Sunday, July 26, 2015

Homily for 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 26, 2015
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

“O God, protector of those who hope in you, … bestow in abundance your mercy upon us” (Collect).

Abundance can be seen as the key word of today’s liturgy.  I just quoted it from the Collect (what we used to call the “opening prayer”).  It will turn up again in the Prayer over the Gifts.  It’s evident in the meals provided by the prophet Elisha and Jesus in the OT and Gospel readings.  (As an aside, the Latin word used in the liturgy is the same word that we translate as “bounty” in our traditional blessing before meals—“from your bounty.”)

Multiplication of the loaves and fish
Hours of the Duc du Berry, 1413
In the Collect we pray for an abundance of God’s mercy.  The gospel story of Jesus’ multiplication of loaves and fish is the sequel to our gospel reading last Sunday, in which we heard how a crowd of people—today we hear them numbered at 5,000 men (males, according to the Greek word used by all 4 evangelists; Matthew adds, “not counting women and children” [14:21])—this crowd greeted Jesus at the supposedly deserted place where he wanted some R&R with his apostles.  And “when he saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).

So there’s mercy in this story, not only in our prayerful plea.  Jesus shows mercy 1st by teaching the crowd hungry for God’s word—“he was moved with pity for them,” with compassion; and then by feeding them with the physical food they’d not had the foresight to bring with them.  (Wouldn’t most of us have done what the apostles suggested in Mark’s telling of the story [6:36])—send them away to hunt up their own supper?  How many of you would be willing to throw a spontaneous picnic for 5,000 men—besides women and children?)

Our Collect today began, as the collects almost always do, by singling out some praiseworthy quality of God—in this case, “protector of those who hope in you.”  Certainly Jesus is doing that for the crowd, for “they were like sheep without a shepherd,” and he took them into his pastoral care with food both spiritual and physical.  We, of course, are among those who hope in God.  We look to him to protect us—come to mind those constant biblical refrains that God is our strength and our helper, that we look to God to save us from our enemies.  The Bible also tells us not to put our trust in princes, in human beings in whom there is no salvation (Ps 146:3)—in people who are powerful—for human help is vain against so much that can go wrong in life.  I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate.  And human help is completely useless in the ultimate issues that we face—the 4 last things:  death, judgment, heaven, and hell.  We need God’s protection against our own sins and their consequences; against the claim that the Prince of Darkness tries to make against our souls.

Perseid meteor shower
(source unknown)
The prayer continues, “without whom nothing has firm foundation.”  That could be taken in a universal sense:  God created the universe and thus is its firm foundation.  Without him creation would collapse; the Big Bang would be reversed, if you will.  It could also be taken to refer to our individual lives or to human society.  Both society and our lives collapse when they’re not founded on God.  Jesus tells us in one his short parables (it’s in the Sermon on the Mount) that whoever hears his words but fails to act on them is like a man who built his house on sand (or on a barrier island); when a storm came, that house had no foundation and collapsed or was swept away (Matt 7:26-27).

So we pray that God’s protection will be the sturdy foundation of our lives and of society.  The prayer then adds, “nothing is holy”; that is, without God nothing is holy.  That phrase doesn’t seem to follow from the preceding one about a firm foundation.  But we should take it, in fact, as a kind of parallel.  In other words, holiness is the firm foundation of our lives.  The whole purpose of our lives, of our existence, is to become saints, to become God’s friends forever.  Most of us learned in our catechism a long time ago that “God made us to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next world.”  Those who base their lives on God are striving to be saints, striving to be joined forever with Christ in our Father’s house.  We depend for that on God’s goodness, on his sharing his holiness with us, because obviously holiness doesn’t come from ourselves.  Did you ever read Lord of the Flies, and see what supposedly innocent human beings do, even in a tropical paradise, when left to themselves?  “Lord of the Flies,” of course, is the translation of Beelzebul, another name for the devil.  Oh, we need God’s protection, all right!

The Samaritan woman experiences Christ's mercy
(source unknown)
So after acknowledging all this about God, we come to the prayer proper:  “bestow in abundance your mercy upon us.”  We sinners need that mercy, and lots of it, to be transformed into saints, to be made worthy of dwelling with God in his home.  It was precisely to give us that mercy that God’s Son came down from heaven, became a human being, lived with us, died for us, and offers us forgiveness of our sins and the possibility of being raised up on the Last Day.

We continue our prayer:  “that with you as our ruler and guide, we may use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure.”  That’s a big mouthful!

We confess again that we need God’s help:  “with your as our ruler and guide.”  It’s more than help invoked here, tho.  God’s is our ruler.  He guides us in the right ways of living.  If he’s our final destination—being happy with him forever in eternity—then we depend on him to show us how to reach that destination.  We subject ourselves to his rule.  We follow his roadmap.  We’re guided by his Scriptures.  We’re guided by Jesus his Son, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  We’re guided by the Church that Jesus founded to preserve and spread his message and link us all with him.

