Sunday, February 28, 2016

Homily for 3d Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Lent
March 22, 1992
Ex 3: 1-8, 13-15
Luke 13: 1-9
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

A Scouting camping trip was canceled, leaving me without a Sunday Mass assignment--or a new homily to prepare.  So I reached into the historical repertoire for this.

“I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint…. Therefore I have come down to rescue them…” (Ex 3: 7-8).

The Lord called Moses to deliver his people from slavery to the Egyptians and lead them to the Promised Land.  The voice of the Lord spoke from the desert shrub that, marvelously, was burning but not consumed.  And God revealed his holy name to Moses and to the Israelites. 

God the father sent his Son Jesus to deliver his people from slavery to our own selfishness and lead us to a promised land.  That is the land of which St. Paul spoke last week when he said, “We have our citizenship in heaven” (Phil 3:20).  God sent his Son in a marvelous way, born of a woman whose virginity was not consumed in her conceiving and giving birth.  And God revealed himself to the apostles and to the new Israel, which is the Church.

All who followed Moses passed marvelously thru the Red Sea and were marvelously fed by the manna and water that God provided.  Yet most of them displeased God by their faithlessness and rebelliousness, and they died in the desert.  St. Paul pointed to the example of our spiritual ancestors, the Hebrews who followed Moses out of Egypt.  Like them we have passed marvelously thru the saving waters: for them the Red Sea, for us the baptismal font.  Like them we are fed by divinely provided food: for them the mysterious manna and the water from the rock, for us the Body and Blood of Christ.  And like them, we have our faith and our obedience to God tested daily in the wilderness:  for them the hostile wilderness of Sinai, for us the hostile wilderness of modern society. (1 Cor 10:1-5)  St. Paul gives the same warning that Jesus does: “Let anyone who thinks he is standing upright watch out lest he fall!” (10:12).
Jesus teaching in Jerusalem by James Tissot
For people in Jesus’ day, no less than in our own, were quick to pass judgment on others.  Jesus pointed to what must have been recent events:  the massacre of some of his fellow Galileans by the Roman governor, and 18 people killed in a building accident.  Pious Jews were likely to say that God was punishing them for their sins, just as we’re likely to say something like that when the Serbs and Croats go at each other or AIDS casualties mount.

In a most general sense, we’re right.  We all suffer because of sinfulness. In the kingdom of God, sin will be wiped out, and the love of God shall reign in the hearts of all the redeemed.  In the meantime, all of us are still sinners in need of redemption, and Jesus tells us bluntly:  “You will all come to the same end unless you repent” (Luke 13:5).  That end, tho, is not violent death on earth but everlasting misery in hell.

God does not want the death of sinners (cf. Ezek 18:23).  He sent his Son to call us back, to convert our hearts, to show his patience with us.  Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree to show us God’s patience, God’s willingness to coax us along toward goodness.  We must note, however, that that fig tree has a limited period of grace, just as we have a limited life on earth.  When that time is up, the tree—and we—shall be judged on our fruitfulness.

The Lord led his people “into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8).  Today we are that milk and honey which make the land good and sweet and fruitful.  Or, if we are not, the Lord is calling us to reform our lives, to begin to bear the sweet fruits of goodness and love while we still have the time.

Today the Lord witnesses the affliction of the peoples of the earth and hears their cries of complaint; today he comes down to rescue them—and we are Moses, to announce God’s presence to them; we are Christ, to reveal God’s care for them.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fr. Dominic DeBlase, SDB (1926-2016)

Fr. Dominic DeBlase, SDB (1926-2016)

