Saturday, December 26, 2015

Homily for Feast of the Holy Family

Homily for the
Feast of the Holy Family
Dec. 27, 2015
Ps 84: 2-3, 5-6, 9-10
Luke 2: 41-52
Iona College, New Rochelle

“Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord” (Ps 84: 5).

The house of the Lord is the theme running thru our readings this evening.  That word house is layered with meanings.  It’s a building, a dwelling place.  It’s a household, the people who dwell together—immediate family members, servants, and slaves (e.g., Abraham’s nomadic clan, the people at Tara in Gone with the Wind or at Downton Abbey, as well as a religious community—like the Brothers’ houses here, on Montgomery Circle, or at the Prep).  It’s a large, complex, generational family (like the house of David to which St. Joseph belonged, or Britain’s House of Windsor).

Finding of the Child in the Temple

(St. Ursula’s Church, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.)
In the 1st reading Hannah brings Samuel to become part of the Lord’s household at Shiloh, dedicated to the Lord’s service.  In the psalm we praise God’s house, i.e., the temple of Solomon, and call happy the priests and Levites who make up its household.  In the gospel, the boy Jesus remains in the temple, desirous of being in his Father’s dwelling or busy about his Father’s business (depending upon your translation of εν τοις του πατρος μου, literally “in what is my Father’s” [2:49]).  In the Johannine reading, we hear that already in this life we are God’s beloved children, i.e., members of his great family and household.
If we are beloved, then surely we are blessed!  We know we are beloved because he chose us and called us into this special relationship of being his sons and daughters thru the relationship that we entered by Baptism into Christ and that we maintain thru Eucharistic communion—“from the Spirit he gave us” (1 John 3:24), “dedicated to the Lord as long as we live” (cf. 1 Sam 1:28).  But John also hints at something greater to come, something he can’t verbalize:  “what we shall be has not yet been revealed” (3:2); a fuller revelation will come when we will be blessed to dwell in the Lord’s house forever.

John points to something wonderful to come, something that Paul refers to as he writes to the Corinthians:  “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I, 2:9).  Luke also points at wonders to come as he tells the story of Jesus in the temple, wonders not evident to the eye or the mind without faith.

1st, Mary and Joseph find the boy “after 3 days.”  That phrase of course is highly suggestive to us who believe in the resurrection.  It’s only “after 3 days” that we can find the real Jesus; that we can recognize him as the Son of the Eternal Father, the one who opens up to us some understanding of the mysteries of God.  Before the 3d day, while Jesus lay dead in the tomb, the hearts of the disciples were darkened and their lives empty, as were Joseph’s and Mary’s while they were looking for the boy “with great anxiety” (Luke 2:48), as are our hearts and lives unless and until we reach that 3d day, until we find the tomb empty and understand that he is risen and our lives take on an entirely new meaning.  “After 3 days” Jesus is no longer found physically among us but has entered the heavenly temple, and it’s there that we must find him.

2d, Mary and Joseph find Jesus “in the temple,” in the house of God.  Jesus is found by those who seek him in the house where he abides thru “the Spirit he gave us,” i.e., in his sacred Word, in his sacraments, in his Church.  He’s sacramentally present in our physical buildings—great cathedrals like St. Patrick’s (when you go there, make sure you go behind the main altar to the beautiful Lady Chapel, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved) and in humble chapels like this one.  More important, perhaps, he’s present in the Church that we often de-personalize by calling it an “institution”—the Church that is his Body, the communion of the saints, the assembly of his disciples that preserves and hands on his teachings; the Church that composed the sacred Scriptures under the Spirit’s inspiration and determined which writings were inspired and merited inclusion in what we know as “the Bible”; the Church that makes Christ present to us thru his sacraments, and thus the Church that incorporates us into the great family of God as his beloved children.

