Saturday, October 31, 2015

Homily for Solemnity of All Saints

Homily for
the Solemnity of All Saints
Nov. 1, 2015
Iona College, New Rochelle
Provincial House, New Rochelle

“Today by your gift we celebrate the festival of your city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother, where the great array of our brothers and sisters already gives you eternal praise” (Preface).
The forerunners of Christ with saints and martyrs (ca. 1424)
The Preface for today’s feast lays out what we’re celebrating:  God’s gift and the great array of the saints.  It will further outline the place of the saints in our lives--which the Collect also touched upon.

God’s gift:  our salvation is a gift, a grace from God.  We never deserve his pardon; we have no title to heaven.  God freely and lovingly grants it to us thru Jesus Christ.  St. Paul writes to the Romans, “All are now undeservedly justified by the gift of God, thru the redemption wrought in Christ Jesus” (3:24).  Those who accept his gift he transforms into saints—the great ones whom everyone knows and admires like Mary, Peter and Paul, Francis, the Little Flower, and so on; and the innumerable, anonymous ones we’ve never heard of and never will—except the ones in our own lives.  We might think of our parents or some of our confreres in religion who were close to God, who reflected God’s love to us and who, we trust, now enjoy an intimate relationship with him in eternity.

These holy ones constitute God’s city, “the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother.”  The earthly city Jerusalem was God’s dwelling place, his holy city, the site of his temple, the center of the world.  It was the city where our redemption was effected by Jesus and the mother Church of Christendom, whence the apostles set out to preach the Good News.  It became in the Revelation of John the symbol of heaven, where God dwells on high with all his people around him, “the great array” of the saints.  So today we refer to the saints as “the heavenly Jerusalem,” not a city of bricks and mortar, of streets and marketplaces, but a city of “living stones” (to quote 1 Pet 2:5), i.e., Jerusalem’s population, God’s holy people.

This heavenly Jerusalem is called our mother because it gives birth to us.  The saints in heaven with Christ as their head, bonded into a union by the Holy Spirit, is bonded also to the Church on earth, and the whole Church bears new children in the font of Baptism, introduces neophytes to the divine life of grace, presented to us as God’s gift.

The Preface reminds us that we “rejoice in the glory bestowed upon those exalted members of the Church.”  They’re exalted because they have already conquered the world, have already won the victory of life.  They’re exalted because they’ve been raised on high to be with Christ, not yet in the resurrection (except the Virgin Mary) but in Christ’s glory—like Moses and Elijah at Jesus’ transfiguration.  Peter, James, and John on that occasion experienced the glory of heaven, a joy, a euphoria, a warmth, a sense of belonging, a fulfillment—“it’s good for us to be here” (Mark 9:5)—hard for us to imagine and impossible for us to replicate.  But all the saints now enjoy that glory.  We rejoice for them, rejoice in their victory, their everlasting safety from the dangers of our earthly pilgrimage (cf. Preface); we feel a sense of kinship with them based on our shared humanity and our shared faith.  This glory is like the sense of pride, belonging, and elation that one feels when the victorious home team or some national hero returns for a ticker tape parade, or like the way Catholics in general and Irish-Americans in particular celebrate the triumphs of Notre Dame.

The Preface continues:  “thru them you give us, in our frailty, both strength and good example.”  We’re well aware of our own frailty—our sinfulness, our proneness to inadvertent errors of one sort or another.  In recent weeks we’ve been reminded often of that in discussions of whether Junipero Serra ought to be canonized, given how he sometimes treated the mission Indians.  We might also think of how stubborn Don Bosco could be, e.g., in his relationship with Abp. Gastaldi.  We recall the necessary conversions of Paul, Augustine, Ignatius, and 2 notables whom Pope Francis highlighted in his address to Congress:  Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.  But God’s gift of grace is more powerful than our weakness!  We rejoice in what God has done in the saints, and seeing them we hope for what he might do in us.
Ignatius of Loyola wounded in battle

Then we look at the “good example” of the saints, the models of human holiness that they provide.  They show us how to live as disciples of Christ on our pilgrimage.  Their prayers for us give us strength and encouragement, which the Collect emphasized.

