Sunday, May 29, 2016

Homily for Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Homily for the Solemnity of
Corpus Christi
May 29, 2016
Gen 14: 18- 20
1 Cor 10: 16-17
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine” (Gen 14: 19).

Meeting of Abraham & Melchizedek by Dieric Bouts the Elder
The 3 verses of our 1st reading are the only direct reference to Melchizedek , both “king of Salem” and “priest of God Most High,” in the Bible.  He’s referred to later in Psalm 110 (our responsory today) and especially in the Letter to the Hebrews, ch. 5-7, seen by them as foreshadowing the Messiah ruling in God’s Holy City—Salem is identified with Jerusalem—and as an image of the Son of God, eternal priest.

For today’s feast, tho, our attention isn’t on Melchizedek himself but on the unusual sacrifice he offers.  The occasion—“in those days”—is Abram’s return after his pursuit and defeat of raiders who had carried off flocks, herds, and people belonging to Abram and other nomad chieftains and their allies in the towns of the plain near the Dead Sea—including Abram’s nephew Lot.

As you know, in the Old Testament the usual sacrifice was of an animal:  a bull, a sheep, a goat, something quite precious to nomads like Abram and later also to settled farmers like most of the people of the Mediterranean world.

But Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God, brings out bread and wine.  It’s pretty certain that this wasn’t a sacrifice but a meal.  You can note that the text links his bringing out bread and wine with his kingship, and separates that from his priesthood and his blessing of Abram.  Commentators interpret his providing bread and wine to mean that he supplied food, and many of them take it to mean that he fed Abram’s men, not just Abram.  In today’s liturgical context we see here a parallel with Jesus’ feeding the crowd of his disciples (Luke 9:11-17), and we’re certainly supposed to see the actions of both Melchizedek and Jesus as prefiguring the Eucharist.  The Roman Canon has always seen Melchizedek’s offering in that way—particularly as a celebratory meal marking the victory over one’s enemies.  Melchizedek says as much:  “God Most High delivered your foes into your hand” (14:20).

Our Eucharist celebrates that, of course.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has vanquished his foe and ours, the prince of darkness, the lord of death, the evil one who seeks to capture our souls and enslave them for eternity.  God Most High, the Father of our Lord Jesus, delivered his foes into his hand, and as Abram redeemed his people by victory in battle, so our Lord Jesus has redeemed us, that he might bring us home safely

The Letter to the Hebrews notes that Salem means peace; Melchizedek is “king of peace” (7:2).  We make that attribution to Jesus, who is our peace and our reconciliation with God (cf. Eph 2:14-16).  Jesus effected our peace and reconciliation thru his own sacrifice, and that sacrifice is rendered present, active, and effective every time we break the bread and share the cup that enable us to participate in his body and blood, i.e., in his sacrifice (1 Cor 10:16-17).

As priest, Melchizedek blessed Abram.  In this too he prefigures Christ, who is the source of all our blessings.  As we pray in Eucharistic Prayer 3, “through Christ our Lord” the Father “bestows on the world all that is good.”  And so we also pray regularly in the liturgy “through Christ our Lord” for whatever blessings we need and hope for from the Father—especially the ultimate blessing of redemption.

Bro. Kevin Connolly, SDB (1937-2016)

Brother Kevin Connolly, SDB

Bro. Kevin Peter Connolly died unexpectedly at the Salesian provincial residence in New Rochelle on May 29. He hadn’t been feeling well for two days, keeping to his room. When a confrere went to check on him after Mass on Sunday morning, he was found dead on the floor, where he had apparently collapsed during the night.

Bro. Kevin at his 50th anniversary celebration in 2006.
Bro. Kevin was born in Brooklyn on January 29, 1937, the son of Peter and Mary Connolly. They belonged to St. Teresa’s Church, where Kevin was baptized in February and later confirmed. Stating that he wanted “to work with boys [and] save my soul,” in 1951he applied to enter the Salesians as an aspirant for the brotherhood. The assistant pastor, Rev. A.J. Dallinger, testified that Kevin was sincere, pious, and of good character. He enrolled that September at Don Bosco Technical High School in Paterson, N.J., to train as a brother.

Rated “good and reliable” by his superiors, Kevin went on the novitiate in Newton, N.J., in September 1955, with Fr. Aloysius Bianchi as master of novices, and made his first profession on September 8, 1956. Again he affirmed his wish to work with boys and save his own soul, adding “and those of others.” His classmates included the future Frs. Harold Danielson, Joseph Doran, Kenneth Germaine, and Thomas Juarez and Bro. Bernard Zdanowicz.