3d, when Mary complains to Jesus, “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (2:48), he subtly corrects her:  “Didn’t you know that I must be in what is my Father’s?”  Joseph is his father thru a legal fiction.  We can know who Jesus is only when we know who his real Father is; know that his Trinitarian family is larger and grander than just the house of David; and know that this is the house or family into which he leads us by making us his sisters and brothers.  We’d have no advantage in being related to St. Joseph by blood or by adoption.  Being the children of God—that’s what we’ve been created for; that’s our destiny; “our souls yearn and pine for the courts of the Lord” (cf. Ps 84:2).  “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Augustine).

“Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord."

Friday, December 25, 2015

Homily for Christmas

Homily for
Dec. 25, 2015
Luke 2: 15-20
Church of the Magdalene, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

“The shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us’” (Luke 2: 15).
Adoration of the Shepherds by Robert Leinweber
We’re all familiar with the story of Jesus’ birth, with details that we’ve collected mentally and woven together from both Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels.  The passage from Luke this morning is the sequel to the one read last nite about Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth, and the angels’ appearance to local shepherds out in the fields with their sheep.

We may romanticize the shepherds.  Think of how shepherds look on Christmas cards and in our creches, and what you imagine when you hear “The Little Drummer Boy.”

In fact, the rabbis forbade pious Jews from working as shepherds.[1] 1st-century Palestinian shepherds were unclean, both literally and religiously.  They were dirty and smelly, like their sheep (part of the point Pope Francis was making when he said priests should have the smell of their flocks).  They lived on the edges of society wherever pasture could be found, part of the mass of people whom Francis describes as “marginalized,” surviving on the periphery of life.  They were unclean in their standing before the Torah because they weren’t in any position to observe the Law’s fine points, probably not even its basic points like the sabbath rest, ritual purifications, and the celebration of Passover or Yom Kippur.  All that was a little hard to do while tending sheep in the fields.

Yet it is to shepherds that God’s messengers 1st announce the coming of the Savior; not to King Herod or his courtiers, not to the priests or the learned scribes, not to the military officers.  Few of all those people would be receptive to this Savior’s preaching, and many would seek his life.  But the lowly, the unclean, the outcast, the dirt poor—these will be the 1st to seek and acknowledge the Savior:  “Let us go to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place.”  This birth is good news, as the angel says, for all the people (2:10), which will be Jesus’ message when he undertakes his public ministry.  Pope Francis said on Monday, “Christmas is truly the feast of God’s infinite mercy.”

In fact, the shepherds recognize immediately that the newborn is one with them.  Those who are familiar with the customs and culture of Palestine over the centuries tell us that it was the poor who wrapped their infants in swaddling cloths.[2]  (I can’t tell you how that’s different from what the rich did.)  So the sign that the angel gives to the shepherds—“you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (2:12)—indicates an identification of class:  this savior is lowly and poor.

The 2d part of the sign is that he’ll be found lying in a manger, a feed trough for livestock.  Again, those familiar with Palestinian life don’t place this manger in a stable or barn.  It would’ve been unthinkable, unconscionable, an unforgivable breach of hospitality, for Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem not to have taken his family in, equally unconscionable for anyone in the town not to have taken in a woman about to give birth.  Rather, they were lodged in that part of a peasant home where a poor family kept their few animals at nite, maybe a donkey, a cow, or a couple of sheep.  Such living arrangements have been used by peasants everywhere for ages upon ages, for both the security of the animals at nite and the added warmth that they’d provide to the family in the adjacent main room of the house.  (Where there was no room for Joseph and Mary to stay was in a guest room that some houses would have had, because some other relative was already there.  The Greek word often translated as inn, suggesting to us the Hilton or Motel 6, basically means “lodgings.”)  Finding the child in a manger tells the shepherds not that this child has been an unwelcome stranger in the city but that he’s a peasant like them, sharing scanty, borrowed space in a poor home like their own.[3]  (We might also note that Matthew says explicitly that the magi found the child in a house [2:11].)

All of which means this:  the Savior has come to us as one of us.  This child in the manger is God in human flesh; God in our lowly condition; God approachable by the poorest of us, by the least reputable of us—and by sinners.  Altho the angels’ appearance in the fields initially struck the shepherds with “great fear” or awe (2:9), now they know that God really wants to be close to them.  The sign they see confirms “what the Lord has made known to us.”

