Sunday, June 28, 2015

Homily for 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 28, 2015
Mark 5: 21-43
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.

“He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you.  Go in peace and be cured of your affliction’” (Mark 5: 34).

Interesting point in this long gospel narrative:  Mark gives us the name of one of the characters.  That doesn’t happen very often.  Why did the oral tradition by which the stories of Jesus were handed down, until the evangelists wrote some of them down in an organized fashion, preserve the name of Jairus, the synagog official?  Obviously we can’t know because the evangelists didn’t keep a record of their sources (even tho they didn’t have any e-mail to destroy) the way someone like David McCullogh does when he tells us the story of the Brooklyn Bridge or the Wright Brothers.  He provides information about all his sources, and you could go and look at them yourself.

If you were Jairus or a member of his household, wouldn’t what you saw Jesus do turn you into one of his followers?  We might guess that Jairus became a leader in the early Christian community in Galilee—one of those very ancient communities whose continued existence in Israel, Palestine, and across the Middle East has become so precarious.  We might also guess that when Mark composed his Gospel there were people around who remembered Jairus and his family and could vouch for the veracity of so specific a story, as there are people alive today who knew Orville Wright—he died the year I was born (I didn’t know him)—and who could confirm some of the things that David McCullough writes about him in his new book.

There was another new book out last week.  Well, not precisely a book, but a longish essay entitled Laudato si’.  One of the urgent themes of Francis’s encyclical was that we have a serious moral obligation to take care of the earth because it belongs to all of us, and when a few wealthy people or wealthy nations ravish the earth for their own benefit, they are destroying what belongs to the poor, what is the heritage, the God-given heritage, of every person.  If we truly want to care for the poor, we must act to preserve the earth—its water, its air, its other resources—and make them more readily available to all our brothers and sisters, all God’s children.

For saying that, Pope Francis is dismissed by some (most of whom, I dare say, haven’t actually read the encyclical) as a socialist, a communist, a dreamer, someone out of touch with reality.  And, they say, he should stick to religion and not get involved in politics or science.  It’s an embarrassment that some of our Catholic candidates for President are saying that!  (Most of them don’t know that the Pope was a scientist—a chemist—before he entered the seminary.)  In other words, religion doesn’t have to do with real life, with real people, with basic issues of life and death, right and wrong, human dignity, human rights.  Religion is OK in church, but not in the office, the market, the school, the highway, the factory, the mine, the fields.

But Francis takes his religion from Jesus, not from the Communist Manifesto or the Wall Street Journal.  What do we see and hear Jesus doing today?

1st, Jesus deals with real people and their real problems.  We see him doing that thruout the gospels, of course.  Here it’s a woman—age not given, but perhaps what we might call middle-aged—who’s been sick for 12 years, seriously sick, and not only not helped by doctors but even made worse by them (it seems).  And it’s a dying little girl and her frantic father.

2d, these are the very marginalized people that Francis tells us that we have to be concerned about.  These are the nobodies, the unclean, of Jewish society in the 1st century—not the only ones, we know; there are also the lepers and the prostitutes, and Jesus dealt with their illnesses too (of body and soul).  These are the people on the periphery of society.

The woman in the crowd is a 2d-class citizen precisely because she’s a woman (as we still see across much of the Middle East).  She’s also unclean because of her hemorrhages.  So she has to sneak up on Jesus.  She can’t risk public attention.  Well, that didn’t work out too well!  But it did work out because Jesus felt her touch—her touch among all “the crowd pressing upon” him (5:31).  Her touch was singular—as is every one of us, rich or poor, male or female, young or old.  Jesus feels for each of us, and Jesus offers us the kind of healing that we need—which is far more than the healing of a physical ailment.  And then he addresses her as “Daughter,” a women who may well have been older than he (altho we don’t know this as a fact).  He restores her to a place in God’s family, or reminds her that she has that place as a gift from God.  As do we all, thanks to the healing touch of Jesus whenever we reach out to him in prayer and sacraments and Scripture.  In fact, in our prayer tonite we alluded to that:  “O God, through the grace of adoption you chose us to be children of light.”  God has adopted us, made us his daughters and sons!

Raising the daughter of Jairus (James Tissot)
Jairus’s daughter is a child, with even less social status than the woman.  Remember how the apostles tried to shoo the children away from Jesus?  And Jairus’s daughter is dead.  The dead, too, are unclean.  Jesus shouldn’t touch a female, and he shouldn’t touch a corpse.  But “he took the child by the hand” (5:41).  No one is beyond the reach of Jesus.  No one is beyond his care.  Not even the dead are beyond his reach, because “the girl arose immediately and walked around” (5:42).  Jesus’ action prefigures the ultimate cure, the ultimate healing, for which we all long.