Senior confrere 2010
Fr. Dominic DeBlase, SDB, died on Saturday, February 27, at St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y. He was 89 years old and had been a professed Salesian for more than 63 years and a priest for 55 years.
Since November Fr. DeBlase had been assigned to the Salesian community of the provincial residence in New Rochelle. From his retirement in 2011 until then, he had belonged to the community of the Marian Shrine at Haverstraw, N.Y. But when his dementia became too serious, he was admitted to the Cabrini of Westchester nursing home in Dobbs Ferry in June 2015.
Fr. Dominic was born in Liberty, N.Y., on September 21, 1926, to Bartolo and Josephine DeBlase, members of St. Peter’s Parish in Liberty. After graduation from Liberty High School in 1943, he enrolled in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. When he was drafted into the Navy, his studies were interrupted between February 1945 and September 1946, but he completed a bachelor of mechanical engineering degree at RPI in June 1948. He remained in the Naval Reserve until he was discharged in order to enter the seminary.
Dominic arrived at Don Bosco College Seminary in Newton, N.J., in June 1950, completed the necessary Latin studies, and was admitted to St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Newton in September 1951. He professed vows there on September 8, 1952. He earned a B.A. in philosophy from Don Bosco College in 1954.
Bro. Dominic remained at DBC in 1954-1957, teaching and assisting in the seminary program. He also earned an M.S. in physics from Fordham University in 1956.
PAS student 1957
Bro. Dominic embarked to Turin, Italy, in 1957 to study theology at the Pontifical Ateneo Salesiano, earning a licentiate. He was ordained in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin on February 11, 1961.

His classmate Fr. Harry Peterson writes of him: "He was always a pleasant person, very unassuming, and humble.  Indeed, he was a great Salesian."
Fr. Dominic returned to DBC after ordination to teach math and the sciences until 1966. He was also dean of men (1963-1965) and dean of the Sons of Mary (1965-1966). The academic dean (Fr. Joe Herzog) described him as “a very hard-working professor … who demanded as much diligence from his students” and “won the respect and admiration of his students not only for his intelligence and scholarship, but for his ability to communicate this knowledge as well”; he was also credited “capable leadership” and “successful development” in the physics and math departments.

In 1966 Fr. Dominic moved to Don Bosco Juniorate in Haverstraw as director but didn’t complete his term before being reassigned as director of Don Bosco Tech in Paterson, N.J., in 1968. "When he was director in Paterson," Fr. Tony Mastroeni writes, "I was able to get a good number of boys admitted to the Tech who needed an extra 'push' from the director to take them over the entrance; and even a few others who were able to get some financial assistance to carry them through. He had Don Bosco's heart and the zeal of a missioner."

In 1972 Fr. Dominic went to Archbishop Shaw High School in Marrero, La., to teach math and the sciences (and to help stabilize a difficult situation there), but that ministry was cut short after just one year when he was named province treasurer and director of the provincial residence at New Rochelle in 1973.
He served in those positions in New Rochelle with such distinction that in 1979 he was appointed provincial. He started with responsibility for 182 Salesian priests, 66 coadjutor brothers, 65 seminarian brothers, and 7 novices serving in 22 houses stretching from Eastern Canada to the Bahamas, and westward to Cedar Lake, Ind., and New Orleans.

In Sherbrooke, Fr. Romeo Trottier remembers Fr. Dominic fondly:
I was very saddened by the death of Fr. Dominic. . . . For all the duration of his term as provincial, I was his delegate for Canada. My relationship with him goes all the way back to Newton in 1950 when he was a Son of Mary. and our teacher of general science. I was fortunate to participate at GC22 in 1984 with him. He was a real gentleman, a genuine Salesian and priest. I always found him very respectful of persons and very friendly, never assuming airs of superiority. A real man of God! Salesian Canada owes very much to him.

With Rector Major Fr. Egidio Vigano at Malibu, Calif., in 1980

Upon completion of his term as provincial in 1985, Fr. Dominic went to Don Bosco Technical High School in Boston as treasurer. Long-time DBT teacher John Sullivan recalls how Fr. Dominic was a hands-on administrator. For instance, very shortly after his arrival, he inspected with Mr. Sullivan a problem with the heating system in the old electronics building, sized up the situation, and had it rectified by the next day.

In 1989 he was appointed director again, this time at Mary Help of Christians School in Tampa.