Luke’s account continues, “When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.  All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds” (2:17-18).  They didn’t tell just Mary and Joseph but also others—others in the house, others in the town, other shepherds tending other flocks in other fields.  Like the angels who had appeared to them, they became the Lord’s messengers, bearers of the Good News of the birth of the Savior.  They became evangelists, recounting what the angel had said to them, what the band of angels had sung (“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” [2:14]), and what they’d seen at the manger; perhaps also some marvels that Mary and Joseph told them.

Brothers and sisters, we can’t be innocent bystanders of the Gospel.  The Lord has revealed to us his goodness, his “kindness and generous love” and “mercy,” in the words of the 2d reading (Tit 3:4-5)—and we have to make this known.  Our Lord Jesus expects all of us to let others know that he has saved us from our sins, given meaning to our lives, given us “hope of eternal life” (Tit 3:7).  We start in our families, and when opportunity presents, we let others know as well:  Jesus has come to us—yes, even to us!—and we belong to him!

And Luke adds, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (2:19).  “All these things” presumably means not only the events immediately around Jesus’ birth but also the whole story of his miraculous conception and the wondrous birth of his cousin John the Baptist.  She continued to think about these events and pray over them, thanking God for his part in her life and seeking the meaning of what had happened, the implications of what had happened for the future, wondering what God had in mind, on what journey he was taking her.  We might reasonably suppose Luke’s words mean something like that.  And we can imitate Mary in that way:  reviewing God’s action in our own lives, seeking the meaning of the events we experience at home, at work, in the news, and of the words we hear, always looking for God’s will and how we might carry it out, praying each day over all that—so that “this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us,” that God’s own Son has come down to us to lift us up, might truly become a part of our own lives as it did Mary’s.

      [1] Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2008), p. 35.
      [2] Ibid.
      [3] Ibid., pp. 28-34; cf. John P. Kealy, CSSp, Luke’s Gospel Today (Denville, N.J.: Dimension Books, 1979), p. 141. See also

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Advent
Dec. 20, 2015
Luke 1: 39-45
Renewal of Profession
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

At this Saturday vigil Mass, in the presence of about 25 layfolk regularly attending and some of the local Christian Brothers, one of the student brothers from Africa renewed his temporary vows.

“At the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1: 44).

The Virgin Mary has just had her own visitation, the appearance of Archangel Gabriel to her to invite her to become mother of the savior.  She’s declared herself the Lord’s humble handmaid, ready to do whatever he asks.  The angel has given her a sign that the Lord’s Word is good; her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth is 6 months pregnant.

(Luke never tells us how old Elizabeth is, only [3x] that she’s “advanced in years.”  In the 1st century, that may have meant she was in her mid- or late 40s.  No reflection on present company—especially since I’m right up there with you!)

Immediately Mary goes to visit Elizabeth.  She goes bearing her Son in her womb; she is already Theotokos—“God-bearer,” the beloved title of the Eastern Churches for her. Furthermore, the Son of God in her womb is already an active presence among humanity, recognized by both holy Elizabeth and her unborn son (who will be named John and nicknamed “the Baptist”).

Elizabeth responds to Mary’s presence with words of praise for both Mary and the One who will be named Jesus after his birth, and with wonderment that “the mother of my Lord should come to me” (1:43).  Elizabeth has already experienced the wonder, the miracle, of a completely unexpected pregnancy, one beyond the normal course of nature.  Now she marvels that her Lord should come directly to her.

The wonder of the incarnation of God’s only-begotten Son is that he should come to us at all.  In no other religion is God so personal, so close, literally so down-to-earth!  The book of Proverbs speaks of divine Wisdom’s “delight in the children of men” (8:31); Jesus, the Wisdom of God in person, delights to come to us, to share our humanity and restore us to the place in the heavenly household that we had forfeited by sin.  God delights to be among us!  Elizabeth was surprised, and perhaps we too are surprised.  But after the incarnation and after the gift of the Holy Eucharist, how can we be surprised that God wants to be with us?  Furthermore, isn’t another name for Jesus Emmanuel?

