Sunday, September 27, 2015

Homily for 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 27, 2015

Mark 9: 38-48

Num 11: 25-29

St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“We tried to prevent him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9: 38).

In the gospel story and the story from the book of Numbers, a young disciple gets upset because the Spirit of the Lord is working outside the approved or official circle of followers.
Actually, in Numbers the 2 men whose prophesying upset Joshua were approved, but for some reason we’re not told missed their appointment with Moses.  But the Holy Spirit didn’t lose track of them and dis-appoint them!

In the gospel episode, we have no idea who this person is who’s driving out demons in Jesus’ name.  Evidently he knows Jesus to some extent, but he’s not one of the 12; it seems that he must not have been even one of the larger group of disciples who spent a lot of time with Jesus.  This passage comes immediately after the one we heard last week about the disciples’ “discussing among themselves who was the greatest” (9:34); John still hasn’t gotten the message about what it means to be first in the kingdom of God (cf. 9:35).  Do you remember that?

Moses rebukes his upset disciple Joshua; Jesus rebukes John.  Both Moses and Jesus are pleased that good’s being done, that’s God’s work is being done.  Pres. Harry Truman is quoted as saying, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”  Neither Moses nor Jesus is jealous for the credit line; only God matters.

With Joshua and John, credit is important.  They’re worried about their own prestige, about their influence with their master.  So Moses and Jesus have to remind their disciples about what’s really important:  doing good, being of service to other people, letting the Spirit of God work in your life—and in others’ lives; and not jealousy over one’s power, prestige, or influence.

God gives everyone gifts to use for the benefit of others—the benefit of family, parish, community, nation.  If we’re working with God, we want to see those gifts used well, whoever’s using them, whoever gets the credit, regardless of group or social class or ethnicity or religious faith or any such thing.  Always:  to God be the glory!

In the 2d part of the gospel, Jesus warns against scandal, i.e., against leading other people into wrongdoing (9:42).  It’s one of Jesus’ harshest sayings:  better you should be drowned in the ocean than lead one of his disciples into sin!

Then Jesus shifts directly to us and what might lead us to sin.  He speaks of cutting off hands and feet and plucking out eyes if these “cause you to sin” (9:43-46).

In one sense Jesus is speaking with exaggeration—a common practice in the rhetoric of his people; we’re not to take him literally.  We do that sometimes too:  “I’ve told you a million times….”  Jesus means that we mustn’t let anything come between us and God, mustn’t let anything lead us astray.

Another way of considering his words is related to traditional Catholic morality.  There, as well as in a form of the Act of Contrition that people my age were taught, we speak of “the near occasions of sin,” which we should avoid.  A “near occasion of sin” is a person, place, or activity that is likely to cause us to make a sinful decision, commit a sinful act.  For example, alcoholics should stay out of bars.

“If your eye causes you to sin….”  One of the biggest businesses in the U.S. today is pornography.  It appeals to our eyes (and sometimes our ears) and induces us to abuse our sexuality—by turning women (usually) into objects, to depersonalize them.  Women are liable to a different form of porn—soap operas and romance novels (so-called “bodice rippers”); men aren’t the ones reading those, and it wasn’t men who made Fifty Shades of Grey a best-seller.  Porn feeds our selfishness in the form of lust; you know that Jesus speaks of the possibility of committing adultery in our hearts by lusting for a woman—Matt 5:28, part of the Sermon on the Mount; and that teaching applies in reverse, as well.  Porn may lead to actions as well as desires:  to masturbation, to sexual activity outside marriage, to abusive behavior toward one’s partner.

Or our eyes might foster greed and envy.  We see someone’s success and get jealous and start to gossip about and slander that person.  (The Holy Father has spoken often about what a grave sin gossip is.)  We see something we’d like to possess—like Gollum and the ring (have you seen or read Lord of the Rings?)—and we’ll steal or lie or even kill to get it.

So Jesus is telling us to control our eyes, to be careful what we look at, what we focus on.  Likewise with how we use our hands and where we let our feet take us.  In the end, his teaching comes down to choosing the kingdom of God wholeheartedly, singlemindedly, always.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

And the Crowd Goes Wild!

And the Crowd Goes Wild!

Friday the 25th was quite a day—and a long one!  Fr. Dennis, Fr. Bill, and I went to Madison Square Garden to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis.  From the time we left home until I got back, it was 9 hours.  We took Metro North and got to Grand Central in the usual half-hour, then walked 10 short blocks south and 3 long blocks west to MSG, where there was a huge crowd waiting for entry; and that took a long time with only one way in and TSA security (tho not as stringent as at an airport).