Jesus cares for society’s least.  He reaches out to them and lifts them up.  We know from what else the gospels tell us that he’s able to do these sorts of things because he’s perfectly in tune with his Father, perfectly reflects the Father’s will.  And we also know that it’s the Father’s will that we allow Jesus to heal us of our own wounds and sins and then do our best to be like Jesus:  united with our Father thru a lively spiritual life and doing the works of Jesus in our daily lives, especially for the poor, the marginalized, those whom society has forgotten or shoved aside.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Meeting Thru-hikers on West Mountain, Soloing the Timp, and Dawdling in Doodletown

Meeting Thru-hikers on West Mountain, Soloing the Timp, and Dawdling in Doodletown

The vice provincial (who's also my local superior) advised me that it won't be feasible to take any vacation time in July and August during the interim between directors (Fr. Steve's term ends on June 30, and, as noted in the previous post, the new director won't be here until Sept. 8), and further advised me to take some time off in June.  I managed to eke out 2 days of hiking and camping in Harriman State Park.

Originally, Fr. Jim Mulloy was going to join me, but then he was compelled to remain at Don Bosco Prep on our planned start date, Thursday, June 18, and wouldn't be free until Friday afternoon.  So I went by my lonesome.

The last time I hiked up West Mountain, July 22, 2008, was a near disaster:  an out-of-shape hiking companion, a poor decision regarding the weather, a violent thunderstorm (monsoon-like) that caught us in the wide-open ridge-top, and the shelter nearly full of hikers (a couple of whom had set up their tent inside the shelter, so violently was the wind blowing the rain).

This time I fared considerably better!  The weather was warm, even if not sunny.  A better sign was an empty parking lot off Seven Lakes Drive--meaning there probably weren't any backpackers out there.

I had doubts that the Appalachian Trail thru-hikers would be coming by already.  Little did I know!  I wasn't 10 minutes heading south up the AT before I met one who'd left Springer Mt. on March 17.  As we chatted about his intended destination for the day (Hemlock Springs), another northbound hiker passed by--from his looks, also a Georgia-starter.  A minute or so after the 1st guy and I parted, another chap came along, and we talked for a minute or so.  So in less than 15 minutes I'd met 3 thru hikers.
Bear Mountain

I had the trail to myself the rest of the way up West Mountain and all along the ridge where the AT and the Timp-Torne run conjointly.  There were a couple of excellent viewpoints toward Bear Mt. and one toward the Hudson River.  
Hudson River from the back side of West Mountain. It's also visible from the shelter on the front side.
 Then the trail switched to the east side of the ridge with long, long views over Anthony Wayne Recreation Area, the Palisades Pkwy., Long Mt., etc.  I was making decent time despite a pack that weighed about 35 lbs. (including a gallon of water) and despite not having hiked for about a month.
With all the rain lately, Harriman is lush with greenery--here, along the joint AT (white blazes)-TT (blue), which indicate a right turn on the trail ahead.
Where the AT comes up from the south, a young woman hiker was standing.  We greeted each other.  She was wondering about a companion whom she'd left at the parkway to go to the visitor's center for some kind of first aid (companion never did show up; I don't know whether they eventually connected by phone).  This gal's trail name was Second Star, and she was from Fort Myers, Fla.  We headed up the Timp-Torne toward the shelter, and she quickly outdistanced me (like St. John outrunning St. Peter toward the empty tomb), reaching the shelter (a half mile away) maybe a minute before I did.

There was already a fellow named Eric there.  Eric's from San Francisco and was hiking "just" from Tuxedo to Bear Mt., over 3 days, I guess.  The 2 agreed they'd like a fire--the day was feeling dampish and starting to chill.  So I went to gather firewood from a ring 50 yards off and to cut a small log right in front of the shelter.  (While gathering the wood, I called Fr. Steve to "check in.")  Before I'd done much, Second Star had gone off to set up her tent somewhere, and then 2 more hikers showed up:  Myles, 22, hometown somewhere south of Richmond, Va., who'd started from Georgia in mid-April, and Wrecker (short for Homewrecker, he said, telling us the story of how he'd unintentionally dislodged a warren of mice from an old log), 31 and from Charleston, S.C., who'd started sometime in March.  Someone had calculated that Myles (that's how she signed the shelter's log book) was making 22.5 miles a day--hence her trail name.  Wrecker was distressed over the church massacre that had taken place in his hometown the day before.
Myles and Wrecker starting to lay out their gear. Unfortunately, it's not a very good shot, but it's the only one I got of the 2 of them.

A little while later, Solo turned up, saw the 4 of us in the shelter, and pitched his tent just outside.  I didn't catch his hometown or age (I'd guess 30-ish).  All 6 of us made a sociable crowd, with the 4 AT guys doing a lot of trail talk (naturally) and Eric asking a lot of questions not only about hiking and gear but also about them (and eventually me, at which point I identified my vocation, to which they responded "Cool!").  One topic that came up was the Sawyer water-filtering system that they were all using, and which I'd bought at EMS just on Tuesday but hadn't had occasion to use yet.  The AT 4 thought it was terrific, and when Eric asked about an MSR pump, they practically laughed at him.  I showed him my bag with its instructions.  He seemed convinced it was time to upgrade.