In 1991 he offered to go as a missionary to Lungi, Sierra Leone. First, tho, he was appointed treasurer in Tampa for a further two years. Finally, in 1993 he was able to leave for Lungi, where he served as director until 2005, greatly appreciated by both his confreres and the people of the Salesians’ schools and parish. For example, Fr. Daniel Libby, SDB, writes:

[I am] saddened by the death news of Fr. Dominic DeBlase, whom I lived with for a year as a prenovice here in Lungi. The news of the death of Fr. Dominic is heavy enough to break anybody down. I would like to express my heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the entire provincial community. He was indeed a holy, cheerful and unassuming person. His smile alone was something that never left anyone unhappy. His life as a holy and cheerful Salesian taught me many great virtues in the Salesian context. Indeed, we have lost a GREAT Salesian. The parishioners and pupils here are mourning a dear friend, father, mentor and grandfather. He will always be remembered here in Lungi. Returning to the States, from 2005 till 2011 Fr. Dominic served as assistant pastor and community treasurer at Nativity Parish in Washington, D.C. Already suffering from memory loss, he retired to the Marian Shrine community.
Celebrating his 60th anniversary of religious profession in 2012, Fr. Dominic remarked very simply, “I thoroughly enjoy my priesthood and service to Don Bosco and my Salesian Family.”

He also told his family--and they knew it from their own experience--that he considered himself "a 'people' person who prefers working shoulder-to-shoulder with the less fortunate over 'doing good work' in an office. If he had it to do all over again, Fr. Dominic readily responds that he 'would have stayed longer in the missions”'work in Africa. It was most satisfying, he explains, to work with the poor who 'have so little in development … and less opportunities' and to guide them with his technical gifts and skills to 'help them improve themselves … and achieve more equitable lifestyles with the rest of the world….'”
Fr. Dominic is survived by numerous cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Fr. Dominic was waked at the Salesian High School Chapel in New Rochelle on March 4 with the Mass of Christian Burial celebrated that evening. Burial was at the Salesian Cemetery in Goshen, N.Y., on March 5.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Eagle Scout Project Helps Cambodian Kids Get to School

Eagle Scout Project Helps Cambodia Kids Get to School
39 bicycles for students supported by Don Bosco Children’s Fund

This story, published by ANS on Feb. 23, 2016, was edited by your humble blogger.
(ANS – Phnom Penh) – Joseph Sinnott, a student at Salesian High School in New Rochelle, completed an Eagle Scout project of collecting and repairing bicycles for Salesian students in Cambodia. At the end of 2015, 39 bicycles were distributed to students supported by the Don Bosco Children’s Fund, a Salesian-run organization that assists poor youths between the ages of six and fifteen who are unable to go to school or have had to drop out due to poverty.

Students from four Salesian schools in the Cambodian provinces of Kep, Kampot, and Takeo were selected to receive the bicycles after Salesian volunteers had visited the schools to determine which children were most in need of transportation. Many children live in remote areas of the country and must travel great distances to gain an education. The donated bicycles will help students reach their schools faster and more efficiently.

“In a country where fewer than half the children finish primary school, more than 50,000 children have received the encouragement and support needed to complete an elementary education through the Don Bosco Children’s Fund since its inception in 1992,” says Fr. Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle, which received Joseph’s bicycles and shipped them to Cambodia. “This donation is a great example of a Salesian student from the United States who has benefitted from an education, paying it forward by helping students on the other side of the world access education.”

The donation also included spare bicycle parts and tire pumps as well as eight bags of gently used blankets for the students. Through the programs of the Don Bosco Children’s Fund, youths not only receive support to continue their education, but they also receive a monthly assistance package. Social workers ensure that youths make progress and remain in school and those with special aptitude are further supported and encouraged to pursue college courses.

Close to 25% of Cambodians over the age of 15 are illiterate. To provide young people with greater opportunity, Salesians operate 45 schools in poor, rural villages through a partnership between Salesian Missions and the Cambodian Ministry of Education. Salesians also operate seven vocational training centers that impart much needed job skills. Since at least 2009, Salesian Lay Missioners from the U.S. have served in schools of the Salesian Sisters in Phnom Penh.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Homily for 2d Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Lent
Feb. 21, 2016
Luke 9: 28-36
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9: 30-31).