Unborn John the Baptist recognizes the presence of his unborn Lord in Mary’s womb and “leaps for joy.”  God-with-us is cause for joy!  The God who delights to be among us brings us joy, brings us pleasure in his company.  The God who sings to us of his love for us in the Song of Songs invites our own loving response.  The female persona, representing Israel, exclaims, “I sought him whom my heart loves” (3:1).  The Song cites the mutual excitement of the lovers in such verses as:  “Hark! my lover!—here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills” (Song 2:8)—a verse that may be in the back of Luke’s mind as he portrays Mary’s visit to the hill country of Judah; and “Let me see you, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and you are lovely” (3:14).

Advent is a season of joyful anticipation of God’s coming to be with us and thru his union with us to save us.  Last Sunday was Gaudete Sunday:  rejoice, for the Lord is near!  In a few days we’ll be singing “Joy to the World.”

And in a few minutes we’ll have the joy of Bro. Paul’s renewing of his temporary vows as a Christian Brother; the joy of witnessing his response to God’s personal love for him thru a commitment to live for God and to love God and his neighbor in the special calling of being a brother.

I’m not familiar with the particulars of the Brothers’ Constitutions, of course.  Our SDB Constitutions commit us to be “signs and bearers of God’s love for young people, especially those who are poor” (art. 2).  I imagine that the Brothers have some similar ideal, whether it’s verbalized or not.  In terms of today’s gospel reading, Bro. Paul is committing himself to be like the Virgin Mary, to bear Christ to the young or whomever the Congregation will send him to, and to be a living sign of God’s loving presence to them.

All of us, brothers, are signs of God’s love for his Church thru the way we live like the poor, chaste, and obedient Christ; thru our practice of Christ’s love for young people in our schools and other institutions, and Christ’s love for our brothers in community.  We can’t carry Jesus in our wombs like Mary, but we can like her carry him in our hearts—that applies to all us here tonite, not just the religious.  St. Augustine famously says that Mary conceived him in her heart before ever she conceived him in the womb;[1] indeed, if she hadn’t had God in her heart, she couldn’t have said, “Be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  So, Paul, you will travel like Mary—perhaps not in haste, perhaps not into any hills—but certainly to the houses of God’s people, i.e., to the places where they dwell and are waiting for God to come to them.  You will be God’s presence to them, incarnated in your words and actions and in your heart.

Whatever the particulars of your future mission might be—education or catechesis in some form, I suppose—it will be your mission to bring joy with you.  You may not make people literally leap for joy like John in Elizabeth’s womb—altho I’ve heard something about African liturgies; but you must make their hearts and minds leap for joy, bring joyful smiles to their faces—not because they’ve met you but because they’ve met Jesus whom you carry with you.

“A sad saint is a sorry saint,” says St. Francis de Sales.  Joyful Christianity is a hallmark of Pope Francis, one of the qualities that makes him so universally appealing.  His 1st major message to the Church was the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel.”  The word joy appears in some form 107x in that message.  If the Gospel doesn’t make us joyful, how can we expect people to be attracted to it?  If we religious aren’t joyful in our vocation, how can we expect young people to want to join us in this way of following Jesus?  If we aren’t filled with joy (even when life presents us with inevitable challenges in community, in the apostolate, in our health, in our relations with the wider world), then we’re in the wrong vocation—because God has created us for happiness.  You, Paul, must be a witness to that among your brothers, among the young, among everyone wherever God will lead you.

      [1] Discourses 215: 4; cf. “On Holy Virginity,” 3.

Homily for Christmas Novena, Dec. 18

Homily for the

Christmas Novena
Dec. 18, 2015

“O Sacred Lord”

Provincial House, New Rochelle

On the Christmas novena, see 
3 variants of tonite’s O antiphon are in regular use—2 in the general liturgy and 1 in our novena.