Immediately after pronouncing his vows, Bro. Kevin was assigned to Don Bosco Tech in Paterson to teach printing and to coach. From 1959 to 1962 he fulfilled similar responsibilities at Mary Help of Christians School in Tampa. He was sent to Don Bosco Juniorate in Haverstraw, N.Y., in 1962 to help train candidates for the brotherhood; he continued to teach printing and coach and was also athletic director.

A former Haverstraw aspirant, Jerry Stecker, writes: “I knew Kevin from my years at Haverstraw in the print shop and the basketball court, where he was my coach. He could run a printing press!! His goal was always to beat Goshen [an SDB seminary for high school boys considering the priesthood]! He was a great Salesian and a wonderful role model for us kids.”

In 1965 Bro. Kevin returned to Tampa for a 16-year stint as athletic director and coach, print shop manager, and teacher; he was also president of the West Coast Athletic League for a time. In 1981 he was assigned to Don Bosco Technical High School in Boston, where he served as athletic director of a large and highly competitive program for four years; he was also an official in the Boston Catholic athletic program. That was followed by four years in East Boston on the staff of the Salesian Boys and Girls Club while taking courses at Boston and Emmanuel colleges.

At this point Bro. Kevin was undergoing a change in ministerial perspective, becoming very interested in counseling after seeing the tremendous problems young people were having with various addictions. He was granted a diploma as an advanced clinical pastoral chaplain by Andover Newton Theological School in 1989, took summer courses at Rutgers, and in 1989-1990 worked as a clinical pastoral counselor and chaplain at Boston City Hospital and a counselor at the Detention Home for Boys in Boston. Pursuing further training in counseling, in a letter to the provincial in January 1990 he expressed the hope of living “a more personal and  deeper spiritual life.” Later that year he completed a certificate program in alcohol counseling of Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work.

Recognizing the need for trained counselors, the province allowed Bro. Kevin to enroll in Hazelden in Center City, Minn., in 1990; he was graduated in 1991 as a clinical pastoral counselor. He spent a year in Florida practicing his counseling and chaplaincy skills in a chemical dependency program, then took his skills in the fall of 1991 to Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he was a member of the guidance department for nine years. In that period he was also a lecturer and preacher at Matt Talbot adult retreats and various 12-step programs and worked with both men and women on issues of alcohol dependency, including spiritual support. He earned a B.S. in pastoral ministry and chemical dependency at Iona College (New Rochelle) in 2000.

From 2000 to 2002 he served on the guidance staff at Don Bosco Prep High School in Ramsey, N.J. From 2002 to 2008 he was treasurer and member of the formation team at the Salesian house of formation in Orange, N.J. In 2008 he returned yet again to Tampa as coordinator of the Salesians’ retirement home, the St. Philip the Apostle Residence, remaining until he retired himself in 2014, in somewhat poor health, and came to the provincial residence. In New Rochelle he occasionally helped with the fundraising work of Salesian Missions, where his cheerful presence was appreciated.

Bro. Kevin at work at Salesian Missions. Photo by Fr. Mark Hyde.
Bro. Kevin is survived by his brothers Vincent and Thomas and numerous nephews and nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces—all of whom he was very proud of.

Throughout his Salesian life Bro. Kevin exemplified the hard work and piety of the Salesian brother. He maintained a lively curiosity, often starting breakfast by addressing one of his tablemates with “I have a question” about some theological or liturgical matter. His good nature and cheerfulness endeared him to everyone. Suffering from various physical ailments in his final years, he bore them patiently, lamenting only that he couldn’t contribute more to the community’s life and ministry.

Former Salesian Bob Heilmann offers this remembrance of Bro. Kevin: “I had the good fortune to spend my first year [of practical training] at MHC with him. He took care of the print shop, athletics, and us lowly clerics. When I left the Salesians from Boston and moved back to Tampa,  Kevin went out of his way to make sure I was OK fiscally. I would ref at MHC and he made sure that I would eat supper with the confreres. He would get other schools to use me as a referee and he made sure I got paid in cash. He never forgot that we were spiritual brothers in good times and bad—and he liked a good time.”

Another former Salesian, Jack Hudak, praises Bro. Kevin as “a great Salesian. Had my first contact with him as a camper in West Haverstraw and as a freshman at the juniorate.  A man of few words but he made his presence known when needed.”

Bro. Kevin will be waked in the chapel of Salesian High School in New Rochelle on Thursday, June 2, from 3:00-5:00 p.m. and 7:00-9:00 p.m. The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in the chapel at 10:00 a.m. on June 3 with the vice provincial, Fr. Tim Zak, presiding and Fr. John Serio, director of Salesian High, preaching.  Bro. Kevin will be interred in the Salesian Cemetery in Goshen on Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Salesian Family Celebrates Annual Marian Day in Washington

Salesian Family Celebrates
Annual Marian Day
in Washington

On May 1, 1966, the chapel of Mary Help of Christians in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in the presence of a large crowd of Salesian pilgrims from East and West, North and South:  SDBs, FMAs, aspirants, students, parents, parishioners, friends and supporters of the Salesians, a cardinal (Raul Silva, SDB), and several bishops.