Another big chunk of the dialog concerned Myles's eating habits.  She's a vegan and, moreover, was eating cold, i.e., not carrying a stove or heating anything--as was Wrecker, too, but not vegan.  She was also attributing a lot of her energy to something she called cookie mix, which (I gather) is just flour and sugar without water or eggs.  She also said that the base weight of her gear (without food and water) was a mere 8 lbs.  Amazing!
Second Star, Eric, Solo, and Wrecker having great conversation after supper.
Both Eric and I ate freeze-dried meals--beef stew in my case.  I had an orange for dessert, and I drank a generic equivalent of Crystal Lite.

Most of them lamented the lack of any sort of privies along most of the trail but were quite used to that by this point.  They all looked forward to the occasional chance at a shower, e.g. at Graymoor, as well as the next store where they could stock up on supplies (about a mile before Graymoor).  They were grateful for trail angels and lamented having to lug a lot of water up West Mt. (in fact, Myles had to repair a shoulder strap damaged by too much weight in her pack).  No one had enjoyed hiking thru Pennsylvania, and Wrecker also disliked Virginia (but Myles liked it, of course).  They liked New Jersey, except for some trail that needed clearing of woodfall, according to Wrecker, and New York thus far.
This is why I bother to bring along a folding saw!
Everyone enjoyed the fire, which I kept well stoked.  Long before dark the clouds had lowered over the valley below, obscuring the Hudson and then the Timp and then just about everything.  There was moisture in the air when one stepped away from the shelter.  Everyone felt the chill, and everyone put on a fair bit of clothing before getting into his or her sleeping bag.

Solo and Second Star retired 1st, to their tents, then Myles and Wrecker to their bags in the center of the shelter platform.  The chimney wasn't drafting very well by then, and Eric was getting smoked in his corner.  So we had to break up the fire around 9 o'clock as he and I retired to our opposite corners.  And all was quiet.

Evidently Myles and Wrecker slept very soundly; they didn't hear the rain in the early morning hours.  Apparently Eric didn't hear the first, soft rain either.  So it rained at least twice overnite, the 2d time pretty hard.  By morning it had stopped, but the clouds still hung low.
Early Friday a.m., the clouds hide the Hudson, but the Timp stands above them.
Myles and Wrecker were up at 6:00, moving and talking very quietly.  I soon followed, and then Eric.  They went right to breakfast; I did a little packing and prayed part of the Office, waiting for a moment to celebrate Mass.  Solo walked by, greeted us, and was on his way.  I gave the 2 kids a "God bless you" as they set out at 6:50--probably should have asked whether they'd have liked a more solemn blessing.  When Eric stepped out for a few minutes, I began Mass, which I finished after he returned.  We chatted a bit as I started breakfast, particularly about his route toward Bear Mt., and he finished his packing.  He gave me an unfinished propane canister for which he had no further need.  Then he was off, and I was "solo" to finish breakfast (scrambled eggs, coffee, an apple), packing, and Morning Prayer.

If any of these guys (Second Star, Myles, Wrecker, Solo, or Eric) read this, I'd be happy to hear from them.
Looking directly south toward Stony Point from West Mountain along the Timp-Torne Trail east of the shelter.
At 8:45 I got on the trail, going east on the TT toward Timp Pass.  It was treacherous with wet rocks, wet leaves, loose stones, and a long, long descent.  I slipped once, falling backward a couple of inches into the bushes.  Safely down to the pass, I discovered the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail and the trailhead for the Red Cross--but couldn't find any blazes for the TT.  I'd taken off my fogged-up glasses, which didn't help!  
Where I just descended from
 I started up the RD because I thought I saw a little blue blaze, but then there weren't any more.  There was a young buck munching quietly on the foliage ahead, and he put up his head alertly as I got near and stopped to reconnoiter my position (and get out my camera).

Back to the Timp Pass Road, down it a couple of hundred feet, and there were the blue blazes again, heading right up the back side of the Timp.  
And now I gotta go up that! (Note blue blazes.)

Climb, level a bit, climb some more!  As I already knew (from having come down this way twice before), there was a spectacular view of the upper Hudson, Bear Mt., and the Bear Mt. Bridge.  Fortunately, the clouds had lifted considerably by this time.  

Then there were great views to the west, including West Mt. and its shelter.  
The West Mountain shelter is at the top center.
And at 10:20 I reached the summit of the Timp.  I called the receptionist back home to inform her of my whereabouts and safety.  I took some photos, ate a granola bar, drank water (by this time my gallon was reduced to about a quart), did some reading, looked around at the camping area (excellent, except of course there's no water on site).
Looking over Stony Point and Haverstraw from the Timp. You can also see down the Hudson as far as High Tor and beyond Croton Point (but not in this photo!).

Around 11:00 I got going again.  I wanted to pick up the RD to cut off a little bit of distance on my route to the 1777 Trail, and I'd have walked right by the intersection but for the large cairn in the middle of it.  
Behind the cairn in the middle of the RD-TT intersection, the tree bears the RD's blaze of a red dot inside a white circle.