We’ll sing the novena version shortly:  “O Adonai, leader of the house of Israel, to Moses in the flaming bush you appeared and gave him your law on Sinai.  O come and do ransom us in the strength of your arm extended.”

The “official” text of the breviary reads:  “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:  come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”

In the traditional text of everyone’s favorite Advent hymn, we sing:  “O come, O come, great Lord of might,/ Who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height/ In ancient times didst give the Law/ In cloud and majesty and awe/ O come, O come Emmanuel,/ And ransom captive Israel.”

If those 3 variants weren’t enuf, the Magnificat gives us yet another (p. 276):  “O Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flames of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai:  come and redeem us with outstretched arm.”

Of course they’re all translated from the same Latin text, which—having mercy on you—I didn’t look up.

All of these versions have in common an address to the powerful Lord of Israel, and all invoke his past use of his power to redeem his people, begging him to come again and save us.  3 versions refer to the Lord’s appearance to Moses in the burning bush (“O Come, Emmanuel” doesn’t), an appearance intimately linked to God’s freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt thru the instrumentality of Moses.

All the versions refer to the giving of the Law on Sinai.  We probably don’t often think of laws as liberating.  You’ve heard the joke about the Russian, American, and blonde who were discussing space exploration.  The Russian boasted, “We were the first in space.”  The American responded, “We were the first on the moon.”  The blonde said, “So what!  We’re going to be the first on the sun.”  The Russian and the American looked at each other and shook their heads.  “You can’t land on the sun, you idiot!  You’ll burn up,” remarked the Russian.  To which the blonde replied, “We’re not stupid, you know.  We’re going at night.”

Moses with the 10 Commandmends (Jose de Ribera)
Astrophysics and the other laws of the physical universe are liberating when we know and accept their parameters, their limits.  Our acknowledgment of the law of gravity saves us from smashing ourselves to pieces when we go near cliffs, up on roofs, or down the stairs, while our acceptance and use of the laws of aerodynamics allows us to overcome gravity, in a manner of speaking.  The Law given on Sinai likewise attunes us to the universe, the religious or moral universe; it’s liberating when we let that Law remind us of our Creator, his relationship with us, and our relationships with one another.  St. Paul says that “consciousness of sin comes thru the law” (Rom 3:20), i.e., the Law makes us aware of right and wrong—and such awareness is liberating for those intent on pursuing the right.  Failing to acknowledge the moral universe has given us, e.g., 30 million dead in WWII (a commonly accepted estimate—no one can say for sure) and, less dramatically but closer to home, the breakdown of social order that has followed the breakdown of family life.  A story I read the other day[1] comments on a court decision in Utah that requires 2 women to be listed as the parents on the birth certificate of a child born to one of them.  It’s a biological impossibility, of course, that a woman father a child.  The commentary notes that such misleading records—she also references birth certificates more benign in their intent, related to other forms of artificial conception as well as to adoption—deprive a child of a fundamental right by masking who the child really is:  its ancestry, its genetic origins, and so on (how many times has a doctor asked you about your family’s medical history?).  I’d say that adherence to the natural law would be liberating for the child; following a social trend, instead, binds the child in a chain of ignorance.

Our antiphon, our hymn, our prayer is that we be saved now, ransomed or redeemed now, by the Mighty One.  That plea harmonizes with what we pray every evening in Mary’s canticle:  “He has shown the strength of his arm….  He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”  Antiphon and Marian hymn note the Lord’s mighty arm as the means of our rescue.  Like ancient Israel in their dealings with the Egyptians and their other enemies, we are too lowly, too feeble, to save ourselves.

Of course, in our case we’re talking about redemption from an unearthly power, from something more nefarious than ignorance of universal laws.  We all know that, in broad terms, we need to be redeemed from our sins.  Presumably we bring such an awareness, with gratitude, to our daily celebration of the Eucharist, when we approach the sacred Lord of Israel who reached out to his people on the slope of Sinai (in the burning bush) and on its summit (thru the Law) and, most decisively, thru his beloved Son.  Presumably we bring that awareness and gratitude to Reconciliation every month or so.