Salesian Family pilgrims after Mass at the National Shrine on May 22
This year is the 50th anniversary of that historic event, and the Salesian Family Commission proposed to celebrate the anniversary by keeping the annual Marian Day at the National Shrine rather than at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y. Meticulous planning and extensive publicity brought more than 100 pilgrims to the nation’s capital for the entire weekend, and about 300 for Sunday’s culminating Eucharistic celebration.

Marian Day is usually celebrated on the Saturday closest to May 24, solemnity of Mary Help of Christians.
Fr. Tim Zak offering grace before the pilgrims' dinner at the JPII Center on May 21
Long-distance pilgrims came from Montreal, Que., and Etobicoke, Ont., filling a bus that arrived in the District on Friday the 20th after a 13-hour journey, and departed for home on the Monday the 23rd. They brought with them the youngest of the participants in Saturday’s portion of the weekend celebration, David and Jacob Celio from St. Benedict’s Parish, ages 12 and 9. They didn’t seem to mind missing a couple of days of school in order to see Washington and to give honor to our Lady.

A good number of pilgrims had much shorter trips: some parishioners from Nativity Church in the District—who very much miss their former Salesian priests and brothers; students, alumni, and staff from Don Bosco Cristo Rey; and Salesian Cooperators from Washington’s fledgling unit.

Dinner, Eucharistic adoration, and Reconciliation

Altogether, some 101 Salesian Family members came to the St. John Paul II Center on Saturday evening to enjoy a catered buffet dinner and each other’s company—with a minimum of speech-making (no one complained about that!). There were representatives from the SDBs, FMAs, Cooperators, ADMA, Volunteers with Don Bosco (a male secular institute), the Salesian Youth Movement, alumni, and parishioners, and besides Canada and the D.C. area, they came also from New York, New Jersey, and even Mexico.
Some of the Salesian Cooperators at dinner: Jim & Paula Dolan,
Bro. Wilgintz Polynice, SDB, Salvador & Ana Alvarado,
Sofia Alvarado, Erin Panken, & Fatima Alvarado
After dinner the pilgrims moved upstairs to the chapel for a Eucharistic prayer service prepared by members of the Washington SYM with the assistance of the Youth Ministry Office’s Gui Lopes and Amy Marinaro.

The service included exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, personal testimony, Scripture, public and private prayer, songs of praise, the opportunity for the sacrament of Reconciliation (five confessors on hand were kept busy), and benediction.

Cooperator Theresa Notare from D.C. found the service “inspiring and nourishing.” The pilgrims from Etobicoke liked its “good mix of quiet, readings, and praise music.”

Mass of the Holy Trinity with a Marian flavor

Sunday brought gray skies, intermittent rain showers, and a couple of hundred additional Salesian pilgrims. The prominence of umbrellas sheltering the crowd in front of the Basilica’s main doors were suggestive of those at Don Bosco’s canonization celebration in Turin in 1934—but much more colorful!

At 11:30 a.m. Fr. Tim Zak, vice provincial, and members of the Salesian Family Commission led a brief prayer to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and then the pilgrims processed into the Basilica’s vestibule, through the Holy Door, and into the nave of the church. There was some time to be awed by the majestic mosaics and admire the other art, and to bemoan the canvas and scaffolding at the west transept—the necessities for the great upper church’s last construction project, viz., the mosaic work of the Trinity Dome over the head of the nave. The Basilica’s staff graciously made an opening in the works so that the pilgrims could access the altar of Mary Help of Christians on this special day.
Fr. Tim Zak (at left) presiding at Mass in the National Shrine,
while Bro. Tom Sweeney does the 1st reading (in pulpit)
Fr. Tim presided at the Shrine’s regular noon Sunday Mass with eight SDBs and two of the Shrine staff concelebrating and the Shrine’s choir and organist providing music. The Mass was that of the Holy Trinity, and Fr. Tim’s homily linked the Trinity to both the Virgin Mary and to each disciple of Jesus.

The estimated 300 Salesian pilgrims were seated close to the sanctuary on both sides of the center aisle, and an ample congregation joined them in celebrating the Trinity and the Help of Christians.