Down the RD a ways, or perhaps it was after I'd reached the 1777, I stopped for lunch (peanut butter and jelly with a protein drink and another granola bar).  The 1777 was rocky, pebbly, and mostly downhill, so a bit tricky.  But at least the day had pretty much dried out by then.

Around 1:00 I came to Timp Brook and the Timp Pass Rd.  I tried out the Sawyer system and had trouble collecting much water in the bag; but it filtered thru OK.  Around a bend, there was the brook in larger form, with the ruins of the Moore homestead on the right (photo below).  A very inviting camping spot!  Altho it was so early in the day, I took it (which turned out to be the right decision because there wasn't anything as good farther along).

I changed out of my rain pants (which I'd donned because the trail was so wet after the nite's rain) and hung them up to dry out, adding the other clothing that I'd sweated in yesterday. 

I fetched more water, and eventually resorted to shorts and flip-flops, wading right into the deeper water of the brook to hold the Sawyer bag down till it filled up satisfactorily.  I had more than enuf filtered water for drinking and washing; what I cooked with I boiled straight out of the brook.

As I was busy about some camp business or other around 2:30 p.m., a young couple hailed me from the road:  "Which way is the parking lot?"  I thought at 1st they meant the Bear Mt. lot, but they seemed confused by my called-out directions.  So I brought out my map; it turned out they meant the lot on Seven Lakes Drive.  They'd been hiking for 4 or 5 hours on the 1777W to the Timp-Torne and down the 1777 without a map or compass and were a bit disoriented.  Using my map, I pointed them down the 1777 toward its E/W split and told them to go left/west (food for my Sunday homily!).

The sky got gray and threatening, so I pitched my tent around 3:00, way earlier than I'd intended; but I wanted to be ready for rain.  After some reading (and swatting at mosquitoes), I went into the tent, read briefly, then napped.  Human voices in the distance got my attention.  They didn't seem to come any closer, but they persisted.  Eventually, when I emerged, I saw campers setting up in the woods off Timp Pass Rd., about 150 yards from me.  And then I realized they were Scouts (uniformed and highly organized).

I had supper at 5:30--the rest of the package of beef stew, another orange, and more "Crystal Lite."  It was quiet over at the Scout camp; they'd gone off hiking somewhere.  As I said the Rosary, I walked along the road (1777 Trail becomes Pleasant Valley Rd. in what used to be Doodletown); the Scouts' troop flag, hung near the intersection of Timp Pass Rd. and 1777, showed the letters NEOLA, whence I deduced they were from Mineola on Long Island.  They didn't return till after dusk.

I stayed out reading as long as I could stand the mosquitoes (I came home with about a dozen bites).  The hard seating on rocks and logs wasn't real encouraging either, even with a foam pad under my posterior.  So before dark I retired to the tent and read by flashlight for a while.  This nite, unlike last, was warm, and no long pants, long shirt, or hat were needed inside the bag.  All was quiet except for the murmuring of the brook 15 feet from my tent.  (No noise from the Scouts.)

As usual, I didn't sleep real well either nite.  But I wasn't in any hurry to rise either.  I finally did so at 7:00.  Mother Nature called me (she was over-persistent at this spot; don't know what caused that).  Then I celebrated Mass on a rock by the fire ring in front of the old garage, ate breakfast (granola mix with hot water, and coffee and an apple), packed up, and prayed the Office.

Meanwhile, the Scouts had fetched some water from the brook by the roadside and then broken camp very quietly.  No idea where they went, but it wasn't north.  At 9:30 a.m. I was ready to go and proceeded north down Pleasant Valley Rd., reading each of the Doodletown homestead markers as I came to them.  I met one birder along the way.

It seemed like a long hike down to where 1777 splits east and west, and that area didn't look at all familiar.  It was a long time ago that Troop 40 used 1777E from Bear Mt. to 1777W to camp along the Doodlekill!  I had to double-check the map to be sure I was going in the right direction, which I was.  When I got to the Doodlekill, the whole area was thoroughly overgrown; no sign that it was once a good camping spot.  (For that matter, all the homestead sites seemed well overgrown except the Moore place.)
Wild roses on the Moore home site
I met one other hiker coming along and espied one going up the Suffern-Bear Mt. Trail where it crosses 1777W and one going up the AT from Seven Lakes Drive.  When I got to the parking lot at 10:30 a.m., tho, I was mildly surprised to find it jammed full of cars.  I put my stuff into the car, dumped my trash in the lot's barrel, and was off toward home--in good time, because by the time I got down the parkway to New City, it was raining!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pastoral Assignments for 2015-2016: Round 3

Pastoral Assignments for 2015-2016: Round 3

The provincial residence has a director-elect!  On June 19 Fr. Tom Dunne, provincial, published another letter to the province announcing more pastoral assignments for the coming pastoral year.