We were seated, but not together, by 2:30 p.m. and then had a long wait.  Fr. Rich from the high school and some Ursulines came down with us but we didn’t see them again after Grand Central.  The SDB priests from Port Chester were seated near me, and I chatted with a couple during the long wait for the Pope’s arrival, as the Garden slowly filled.  According to the NYT there were 20,000 people there.  Certainly there were hundreds of priests concelebrating (and more than 40 bishops and cardinals).  There was over an hour of big-name entertainment (Martin Sheen, Jennifer Hudson, Gloria Estefan, Harry Connick Jr) and some good (not big name) choirs, and the Rosary, as we waited.  I also brought some magazines with me to read on the train and at MSG.

Francis arrived early, and Mass started early.  He got a roaring welcome, and at the end of Mass, when Cardinal Dolan voiced the love of the American Church for Francis, a long standing ovation (this is only part of it):

The Pope preached in Spanish but also spoke some English.  The Eucharistic Prayer and some of the music were in Latin.  My photos are at

Salesian Missions placed a full-page ad in USA Today’s special edition on Pope Francis (p. 88).  The communications office (c'est moi) organized the Salesians' "Welcome, Pope Francis" ad that ran in Catholic NY on 9/27.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Homily for 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Sept. 20, 2015

Mark 9: 30-37

Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“Jesus was teaching his disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and 3 days after his death the Son of Man will rise’” (Mark 9: 31).

Last week we heard Jesus’ 1st prediction of his passion and death, immediately following Peter’s confession—or recognition—that Jesus is the Messiah (8:27-33).  Jesus was identifying for them—and us—what it means to be the Messiah, the anointed one of God who is to restore Israel to greatness.  Peter immediately denies such a role description, and is soundly rebuked by Jesus.

We’ve skipped over about a chapter, including the story of Jesus’ transfiguration (9:2-8), to come to the 2d prediction of the passion, followed again by the disciples’ failure to understand and then by a discussion about greatness.

That the Messiah—or the Son of Man, in today’s passage, a divinely appointed agent of God’s intervention—must suffer and die is beyond the disciples’ understanding.  It’s not at all what current Jewish thought anticipated.  Apparently no one was linking the Messiah or the Son of Man with the Servant of YHWH in the prophecies of Isaiah.

Certainly the 12 weren’t making the link.  Peter rejected it strenuously last week and was shot down in flames.  Maybe that reaction by Jesus remains in the disciples’ minds this week, so that their failure to understand doesn’t produce questions.  Many of you have been teachers, and you know that if the 1st child who asks a question is shot down, no one else is going to ask a question.  Rather, fear rules the disciples; they’re afraid to question Jesus (9:32).

Why are they afraid?  Possibly not wanting to be rebuked as Peter was.  More likely, I’d say, is that they didn’t want to admit to themselves that such a horrible fate lies ahead for their teacher and friend.  They’re like people who put off making their wills because they’re afraid of death.  If the disciples ask Jesus what he means, then they have to deal with his answer; they have to come to terms with the reality of a Messiah who’s going to suffer and die and not lead Israel to a glorious restoration of wealth and power—with them as his inner circle, sharing the wealth and power.  As the 2d part of today’s gospel indicates, that’s a dream they really don’t want to let go of.

We can understand their failure to comprehend “rising from the dead.”  Many 1st-century Jews believed there would be a general resurrection of the dead at some undefined point in the future.  But no one imagined an individual resurrection—the salvation and vindication of just one person.  So for Peter last week and all of the 12 this week—and for Peter, James, and John after the transfiguration—“rising from the dead” just doesn’t compute.  Jesus might as well be speaking computer code to them.

A 3d possible reason for the disciples’ fear of questioning Jesus is what his fate might imply for them.  They’re his followers.  They’ve tied their futures to his.  They’re hoping for high rank in his messianic kingdom.  But if their leader is going to suffer and die, maybe they will too.  Who wants to hear that!

Do we want to hear it?  Is our recognition that our Messiah suffered and died on the way toward resurrection only an intellectual admission, or do we grasp, accept, and adopt its implications for ourselves, for us who follow him?

When we’re slighted by someone in the community, or offended by some rudeness out on the streets or highways, how do we react?

When we experience physical pain—and at this stage of life, most of us do—do we bear it gracefully, or do we make sure everyone knows we’re hurting?