We pray that with all that governance and guidance “we may use the good things that pass”:  use everything that is created but has no permanence, all the wonderful things in our world and in ourselves, things like health, beauty, intelligence, wealth, leisure, relationships, material things—use all these “in such a way as to hold fast even now to those [good things] that ever endure.”  There are good things that last forever, and those are the things that matter, the things that we must “hold fast to,” must cling to, must make a part of ourselves:  things like virtues (e.g., faith, hope, charity, purity, patience, honesty), things like truth, things like our relationship with our Lord Jesus.  If we have these goods, anything created is secondary—useful, even good, but “passing,” as the prayer says, fading, undependable.  So we pray that we might set our hearts and our souls on what lasts, on what really counts toward eternal life.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Homily for 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 19, 2015
Mark 6: 30-24
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught” (Mark 6: 30).

The commentators observe that this is the only time that Mark refers to the 12 as “apostles” rather than as disciples.  On all other occasions they’re with Jesus as learners, as disciples, of the ways of God, of God’s love for men and women, of God’s relationship with us.  But here they’re returning from the mission on which Jesus “sent them out two by two” (6:7), as we heard last Sunday.  An apostle is precisely “one who has been sent.”

Christ sending out his disciples (James Tissot)
They were sent in Jesus’ name to do what he does:  to preach repentance, to heal, to drive out demons (6:7-13).  Now they return to tell Jesus what they’ve done, to render their accounts.  The apostle, one who has been sent, is accountable to the one who sends him, must represent the sender, must do what he was sent to do, say what he was sent to say.  The apostle can also be called an ambassador, which Paul does in 2 Corinthians (5:20).

Thus, a diplomat, e.g. John Kerry, carries messages and conducts negotiations in his country’s name, reflects the official policies of his government.  The apostles have spoken and acted for Jesus, and all who bear the name of apostle, all who carry out an apostolic ministry, likewise must be faithful to the message and the ministry of Jesus:  preachers, teachers, catechists; Christian writers, journalists, bloggers, commentators; whoever claims to be evangelizing, conveying the Gospel—for we have been sent by Jesus to preach, teach, catechize, evangelize in his name.  The apostle isn’t free to speak his own opinion and attribute it to Jesus, as the country’s 2d-most-famous Baptist did last week in the matter of homosexual “marriage.”[1]

When the 12 return to Jesus, he attempts to take them aside for some rest.  Yes, even apostles need to rest, need downtime, need vacations.  Comes a time when we even need to retire!  (I’m sure retirement wasn’t an issue for the 12 or many of their 1st-century successors; life spans were so much shorter then even if you weren’t being persecuted.)  We have a tendency to feel guilty if we even take a nap.  Maybe we feel less guilty now that we know the Pope takes a nap.

But you know the adage about all work and no play—no unwinding, no using different sets of brain cells, no recharging our batteries.  An archer must unstring his bow when he’s not using it, or the bowstring gradually loses its tension, becomes weak and, you might say, flabby.  And we need to rest:  get good sleep on a regular basis, take short breaks during the day, enjoy the weekend (or at least part of it), read for relaxation, practice a hobby, and get a few days off now and then.

But we rest or take a break “together with Jesus.”  Do you think Jesus meant just to take the 12 for a picnic and a day at the beach?  (There will be a picnic, indeed, a most unusual one, as we’ll hear next Sunday.)  I would guess that Jesus meant to have the 12 probe their experience, reflect on what they’d said and done, what problems they’d encountered, what the people had been like.  From what we know of the 12’s behavior in the rest of Mark, he’d probably have found out that they hadn’t prayed much or reflected critically, and he’d have pushed them in those areas.

Likewise, our downtime has to include time spent alone with Jesus, checking on our relationship with him and on our motivations and aspirations; on our interactions with others; on how our ministries are going and why, if we’re still active.  We have our daily practices for part of that—meditation, formal and informal prayer, reflections on the Scriptures (homiletic and otherwise), our retreat, and (I hope) some spiritual direction—we’re never on vacation from these even when away for a day or a week from community or from our regular routines.

You know all that.  You haven’t persevered thru 50, 60, 70 years of religious life by accident but by “gathering together with Jesus” as a community and privately.  You’ve spent a lot of quiet, restful time with him, and you know how that has energized your lives and put your ministries and your experience in perspective.  And in these mostly more quiet days that you have now at St. Theresa’s, I’m sure you’re growing still closer to Jesus.  All of which enables you still to be apostles—to one another, to your families, to your former students, and for some of you to your present students or other people with whom you’re active (to whom you’re sent as an apostle).