Among the assignments are 2 new directors:  Fr. Bill Keane as director of the provincial house in New Rochelle, effective Sept. 8; and Fr. Steve Leake as director of the SDB community and pastor at St. Philip Benizi Parish in Belle Glade, Fla., effective Aug. 15.
Fr. Bill Keane

Fr. Bill will succeed Fr. Steve Dumais, who will complete 2 three-year terms on June 30.  Fr. Steve will succeed Fr. Greg Fishel, who has been missioned to St. John Bosco Parish in Chicago, where he has served on an earlier assignment.

In effect Fr. Greg replaces Fr. Steve, who has been in Chicago for the past couple of years.  Fr. Bill has been master of novices for the U.S. provinces since 2003 (in New York City, Port Chester, and presently Rosemead, Calif.).  He served earlier as director in Tampa and Paterson.
Fr. Steve Leake

Fr. Tom also announced the appointment of Fr. John Cosgrove as pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Surrey, B.C., replacing Fr. Mario Vilaraza; of Fr. John Grinsell as animator of the Don Bosco Community Center in Port Chester, replacing Bro. Tom Dion; and of Fr. Steve Dumais as pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Orange, N.J., replacing Fr. Grinsell.

Homily for 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 21, 2015
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

“You never deprive of your guidance those you set firm on the foundation of your love” (Collect).

On Tuesday I’ll be driving to Buffalo to attend the Catholic Media Convention.  I understand that their snow and ice have melted by now.  Some people taking a trip like that would program a GPS device.  I’ll have AAA road maps—I’m kind of old-fashioned—and when I get to Buffalo I’ll take advantage of something I printed from Google to find my hotel and the convention site.

I don’t want to be like the young couple who stopped by my campsite in Harriman State Park on Friday afternoon, to ask me how to get back to the parking lot where their car was.  They’d been hiking for probably 5 hours without a map or compass.

Trail blazes on the tree signal a right turn
for the Appalachian and Timp-Torne trails atop West Mountain
in Harriman State Park.
Guidance is pretty important in our lives, whether it’s a matter of getting to some physical destination, choosing a college or career, dealing with some problem (advice columnists, support groups, etc.), or arranging our legal affairs and investments.

In our prayer this morning, strangely we don’t ask the Lord for his guidance.  Rather, we state it as a fact:  “You never deprive of your guidance those you set firm on the foundation of your love.”  What a statement of confidence!

God set us firmly on his loving foundation when we were baptized, and he has made that foundation stronger with every celebration of the sacraments:  our weekly Eucharist (or perhaps more frequent), our regular Reconciliation (truly an encounter with divine love and mercy), our Confirmation, for most of you the living out of your Matrimony (the sacramental sign of Christ’s love for his spouse the Church, and vice versa), and for some of you probably also the Anointing of the Sick.  For me, of course, the sacrament of Holy Orders is a sign of God’s love—for me, whom he chose to be “another Christ,” however little I merit that, but especially for you, to whom I preach God’s word and for whom I celebrate the Eucharist.

Every celebration of the sacred liturgy firms up that base of God’s love under us.  It does this by connecting us with Jesus, the Beloved Son of the Father.  That connection is our firm foundation.  Or, in the St. Paul’s words, Jesus himself is the foundation on which the Church is built up in love (cf. 1 Cor 3:11).  “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation,” Paul tells us today, redeemed from “the old things” that “have passed away” (2 Cor 5:12), i.e., our sins.  “Behold,” Paul continues, “new things have come,” and those new things are divine grace, divine mercy, divine love, which have re-created sinful men and women—us—into God’s beloved children.

With that “firm foundation” of God’s love, we pray that God “never deprive us of [his] guidance.”  If we are to continue on the path of God’s love, we need guidance, like a hiker following a trail, a traveler trying to get from point A to point B, a senior trying to discern a college choice, a young adult trying to discern a vocational call (marriage? consecrated life? priesthood?), or someone getting advice about an investment or a will.  How does God guide us on our way toward our heavenly destination?

There are many ways.  1st and most important is prayer.  We need to talk to God, ask for guidance, listen to his voice in our hearts.  In this we have the assistance of the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us thru Christ.

2d is the sacred liturgy.  God teaches us thru the Church’s worship:  teaches us his truth—what we are to believe, how we are to behave.  For instance, in today’s gospel we’re taught that Jesus is Lord of creation:  “Who is this whom even wind and sea obey?” (Mark 4:41); and that we need to put our faith in him above all earthly powers.

3d is thru reading and hearing the Word of God, not just when the Scriptures are read in church but in our personal reading and reflection and perhaps in a study or prayer group.

4th is thru the Church’s teachings.  Jesus is very direct, very clear, that he gives his teaching authority—his authority to guide us in what is true and to be believed, on what is right and therefore to be done—gives this authority to his Church, to Peter and the apostles, and implicitly to the Pope and bishops who have succeeded them.  Thus we must listen to the Holy Father’s teaching, e.g., in his new encyclical, and to our bishop (Cardinal Dolan).