So for all these reasons—and perhaps others that you may think of—today we celebrate the great festival of God’s holy city, the great gift of God’s grace manifest in the human race.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Salesian Family Celebrates RM's Quick Visit

Salesian Family 
Celebrates RM’s Quick Visit

Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, Rector Major of the Salesians, made a very short stopover visit in our province on Oct. 23-24, primarily to meet with the provincials of Interamerica at the end of their annual meeting, which our province hosted this year; secondarily, to introduce himself to the confreres of the province. Consequently, Fr. Steve Shafran, our provincial, invited as many SDBs as possible to come to the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., on Saturday evening for prayer, dinner, and entertainment with the Rector Major and a first acquaintance with him.
Although the invitation was directed specifically to the SDBs, the presence of two youth groups—Don Bosco Prep’s choir and Port Chester’s Amigos del Teatro—gave the gathering a greater “family” feel.  In his Good Night at the end, Fr. Angel pointed appreciatively to the presence of these young people, observing that “without the young we wouldn’t be who we are.”
Fr. Fernandez, 4th from right in back, with pupils from Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey, N.J.,
with SDBs Fr. Jim Heuser (just head showing in back) and Fr. Matt DeGance (far right).

It was estimated that about 150 SDBs and youths took part in the evening’s activities, which began with an hour-long prayer service in the Shrine chapel.  A social hour and buffet dinner followed in the retreat house cafeteria.  Throughout, Fr. Angel was solicited for group and individual photos and happily acquiesced, and he seemed to greet personally almost everyone in the room—in some cases trying out a little bit of English.
(Among other things, he praised our province newsletter—an opinion also expressed by general councilors Fr. Filiberto Gonzalez and Guillermo BasaƱes and several of the visiting provincials.)
When dinner was over, Fr. Steve initiated the entertainment by presenting a special stole to Fr. Angel.
Then the Bosco Boys (Bros. Steve DeMaio and Steve Eguino) rapped out a couple of their songs and gave the Rector Major a T-shirt that he immediately donned, and a copy of their just-released CD.
The Bosco Boys, Bro. Steve DeMaio (left) and Bro. Steve Eguino (right),
 flank the Rector Major, who holds a copy of their CD.
DBP’s choir performed two songs, one in Polish that they’d learned as part of the school’s centennial celebration and the other a light-hearted tribute to coffee.  Then they got Fr. Angel to join them for a photo and gave him a DBP jacket, which he put on over the Bosco Boys shirt.
Another pair of young SDBs were the next act:  Bros. Rafael Vargas and Simon Song break dancing.  Although they delighted the audience, it seems that Fr. Angel wasn’t tempted to join their act.
Port Chester’s Amigos del Teatro enacted scenes from Don Bosco’s life, most of it readily understandable even in Spanish.  The Rector Major posed with them as they gave him not one but two T-shirts—and a knapsack. He squeezed one shirt and the knapsack on top of the Bosco Boys shirt (he’d already handed off the Bosco jacket to his secretary).  Evidently he’s had a lot of practice at this sort of thing.
Fr. Angel procured a guitar somehow, took the stage, announced a Mexican folk song, and called on all the Mexicans on hand to join him, starting with Fr. Filiberto. All of the Port Chester youngsters and the Mexican SDBs responded, as did several SDBs of Hispanic but not Mexican origin. They gave themselves and the audience a couple of rousing songs.  This was the first one:

Fr. Angel wasn’t done, however. He “commanded” Fr. Steve to step up and sing “My Way” (not the first time that has happened), and to some extent he joined in, to everyone’s delight.
Fr. Steve Shafran (right) brings his musical talent to "My Way," and Fr. Fernandez chimes in on the chorus.
Finally, the Rector Major offered a brief Good Night, translated by Fr. Tim Ploch. He began by thanking everyone who had hosted him, his secretary, and the provincials during the week. He voiced his appreciation for this little family gathering, both SDBs and the young people.
Striking one of his familiar themes, he stated that the Salesians are one congregation extended throughout the world [not just a bunch of discrete provinces], and we all need to be aware of that. He has been very much impressed by how much the Salesians are doing for the young in all the 35 countries that he has visited in his 14 months as Rector Major, and what those who work with us are doing.
Fr. Fernandez (right) giving the Good Night while Fr. Ploch (left) translates.
 He urged the two U.S. provinces not to be afraid of the future. There’s much to be hopeful about, he said. Although we’ve had our problems, we have many young people in formation, and that in itself is reason for hope. This evening celebration has been an expression of both joy and of hope.
He continued by calling the just-concluded bicentennial celebration a blessing and a year of grace. He invited us to be happy because we are Salesians. He prays that we may always be faithful to the Lord and present to the young, especially those who need us most. If we do this, he promised, there will be a celebration of Don Bosco’s 300th birthday in the U.S. and Canada.
Our Rector Major deeply impressed everyone at this family gathering with his ready smile, his friendliness, his accessibility, and his energy.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Homily for 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Oct. 25, 2015
Mark 10: 46-52
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“As Jesus was leaving Jericho…, Bartimaeus, a blind man, … sat by the roadside begging” (Mark 10: 46).

Jesus has passed thru Jericho and come to the outskirts of the city, to the periphery, to use one of Pope Francis’s favorite words.  More significant, there he finds a blind beggar, a man who is on the periphery of society.

The people around Jesus—and this presumably includes the 12—want Bartimaeus to stay there on the periphery.  When he calls out to Jesus, they tell him to hush.  You’d think that at this point in Jesus’ ministry, the disciples—not only the 12 but all of them—would know Jesus’ concern for the poor and disadvantaged.  You’d think that at this point they’d have absorbed a little bit of his teaching about service having precedence over power.

You’d think that at this point in the life of Jesus’ Church we also would have absorbed those lessons and would find it perfectly natural to go to the peripheries—both places and the people who live and struggle in those places—and wouldn’t need the extraordinary charisma of a Pope to push us in that direction.  You wouldn’t think that the Pope would have to chastise high-ranking clerics about careerism or urge lower-ranking ones to get out of their rectories and into the lives of their people.

I know that the Ursulines are indeed sensitive to the world’s outcasts, and you strive to make your pupils and others likewise sensitive—to immigrants and refugees, the unemployed, struggling families, et al.—our 21st-century versions of blind Bartimaeus.  Strive also to be sensitive to the needs—emotional, spiritual, and physical—of the people immediately around you, your sisters in community.  Could there be sisters on some kind of social or physical periphery here or elsewhere in your province?

The episode of Bartimaeus is, of course, just one example of how Jesus showed sensitivity, and more, to the people around him and the people on the edges of society.  We turn now to what the son of Timaeus does, this man whose proper name we don’t know but whose story merited Mark’s attention.

Jesus tells him to go his way (10:52).  (The Greek text—upage—actually says, “Go off”; “be on your way” is a fair rendering.)  Jesus, tho, does not instruct him to “come” or “follow me.”  He dismisses Bartimaeus to go where he pleases, to go about his business.

And what does the healed man, the man who now sees in a way he didn’t see before, do?  He follows Jesus “on the way.”  He goes the way of Jesus.  What is Jesus’ way?  We’ve been hearing it for several weeks:  he’s on his way to Jerusalem, to the cross, to giving his life as a ransom (10:32-34).  The man who was blind sees what no one else does—not the scribes and Pharisees, not the crowd that tried to hush him up, not even the 12.  He alone makes his way the way of Jesus by willingly following where Jesus is going.

Bartimaeus is opting for the community of Jesus’ disciples, albeit with—this is implied rather than stated—more insight than anyone else; opting for community rather than individualism, self-centeredness, going his own separate way.  Jesus instructed him to be off, but he doesn’t go his individual way.  You know that a lot of folks today want to be “spiritual but not religious,” i.e., not part of any organized religion, not part of a religious community (parish or church).  None of that for Bartimaeus!  He goes with Jesus, the 12, and the rest of the disciples.  He’s demonstrating for us the free, total choice of Jesus and of community.