But we might also seek the Mighty Lord’s help in being set free from our less fortunate spiritual or emotional or behavioral qualities:  our impatience, our arrogance, our sloth, our rudeness, our faultfinding, our closemindedness (isn’t one of the banes of community life “we’ve always done it that way”?), a tendency to speak or act without thinking, an insistence on being right, a tendency to dominate a conversation—so many habits, not necessarily sinful (but sometimes, yes), that to some degree enslave us, and at the same time enslave our confreres, e.g., by placing demands on their time or patience, etc.  We need the Mighty One’s help to see ourselves as we are and to work to change what might seem so intractable in us; we need him to lift up the lowly, lift us to more gracious speech and action, and sometimes even to silence.

That may sound more like Lent than Advent; but we await a Savior because we need to be saved.  Come, O Adonai, and do ransom us in the strength of your arm extended!

       [1] Rebecca Taylor, “Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ and the Death of the Birth Certificate,” National Catholic Register, Nov. 1-14, 2015, issue on-line.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Homily for 3d Sunday of Advent

Homily for the

3d Sunday of Advent
Dec. 12, 1982

Zeph. 3: 14-18a

Luke 3: 10-18

Don Bosco Tech, Paterson

“The Lord your God is in your midst” (Zeph 3: 17).

When we were small, how many times were we comforted by the presence of our parents?  How little we worried as long as mom or dad was close by, no matter where we were or what we were doing!  In a similar manner, YWHW means to reassure his troubled people:  “Don’t be afraid; the Lord your God is in your midst,” says Zephaniah twice in today’s first reading.  “Shout for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel,” Isaiah proclaims in the responsory (12:6).  “Rejoice! The Lord is at hand,” Paul assures the Philippians (4:4-5).

No doubt we also heard a few times, “Just wait till your father gets home,” or “I’m going to let your father know about this.”  That expectation might be compared to John the Baptist’s warning, “One who is mightier than I is coming…; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).
The Preaching of John the Baptist (Henri Antoine de Favanne)
Advent is a season for a Church in tension:  the Church waiting on joyful expectation for the revelation of our Savior, the Church waiting also in its imperfections for the Savior’s return in glory and judgment.

The Savior has been revealed in our midst.  The ancient Israel and we, the new Israel, enjoy God’s presence among us.  Our God, the God of Zephaniah and Jesus, is not a distant God but a caring God who is close to us, even in our midst.

Where should we look for the Lord in our midst?  We can begin with his providence.  Most of us are in the habit of thanking God daily for the food he sets on our tables.  God is in our midst in his material blessings great and small.

God is present in the community of believers.  Jesus tells us that when 2 or 3 assemble in his name, he is in their midst.  That doesn’t mean only when we gather for the liturgy or for formal prayer.  It means whenever we believers commune together and live our faith before one another.  The Church always reminds us that each family is a “little church,” a smaller group of Christ’s followers.  God is in our midst when we act to one another as Christ does:  when I am patient with your grumpiness, when you visit me when I am sick, when this one teaches that one to pray, to forgive, and to be generous.

“The Lord your God is in your midst” in his sacred Word.  Each Sunday we listen to a portion of the Scriptures; our Constitutions (#59) urge us to take up the Word daily, not only in Mass but privately and personally.  God speaks to us in our private hearts, consoling us in sorrow, doubling our joy, reproving our faults, calming our fears.  Do we have a task that overwhelms us?  “The Lord God is my strength and my song” (Is 12:2). Are we in need?  “Have no anxiety about anything, but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6).  Paul puts thanksgiving in there with supreme confidence in God’s presence to us “in Christ Jesus” (4:7).  Are we rejoicing in the love of a friend, a dear one?  “He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will renew you in his love” (Zeph 3:17).