If we follow God’s guidance, we’ll be built up in love, as Paul writes to the Ephesians (4:16), built up on the foundation already laid, so that we may—as we pray today—“always revere and love [God’s] holy name,” here on earth and forever in heaven.  In biblical language, the name is equivalent to the person, so we’re praying that we’ll always—forever—revere and love God himself.

May it be so!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Homily for 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
11th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 14, 2015
2 Cor 5: 6-10
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“While we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord” (2 Cor 5: 6).

In the 1st verse this 5th chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul refers to the “tent” of “our earthly dwelling,” speaking thus of our life’s pilgrimage, its temporary nature.  We’re here, we dwell here—but in a tent, something temporary and transitory.  Paul goes on to contrast that with the permanent “building from God, not made with hands” (ibid.), i.e., the glorified body, like Jesus’, that we anticipate as a gift from God.

In the meantime, “we are at home in body,” i.e., this fragile construction of mortal flesh and blood—what Paul in the previous chapter of this same letter calls “an earthen vessel” (2 Cor 4:7).  We are “at home” because this is the life we know, the state in which we dwell.

But of course we’re not entirely at home:  “we are away from the Lord.”  We’re not in the place or state—or company—where we want to be, which is with Jesus, who once was with us in this same mortal flesh but is no longer so.  Consequently, “we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord” (5:8).  With the Lord in our Father’s house—in a body made new and whole like Jesus’ – is where we long to be, where we long to dwell.

“Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away” (5:9).  The “him” whom we aspire to please is Jesus, the Lord, who has commanded us to follow him as disciples, “walking by faith” (5:7).  We follow him in the sense of obeying his teachings.  We follow him in the sense of going where he has gone ahead of us, “the firstborn of the dead” (Col 1:18) who has risen to immortal life.  Paul’s use of “home”—“whether we are at home or away”—has shifted here.  3 verses earlier, we were “at home in the body,” but now “at home” means “with Christ,” in contrast to “away” from being “home with the Lord.”

This little contrast seems to be a variation on “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  We aspire to please the Lord by doing the Father’s will on earth while we are away from the Lord in this earthly body, as we also aspire to unite our wills entirely and perfectly with the Father’s in heaven, when “we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2) and become like the Lord Jesus.

But not our wills only are involved, as if they could be disembodied.  Rather, our wills operate thru our bodies, as Paul reminds us in the last verse of the reading:  we will be judged and either rewarded or punished according to what we “did in the body, whether good or evil” (5:10).  We are “at home” sufficiently in our mortal bodies now to own our actions, words, and omissions:  to please or displease the Lord Jesus Christ, to walk with him by faith or to walk away from him like the rich young man who went away sad or, worse, like Judas.

The Son of God, made man, went about doing good, including healing sick bodies (as well as sick hearts and souls).  Sculpture over a side entrance to National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington.
This relationship between our bodies, ourselves, and the Lord raises a point related to recent news.  Specifically, Fr. Robert Barron takes it up in his column last week as published in the on-line edition of Boston’s Pilot.[1]  He detects the ancient heresy of Gnosticism flourishing in our time.  That heresy poo-pooed the value of our bodies, thought all matter was basically corrupt and evil, and advocated the liberation of our souls—our true selves—thru perfect knowledge (gnosis in Greek).  Rather than our souls—our minds and wills and hearts—operating thru our bodies, as Paul holds, and indeed the entire orthodox Christian tradition, Gnosticism maintains that our souls must escape from our bodies in order to attain perfection.  Material creation is bad, the Incarnation and Resurrection mere illusions, the sacraments pointless.

Fr. Barron detects this ancient heresy in the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner “event,” and of course in the entire transgender thing (which seems to be next pop fad now that the cultural elite have apparently won the homosexual wars—that’s me speaking, not Fr. Barron).  The transgender premise is that one’s true self is trapped in an alien body, a body that has no inherent link to one’s personal identity, the so-called “authentic self,” and therefore that body must be “manipulated” to be brought into line with one’s “authentic self.”

All of that—the entire Gnostic idea—is alien to biblical revelation; it’s alien to our belief that whatever God created is good; that the 2d Person assumed a real human body thru which he effected our redemption; that in his human body he rose and lives gloriously transformed; that he calls us to follow him toward that same transformation of our bodies, which are the intrinsic and essential expressions of our inner selves; that our creation in the image of God will be perfected not in our jettisoning our bodies, like a space capsule ditching its booster rocket, but in our joining our Lord Jesus Christ in the new creation; that we follow Jesus now in our bodily tho imperfect selves, acting, thinking, speaking, desiring—striving “to please him” in this life so that on Judgment Day he will recognize us as his own, as like him, as worthy of coming into his home forever.

May this Eucharist, which transforms bodily food into spiritual, work toward the transformation of our whole selves into living images of our Lord Jesus so that we may please him in this mortal life and live with him immortally.