When our plans get blown up by the weather, by a superior’s decision, by someone’s failure to cooperate, how do we handle it?

When someone calls upon us to exercise greatness by being of service, by doing a favor, by doing a necessary chore, do we think at once of a dozen reasons why we can’t, or do we say yes:  “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord!”

After all, our health, our plans, and our dignity are important!  We’re servants of God, building up his kingdom.  Isn’t everything supposed to go our way?

We’d laugh at the idea if, so often, our thoughts, words, and actions didn’t imply that we really think so.

Our working for the kingdom often does include suffering and—that old chestnut—“offering it up.”  Certainly it includes forgiveness, the practice of patience and gentleness, being available to the needs of others.

We’re not afraid to question Jesus about what’s going on in our lives, about how he’s dealing with us—because, unlike the disciples before the resurrection, we do trust him.  We’re not afraid to walk the same road that our Messiah walked.  “According to his own words, God will take care of” us (cf. Wis 2:20).

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tragedy in South Sudan Affects SDB Mission

Tragedy in South Sudan Affects SDB Mission

On Thursday morning I received this message from Paula Rondon, a returned SLM who is doing graduate studies in England:

"I just read this news about an oil tanker explosion in South Sudan: I am praying for the people killed and injured and fervently hoping that none of our SLMs were on the road to Maridi."

Paula didn't serve in South Sudan herself, but she has taken a keen interest in all the SLMs and particularly in South Sudan, given the volatile situation there.

It was the first we in New Rochelle had heard about the incident, and it took us about a day to get some concrete news--specifically from our American SLM Ariel Zarate (Oak Lawn, Ill.), who's been serving at the mission in Maridi since the fall of 2013. She sent this e-mail to New Rochelle this morning:

"So I don't know what you have heard about the incident here but i'll update you and then feel free to pass this along to anyone else. If you have more specific questions I will try to answer them the best I can. 

"First of all, we are all ok and thank God none of our children have been killed or injured. We have had many of their family members injured however. This includes the cousin of our driver and the cousins of two of our girls that board with us so keep them also in your prayers. 

"So on Wednesday around 3 pm the first people started arriving to the hospital. At first it seemed like a minor but tragic incident. Within half an hour truckloads of burn victims were being rushed to our hospital. The county hospital has been closed due to renewed tensions in Maridi. We filled the beds and later the veranda covered with tarps to accommodate the victims. We later learned that two other hospitals had people taken there but ours received the most. Eventually the hospital was broken open and local medical students along with the local doctor took over care. We have almost totally run out of medicines and bandages and there was little to nothing else we could do to aid them. They remain in the county hospital at this point.

"We received over 50 burn victims suffering from 2nd to 3rd degree burns. Many have lost all of their skin on various parts of their bodies with many losing all of the skin on their entire body. It was estimated about 60 bodies were recovered with more being found. Many were burned beyond recognition with more still being burned to death immediately into ashes. It is still unclear as to what caused the fire to start. The truck was traveling and tipped over. The locals then came to steal the gasoline when the fire started. It appears that the truck had been tipped and the fuel being stolen for a few hours before the firs started. There are plenty of rumors but nothing confirmed. At this point the Red Cross has sent burn kits and are starting to evacuate serious cases. The media attention will hopefully help to get some additional aid. The greater problem of course is poor roads, lack of adequate police and municipal services and the isolation that both of those cause. None of which we can solve at this point.

"Pray for the families and the victims and for our leaders to make better decisions for our people."

We have 4 SLMs in South Sudan right now--Ariel, Kevin Kho in Juba for a year now, and Taylor McColgan and Catherine McNeal just arrived in Wau.  2 more, Colleen Burns and Manny Mendez, will leave N.Y. on Monday to help inaugurate a new SDB mission at Morobo, which is on the border with Uganda.

You can follow Kevin at
Taylor at
Catherine at
Colleen at

Please follow all of them--all of our SLMs, in fact, and the people whom they're serving--with your prayers.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Homily for 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 13, 2015
James 2: 14-18
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 2: 14).