At the end of the Eucharistic celebration, the celebrants and ministers processed into the narrow space in the chapel of Mary Help of Christians, where Fr. Tim led the entire congregation in a prayer of entrustment to Mary.
The concelebrants at the altar of Mary Help of Christians. Front row: Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the Shrine; Msgr. Vito Buonanno; Fr. Pat Angelucci; Fr. Tim Zak; Fr. John Puntino; and Fr. Jim Berning. Back row: Bro. Tom Sweeney (he didn’t concelebrate!); Fr. Dominic Tran; Fr. Manny Gallo; Fr. Derek Van Daniker; Fr. Mike Pace; and Fr. Lou Konopelski.
As the celebrants returned to the sacristy, most of the rest of the Salesian Family participants, with the assistance of the Shrine’s director of liturgy, gathered on the steps leading into the sanctuary for a group photo. Their happiness with the day’s celebration and their own fellowship inspired by Don Bosco under Mary’s maternal care was evident.

For the rest of the day the pilgrims were invited to repair to the Shrine cafeteria for lunch, then to tour the upper and lower churches of the Basilica or the nearby St. John Paul II Center. The Shrine’s gift shop and bookstore also had numerous visitors.

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Trinity

Homily for the Feast
of the Holy Trinity
Salesian Family Celebration in Washington, D.C.

This past weekend (May 21-22), members of the Salesian Family from all over the Northeast and eastern Canada gathered at the St. John Paul II Center and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the altar of Mary Help of Christians there. Yours truly was there to photograph the events and report for the province newsletter. Here’s the homily given at the noon Mass in the Shrine church by Fr. Timothy Zak, SDB, our vice provincial.

In the recently published book Dear Pope Francis, the Holy Father answered questions from children from around the world. The question-answer exchange shows the closeness of the Pope to the children. One review says that the book “feels akin to sitting in on a series of intimate conversations.” Here are a few samples of the questions:

“If God loves us so much, why didn’t he defeat the devil?”

“Will my non-Catholic grandfather go to heaven?”

“If you could cause one miracle, what would it be?”

These questions reveal what is in the heart of the young today—their interests, worries, and hopes. With simplicity they are asking about complex realities. The Pope answers with respect for the sincerity of the children, and he doesn’t shy away from the difficulty of the issues. Using familiar images like soccer and dancing, Pope Francis is able to write about profound spiritual and social concepts. More than a teacher addressing students in a classroom, however, the Pope is like a father offering comfort and advice to his children or maybe his grandchildren.

What a wonderful example for us on this solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity! Each one of us being invited into an intimate relationship with God, whom we can trust with all our dreams and insecurities, like his dear children, knowing that God loves us.

The Trinity by Franz Anton Maulbertsch (1724-1796)
The Trinity is the most sublime theological truth of our faith: far beyond our understanding, far greater than anything we could ever hope for or imagine. We can never fully comprehend God’s eternal holy Trinity and undivided Unity—the infinite majesty and eternal glory of the Godhead, revealed as an intimate exchange of love; three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but only one God.

Although we cannot comprehend this mystery with our finite, human minds, we can profess this truth and adore God in majesty. At every Mass we join our voices with those of the angels and all the heavenly host as we sing, “Holy, holy, holy.” With this song of praise and wonder, we acknowledge our unworthiness to be in God’s presence, yet at the same time we are aware that we are always in his presence. Even when we are not attentive to God, and sometimes try to ignore him, God is always watching over us. Remember the simple lesson Johnny Bosco learned from Mama Margaret, and which he had written in the Oratory playground: God sees you and loves you. This is a grace, a gift. We don’t deserve it, and we can’t earn it. But God delights in bestowing his grace upon us because God is Father, and we are his children.

It is Jesus, the Word of truth sent into the world by the Father, who has perfectly made known to us what it means to be a daughter or son of God. He is the eternal Son. In today’s gospel (John 16:12-15), we see the intimate unity that the Father and the Son share: “Everything that the Father has is mine” (v. 15). The Father holds nothing back for himself, but in love gives himself as Father to the Son. At key points in the Gospels, we are able to listen in on the conversations Jesus has with the Father. These reveal a complete trust in the Father, even to the point of abandoning himself to fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation. In love and trust, the Son empties his heart out to the Father, freely expressing all his troubles, fears, and joys. Just before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus raises his eyes and says, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41-42). See how Jesus has complete trust in the Father, and how the Father has given everything over to the Son! They are united in love.

Thus Jesus has revealed to us what it means to have God as our Father, and what it means to be a child of God, loved into being by the Father. The bond of love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. The marvelous intimacy shared by the Father and the Son is given to us too, “because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). These amazing words of St. Paul to the Romans are an encouragement for each of us to come before God with childlike trust, opening our hearts to God’s love and giving ourselves back to God in love.