      [1] Fr. Robert Barron, “Bruce Jenner, the ‘Shadow Council,’ and St. Irenaeus,” The Pilot, June 10, 2015:

Celebrating Community

Celebrating Community

The Salesian Rule of Life commands that every year the provincial and local communities gather around their respective superiors (the provincial, the director) and celebrate a "community feast day as a sign of fraternal communion and an expression of [their] gratitude" (Reg. 42).  The Salesian Sisters have a similar rule; in fact, they call their celebration "gratitude day."  (In days of old, the day was called "the provincial's feast day" or "the director's feast day.)

The custom probably is rooted in a tradition going back to Don Bosco's time, when some of the alumni of the Oratory organized themselves for a big celebration of their beloved father's name's day--which they mistakenly thought was June 24, the feast of the birth of St. John the Baptist. (Don Bosco in fact was named for St. John the Evangelist.)  Ever since, June 24 has been celebrated as the feast of Don Bosco and then of his successors.
Most of our merry provincial house crew
with Spirit of New York behind us
Meanwhile, back at the ranch--or, more correctly, on the shores of Echo Bay--we held our Community Day celebration this year on May 22, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and the beginning or the 2d day of Fleet Week in New York.  We elected to take a tour of New York Harbor aboard the Spirit of New York, sailing (motoring, actually) from Chelsea Piers briefly up and all the way down the Hudson into Upper New York Bay as far as Liberty Island, and then up toward the East River, abreast Governors Island, along the Battery, and back to the pier.  All told, it took about 2.5 hours, and it included a terrific buffet lunch.

The weather was as perfect as one could wish for--sunny, clear, mild, a slight breeze (more than slight on the top deck of the ship).  Several hundred people were aboard, including one large family celebrating their matriarch's 100th birthday and a bunch of high school musicians from Pennsylvania.
Some of the above-mentioned high schoolers on the top deck
with Lower Manhattan in the distance ahead of us.
We got to the pier about an hour before boarding time and so had time to enjoy part of the park along the Hudson,

Just 3 of the many people enjoying the park

Part of Hudson River Park
and during that time we got an unexpected treat: 3 or 4 passes in each direction of the U.S. Air Force's Thunderbirds (= the Navy's Blue Angels).  Waiting for a video that I shot to be clipped a bit (I'm still learning how to use that camera feature) is the main reason it took me so long to get to posting this.
A tiny sampling of what we saw... 
Lower Manhattan with two sailboats behind us
One of almost 2 dozen shots I took of Lady Liberty.
Liberty Island was crowded, it appears.
Another great way to see New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty is on the Staten Island Ferry.  Unlike our jaunt on Spirit of New York, the ferry's free (altho some tourists recently have been bilked into purchasing "tickets" for as much as $200).  Here you see the Brooklyn skyline in the background.
The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, connecting Brooklyn (left) with Staten Island (right), is 51 years old.  The Narrows separates Upper New York Harbor from the lower harbor and the open ocean.
Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants entered the U.S. between 1892 and 1954. It was by far the busiest port of entry (but far from being the only one) into America in those years.  Now it's a magnificent museum of American immigration, part of the National Park System.  The same ferry that takes tourists to and from Liberty Island stops at Ellis Island.  Hoboken, N.J., is visible a few hundred yards beyond the island.
The tip of Manhattan was guarded by a fort from Dutch colonial days; hence the tip's name of "the Battery."  The most recent fortification, called Castle Clinton, dates from the War of 1812 (it didn't see any action).  Under the name Castle Garden, it was the immigrant receiving station for New York from 1855 to 1890.  Now it's a national historic site and one of 2 places where you can get the ferry (not free) to Liberty and Ellis islands.  The other place is at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.
The Brooklyn Bridge (1883), one of the engineering marvels of the 19th century--and still a marvel--spans the East River, connecting Lower Manhattan with Brooklyn.  It made possible Brooklyn's incorporation into New York City in 1898 to form the 5-borough city that we know today (altho the diocese of Brooklyn, which also includes the borough of Queens, remains distinct from the archdiocese of New York).


Sunday, June 14, 2015

New York Archdiocese Announces Re-configuration of Port Chester Parishes

New York Archdiocese Announces Re-configuration
of Port Chester Parishes

On June 12 the archdiocese of New York made a long-awaited announcement concerning the new configuration of the parishes that serve the Catholic population of the village of Port Chester, N.Y.

The re-alignment in Port Chester was the last piece in the Making All Things New process underway in the archdiocese for several years, involving parish, regional, and archdiocesan discussion and planning. About 80 parishes in the archdiocese have been affected by various forms of closure or merger.

Corpus Christi Church, with the two-parish school adjacent to it
The archdiocese announced that the parish mergers in Port Chester will take place in two phases. In the first, on August 1, 2015, Corpus Christi and Our Lady of the Rosary parishes—the two in the village long staffed by the Salesians—will merge, with Corpus Christi designated as the main parish church and Our Lady of the Rosary continuing to be used for Masses and sacraments. On the same date the other two parishes in the village, Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Mercy, will merge, with Our Lady of Mercy designated as the main parish church, and Sacred Heart of Jesus remaining a church that may be used on special occasions but no longer on a regular basis.