Many of you know that Martin Luther’s religious revolution—the Protestant Reformation—was ignited by the issue of indulgences.  Technically, an indulgence is the remission (or forgiving) of all or part of one’s “temporal punishment” in the afterlife; or, to put it colloquially if not theologically precisely, the shortening of one’s time in purgatory.
Selling indulgences (woodcut Jeorg Breu Elder, ca. 1500)

So an indulgence isn’t exactly a shortcut to heaven or the purchase of salvation.  But it could appear that way.  Luther carried the point further by insisting that not only can we not buy our way into heaven—by making a financial contribution to the rebuilding of St. Peter’s in Rome, in the case that aroused his anger—but nothing we do can earn our salvation.  “Justification by faith alone” became his slogan—justification meaning our being made holy or filled with divine grace, our being made just or righteous in God’s eyes.  Only our faith in Jesus Christ opens up heaven for us.  Only faith saves us.

So Luther was no fan of St. James’s letter, which emphasizes so much the importance of good works—works of charity, like feeding the hungry or clothing the naked, which James mentions today; or any of the corporal works of mercy.  In these days we’re hearing Pope Francis insist on the Christian’s responsibility to welcome the stranger, to offer hospitality and assistance to refugees from war and persecution and economic disaster.  Luther even contemplated discarding the Letter of James from the NT canon, as he did discard the OT books written originally in Greek and not Hebrew—Sirach, Wisdom, Tobit, Maccabees, etc., which to this day you won’t find in Protestant Bibles.  But James survived the cut.

What does St. James actually say about good works?  He doesn’t say that they’re a substitute for faith or that on account of our goodness God must welcome us into heaven.  He says that good works are evidence that we have saving faith.  He asks whether a faith that is empty of charity is really faith:  can that faith save you?

Faith is a gift from God.  All believers agree on that.  We can’t account for why some people receive this gift and some don’t, altho we may find it incredible that someone can’t see the evidence of God all around us.  Faith in God, of course, isn’t necessarily faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and savior of the world; there are more than a billion non-Christians who believe in the one God, creator of the universe and lord of the human race.  So faith in Jesus Christ, also, is a gift that we’ve received.

We all know that when we receive a gift from someone we have to acknowledge that gift.  If we have any kind of manners, we say or write a thank you, and then we display or use the gift (or at the least, when we re-gift it, we don’t tell the original donor we didn’t care for it).  So Christian faith has 3 aspects to it, according to long theological tradition.

1st, there’s the intellectual component, the doctrine or dogma—the creed.  This is what we believe about God the Father, about Jesus Christ his Son, about the Holy Spirit, about the Church that Jesus founded as the agency for preaching the Gospel and uniting people with this God who loves us.

2d, there’s our 1st way of responding to God’s gift, viz., worship.  We say thank you by praising God as a Christian community and as individuals.  We celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours (the Church’s daily round of God-praise) and private prayer.  Our liturgy is a verbal and visual expression of our faith.

3d, there’s our 2d way of responding to God’s gift, viz., practice.  We live day by day what we believe:  Christian morality, Christian charity.  We do what Jesus taught us to do.  We keep the commandments, we share our goods with the poor, we tend to our neighbor in need, we educate people, we comfort the suffering, etc.  Taken all together, this practice makes up what we call the social gospel or the social teaching of the Church—the gospel applied in practice to society, which includes such teachings as those that deal with the rights of workers, with abortion, with war and peace, and most recently with care for the environment.
St. Dominic Savio and other boys of the Oratory tending people suffering from cholera (Nino Musio)
Doctrine, worship, practice—these 3 have been compared to the 3 legs of a simple stool.  Take away any one leg, and the stool falls over.  Take away any one aspect of our faith, and faith collapses.  I believe what Jesus and the Church teach, or I don’t really believe in Jesus.  I worship with the Church, or I don’t really belong to it (which means my faith is lacking something).  I live a moral life of practical love for my neighbor:  “if faith does not have works, it’s dead” (James 2:17) and is useless and doesn’t lead me to salvation, to an eternal union with God thru Jesus Christ.

As our Collect today says, we pray that we may experience the working of God’s mercy thru our serving him with all our heart:  which means in our service of divine worship and in our service of one another.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Homily for 23d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
23d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 6, 2015
Prayer over the Offerings
Ursulines, Willow Drive, New Rochelle

“O God, … graciously grant that, through this offering, we may do fitting homage to your divine majesty” (Prayer over the Offerings).

Thus we’ll pray in a few minutes after our gifts of bread and wine have been prepared for the Eucharistic offering.

That particular prayer the revised Missal calls “over the offerings,” translating super oblata.  The old Sacramentary called it “over the gifts,” similar but not precisely the same.  All of us are old enuf to remember that the pre-Vatican II Missale Romanum called the prayer secreta, and our English hand missals rendered that as “secret.”  (Shhhh!)  It was so called, supposedly, because it was whispered quietly by the priest; but so were most of the other prayers.

