead, will be lit.
Weather permitting, we begin on our back porch.
Bro. Kevin Connolly holds the Roman Missal and Fr. Mike Leschinsky
the Easter candle as Fr. Steve lights the candle from the new fire.
Fr. Steve Dumais presided.  He informed us that this was the first time in 37 years as a priest that he'd ever presided at the Easter Vigil, which is really surprising considering that he's been a director in various houses (Tampa, Marrero, Haverstraw, here) for about 25 years.

After a procession into our chapel in the dark, with candles supplying the only light (Christ is the light of the world shining in its darkness), Fr. Mike Leschinsky sang the solemn Easter proclamation, the Exsultet:  "Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven...," or in the older translation (which I like better for this text and find easier to sing when I have to do it), "Rejoice, heavenly powers...."
Fr. Mike did a terrific job with the difficult music, evidently having practiced for a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, the congregation of priests and brothers stands with candles lit (in this photo, those without candles were carrying something, such as incense), extinguishing the candles when we come to the liturgy of the Word, then lighting them again later for the renewal of our baptismal commitment.
Fr. Steve gave the homily.  He and Bro. Kevin had decorated the chapel earlier in the day.

On Easter morning there was another, lower-key Eucharistic celebration for the community.  And several of the priests were out to celebrate Mass for the Ursulines, St. Vincent's Hospital, Willow Towers, and St. Ursula's Parish.

Fr. Mark Hyde and others prepared a splendid Easter dinner (turkey, ham, and much, much more) for us and our guests from Salesian High School, and a former SDB who spends the triduum with us every year.  I didn't take pictures this year, but here's one from 2013.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Homily for Easter Afternoon

Homily for
Easter Afternoon
April 5, 2007
Luke 24: 13-35
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon

“That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred” (Luke 24: 13).
Supper at Emmaus by Georg Muehlberg
from Christ's Life in Pictures by the Rev. Geo. A. Keith, SJ (1918)

We’d like to know a lot more about this story than St. Luke tells us.  We’d like to know where Emmaus is; scholars haven’t been able to identify it in today’s Israel.  Who was the 2d disciple, the companion of Cleopas?  We can very reasonably suppose it was his wife or perhaps his daughter because St. John identifies “Mary of Clopas” as one of the faithful women who stayed by Jesus’ cross (John 19:25).  If they already knew that “some women from our group … were at the tomb early in the morning and didn’t find his body” but had “reported seeing a vision of angels,” and others had confirmed that the tomb was empty (Luke 24:22-24), why didn’t they believe it or at least stay around for more information?  Didn’t they remember that Jesus had 3 times foretold his death and resurrection?

How long did it take them to walk 7 miles?  At a very good pace on level ground, it would take 2 hours, but Judea’s ground isn’t level by any means, and a normal pace might require 4 hours or more; besides which, people walk more slowly when they’re conversing.  At what point did “Jesus himself draw near and walk with them,” and thus how long was he part of their conversation?  How was it that neither of them recognized the Teacher whose disciples they were, especially if one of them had in fact been at his crucifixion?

Unfortunately, St. Luke seems to have erased his server, and in this life we’ll never know the answers for sure.

St. Luke does tells us what we need to know.  He tells us the Good News, the Gospel:  “The Lord has truly been raised” (24:34) and he’s made known to us “in the breaking of the bread” (24:35).  He tells us that whatever happened to Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures, that Jesus walks with his disciples, and that those whose hearts burn for Jesus will find him.

Cleopas and his wife or friend walk for miles—however many—with Jesus as their companion on the journey.  The purpose of the Son of God’s becoming human was to walk with us and lead us; to be our companion on the way toward eternity.  Jesus always walks with us.  The Good Shepherd, “he guides me in right paths” and “leads me beside restful waters” and “gives me repose in verdant pastures” (Ps 23:1-3).  These 2 travelers don’t start with restful hearts, but Jesus restores their hearts along the way and in fact converts them into evangelizers who can’t wait to tell others they’ve come to know Jesus in a new way (Luke 24:33,35).

Even when I have to traverse a “dark valley,” he is “at my side” (Ps 23:4).  Cleopas and the other disciple surely were in a dark valley:  “we were hoping that [Jesus] would be the one to redeem Israel,” but the rulers crucified him (Luke 24:20-21).  They’re despondent.  Their hopes have been crushed.

When we’re in highly emotional states—from suffering, from grief, from anger, from joy, from giddiness—we seldom recognize God’s presence, seldom see God at work in our lives.  That may explain why Cleopas and companion don’t recognize Jesus.  They can’t see beyond their own immediate state of mind and heart.  I guess that’s a form of self-centeredness, which even in a fairly neutral condition—like this one—blinds us to reality, even to what’s right in front of us.

Jesus teaches them—they come to see this eventually—that their experience, viz., what they saw happening to him and what they heard from the other disciples—can be understood in the light of the Word of God.  Jesus “interprets to them … all the Scriptures” (24:27).  He shows how the Scriptures shine a light on the events they’ve witnessed.  If we bring the Word of God to bear on our own experiences, they take on a different meaning, a deeper meaning; we can see God’s hand in our lives.  Such-and-such has happened to me; I’m feeling in such-and-such a state today—what is God trying to tell me thru this?  What part of Jesus’ story or Israel’s story or the Psalms will help me make sense of what I’m going thru?

“He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.  With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (24:30-31).  In St. Luke’s writings—here in the Gospel and also in the Acts of the Apostles—and in other writings of the 1st Christians, “the breaking of the bread” is the 1st name given to the celebration of the Eucharist.  The formula that Luke uses here, “took, blessed, broke, and gave,” is a Eucharistic formula; which isn’t to say that Jesus was offering Mass for Cleopas and his friend!  But it does recall Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves for a hungry crowd, and his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  “In the breaking of bread he was made known to them.”  And we continue to encounter Jesus in person in the breaking of the bread, in the Eucharist.  He is here at our Mass:  in his Scriptures, in his priest, in his disciples, and shortly, under the signs of bread and wine.  If our eyes are held back from literally recognizing him, our faith does see him in the Blessed Sacrament:  his body and blood, soul and divinity.  As we proclaim at every Mass, how blessed we are to be called to his supper, to come here as his guests, to eat this meal he’s prepared for us—the very same body and blood that walked those miles between Jerusalem and Emmaus, the body and blood now risen and living in eternity, the Jesus who intends to accompany us on our own journey toward eternal life.