The Lord is in our midst sacramentally, in the Bread by which he nourishes our inner selves and strengthens us by walking our earthly pilgrimage with us; and in his ministers, who make him present, blessing, forgiving, and teaching. 

Each Advent-Christmas season, we remember that our God had been so close to as to be engulfed among us.  He still dwells with us in Word, sacrament, and one another.  He has taken away our sin and enables us to stand with him before the Father.  And we are joyful.

There is also the other side of us, the side that needs the forgiveness, the repentance.  You, who are selfish, share!  Take no more from others than is your due.  Do violence to no one.  Accuse no one falsely. (Cf. Luke 3:10-14.)  Now it isn’t John the Baptist reproving our daily sinfulness, but the living Word of God.  As the prophets and John once promised judgment for Israel, so now does Jesus, the Church, this Advent season.  “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17).

Luke calls this preaching “good news” (3:18).  It sounds a little frightening to me.  Why “good news”?  Perhaps for 2 reasons.  1st, it promises, again, God’s presence to redress wrongs and violences done to us.  And 2d, because it allows us to repent of our wrongdoing in this time of expectation and waiting.  The Holy One of Israel is in our midst, and he will heal us when we look at ourselves and say to him, “What shall I do?”  (cf. Luke 3:10).  But woe to us if we see no need to change our lives, if Christ’s presence makes no difference to us, if we can hear his Word and receive his sacrament without letting them make an impact on our lives.

We are sinners; we need to change.  Need we despair of God’s presence?  No.  He encourages us as he did Israel; “Do not fear, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.  The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory” (Zeph 3:16-17).  In these last 2 weeks of Advent, let us expose our weakness to him and allow his strength to take hold of us.  Let his presence among and within us be a manifestation of his salvation to the world.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Fr. Paul Bedard, SDB (1926-2015)

Fr. Paul Bedard, SDB (1926-2015)

Fr. Paul in 2010
Fr. Paul Bedard, SDB, died on December 7, 2015, at Carrollwood Care Center in Tampa from complications of Parkinson’s disease. Fr. Paul, a member of the SDB community of Mary Help of Christians Center in Tampa, had turned 89 three weeks earlier. He was a Salesian for 58 years and a priest for 50 years.

Paul Bedard was born to Camille and Emilia Bedard in Saco, Me., on Nov. 16, 1926. After high school, he served in the Army in Japan, tried college under the G.I. Bill but dropped out, and worked for Standard Oil in Saudi Arabia for two years. Dissatisfied with that life, he returned to the States “and drifted for the next two years” but began attending daily Mass and thinking about the priesthood again—having made a short-lived experiment with Maryknoll’s junior seminary in the 1940s. Several orders turned him down because of either age or lack of a college degree. After quite a few years of trying to discern God’s will, he discovered the SDBs through a vocation ad in Our Sunday Visitor, and he was accepted as a candidate (“Son of Mary”) at the old age of 29, enrolling at Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., in July 1955. He made his first vows on September 8, 1957, at St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Newton.

Bro. Paul Bedard, Bolivia, 1960
An average student, Bro. Paul earned a B.A. in philosophy from DBC in 1960 and then went as a missionary to Montero, Bolivia, where the Salesians were trying to start an agricultural school. When that didn’t work out, he taught in the diocesan minor seminary in Cochabamba. He did theological studies in Cordoba, Argentina (1962-1965), but returned to the U.S. for ordination in Newton in 1965 and some brief experience on the staffs of St. Dominic Savio High School in East Boston, the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., and Salesian Missions in New Rochelle, N.Y. (1965-1966).

Following ordination, Fr. Paul returned to Bolivia to complete his theological studies and then teach high school (1966-1967). Encountering difficulties related in part to anti-Americanism and in part to antipathy from a superior (whom he struggled for years to be able to forgive), he returned to the New Rochelle Province, where he served in a variety of ministries for the next 43 years.