Our Lady of the Rosary Church,
better known as Holy Rosary
The second phase will go into effect on August 1, 2017, when, with the cooperation of the Salesians, the parishes of Corpus Christi-Our Lady of the Rosary, and Our Lady of Mercy-Sacred Heart of Jesus, will merge, with Our Lady of Mercy designated as the parish church.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, thanked the people of Port Chester for their patient cooperation in this process, and the Salesians for undertaking an expanded pastoral work, saying “I am grateful to the parishioners of Port Chester who provided me with their thoughtful input on how the Church could best serve the religious and spiritual needs of the people. Great appreciation must also be expressed to the Salesians, who are known for [their] work in evangelization, particularly among young people, in taking responsibility for this new parish structure. I am confident that this will lead to an active and vibrant Catholic community in Port Chester!”

As of this writing, no announcement has been made concerning a new pastor for Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary Parish, or a new director for the Salesian community of Port Chester. Fr. Tim Zak, who has filled both roles for the last year, has been assigned to the provincial residence in New Rochelle, where he will serve as vice provincial.

Don Bosco Community Center, adjacent to Holy Rosary's parish offices
The announcement does not immediately affect Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary School, which is administered by the Salesian Sisters, or the Don Bosco Community Center.

Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary parochial school

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Homily for Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Homily for the Solemnity of
Corpus Christi
June 7, 2015
Heb 9: 11-15
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“When Christ came as high priest …, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9: 11-12).

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ—in Latin, Corpus Christi—we celebrate the redemption that our Lord Jesus won for us by sacrificing himself as the atonement for our sins, and we celebrate the sacrament that he left us as a living memorial of his sacrifice, viz., the Eucharist.

Most ancient religions had some way of offering sacrifices to their God or gods.  Often those sacrifices involved precious animals like the bulls, goats, and calves mentioned in today’s Scriptures (Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:12), or lambs and sheep.  Sometimes they even involved human sacrifice, which is recorded in several places in the Old Testament and was practiced by the Aztecs in Mexico and portrayed—you may remember—in one of the Indiana Jones movies.

Sacrifice is expressive of a relationship between the worshiper and God.  It may be an act of praise, a tribute, a mark of honor and respect—like the gifts that heads of state exchange on official visits or the gift you give a friend for her birthday, anniversary, or Christmas.  It may be an act of atonement for one’s sins or faults—the proverbial dozen roses after hubby has forgotten their wedding anniversary, or the penance we’re given in confession.  Sacrifice may even be a bribe of some kind—as if we could bribe God!  In the ancient world, it might have been tied to a plea for victory in battle, the easing of an epidemic, a successful harvest; and we might plead for good health, good weather, a safe journey, success on an exam, etc.  Sometimes this is what people are doing when they light a vigil candle in front of a saint’s altar.

What takes place in the 1st reading this morning is a covenant sacrifice:  Israel binds itself to God, to be his special people and to obey his commands; and God binds himself to protect them and to lead them to the Promised Land.  They seal the covenant with blood:  the blood of the sacrifice is sprinkled on the people and splashed on the altar, which represents God.  God and Israel are now blood kin.

Jesus refers to that relationship too when he commands his disciples to drink “my blood of the covenant.”  By consuming his blood (and eating his body) we become sharers in his flesh and blood, part of his body; and he becomes part of us:  the nutritionist’s famous adage, “You are what you eat.”  We are Jesus’ kin, his brothers and sisters.

The Letter to the Hebrews, our 2d reading, on the other hand, speaks of an atonement sacrifice.  It alludes to the ritual of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the one day a year when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies with a special sacrifice to cover all the people’s sins of the past year—like throwing a blanket over all our sins.  This had to be done year after year; one sacrifice for one year.  But, the author says, Christ’s sacrifice is different:  as the Eternal Son of the Father, he offers his blood as a single, eternal sacrifice, “once, for all.”  This sacrifice of his body and blood on the cross covers everyone forever.

And in the Eucharist that Jesus has left us as “a memorial of his Passion” (Collect), we join ourselves to, become partakers in, that one sacrifice.  With Jesus we offer Jesus to the Father, and the blood of Jesus covers over our sins; no, more than covers them:  wipes them away, washes us clean.  Lift the blanket, and everything’s gone!  “The blood of Christ … cleanse[s] our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” (Heb 9:14), i.e., cleanses us from the death that our sinful deeds (and words and thoughts and motives) deserve, and instead opens up to us “the promised eternal inheritance” (9:15), a place in the kingdom of God alongside our Lord Jesus.

It is the blood of Jesus that cleanses us in Baptism and in Reconciliation too.  Let’s always come to the Lord in the sacraments, sisters and brothers, to be washed by his mercy, joining ourselves to the one sacrifice that he has offered for our redemption.