The Transfiguration, by Perugino
Last Sunday’s New York Times had an opinion piece titled “Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me.”[1]  The author is a historian of the so-called “American prosperity gospel,” which she describes as “the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith.”  She attended closely to its tenets and its adherents and apparently accepted its truthfulness—until she was suddenly diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer at the age of 35.

It’s something of an echo of a book that a rabbi wrote about 20 years ago that asked why bad things happen to good people.  We all ask those kinds of questions:  Why is there suffering?  Why is there evil in the world?  Why do evil people prosper?

On the 2d Sunday of Lent every year, we read the gospel of Jesus’ transfiguration from either Matthew, Mark, or Luke.  It’s a rather strange episode in his life, in which he transcends his normal earthly existence; he and his 3 closest disciples are transported to another level of existence, another world.

That’s the world of glory, of heaven, of eternal life, of the very presence of God.  God’s presence is indicated by the blinding light, by the cloud that overshadows the scene, and of course by the Father’s voice.  Peter doesn’t want to leave (v. 33), and we can’t blame him.  Many people who’ve had near-death experiences are truly disappointed when they’re revived by EMTs or doctors, recalled from a glorious light and deeply comforting feelings of warmth.

Two heroic figures from Israel’s past appear alongside Jesus—appear “in glory,” in heavenly light.  Moses is the lawgiver, the liaison of the covenant between God and Israel; he’s the one who leads Israel from foreign slavery into freedom and a homeland—the leader of Israel’s exodus journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.  Elijah is the model of all the prophets who constantly recall Israel to their covenant responsibilities, their relationship with God, challenging the grievous infidelities of kings, nobles, priests, and people, and who are made to suffer on account of their prophesying.  Elijah, e.g., had to flee for his life and go into hiding in the desert.  Neither Moses nor Elijah volunteered for the roles that God assigned to them or for the hardships involved.  But now, after all their trials on earth, after all the opposition that they met from human authorities and even from their own people, they enjoy eternal life and heavenly glory.

As we read the story in the gospels, Jesus has yet to enter that glory.  He has already been warning his apostles that he will suffer and die, and after 3 days rise from the dead.  That is the exodus, the passage, the journey that lies ahead of him, which Moses and Elijah speak with him about.  His transfiguration, his keeping company with Moses and Elijah, shows not only that he’s the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, i.e., of the entire history of Israel, of the entire Old Testament, but also that by going thru his own exodus he’ll reach the glory of eternal life that they already enjoy—the “promised land” where God welcomes all his people, all his sons and daughters.

The voice of God the Father coming out of the cloud—“This is my chosen Son; listen to him” (v. 35)—isn’t addressed to Jesus, however.  He’s not the one who needs a reminder of the road that he’s on, the destination he’s heading toward.  It would be Peter, James, and John who need that reminder, that advice, that encouragement.

Those words, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him,” are addressed also to us.  God’s chosen Son, his beloved Son, his only Son, is on an exodus, a passage, a journey of pain and suffering and death that will be the price for his fidelity and goodness.  Beyond the pain and suffering and death lies glory—eternal life, a place in God’s kingdom.

Do you know anyone who doesn’t have pain in his or her life?  who doesn’t suffer heartache or physical pain or loss or anxiety, etc.?  Do you know people who have more than their fair share of pain?  Do you know anyone who isn’t going to die?  Have you known people who suffered a death they didn’t deserve, by our way of reckoning such things?  Of course.  Are we afraid of suffering and of how we might die?  Probably.

Jesus suffered those anxieties too, most notably in his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he faced them down.  The apostles were, blatantly, looking for earthly glory without suffering, without the cross.  But life’s not like that for anyone, and we disciples of Jesus know now—after his passion, death, and resurrection—life’s certainly not like that for us.  There’s a transfiguration ahead for us, as there was for Jesus; but 1st comes the exodus, the Passover journey with Jesus, walking thru what the prayer “Hail, Holy Queen” calls “this vale of tears,” this earthly life with its mix of joy and sorrow, of pleasure and pain, of happiness and disappointment, where we’re constantly challenged to “listen to” God’s chosen Son, listen to Jesus, follow Jesus, be faithful to Jesus:  to love and forgive others even when it’s difficult, to be honest, to be pure, to be patient, to pray, to share our goods and talents, to be faithful to our spouses and our friends, etc.