There’s more in Bartimaeus’s choice—for Mark’s readers, for us, if not for Bartimaeus directly.  He can’t have been aware of all that Jesus has been teaching the 12 in the preceding passages, such as last Sunday’s gospel (10:35-45), which immediately precedes this one in Mark 10.

This community that Bartimaeus is joining is very far from perfect.  James and John were just plotting a coup, to get themselves the key places of power and influence in Jesus’ kingdom, and the other 10 were “indignant” with them because of that.  They argue among themselves like a bunch of kids.  Jesus has to explain to them again what “greatness” in his kingdom means; has to remind them that he’s on his way toward the surrender of his life and not the conquest of a kingdom, at least not a kingdom as they understand it.

As I said, Bartimaeus must not be aware of any of that.  But we, Mark’s readers, are.  We are part of a very imperfect, still-on-the-way community, like the one that Bartimaeus is choosing to join even as he attaches himself to Christ.  Christ’s community of disciples is a community of sinners.  Some people can’t handle that, and they divorce themselves from the great community of the Church—Martin Luther, Marcel Lefevre, the “spiritual but not religious” types, and many ordinary religious dropouts who can’t fathom membership alongside a bunch of sinners.

But these sinners—we sinners—are following Jesus:  Jesus who heals, Jesus who leads us into light, Jesus who is more powerful than all our weaknesses, Jesus who transforms his disciples into saints while they walk along his way.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fr. Chester Szemborski, SDB (1923-2015)

Fr. Chester Szemborski, SDB (1923-2015)

Fr. Chet as a jubilarian in 2005
Fr. Chester Szemborski passed from earthly life into eternity on the evening of Tuesday, October 20, at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, N.Y. He was 92 years old and had been a professed Salesian for 75 years and a priest for 65 years.

A message from Fr. Steve Shafran, provincial, stated that in his final illness—the result of a broken hip complicated by the onset of pneumonia—Fr. Chester was supported by the Salesian community of the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., to which he belonged; his loving sister Eleanor; and his family and friends.

Chet Szemborski entered this life on June 30, 1923, in Paterson, N.J., the son of Jerome and Lottie Szemborski. They belonged to St. Stephen’s Parish in Paterson, where Chet entered Christ’s life 19 days later.

Chet entered the aspirantate of Don Bosco Seminary at Newton, N.J., in the fall of 1935. He was admitted to the novitiate there in September 1939 and made his first profession of vows on September 8, 1940.

On his way toward his B.A. in philosophy, awarded by Don Bosco College in Newton in June 1943, Bro. Chester was a fine student; he graduated cum laude. He then did his practical training as teacher and assistant with the aspirants in Newton for two years and moved with the aspirants to Suffern, N.Y., in 1945.

From 1946 to 1950 Bro. Chester studied theology at the Pontificio Ateneo Salesiano (the “Crocetta”) in Turin, earning an STL degree. He was ordained on July 2, 1950, in the basilica of Mary Help of Christians at the Salesian motherhouse in Turin.

Fr. Chester returned to the province to take up various school and parish assignments. He was prefect of studies at Don Bosco Tech in Paterson (1950-1951), prefect at Salesian High in New Rochelle (1951-1953), assistant pastor at St. Anthony Church in Elizabeth, N.J. (1953-1959, 1960-1962), teacher at Don Bosco Juniorate in Haverstraw (1959-1960), assistant pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Mahwah, N.J. (1962-1965), and chaplain for the Salesian Sisters in North Haledon (1965-1966).

In the late 1960s Fr. Chester did studies in psychology. He earned an M.A. from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Rutherford, N.J., in 1969 and subsequently was licensed as a school psychologist by both New Jersey and New York. He later published his dissertation, The Wisdom of Jung: A Theory of Personality, in paperback (rare copies were selling on the Internet from $19.00 to $58.50 at the time of his death).

Notwithstanding his certification, he spent most of the years between 1970 and 1982 at the provincial residence, dealing with health problems. For one year (1971-1972) he was posted to Salesian Junior Seminary in Goshen, N.Y., as treasurer. When his health improved somewhat, he transferred to the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, where he resided from 1982 to 2001.