We are in the month of May, a month traditionally dedicated to Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church. On Tuesday, May 24, the Church honors Mary under the title Help of Christians. She is a model and a help for us to live full of grace, in intimate relationship with the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mary was chosen by God the Father to be the mother of his Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. She is daughter, mother, and spouse. This is a unique grace she received, with which she cooperated. It is God’s plan of salvation that we too should receive the grace to call God Father, and have the fullness of life in Christ as God’s children filled with the Holy Spirit. But God will not force this gift upon us; it is a gift we must humbly accept; it is a grace with which we must choose to cooperate.

The Annunciation by Giuseppe Andreis (1822-1880), showing the Father
and the Spirit at work as Mary receives Gabriel’s message
When we invoke Mary under the title Help of Christians, we get a sense of a mission that has been given to her. She shares in the mission Christ gave to the Church to go forth and announce the Good News, to draw all people together as the family of God, to reach out with a special concern for the forgotten, marginalized, and wounded, to care for the little ones and the poor. The grace of being chosen by God was not for her glory, but so that she could further God’s plan of salvation. Once again, she is teacher and guide for the pilgrim Church on the journey of faith. She teaches us that God has bestowed upon us all abundant gifts and many blessings, but not for our own selfish interests; not to be closed in on ourselves, but open—open to God, open to encountering God in our neighbor, open to surprises. God delights in blessing us so that we can go forth and share the Good News and God’s gifts with others. Mary guides us as we seek out the lost, raise up the fallen, and go out to the existential peripheries offering consolation and hope.

During this Jubilee of Mercy, we are being given a special opportunity to learn carefully from Mary’s teaching and faithfully follow her guidance, as we open ourselves up to be filled with God’s grace. Our devoted mother, she seeks the well-being of her children; she wants to see us experience the joy of being united with God. It is not a joy we keep to ourselves, but a joy that is meant to be given away. And when we give of ourselves, the joy grows. The Pope showed his practical wisdom when he recommended that we perform the works of mercy during the Jubilee Year. In the care we offer our neighbor, we share the mercy we have first received from God. Remember the ancient antiphon, “Where there is love, there is God.” By practicing the works of mercy, we are helping others be aware that God is present in their lives.

Even if we cannot fully understand the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, we boldly profess it as a revealed truth of our faith. Even if our songs of praise are inadequate in expressing the majesty of God, we still adore God clothed in glory. Well aware that we are unworthy, we testify to the experience of being loved by God, of being drawn into the intimate relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Recall the simple and sincere trust of those children who wrote about their concerns to the Pope. It was not because they could really be able to understand the Pope’s answers to their profound questions that they wrote to him, but because Pope Francis has given clear witness to God’s love and concern for all, especially the little ones. With filial confidence, we come before God, not because we could ever be able to understand him, but because we have experienced the personal love of God. We have been drawn into the intimate exchange of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. With the psalmist, our hearts cannot contain themselves, and we repeat, “O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!” (Ps 8:2).

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost

Homily for the
Solemnity of Pentecost
May 15, 2015
Acts 2: 1-11
Rom 8: 8-17
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.  And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2: 1-3).

Some of you, maybe most of you, know the story.  After Jesus’ resurrection, the 12 apostles and the other disciples of Jesus were terribly afraid of the Jewish and Roman authorities—afraid that they, too, might be arrested, put on trial, and perhaps executed as rebels, as Jesus had been.  Jesus had appeared to them, and they’d become convinced that he was very much alive.  He’d told them to stay in Jerusalem until the Spirit had come to them.  But they still hid out in the Upper Room, the same room where they’d celebrated the Last Supper with Jesus and where he’d appeared to them on Easter nite and again a week later—still scared to death.

And then something exceedingly strange happened on the feast of Pentecost, an ancient Jewish harvest festival and, beginning sometime around the time of Christ, also a commemoration of the giving of the Torah to Moses.  So in the 1st century it drew thousands of pilgrims to Jerusalem to celebrate God’s gifts to his chosen people, as we hear in ch. 2 of the Acts of the Apostles.  That exceedingly strange event is the visible and audible coming of the Holy Spirit upon the 120 disciples of Jesus gathered in the Upper Room, a coming that resulted immediately in 2 marvelous phenomena:  “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues” (2:4), and suddenly they were filled with the courage to go forth and preach “the mighty acts of God” (2:11), the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the risen Savior of the world.

The Spirit’s descent upon the apostles and other disciples is symbolized by “a strong driving wind” and “tongues as of fire.”

That “wind” is suggestive of the very Spirit of God.  Recall the opening verses of the Book of Genesis:  “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters” (1:1-2).  The creative power of God began to work with that wind; the words translated as “mighty wind” mean literally “the wind of God”; they might also be translated as “the spirit of God.”