So, if you’re now completely retired, enjoy this time you have with Jesus—and with your sisters.  Rest, but not from prayer and sisterly concern.  If you’re still active, get your due rest, to recharge and to keep your life in proper balance with Jesus.

God bless you!

      [1] I figure the most famous Baptist is Billy Graham; he’s not the one I’m talking about.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pope Francis's Letter for Don Bosco's Bicentennial

“Like Don Bosco, with the young and for the young”

Pope Francis’s Letter for Don Bosco's Bicentennial

(ANS - Vatican City) - On the occasion of the bicentennial of Don Bosco’s birth, Pope Francis has sent the Rector Major a letter in which he thanks God for the gift of the Saint of Youth, “recalls the essential aspects of the spiritual and pastoral heritage of Don Bosco, and urges [us] to live them with courage.”

Given the importance of the letter from the Pope, Fr. Angel Fernandez has issued a short video message for the Salesian Family by way of comment.

The letter is dated symbolically June 24—feast of St. John the Baptist, celebrated from the early days of the Oratory as Don Bosco’s name day.



to Reverend Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime
Rector Major of the Salesians
on the bicentenary of the birth of St. John Bosco

The memory of St. John Bosco is alive in the Church. He is remembered as the founder of the Salesian Congregation, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Association of the Salesian Cooperators, and the Association of Mary Help of Christians, and as the father of the present-day Salesian Family. He is likewise remembered in the Church as a holy educator and pastor of the young who opened the way of holiness for young people, offered a method of education that is at the same time a spirituality, and received from the Holy Spirit a charism for modern times.

In the bicentenary of his birth I had the joy of meeting the Salesian Family gathered in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin, where lie the Founder’s mortal remains. Through this message I wish to join with you again in thanking God, and at the same time in recalling the essential aspects of Don Bosco’s spiritual and pastoral legacy and urging you to live them courageously.

Italy, Europe, and the world have changed considerably in these two centuries, but the soul of the young has not: even today boys and girls are open to life and to the encounter with God and with others, but there are so many of them exposed to discouragement, spiritual anemia, and marginalization.

Don Bosco teaches us first of all to not stand idly by, but to put ourselves in the vanguard by offering young people an integral educational experience which, firmly based on the religious dimension, affects the mind, the emotions, and the whole person, always considered as someone created and loved by God. This leads to a genuinely human and Christian pedagogy, one that is animated by a concern for prevention and inclusion, especially of the children of the working classes and the marginalized groups of society, and offers them an opportunity for education and learning a trade in order to become good Christians and honest citizens. By working for the moral, civil, and cultural  education of youth, Don Bosco worked for the good of people and civil society, following his particular view of man that combines happiness, study, and prayer, or to put it another way, work, religion, and virtue. An integral part of this process is the development of a person’s vocation in order to enable him to assume the concrete way of life in the Church to which the Lord calls him. This wide-ranging and demanding educational vision which Don Bosco condensed in his motto, “Da mihi animas,” accomplished what we today express in the phrase, “educate by evangelizing and evangelize by educating” (Congregation for the Clergy, General Catechetical Directory  [August 15, 1997], n. 147).

A characteristic feature of Don Bosco’s pedagogy is loving kindness, which is to be understood as a love that is manifested and perceived, and reveals itself in caring, affection, understanding, and involvement in the life of another person. In the experiential process of education, according to Don Bosco, it is not enough to love, but love needs to be expressed in gestures that are concrete and effective. Thanks to this loving kindness, so many children and adolescents in Salesian settings have experienced an intense and serene emotional growth, which has proved very valuable in the shaping of their personality and in their life’s journey.

Within this framework lie other distinctive traits of Don Bosco’s educational method: a family environment; the presence of the educator as a father, teacher, and friend of the young person, which is conveyed by a classical term of Salesian pedagogy: assistance; a climate of joy and celebration; ample space offered for singing, music, and the theater; the importance of the playground, games, sports, and outings.

We can summarize the salient aspects of Don Bosco’s personality in the following manner: he lived the total surrender of himself to God in his dedication to the salvation of souls and lived his fidelity to God and to the young in one and the same act of love. These attitudes led him to “go out” and make courageous decisions: the decision to devote himself to poor youth with the aim of giving rise to a vast movement of poor people for poor people; and the decision to extend this service beyond the boundaries of language, race, culture, and religion, thanks to his tireless missionary impulse. He realized this project through his style of joyfully accepting and personally caring for each one whom he met and accompanied.

He was able to elicit the cooperation of St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello and the cooperation of lay people, giving rise to the large tree of the Salesian Family, which has received and enhanced his legacy.
In short, Don Bosco lived with a great passion for the salvation of the young, appearing as a credible witness of Jesus Christ and an outstanding herald of his Gospel, in profound communion with the Church, and in particular with the Pope. He lived in constant prayer and union with God, with a strong and tender devotion to our Lady, whom he invoked as the Immaculate Virgin and the Help of Christians; he was endowed with mystical experiences and the gift of miracles for the sake of his boys.