Getting to the substance of the prayer:  what we offer to God in “this offering” is, 1st, the bread and wine that we as a congregation have prepared and presented.  Once upon a time, many congregations would have made their own wine and baked their own bread, which made that preparation and presentation more personal—a true gift, I suppose—more so than our buying hosts and altar wine and setting them out on the credence table.  Still, these “fruits of the earth” are a gift out of our financial resources, if not precisely of our labor (except for whoever has to monitor the supplies and make sure we don’t imitate the wedding host at Cana).  And we can, consciously or not, include in our offering of these gifts the bakers and vintners who really did manufacture them, especially the nuns who customarily supply the hosts.

As the blessing prayers say, the ones the priest says over the bread and wine as he sets them on the altar, either silently or aloud (the preference indicated by the rubric is silently), these fruits of the earth are God’s gifts to us.  What we now offer back to God is a representative sample—a tithe, if you like—of all that he has given us for our nourishment.

But with the bread and wine we offer more.  They’re symbols.  As bread and wine nourish our bodies, and so our lives, they represent our complete self-offering to God.  We present to him not only our bread and wine but ourselves in the Eucharistic sacrifice that this bread and this wine are about to enable.

We offer more than bread and wine.  Those alone would hardly be “fitting homage to your divine majesty,” as the prayer puts it.  The bread and wine are about to be transformed in mystery, sacramentally, so that what we really offer to the Divine Majesty is not the fruit of the earth or the fruit of the vine but the fruit of the Virgin’s womb, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus.

Can there be a more “fitting homage” to the heavenly Father than to offer him his own Son?  to say to the Father that this Son whom he gave to us in love, we return to him in love and gratitude, but with ourselves attached mystically?

Our offering of the Son will be “fitting” only if, thru our “partaking of the sacred mystery, we [are] faithfully united in mind and heart,” the prayer says.  We must be mystically united in mind and heart with Jesus, in the 1st place.  That is, as he offered himself completely to his Father, in this Eucharist we must make the same self-offering—complete, entire, unreserved, unconditional—in union with him.  We eat his body and drink his blood as part of this sacrifice, that we might become his body and blood—the Mystical Body of Christ—which he offered and we offer to the Father.  Only that can be a “fitting homage to the divine majesty.”  If we hold anything back, we act more like Cain than Abel in what we seem to offer.

We pray that “we may be faithfully united in mind and heart.”  That prayer echoes the description of the Church at Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles:  “the community of believers was of one heart and mind” (4:32).  Thus it’s a prayer that we may be united faithfully and mindfully not only with Christ, the head of the Body, in his self-sacrifice, but also with the entire Body, with the Church on earth, in heaven, and in purgatory, the Church of the apostles and Fathers, the Church of Aquinas and Catherine, the Church of Ignatius and Teresa, the Church of Edith Stein and John Paul II, the Church of every age in a union of faith, worship, and practice—all of which make up our “fitting homage” represented by these humble offerings.

A faithful union entails loyalty or fidelity—to Jesus our Savior and to our sisters and brothers, in charity, in sisterly love for our immediate family in the community (of the convent, of the province, of the entire Union); and also a union of faith or belief.  The rite of Baptism always reminds us that we profess what the Church professes:  “This is our faith.  We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Thomas More—once he’d been condemned for treason—pointed out that the faith of the Church has to be universal; no one country, no king, no parliament can define it, e.g., the sacrament of matrimony or the extent of apostolic authority.  We profess the faith of the Church and don’t individually or as a parish or some other congregation determine its content.

Our faithful union in mind and heart includes the union of charity.  The “fitting homage” that we offer to the Divine Majesty has to include how we live, how we care for our sisters and brothers.  Even as the Acts of the Apostles speaks of the disciples’ unity of mind and heart, it describes their sharing all things in common so that everyone should be provided for.  So Catholic teaching includes not only dogmatic theology but also moral theology and social justice—of which St. James speaks eloquently this week (2:1-5) and will do so even more eloquently next week (2:14-18).  In Laudato Si’, Francis takes pains to lead us from a doctrine of creation to a spirituality, to a way of thinking and living that cares for creation.

So we’ll pray in a few moments that our “partaking of the sacred mystery” of this Eucharist will enable us to make an authentic offering of ourselves with Jesus, an offering that is “fitting homage” because we’re completely united with our Lord in our minds and hearts, in our belief and in our daily living.