When the Jewish leader Nicodemus came to Jesus in the middle of the nite to talk to him about his preaching, Jesus spoke to him about being born again of water and Spirit and being born from above.  He used the analogy of the wind:  “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from of where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).  St. John’s Greek text uses the word pneuma, which may be translated as “wind” or “spirit” or “breath.”

So the breath of God, the wind of God, the holy Spirit of God has blown into the Upper Room and blown away the fearful hesitance of the apostles and the rest of the little Church there.

The 2d image is fire.  Fire is a sign of the divine presence.  When God makes a covenant with Abraham in Gen 15, a smoking brazier and flaming torch pass by to show that God is acting (v. 17).  When Moses goes up Mt. Sinai to meet Sinai, the mountain is covered in smoke and flame (Ex 19:18).  Fire from God miraculously consumes the sacrifice of the prophet Elijah, and even the stones of the altar (1 Kgs 18:38).  And so on.

When the Spirit comes down upon the disciples, however, he comes not just in fire, but in “tongues as of fire” which “came to rest on each one of them” (2:3).  The Spirit of God comes to fill the 120 disciples with courage and wisdom and all the holy gifts of God in order that they may speak the mighty acts of God.  They are “disciples,” i.e., learners, who have been with Jesus; now they are to become teachers and preachers, to go out and let the whole world know about the love of God, the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God, the desire of God that every man and woman should be saved from his or her sins and become a brother or sister of Jesus, a child of God destined for eternal life.

Therefore we can say that all of us who have received the Spirit of Jesus Christ thru the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are called to speak of Christ, teach Christ, give public witness to Christ.  That doesn’t mean we have to become TV evangelists or stand on a corner handing out leaflets or something like that.  But it does mean that we have to teach our children the faith, teach them their prayers, take them to church.  It means that we don’t hide our faith when we’re at work, visiting with friends, or otherwise out in public.  It means we should be able to answer people’s questions about what we believe and why we do what we do.  As St. Peter says, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15-16).

“If Christ is in you,” St. Paul writes to the Romans, “the spirit is alive because of righteousness,” which means being in a right relationship with God, and “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, thru his Spirit that dwells in you” (8:10-11).

Paul goes on to speak of how we now are obliged to “live according to the Spirit” and not according to the flesh (8:12-13).  That is, we’re obliged to live virtuously:  practicing truth, purity, diligence, forgiveness, faithfulness, etc.  Elsewhere Paul assures us that those who practice vice—idolaters, thieves, liars, slanderers, adulterers, practicing homosexuals, those moved by jealousy, those whose god is their belly, etc.—will not have a share with Christ in God’s kingdom (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph 3:19; Col 3:5-10).  We heard him tell the Romans, “If you live according to the flesh, you will die” (8:13).

Jesus erases all our sins, but he also calls us to repentance:  to live the life of the Spirit.

St. Paul continues by assuring us that the Spirit teaches us to pray, to call upon God as our Father:  “You received a spirit of adoption, thru whom we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!”  Whenever we turn to God in prayer, we’re being led by the Spirit whom Jesus has given us.  And that Spirit ardently desires to lead us always closer to our Father; always to fill us with the life of Jesus—until the power of God raises us up on the last day, and he brings us to the inheritance God has prepared for those who love him.

Friday, May 13, 2016

2016-2017 Pastoral Assignments, Round 2

2016-2017 Pastoral Assignments: Round 2

This afternoon (May 13), Fr. Tim Zak, vice provincial, published a letter with a short list of pastoral assignments for the coming year (2016-2017).

Fr. Dominic Tran
We'll have a change in our vocation office in Orange, N.J.  Fr. Dominic Tran, outgoing director of the community there, will take up his old job again as the province's chief "recruiter."

Fr. Jim Berning
Fr. Jim Berning, v.d. for the last 3 years, will move up to Etobicoke, Ont. (a Toronto suburb), to do vocations work in Canada and also to contribute to the province's youth ministry program.  (For Salesians, vocation discernment is an aspect of YM.)

Fr. Mario Villaraza
With Fr. Mike Pace moving from Etobicoke to Orange as Fr. Dominic's replacement as director, Fr. Mario Villaraza will become pastor of St. Benedict Parish.  Fr. Mike was pastor for 9 years.  Fr. Mario has been parochial vicar for the last year after moving east from Surrey, B.C.

Fr. Tom Dunne
At the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., Fr. Tom Dunne, back from a sabbatical (after 6 years as provincial), will take up 2 province responsibilities (and presumably continue to assist with retreat activities): province delegate for the Salesian Family and director of the Province Ministerial Formation Program.  In the former job he succeeds Fr. John Puntino, who served for 6 years (and remains in Etobicoke as director of the SDB community).  In the latter job, he takes up a task called for by our recent provincial chapter, namely, to prepare lay people for ministry in Salesian contexts or with a Salesian style (in some other context)--something he had been working at before he was made provincial in 2009 but that didn't get much follow-up subsequently.