Even today the Salesian Family opens out to new frontiers in education and missionary work, pursuing the paths traced out by the new means of communication and by an intercultural education among peoples of different religions in countries of the developing world or in places marked by migration. The challenges of the Turin of the nineteenth century have assumed global dimensions: the idolatry of money, an inequality that generates violence, an ideological colonization, and cultural challenges related to urban contexts. Some aspects are more directly connected with the world of the young, such as the spread of the Internet, and therefore they pose a challenge to you, sons and daughters of Don Bosco, called as you are to work and to keep in mind, together with the hurts, also the resources that the Holy Spirit inspires in crisis situations.

As a Salesian Family you are called to let the creativity typical of your charism flourish once more in and beyond your educational institutions, as you take your place with apostolic dedication among young people, especially those on the peripheries.

“Youth ministry, as traditionally organized, has also suffered the impact of social changes. Young people often fail to find responses to their concerns, needs, problems, and hurts in the usual structures. As adults, we find it hard to listen patiently to them, to appreciate their concerns and demands, and to speak to them in a language they can understand” (Evangelii Gaudium, 105). Let us ensure that, as educators and as a community, we accompany them on their journey so that they feel the joy of bringing Jesus to every street, to every square, to every corner of the earth (cf. ibid., 106).

May Don Bosco help you to not disappoint the deep aspirations of the young: their need for life, openness, joy, freedom, and the future; their desire to collaborate in building up a more just and fraternal world, in fostering the development of all peoples, in safeguarding nature and the living environment. Following his example, you will help them to experience that only in the life of grace, i.e., in friendship with Christ, does one fully attain the most authentic ideals. You will have the joy of accompanying them in their search for a synthesis of faith, culture, and life at moments when they make weighty decisions or attempt to interpret a reality that is complex.

In particular, I want to point out two tasks that arise today from a discernment of the youth reality: the first is that of educating, in accordance with a Christian anthropology, to the language of the new means of communication and of the social networks that deeply shape the cultural and value systems of the young, and therefore their outlook on the reality of man and religion; the second is that of promoting forms of social volunteering, and not resigning yourselves to the ideologies that place the market and production above the dignity of the person and the value of work.

To be educators who evangelize is a gift of nature and grace, but it is also the result of formation, study, reflection, prayer, and asceticism. Don Bosco used to say to young people: “For you I study, for you I work, for you I live, for you I am ready even to give my life” (Salesian Constitutions, art. 14).

Today more than ever, in the face of what Pope Benedict XVI often referred to as an “educational emergency” (cf. “Letter to the diocese and the city of Rome on the urgent task of educating young people,” January 21, 2008), I invite the Salesian Family to promote an effective educational alliance between different religious and secular agencies so as to move forward with the diversity of your charisms at the service of youth in the different continents. In particular, I remind you of the imperative need to involve the families of young people. There can indeed be no effective youth ministry without a good family ministry.

The Salesian is an educator who, in the midst of his many relationships and commitments, always lets the first proclamation resound, the good news that directly or indirectly can never be absent: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you, and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you “(Evangelii Gaudium, 164). To be faithful disciples of Don Bosco requires you to renew the choice of catechesis that was his lifelong commitment, understanding it today within the mission of a new evangelization (cf. ibid., 160-175). This evangelizing catechesis deserves pride of place in Salesian institutions, and must be made with theological and pedagogical competence and the educator’s transparent witness. It requires a process that involves listening to the Word of God, frequenting the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist, and a filial relationship with the Virgin Mary.

Dear Salesian Brothers and Sisters, Don Bosco testifies that Christianity is the source of happiness, because it is the Gospel of love. It is from this source, and in your Salesian educational practice as well, that joy and celebration find their consistency and continuity. “We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization”(Evangelii Gaudium, 8).

The Church has great expectations concerning the care of the young; great too is the charism that the Holy Spirit bestowed on St. John Bosco, a charism that has been carried forward by the Salesian Family with a passionate dedication to the youth of all continents and a flowering of numerous priestly, religious, and lay vocations. I therefore cordially encourage you to take up the legacy of your founder and father with the Gospel radicalism that he made his own in his thinking, speaking, and acting, with a proper competence and a generous spirit of service, like Don Bosco, with the young and for the young.

From the Vatican, June 24, 2015
Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fr. Steve Shafran Installed as Provincial

Fr. Steve Shafran Installed as Provincial

Fr. Steve Shafran was formally installed as provincial superior of the Salesians’ New Rochelle Province, covering the Eastern United States and all of Canada, on Sunday, July 12, in a long, solemn Mass at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y.
Fr. Steve signs the profession of faith, witnessed by Fr. Tim.
Fr. Steve actually started his six-year term on July 1.