If we listen to Jesus, bravely carrying a share of his cross, then, as the psalm says today, we “shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13).  We’ll join Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in heavenly glory.

       [1] Kate Bowler, “Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me,” New York Times Sunday Review section, Feb. 14, 2016, pp. 1, 4.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Homily for 1st Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
1st Sunday of Lent
Feb. 14, 2016
Deut 26: 4-10
Rom 10: 8-13
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

There’s something discordant about pairing the story of Jesus’ temptations with Valentine’s Day.  But, as you know, Sunday’s never a day of penance; so if some sweetheart—a nephew, a former student, your superior—has given you a box of Cadbury, enjoy!  And in the spirit of yesterday’s reading from Isaiah (58:9-14), share.

I suppose you’ve heard many homilies about Jesus’ temptations; probably not so many on the 1st and 2d readings or the collect.

In the collect we prayed that “by worthy conduct” we might “pursue” the “effects of the riches hidden in Christ” after “growing” in our “understanding” of those riches.  That’s an allusion to Eph 3:8-9, and why the collect for this Sunday is so framed I can’t tell you because that Scripture passage comes up in the lectionary only on the feast of the Sacred Heart and during Week 29 of Ordinary Time.  I thought maybe it was used in Year A, but no.

Our understanding of the mystery of Christ can never be full or complete, of course.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that “the riches hidden in Christ” include access to God’s mercy, an invitation to a new relationship with God—by which we may rightly address him as Abba—and Christ’s effectively establishing such a relationship between us and his Abba.

So we’re praying for a fuller understanding of such riches and for their effectiveness in our lives—an effectiveness that we actively “pursue by worthy conduct.”  Daniel Merz and Abbot Marcel Rooney point out in their study book on the presidential prayers:  “Our ‘worthy conduct’ (conversatio [the Latin text]—which means a conversion of morals) is not of our doing, but the result of what Christ has done in us.”[1]

St. Paul addresses the 1st steps of our “conversion,” our response to the grace that Christ offers us.  Those 1st steps are “confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Rom 10:9).  Paul says that if we do those 2 things, we “will be saved”; or in terms of the collect, the riches of Christ will have their effect in us.
Matthias Grunewald, Isenheimer Altar

Publicly professing our faith in Christ—in Baptism, in the Creed, by our presence at the community’s worship—is the beginning of our being saved.  I use the passive voice there—“our being saved”—because salvation comes from God thru Jesus Christ and isn’t our own doing, as Merz and Rooney note.  We can only acknowledge and be grateful for Jesus’ work.

Then Paul says we must believe in our hearts.  You’d think we’d believe in our heads, no?  Paul doesn’t make that kind of a distinction.  In any case, what we profess to believe with our lips has to go deeper—no mere lip service!  It has to penetrate to our minds, as we’d say, and to our hearts, as Paul says explicitly.  Think of what it means when we begin the proclamation of the gospel by signing our foreheads, lips, and hearts.  We have to love what we profess, love the one we confess as our Lord and Savior, risen from the dead, fully alive and offering life to all who are united to him by grace.

Which brings us further along toward what we prayed for:  conversatio, conduct worthy of the Lord whom we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts.

In the 1st reading, Moses sets before the Israelites a profession of faith, the people’s history of salvation that starts with “My father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut 26:5)—that’s the pastoral nomad Jacob—and concludes with the people’s being led (passive voice again) into their place of salvation, the “land flowing with milk and honey” (26:9).