Also at the Marian Shrine, Fr. Tom Ruekert will become coordinator of activities at the Shrine (distinct from the retreat house).  He's been on the retreat staff for several years already and has been helping at the Shrine too.  He succeeds Fr. Armand Quinto, who has been ill.

Fr. Joe Santa Bibiana
Fr. Joe Santa Bibiana, finishing a term as director in Champaign, Ill., will move back to Belle Glade, Fla., as parochial vicar of St. Philip Benizi Parish, where he served as pastor earlier.  He's looking forward to sunshine and warm temperatures again, and to continuing to minister to Spanish-speaking people.

Fr. Mike Eguino
Fr. Michael Eguino, already teaching and ministering at Abp. Shaw HS in Marrero, has been designated assistant coordinator of youth ministry there.  The CYM is Bro. Jerry Meegan.

Bro. John Langan
Bro. John Langan, one of our young Salesians has completed his practical training and will depart from Abp. Shaw HS to undertake theological studies at the Ratisbonne Institute in Jerusalem (which is affiliated with the Salesian Pontifical University), aiming at eventual priestly ordination.

Bro. Rafael Vargas will start his practical training at Abp. Shaw HS.

Bro. Rafi Vargas with his mom and dad
on the day of his first profession, 2014
Photos by your humble blogger except the one of Fr. Tom Dunne, which was taken by Fr. Dennis Donovan.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Homily for 7th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
7th Sunday of Easter
May 24, 1998
Acts 7: 55-60
Sts. John & Paul, Larchmont, N.Y.

This past Sunday (May 8) I celebrated Mass for Boy Scouts at a district event in Bronxville, N.Y., using an outline.  Here's a homily given at a local parish 18 years ago.

We just celebrated our Lord’s ascension into heaven.  In the old liturgy, the Easter candle would have been snuffed immediately after the gospel was read on Thursday, and then carted off to the sacristy after Mass.
Paschal candle, St. Patrick's Cathedral, 2016

But we’re still celebrating Easter, and our paschal candle remains with us until Pentecost, when the “Easter work” of Christ, so to speak, is completed by the sending of the Holy Spirit.

For Christ to effect our salvation, it’s not enuf that he rose from the dead.  His life-giving power, his salvation, has to be conveyed to us and be at work in us.  So he has remained with us thru his Spirit.

In the opening prayer, we besought God:  “Father, help us keep in mind that Christ our Savior lives with you in glory and promised to remain with us until the end of time.”  The resurrection and ascension of Jesus took him from our earthly life—and from the grave, thru which all of us must pass—and raised him to heavenly glory in a transformed human existence.  It’s not just his divine persona that lives with the Father, nor is it only his human soul; but his human body, the one born of the Virgin Mary, the one crucified, the one wondrously relivened and transformed by divine power, has gone ahead of us, his followers, to prepare places for us to join him, as he promised the apostles at the Last Supper (John 14:2-3).

He also promised the apostles he wouldn’t leave them orphans but would come back to them (John 14:18) and remain with them (cf. Mt 28:20).  He will dwell with his Father in heaven, yet he will also be with us.

Hard to grasp?  Perhaps.  But we see it in the story of Stephen’s martyrdom, today’s 1st reading (Acts 7:55-60).  1st, we’re told that Stephen, on trial for preaching Jesus, was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (7:55), i.e., the Spirit of Jesus sent by the Father upon the Church, as Jesus promised.  Jesus is with Stephen in his trial.
The Stoning of St. Stephen
San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice
by Tintoretto
Then Stephen looked up into the heavens and saw a vision:  “the glory of God”—God the Father in some splendid manifestation—“and Jesus standing at God’s right hand”—the ascended and triumphant Jesus in heavenly glory, a recognizable, human Jesus, the “Son of Man” (7:55-56).

Stephen’s accusers became an enraged mob, dragged him “out of the city”—as Jesus was led out to be crucified—and stoned him (7:58).  Stephen, finally, repeated 2 prayers of Jesus from the cross:  a prayer that his murderers be forgiven by God and prayer entrusting himself to Jesus (as Jesus had entrusted himself to his Father).  How can people so imitate Jesus?  Jesus is with them.  He’s not only in heaven, but he also remains with us thru his Spirit dwelling in us (cf. John 14:23).

Jesus “promised to remain with us until the end of time.”  That promise explicitly covers the Church, the body of Christ on earth, as many scripture passages show us.  But it also covers us individually, as we just saw in Stephen’s life and death.