Declining health led to Fr. Chester’s move to Northern Riverview Rest Home in Haverstraw in 2001, where he enjoyed visiting his fellow residents and bringing them such limited priestly ministry as he could in that situation. Frequently he was brought to visit his community at the Shrine, and he enjoyed taking part in province events such as jubilees and professions, at which he was a friendly presence. He remained at Northern Riverview until he fell and broke his hip early in September this year.

Fr. Chester is survived by his sister Eleanor Szemborski of Paterson, N.J. Two brothers, Stanley and Henry, predeceased him.

Funeral rites will be celebrated on Friday, October 23, in the chapel of the Marian Shrine:

       2:00 p.m.             Reception of the Body and Wake

       7:30 p.m.             Mass of Christian Burial

Burial will take place in Calvary Cemetery, Paterson, N.J., on Saturday, October 24, at 11:00 a.m.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Interamerica Provincials Meeting in Haverstraw

Interamerica Provincials Meeting in Haverstraw

Since Sunday the 18th the provincials of our SDB region, called Interamerica, have been meeting at Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw, N.Y.  These regional meetings happen more or less annually with the location shifting among the 13 provinces: U.S. East-Canada, U.S. West, Antilles, Haiti, Mexico (2), Central America, Colombia (2), Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.  The regional councilor (a general councilor), Fr. Tim Ploch, presides.  It was our turn to be host, and our vice provincial, Fr. Tim Zak, did most of the coordination work--no simple task, even making all the airport pick-ups.

Our provincial, Fr. Steve Shafran, describes the purpose and nature of these meetings thus:  "It is a wonderful opportunity for the provincials to get together, share their experiences, and reflect on some common themes. We are experiencing a real sense of community while we are together. No matter what country we are from, our common Salesian heritage and love for Don Bosco is the thread that binds us."

Later in the week some of the other general councilors, including my "chief," Fr. Filiberto Gonzalez of the Communications Dept., will show up.  Finally, the Rector Major will appear on the weekend, just before the meeting concludes on Saturday evening.

Today (Tuesday), they had an afternoon outing to New Rochelle to see the provincial house and get a tour of Salesian Missions, followed by supper at the mission office (to which our community also was invited).  Before evening prayers they posed on our front lawn for a group photo.

Besides the provincials, Bro. Bruno Busatto from the mission office is at the far left, Fr. Mark Hyde, director of the mission office, is at the far right, and Fr. Zak is in the back row (2d from right).  Fr. Shafran is to the right of Fr. Zak.  Fr. Tim Ploch is in the center in the blue sweater.

As you can tell from the foliage, autumn hasn't really hit us yet--just touched us a little.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Homily for 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

[October 18, 2015]

Isaiah 53: 10-11

I expected to be with my Scout troop this entire weekend, but their plans went awry and we were compelled to return home on Saturday afternoon.  So no Sunday homily for me.  What follows, then, is a really old one--actually one prepared for a homiletics class in seminary!

“Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him:  he has put him to grief.”

On Oct. 24, 1976, the Coast Guard located a small orange raft bobbing in the Pacific.  They’d been hunting for it for over 30,000 square miles of water.  In the raft lay Bruce Collins, the hungry and dehydrated survivor of a shipwreck 28 days earlier.  We may well imagine the anguish the Collins family during those 4 weeks.

Such anguish is trial enough.  Unfortunately, it’s not the entire tragedy.  For there had been 3 young people in that raft when their ketch sank in a storm.  Two of them were buried at sea a week before rescue came for Bruce.

Why?  What did these young sailors do to deserve that kind of physical and mental suffering?  What did their parents do? Why do the innocent suffer?  These are questions no one has ever been able to answer with much satisfaction.  They are questions the prophet Isaiah is concerned with today.  The first reading speaks of the Lord’s Servant undergoing undeserved punishment.  This punishment acts as an atoning sacrifice for a multitude of sinners who probably were more deserving of punishment.