But the profession of faith leads to action.  The people are to respond to God’s acts of salvation with worship, bringing to God the 1st fruits of their harvests in that rich land that he’s giving them, and then “bowing down in his presence” (26:10).  Those acts of worship, like our own celebration of the Eucharist, are a reaffirmation of the covenant that God has made with his people—a covenant that includes the whole range of the Law, of worthy conduct toward the Lord God, toward their fellow Israelites, and toward the aliens dwelling in the land.
The Devil Tempting Christ
(Taken from The Pilot)
By resisting the temptations of the devil in the Gospel, Jesus is reaffirming his allegiance to the covenant.  In fact, each time Jesus parries the devil’s offerings, he quotes from Deuteronomy, the book of the Law.  In his syndicated column last week, Russell Shaw wrote about the temptations.[2]  He began by remarking that telling the story of the gospels without the presence of the devil in them would be like telling the story of WWII without Hitler.  The devil’s the opponent of all the good that Jesus comes to do, the one who obstructs, or tries to, Jesus’ actions that re-establish our relationship with God as his daughters and sons.  The temptations are blatant invitations to selfishness, which disrupts the covenant relationship between us and God; temptations to think of what Jesus wants rather than what Abba wants.  Our worthy conduct, our conversatio, rejects selfishness by turning us Godward, focusing us on God, who hears our cries, sees our afflictions, saves us with his outstretched arm (Deut 26:7-8), and calls for our grateful response; and, further, worthy conduct directs our selflessness toward others in the same kind of selflessness that Jesus shows.

During this Lenten season, may the words on our lips match what’s in our hearts.  May what’s in our hearts lead us to genuine acts of worship, of giving God our allegiance, gratitude, and selfless conduct worthy of the riches hidden in Christ.

         [1] Essential Presidential Prayers and Texts: A Roman Missal Study Edition and Workbook (Chicago: LTP, 2011), p. 42.
         [2] “The redeemer will redeem by sacrificing his life,” in The Pilot online, Feb. 4, 2016.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Homily for 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Luke 5: 1-11
Is 6: 1-8
1 Cor 15: 1-11
Feb. 7, 2016
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.

From our 1st reading this evening:  “He touched my mouth with the ember, and said, ‘See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged’” (Is 6: 7).

Feb. 2, feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, is observed annually as World Day of Consecrated Life.  The observance is carried over into parishes on the following weekend—this weekend—or most Catholics wouldn’t know anything about it.  So this evening we’ll attend to consecrated life, even if this isn’t a parish.

What is “consecrated life”?  I could put the brothers on the spot and ask them!  Not many years ago, we wouldn’t even have used that term; we’d have said simply “religious life,” i.e., the state or way of living in which one professes vows within a certain religious order or congregation, lives in community with one’s professed brothers or sisters, and follows a certain rule of life—the order’s constitutions.

Nowadays, tho, the concept of consecrated life is somewhat broader, encompassing not only religious like the Christian Brothers, the Salesians, the sisters who taught most of us in school, and the other traditional orders that we’re familiar with.  It also includes other, newer forms of belonging to God, being consecrated to him by vows or another special commitment.  These newer forms of consecrated life are more or less contemporary developments to respond to the Church’s situation today, just as monasticism arose in the 3d century to meet the situation then, and the mendicant orders in the 13th century, the apostolic and missionary orders in the 16th, and teaching congregations in the 19th.

So what forms have arisen in the 20th century?  There are societies of apostolic life—some clerical, some lay, some mixed—that don’t profess vows but demand a profound personal commitment, such as Maryknoll, Opus Dei, and Focolare.

Since Vatican II the Church has revived the ancient practice or “order” (in a different sense of the term) of consecrated virgins:  single women who make a public vow of chastity—usually before their bishop—and live privately in their own homes and also commit themselves to some form of service to the Church, such as catechesis or visits to the homebound, in addition to holding a job that provides for their ordinary needs like any other lay person.

There are also “secular institutes,” which are formal organizations of men or women who take vows, like religious, but who live individually in the world—hence “secular”—in their own homes and carry out the works—prayer or apostolate—proper to their institute largely on an individual basis but guided by a Church-approved rule of life and institutional accountability.  Some of these institutes are the “third orders” of the traditional religious orders, while others (including 2 affiliated with the Salesians) are rather new and not considered “third orders.”

What all the varieties of consecrated life have in common is what we hear in today’s readings:  God has called those whom he has chosen, and he has consecrated them, setting them apart and bestowing his grace, his favor, upon them for his own purposes.