Fr. Tim Ploch, in his capacity as Interamerica regional councilor, presided over the installation ritual, representing Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, rector major. Fr. Steve presided over the Eucharistic celebration and did the preaching. But Fr. Tim and outgoing provincial Fr. Tom Dunne also had their moments to speak.

Almost 50 Salesians, numerous Cooperators, a team of musicians from Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., a large representation from Don Bosco Cristo Rey in Takoma Park, Md., Fr. Steve’s family, and other friends of the new provincial and of the Salesians took part. Sr. Karen Dunn, provincial of the FMAs, and Sr. Joanne Holloman, the FMA mistress of novices, were among the attendees, having left the FMAs’ celebration of their jubilarians a little early. (Due to Fr. Tim’s schedule and the date long set by the sisters, that conflict couldn’t be avoided.)

As Mass began, outgoing provincial Fr. Tom Dunne welcomed everyone, joking that he wasn’t staging a coup but was happy to be flying the coop. He noted our gratitude to God for the vocation of serving the young that has been given to the Salesian Family.
A copy of the official letter of appointment.
Making the profession of faith
and taking the oath of fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church
The rite of installation followed the homily. It began with a call for the provincial-elect to step forward, similar to the call issued at religious profession or ordination. Then Fr. Tim read the English translation of Fr. Angel’s letter of appointment and offered a prayer for Fr. Steve. Fr. Steve made his profession of faith and oath of fidelity to all the teachings of the Catholic Church, and then signed a Latin document attesting to that. All the members of the Salesian Family were invited to exchange a sign of peace and friendship with Fr. Steve.

Fr. Steve and concelebrants during the Eucharistic Prayer.
Chosen by God

Fr. Steve preached on the Sunday readings (Amos 7:12-15; Ps 85:9-14; Eph 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13), finding in them a common theme of “being chosen.” Being chosen to be part of a group, he said, brings with it a sense of recognition, and we get energized.

Jesus’ choosing of his apostles enabled them to follow in his footsteps, doing the evangelizing mission that he was doing. Even if they didn’t realize fully what their call was all about until after the resurrection, they still felt they’d been chosen for something really compelling.

Amos didn’t choose to be a prophet; he’d rather have remained a shepherd and tree farmer. But God chose him, and that changed his life.

Paul tells us that God chose us to be holy; God has destined us and has sealed us with the Holy Spirit.

Being chosen by God has a higher purpose than affirmation. Those whom he has chosen must acknowledge the choice and then act on it. We can imagine what the scenario might have been had Amos, the apostles, or Paul told God, “Thanks, but no thanks.” (Fr. Steve went into details for each scenario.)

Don Bosco, answering the call he received from God, shows us what a difference one person can make in the world. Each of us has been called in Baptism to respond to Jesus’ invitation. Now we are the ones chosen to act and thus to change the world. Every day we have to respond with our “yes.” We know that God’s call will be scary, surprising, and adventurous. We’ll be in for a wild ride.

Fr. Angel has given Fr. Steve an invitation to service, the preacher said. He identified some of the many people in  his life who prepared him to make a positive response, especially his mother Olga, who showed him what can be accomplished by sacrifice and suffering and having a happy outlook.

Being chosen by God will bring us happiness along with suffering during a scary, surprising, and adventurous ride. We in the Salesian Family will find the face of God in the young and the poor.

Fr. Steve's sister Dorothy, brother Terry, and their spouses
present the bread and wine to be consecrated.
Thanks and appreciation

At the end of Mass, Fr. Tim conveyed the greetings of Fr. Angel to everyone, especially to Fr. Steve and Fr. Tom. Each of them was presented with a special gift from the Rector Major, a limited edition print commemorating Don Bosco’s 200th birthday. In addition, Fr. Angel wrote a letter of thanks, appreciation, and blessing to Fr. Tom for his six years of service to the province. (Fr. Angel, of course, got to know Fr. Tom during the 27th General Chapter, which both attended as provincials until Fr. Angel’s election as Don Bosco’s 10th successor.)
Fr. Tim holds up one of the prints
given by the rector major to Fr. Steve and to Fr. Tom.
Fr. Steve spoke again, thanking God for giving him the faith to be able to make this commitment of service. He expressed his confidence in the guidance and assistance of Mary Help of Christians; it was because of her that he chose to be inaugurated at her shrine, which he called “holy ground, a very special place of prayer.” He noted the inspiration he draws from Don Bosco’s example and his hopeful excitement at the growth he sees in the Salesian Family within the province. He said that he feels empowered by the love and the prayers of his confreres and his family. He voiced his gratitude to the men who founded the province. He appreciated the presence of so many friends from several works of the province (Ramsey, Takoma Park, East Boston). He thanked the many people who helped organize the Mass (Marilyn Palka, Toni and Gary Cecere, Fr. Jim McKenna, and Fr. Rich Alejunas should be singled out) and gave particular thanks to Fr. Tim for his presence—who made a rapid trip to and from Rome for the occasion—and Fr. Tom, and he presented Fr. Tom with a gift, an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, noting how in that image Jesus has run to his Mother for help and now that is an apt image for us. He asked everyone for prayers.
Fr. Tim, Fr. Steve, and Fr. Tom.
Fr. Tom, in turn, had a gift for Fr. Steve that offered a moment of levity as Fr. Steve removed the wrapping paper to reveal a toner cartridge box. Inside the box, however,  wasn’t toner but the same gift that Fr. Tom had received from his two predecessors, Frs. Jim Heuser and Rich Authier, when he took office on the day the New Rochelle and Montreal provinces were merged: a statuette of Jesus washing the feet of one of his apostles, an image of the brotherly love and service to which the provincial is called.