We don’t know who this unnamed Servant is.  The passage seems to reflect Abraham’s story.  Who was more righteous than this Hebrew patriarch?  He was righteous by virtue of his supreme faith in God, and this faith of Abraham’s justified many nations (Rom 4:3,11,17-18; Gen 15:16; 17:5).  Abraham’s faith had to undergo a grievous test.  He believed God was commanding him to offer his only son in sacrifice.  He was ready to do so; still believing God would keep his promise.  Losing a son or daughter, as those families did when a sailboat sank in the Pacific, is painful.  What did Abraham suffer as he prepared to sacrifice his own Isaac?  God let him know, of course, that he desired not Isaac’s death, but Abraham’s complete faith.  Because he believed, Abraham saw his offspring and prospered.

That offspring was Israel, who could also be the Suffering Servant of our passage.  It is true that a good deal of what Israel suffered at the hands of the Gentiles was well deserved.  The prophets of the Old Testament make that clear.  But Isaiah seems to say Israel has gotten more than she has earned.  She is still the Lord’s chosen one, his servant. We are well aware that after this passage was composed at the end of the Babylonian Exile, about 540 years before Christ, Israel has much suffering ahead of her despite and often because of her fidelity to the covenant God made with her.  What value did such suffering have?  If we believe God’s word spoken here thru Isaiah, like Abraham’s anguish Israel’s pains have justified many sinners.  She has been the innocent lamb offered in sacrificial atonement for the sins of mankind (Lev 5).  At the same time she has come to understand better her prophetic role in history.  This is, in fact, a recurrent theme in Jewish literature.  Suffering, if we let is be, can be the means in which we become open to the will of the Lord which is bruising us or others.  It makes us realize how insignificant we are and, paradoxically, how noble we can be, like the martyrs of Judaism and Christianity, or just on the human level, like baseball’s Lou Gehrig in the face of lateral sclerosis.  Bruce Collins did, in fact, admit having a religious experience during those 28 days adrift.  The good in what is painful comes only when we open ourselves to suffering atonement, atonement that is either personal or universal.

We can get still more radical. Acceptance of imposed suffering isn’t easy, but we don’t have a whole lot of choice about enduring it.  Yet we find men and women who deliberately choose the way of atonement:  St. Therese suffering in her French convent that God might convert far-away pagans; Albert Schweitzer abandoning a successful scholarly career that he might bring medicine to black Africa and atone for his fellow Europeans’ mistreatment of them.[1]

And we see the greatest example of suffering atonement in him whom the Church has for 2,000 years seen as the Suffering Servant—Jesus Christ.  In the gospels we see him ever submissive to his Father’s will, quite aware that he is cast in a role which involves suffering and death (cf. Phil 2:8).  His sin offering was such a total submission to the divine will that it has atoned for the wicked rebellion of all of us and made us righteous.  And certainly it is we who deserve the suffering, not Jesus.  Because he obeyed, he has been raised up and sees the fruit of his travail:  the Church born from his pierced heart, as the Fathers of the Church have put it.

No, neither Abraham nor Israel, neither Jesus nor the saints explain why you and I suffer.  There is no apparent reasoning behind our fates.  Neither the wisdom writers of the Old Testament nor the philosophers of all ages have found a reason either.  We can discover but two things:  what the reading told us in the first line:  “It was the will of the Lord to bruise him,” and what Paul tells us, that we share in Christ’s suffering now and in his glory later.  The Lord’s will is a loving will, and he has his own loving reasons for permitting evil, which includes suffering.  We sometimes see the love in retrospect, like children who’ve grown up.  At other times we’ll only grasp the full breadth, length, height, and depth of that love (cf. Eph 3:18-19) when we’ve been raised up with Jesus.

       [1] James Milenberg, “The Book of Isaiah, chs. 40-66,” Interpreter’s Bible, V (Nashville, 1956), 628.



I have no idea whether anyone has noticed the lack of fresh postings here in the last 3 weeks. The photo above illustrates (graphically, I guess) why.  I had surgery on my left hand on Oct. 1 and couldn't type at all for several days, and then only gingerly, mostly one-handed, for a couple of weeks.  Stitches came out on the 14th, and gradually I'm resuming regular work.  Not quite there yet.