We heard how God called Isaiah for the prophetic office and purified him for that purpose.  We heard St. Paul speak of his call to be an apostle, however unfit he was to be called.  We heard Peter confess, “I am a sinful man,” not worthy to be in Jesus’ presence, followed by Jesus’ call to become a fisher of men and the response of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, “leaving everything and following him” (Luke 5:8-11).

Maybe you’ve seen one of the bumper stickers popular with Evangelicals:  “God doesn’t call the qualified.  He qualifies the called.”  Look at Isaiah, Paul, and the apostles.  Look at the consecrated men and women whom you know.  Not too many of them, of us, were canonization material before God called them.  The consecration, the leading into holiness, follows from God’s call.  God purifies and makes worthy those whom he calls.  Holiness follows, according to their greater or lesser response to God’s invitation.  The Brothers have had saints in their community—not in the sense of candidates for canonization, but in the sense of men of remarkable virtue, day in and day out—and so have the Salesians, and so has any form of consecrated life—the work of “the grace of God that is with me,” as Paul says (15:10).  Of course, some of us still struggle very much to correspond with God’s gifts.  All of us have to recommit ourselves daily to the Lord Jesus, just as you who are married have to recommit yourselves every day to each other.

Why does God call some women and men to be specially consecrated to himself?  God does whatever he wants, of course, so we can’t give an adequate answer.  He has a plan of life for each person he’s created, we know.  That plan, in some form, involves everyone helping someone else to make it thru life and to fulfill the divine plan.  Spouses are called to help each other to become saints:  holy husbands and wives, holy parents; and to help their children develop a strong relationship with God.  (How wonderful that the Church has just canonized Louis and Zelie Martin, St. Therese’s parents!)

Those whom God has called to be consecrated and set apart from the majority of believers, like Isaiah, Paul, and the apostles, he’s called for some purpose that serves the Church, serves to build up the Body of Christ (as Paul spoke of in ch. 12, our readings on the 2d and 3d Sundays of O.T.).  They’re consecrated specially for the Lord’s service.  Perhaps the most urgent purpose for which God calls and consecrates chosen men and women is to be witnesses.  Isaiah was called to be a prophet, a public witness of what God wanted of Israel and a public witness of Israel’s hope.  Paul was called to be a witness “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; [and] that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15: 3-4).  The apostles were called to fish for men and women, to catch them in the nets of God’s mercy.

All whom God has consecrated to himself testify that God’s goodness is more powerful than our sinfulness; that God has 1st place in our lives; that God is worth living for; that God has an eternal plan for our happiness.  Many whom God has called to consecrated life continue the apostolic sort of ministry that we see in today’s readings, the ministry of the Word, as well as the ministry of the sacraments, teaching, and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

But others God has called to be silent witnesses:  to live quietly in vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience, even behind monastery walls (like Therese of Lisieux), giving witness that God is their wealth, God is their love, and God’s will fulfills them, or as Dante wrote, “In his will is our peace.”  Moreover, these consecrated souls do for God’s people what so-called “active” Christians don’t do so much of, viz., pray constantly for the welfare of the Church and of the whole world.  They’re consecrated for prayer, and we could say that their prayer is the glue that keeps the rest of us together.

(Yes, we active, apostolic religious do pray, communally, publicly—we’re doing that right now—and privately, but in terms of time at least, we don’t pray nearly as much as those in monastic life, and we run the danger of letting our apostolic concerns—our teaching, writing, visits to the sick, administration of the sacraments, advocacy for the homeless or migrants or street children, etc.—distract us from putting God in the first place in our lives, of letting God rule our lives completely, of opening ourselves fully to God’s grace, so that it might be effective in us as it was in St. Paul [cf. 15:10].
But, you know, the brothers and I aren’t the only consecrated people here this evening.  We’re the only ones vowed to God.  But every one of you who is baptized was consecrated to God in Jesus Christ, called to live for God by the mercy of Jesus, and to live for God like Jesus.  So all of us pray tonite with the Psalmist:  “Your kindness, O Lord, endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands” (138:8).