Fr. Steve examines the carving of Jesus washing an apostle's feet.
Following Mass there was a flurry of picture-taking in front of the altar, and then everyone moved to the pavilion for a fine buffet supper prepared by Market Basket.
The Shafrans

Monday, July 13, 2015

Homily for 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 12, 2015
Eph 1: 3-10
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

This morning and for the next 6 Sundays our 2d reading is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the Christian church at Ephesus in Asia Minor—a very important city in the 1st century as a port on the Aegean Sea facing Greece, and a market center.  But now it’s more than a mile inland because of the silting up of its river, and nothing but an archeological and tourist site visited because the ruins of its temples and other public buildings, its association with the early Christian community, and the tradition that our Blessed Mother passed her last days on earth there in company with St. John the Apostle.  It was still an important enuf city in the 5th century for the 3d Ecumenical Council of the Church to be held there—the one that defined the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God and not mother just of the man Jesus of Nazareth.

Excavated street at Ephesus
(Wikipedia - Ad Meskens)
Chapel at reputed site of the Virgin Mary's House in Ephesus
(Wikipedia - Martin H. Fryc)
After the customary greeting of those to whom he’s writing (in vv. 1-2, which we didn’t read this morning), Paul launches into a prayer of blessing which apparently quotes extensively from some early Christian hymn or liturgy.  That’s the text we heard a few minutes ago.  In that prayer, Paul praises God the Father, who “chose us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him” (Eph 1: 4).

We all know about choice.  It can be a political mantra or slogan.  It certainly is part of our everyday life, as we choose wardrobes, TV programs, vacation destinations, whom we’ll treasure as close friends (cf. the adage “You can choose your friends but not your relatives.”).

St. Paul speaks of God’s choosing us.  Another biblical term for that, by the way, is election—which means “choosing.”  We are God’s elect, God’s chosen ones.  That word elect turns up pretty often in our liturgy, e.g., in the 3d Eucharistic Prayer when we pray “that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect”—with the Virgin Mary, the apostles and martyrs, and all the saints.  So now you have an idea of what elect means:  being chosen by God.

God chose us, selected us, elected us—for what?  Not for political office nor as a winner in a raffle or an American Idol contest.  No, he chose us to be his children and to have an inheritance with all of Christ’s brothers and sisters.

St. Paul puts it this way:  “He destined us for adoption to himself thru Jesus Christ” (1:5).  But before he says that, he writes that “he chose us … to be holy and without blemish before him.”

God alone is holy, of course.  That’s a radical distinction between him and us.  When we sing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of hosts,” at Mass, we’re quoting a hymn chanted by the angels in heaven, according to a vision of the prophet Isaiah (6:1-4).  In Isaiah’s words, we are “unclean” (6:5) and doomed if we come near, except that God allow us.  You might also remember Moses’ approaching the burning bush and being told to stop and remove his sandals because he’s treading holy ground (Ex 3:5); or St. Peter’s telling Jesus, after the big, miraculous catch of fish, to “depart” from him because he’s a sinner and doesn’t dare to remain in the presence of God’s agent, Jesus (Luke 5:8).

Isaiah's vision of the All-Holy One (ch. 6)
But Jesus chooses Peter anyway, and he chooses us, sinners tho we are:  “In him we have redemption by his blood,” Paul says, “the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us” (Eph 1:7-8).  It’s precisely that forgiveness, that abundance of grace—that divine mercy, to use Pope Francis’s keynote—that transforms us from sinners into holy people, into saints.  “This is the will of God, your holiness,” Paul tells the Christians at Thessalonica (I, 4:3).  It’s a choice that God made for us long before we were born:  “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4), part of his plan for the entire universe, his “plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ” (1:10).  With this “spiritual blessing” of forgiveness, grace, holiness given to us thru our relationship with Jesus, we are renewed as images of God (which we were created to be) and can come near him and dwell with him, enjoying the inheritance that he has promised us and for which we pray.