He was briefly an assistant pastor at Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester, N.Y., in 1967 and then was sent to Archbishop Shaw High School in Marrero, La., to teach (1967-1968). He wasn’t happy doing that and took a two-year leave of absence for vocational discernment while serving as a parish priest in Portland, Ore. (St. Paul, 1968-1970); he decided that he wanted to remain a Salesian.

He was assigned to teach at Don Bosco Tech in Boston (1970-1975)—which was his favorite assignment—and Salesian Prep in Cedar Lake, Ind. (1976-1978), with a year between as assistant pastor at St. Anthony Parish in Paterson, N.J.
Fr. Paul's ordination in the chapel of Don Bosco College, Newton

The parish ministry that he found more satisfying than the classroom occupied most of the rest of his active life: Ste. Claire Parish in Montreal (1978-1984), Mary Help of Christians in New York City (1984-1985), Holy Rosary in Port Chester (1991), St. Anthony in Paterson (1991-1994), St. Anthony in Elizabeth, N.J. (1994-1996), St. Benedict in Etobicoke, Ont. (2004), and St. John Bosco in Chicago (2004-2005).

From 1985 to 1990 Fr. Paul was chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Miami, for which he prepared by taking a clinical pastoral education course at Cabrini Medical Center in New York and attaining chaplain’s certification. This program developed him personally as well as professionally. To his supervisor, staff, and peers he demonstrated “honesty, integrity, and commitment to be himself, a strong faith and the ability to share this faith with others,” as well as his love for Don Bosco and the SDBs; they saw him as a prayerful man

Fr. Paul presiding at Mass in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians

in Turin during a pilgrimage of SDBs from our province.

He also served on the retreat teams at Sacred Heart Retreat Center in Ipswich, Mass. (1996-1999), and Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw (2005-2010). From 1999 to 2004 he was responsible for care of sick and elderly Salesians in Stony Point, N.Y. He made a short foray into the foreign missions again in 1990, in Sierra Leone.

Fr. Paul’s fluency in both French and Spanish benefited many. Still, in 2007 he described his life as an SDB as “mostly in the background, unimpressive, bland.” Earlier this year, he confessed that he couldn’t think of anything he’d done worth remembering: he never held “positions of authority” and “was a mediocre teacher.” He considered himself to have been a “flunky” in parish work who gave homilies neither “stimulating nor inspiring.” He also humbly confessed, “I know I could have tried harder, been more spiritual,” and he regretted not always having imitated “our Lord, our Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. John Bosco, Michael Rua, and the thousands of great Salesians who have been examples to follow.”

Fr. Paul poses with Fr. Pascual Chavez, Rector Major,

at Salesian HQ in Rome
His confreres observed him in a different light. Fr. Romeo Trottier wrote: “I lived with Paul a few years in Montreal at Ste-Claire Parish; he was assistant pastor at the beginning of the 1980s. He was really a man of service and he did it with great generosity. Much empathy for the poor (beggars) who asked for help—even to the point of cooking a steak for them at 9 in the evening. [He was] faithful in visiting the sick—e.g., Communion on 1st Friday. He was a man of prayer and faithful to attendance in community.”

Fr. Paul summed up his spiritual life with quotations from St. Augustine and St. Paul: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You” from Augustine, and “I live now, not I, but Christ within me” from Paul.

Fr. Paul with the house mascot, Zito, at St. Philip Residence
In 2010 Fr. Paul retired to the St. Philip the Apostle residence at Mary Help of Christians Center in Tampa, where he remained until recently, when infirmity necessitated his move into Carrollwood Care Center.

Fr. Paul was waked at Mary Help of Christians Church in Tampa on Wednesday, December 9. The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated there on December 10 with his director, Fr. Stephen Ryan, presiding and preaching.

A second set of services will be celebrated at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., on Friday, December 11: wake at 4:00-7:00 p.m. and Mass of Christian Burial at 7:30 p.m. It’s anticipated that Fr. Steve Shafran, provincial, will preside and Fr. Frank Kelly will preach.

Burial will take place on December 12 at the Salesian Cemetery in Goshen.