20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Because of the press of other responsibilities leading up to this weekend (Aug. 15-16), I didn't write out my homily and delivered it without written text at St. Vincent's Hospital in Harrison, N.Y. Here, instead, is one from 15 years ago--very appropriate for St. John Bosco's 200th birthday weekend (he was born Aug. 16, 1815).
Aug. 20, 2000John 6: 51-58
Our Lady of Mercy, Port Chester (mission appeal)
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6: 54).
Earlier this year a book called In the Heart of the Sea was published, to critical acclaim. Apparently it has also sold well, because it’s in its 8th printing. It’s the story of the whaling ship Essex out of Nantucket. In 1820, far out in the Central Pacific she was rammed by a whale and sank—providing Herman Melville with part of the eventual plot for Moby Dick. But, unlike the Pequod’s crew in Melville’s tale, the 20 men of the Essex survived. In 3 whaleboats they decided to sail for South America, more than 2000 miles east, against the prevailing winds and current, rather than head to the much closer downwind islands of Polynesia, which were rumored (falsely) to be populated by cannibals. But in a matter of weeks, the sailors began to die of thirst and starvation. In a cruel irony, the survivors did the unthinkable: they ate the flesh of their dead shipmates. In at least one case, the men in one boat drew lots to see who should be killed to provide flesh for the others. After 3 months at sea in small, open boats, 8 of the Essex crew were rescued.
Anthropologists tell us that most cannibalism is a ritual practice whereby those eating the flesh expect, for instance, to absorb the spirit of their victims. In a few recorded cases, like that of the Essex, people cannibalized simply to avoid starvation, to stay alive.
|One of Don Bosco's dreams about his sons' bringing the Gospel to foreign peoples (art by Nino Musio)|
American Salesians are doing missionary work in Chile, mainland China, Ethiopia, Korea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania—not to mention home mission territory like Birmingham, Ala., Belle Glade, Fla., the Lower East Side of New York (where we arrived in 1898), Harlem, and where I’ve come from, Paterson, N.J. We came to Port Chester in 1912 as missionaries to the hard-working but impoverished Italian immigrants of Holy Rosary parish, and to those of Corpus Christi in 1930.