To holiness, Paul adds “and without blemish.”  That phrase is loaded with an overtone of ritual sacrifice.  Both the Passover lamb and any animal offered up to the Lord as a holocaust had to be perfect, without blemish—no illness, no deformity, no physical defect.  Only the best can be given to the Lord.

And God has chosen us to be without blemish before him—perfect sacrifices united with Jesus Christ thru “redemption by his blood”; perfect self-offerings who can be presented to the Lord in this Eucharistic sacrifice and who can offer ourselves to his service every day:  the service of praise and thanksgiving and atonement for the sins of humanity and the service of charity toward our brothers and sisters.

But it wasn’t only the sacrifice that had to be without blemish, physically perfect.  So did the priest.  No one with a physical defect, a handicap, a deformity—or ritually unclean—could carry out the sacred rituals before God.  This carried over into the law and practice of the Church, which until the last decades of the 20th century would not ordain a man with physical defects of some sort, or who had practiced certain trades considered disreputable, or whose parents had, such as butcher or public executioner.  When St. Isaac Jogues was brutally mutilated by the Mohawks in 1642—they sawed off 2 of his fingers with clam shells—he had to petition the Pope, after his escape, for permission to resume offering the sacrifice of the Mass—which the Pope very readily granted, considering Fr. Isaac a living martyr.  (When he returned to the Mohawks in 1646, they completed his martyrdom.)

All of which points to you and me as people who offer sacrifice to God.  God, thru Christ, has rendered us without blemish, not in a physical sense but a spiritual one, capable then of offering him this pure and holy sacrifice, the Eucharist; and of offering our whole lives as a sacrifice to the Father—praising him and thanking him every day in whatever we do that is Christ-like, and offering atonement for the sins of the whole world.  All of us have a share in the priesthood of Jesus and can do this, because God “chose us to be holy and without blemish before him” thru our union with Jesus.

In the Collect of the Mass, the opening prayer, we prayed that if we have in any way “gone astray” God might lead us back “to the right path,” the path of Jesus Christ, the path of holiness and blamelessness (“without blemish”), so that we might not only be called Christians (“accounted Christians”) but truly live as Christians by “rejecting whatever is contrary to the name of Christ and striving after all that does [that name] honor.”  It is the power of that name, Jesus Christ, that saves us, makes us whole, makes us holy and worthy of living forever in the Father’s presence.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Gay Marriage Is Legal, but It's Not Marriage

This comes from Fr. Steve Ryan's blog The Don, which he publishes weekly from Tampa.  It's dated July 10.

Gay Marriage Is Legal, but It's Not Marriage

By Fr. Steve Ryan, SDB

Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court declared two weeks ago, the nature of the human person and the nature and purpose of marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Marriage is between a man and a woman because it is procreative. The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of the procreative dimension and the opposite sex complementarity of love is integral to God's Plan for life, love, family and the building of a civilization of virtue.

The Supreme Court got it wrong. The late-night comedians are laughing it up at Justice Scalia who dissented the decision. Catholic priests will go silent in the pulpit because it’s too controversial to get into. Obama is blabbing about the great triumph for America. Judeo-Christian values and sexual morality are discarded and seen as ancient history. But I'll still write this little editorial. Disagreeing with the re-definition of marriage does not make one a hater. As I write this I have in mind my friends and family members, parishioners and spiritual sons and daughters whom I love and who are gay. I do not hate them – I love them. I wish them a happy and holy life. I just know that from here on in – with marriage defined against both the logical nature and purpose that we understand through natural law and what has been revealed in scripture and tradition – we are taking a step that redefines morality. What's right or wrong, what's good or bad, what's in or out depends on the mood of the culture and the whims of individuals. Politicians follow immediately where the current is running. There are no more standards. Welcome to the dictatorship of relativism.

Archbishop Kurtz rightly said, “Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.”

Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. The Catholic Church and her clergy and hierarchy will continue to teach and to act according to this truth. In five years from now (most likely), the Catholic Church will lose her non-profit status unless She relents and performs gay marriages. Priests will be arrested for writing editorials like this one or preaching the truth from the pulpit. (I better get this published quickly.)

Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and further hurts family life, especially children raised by two same sex parents. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.

What to do? Say something controversial when the topic comes up at work this week, or let it slide? It's your choice. Look, I really did not feel like writing this but after sitting here praying I had to say something as a priest.

I encourage Catholics to move forward with faith, hope, and love: 

  • Faith tells us there is an unchanging truth about marriage. It's unitive and procreative because it's rooted in the immutable nature of the human person and it's confirmed by divine revelation. 
  • Hope reminds us that for thousands of years marriage has been for a man and a woman and that homosexual love (although it happened) was not the norm but a disordered love. Our hope is that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and their manifest service to the common good. 
  • Love must be present in this discussion. Don't bring up the topic at the water cooler at work if you are looking for a fight. That's not being loving. Then again, don't be a wimp and back down when the Church's teaching on marriage is trashed – lovingly speak the truth. Be ready – you may lose a friend or two because of our faith and moral convictions, but stay loving! Truth and love must go together.  

Fr. Steve closes with a long quote from Ephesians 6:10-20, 24, which I won't reproduce here.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Fr. Michael Eguino Ordained a Priest

Fr. Michael Eguino Ordained a Priest

Fr. Michael Eguino, SDB, was ordained to the priesthood on Saturday, June 27, by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, at his home parish of St. Benedict in the Bronx.

Fr. Mike, 30, graduated from Salesian High School in New Rochelle in 2002 and from Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., in 2008 (B.A. in philosophy). He studied theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary, affiliated with Seton Hall.

For the last four years Fr. Mike has been a member of the Salesian formation community in Orange, N.J. He served as a deacon for the last year at Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester, N.Y., and his first priestly assignment is to newly-combined Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester.

In August Fr. Mike will take up priestly ministry and teaching at Archbishop Shaw High School in Marrero, La., and the nearby parishes served by the Salesian community.

Fr. Mike entered the Salesian formation program shortly after his high school graduation and made his novitiate in New York City in 2005-2006. He professed temporary vows on August 16, 2006, and made his perpetual profession on August 18, 2012. He was ordained to the transitional diaconate on May 24 of last year.

Fr. Mike has teaching experience at Salesian High School (2008-2010) in the fields of world history and theology. He also served on the retreat team at Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y., in 2010-2011. Other apostolic ministry included work in the youth center at Our Lady of the Valley Church in Orange.

Some 50 Salesian, diocesan, and religious priests concelebrated the ordination Mass with Cardinal Dolan and Fr. Mike. Three former pastors, all of whom helped foster Fr. Mike’s vocation, were among those taking part.

Pastor Fr. Stephen Norton and the assistant clergy warmly welcomed all the visiting clergy and other guests. The parish choir sang the Mass, under the direction of Anne Myers. The large parish church was nearly full with Salesians, members of the Eguino family, St. Benedict parishioners, Sisters of St. John the Baptist, Salesian Sisters, and representatives from several of the places where Fr. Mike has served during his years as a Salesian.

Cardinal Dolan’s homily began with an unusual statement: that he and Fr. Thomas Dunne, SDB, the provincial, had just lied to everyone. They had testified that Deacon Michael Eguino was worthy of ordination as a priest. And, said the cardinal, we all—including Michael—know that he is not worthy. No one is.

The cardinal observed that a few minutes earlier Michael had lain prostrate on the floor while the congregation prayed the Litany of the Saints over him—a testimony of his unworthiness and helplessness. The priesthood, Cardinal Dolan said, is not a prize to be won, a career to be pursued, a degree to be earned, but a pure gift from God to someone who admits his unworthiness. It’s all God’s grace, mercy, and initiative.

Ordination, the cardinal continued, is all about Jesus and his Church. Jesus continues to summon unworthy, sinful, and clumsy men to the vocation of sharing God’s grace and mercy with the Church.

At one point, the cardinal asked Deacon Michael whether he was afraid. “No,” he answered. “But I’m nervous.”

Cardinal Dolan followed up: it’s OK to be nervous. But Jesus tells us often not to be afraid. God takes care of us. This trust in Divine Providence, in fact, is a part of the Salesian charism passed on by Don Bosco, the cardinal said.
Cardinal Dolan, Fr. Mike, and Fr. Mike's parents enjoyed a few moments when Mom and Dad
brought up the chalice and paten to be presented to the new priest as part of the ritual.
The cardinal also paid tribute to Fr. Michael’s parents, the parish clergy, and the entire parish for fostering his vocation. He also lauded the Salesians and the Salesian Sisters for their ministry in the archdiocese and throughout the world.

On an earlier occasion, Cardinal Dolan had admired the Good Shepherd cross that is given to Salesians when they pronounce their perpetual vows. At the end of Mass, as a token of appreciation for the cardinal’s love for Don Bosco and the Salesians, Fr. Dunne presented him with a larger version of that cross, to the cardinal’s extreme delight. He immediately removed his pectoral cross and put on the Salesian cross.
Wearing the Salesian Good Shepherd cross, the cardinal half-embraces Fr. Tom Dunne while praising the ministry of the Salesians and Salesian Sisters and expressing his pleasure at the presence of so many members of the Salesian Family at the ordination.

At the parish's reception after Mass, Fr. Mike offered his first priestly blessings to all comers
--starting of course with Mom and Dad.