Christ commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel “to all the nations” (Luke 24:47), even “to every creature” (Mark 16:15).  The Gospel is a message of repentance—and so the Church must point out sin—and of forgiveness and healing and reconciliation with God for those who hear and accept the message.  Christ’s disciples couldn’t do this—they would lack the courage, the wisdom, the holiness, the power to do so—unless he remained with them.  And so on Pentecost he sent the Holy Spirit to form them, the 12 Apostles and all the other disciples, men and women, into the Church.  And by the power of the Holy Spirit he gave to the Church even the divine gift of infallibility, or inerrancy, in certain matters that most intimately pertain to salvation, to what we must believe and what we must do to be saved.

Christ remains with us individually too, from the moment of our Baptism, when by God’s gift, we were washed with and filled by the Holy Spirit (CCC 1215).  We have become members of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit and, like Stephen, are empowered to live and act like Jesus (CCC 1265-66).  We’re not infallible in our judgments of doctrine and right living, but we do receive divine gifts:  faith, hope, charity, wisdom, fortitude, knowledge, courage, piety, and so on—so that we might grow ever more into the image of Jesus.  Jesus remains with us, and the more we are aware of that, the more will it be evident in our thoughts, our words, and our actions.  “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Homily for Ascension Thursday

Homily for
Ascension Thursday
May 5, 2016
Acts 1: 1-11
Salesian Missions, New Rochelle

“The Ascension of Christ your Son is our exaltation” (Collect).

Exaltation means “a lifting up,” a promotion, a glorifying, or in the “exalted” language of Merriam-Webster, a “raising in rank, power, or character,” an “elevation by praise or in estimation,” a “raising high”—what Hillary and the Donald are aspiring to, above all other citizens.

"Men of Galilee, why are you standing there?"
Our feast today celebrates the exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ.  The Scriptures—and traditional Christian art—portray his exaltation in both literal and figurative form:  he’s physically lifted up to the heavens on a cloud, accompanied by angels (Acts 1:9), and enthroned in heaven at the Father’s right side (Eph 1:20).

But the Collect or opening prayer called Christ’s ascension “our exaltation,” our elevation, our being raised on high.

If you’re like me, you don’t feel terribly exalted, terribly glorified, in a perpetually great mood—not unless you’re using some happy pills.  No, but the Collect also uses the word hope:  “where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.”  We’re Christ’s Body—you’ve heard that many times, I’m sure.  You and I were baptized into Christ; we’ve been given a share of his Holy Spirit; we receive his Body and Blood.  We are his Body, and we have abundant confidence, abundant hope that he doesn’t want us to be left behind; he wants his Body to be whole and intact!  In fact, at the Last Supper he promised the disciples: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places [many superb suites!].  If there were not, would have told that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:2-3)

So, even as we struggle on earth to live faithfully, to practice virtue, to do what’s right—sometimes just to make it thru the day, sometimes not to throw a brick thru the TV—we do keep our eyes on Christ, who’s pulling us toward him.  We pray also in the Collect that almighty God “gladden us with holy joys and make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving” because of this hope that we have; that we live every day with joy because we know that God loves us, that Christ has saved us, that Christ wants us to be with him.

Not that we’re supposed just to sit here and wait for his return, wait for the rapture.  Someone once said, “Some folks are so heavenly minded that they ain’t no earthly good.”  Attend to what the angels said to the apostles after they’d watch Jesus ascend into the heavens:  “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Acts 1:11).  I.e., you guys have got work to do.  Get moving!  The verse before the gospel identified that work:  “Go and teach all nations, says the Lord.”

The gospel reading itself quotes Jesus telling his disciples, “You are witnesses of these things,” i.e., “that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead … and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations” (Luke 24:46-48).  So, with our eyes on Christ and our hearts filled with joyful hope, we have the work of being witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection and of his message of mercy from God toward us sinners.  Isn’t that something to be joyful about and something to want to evidence by our words and actions every day?

Here at Salesian Missions, of course, we actually engage in “teaching all nations” about God’s love for us in Christ.  What a blessing to combine your livelihood with Christ’s very own mission of bringing people to his Father!

But the 1st people to witness our hope and joy to aren’t the people reading our poems and brochures and Web page.  It’s our families:  our spouses, children, parents, in-laws, my Salesian confreres; our co-workers; and the people in our parish and our social circles.

St. Paul prays that the hearts of the Ephesians “be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to God’s call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones [the saints] … for us who believe.”  May you know that indeed, and may it fill you with overflowing joy, and may you live in Christ every day until you come to the inheritance, the heavenly dwelling place, that Christ has got ready for you!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Easter
May 1, 2016
Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29
John 14: 23-29
Iona College, New Rochelle

“Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15: 1).

Imagine for a moment that a bunch of priests, deacons, and theologians had showed up here this evening and informed us that unless we celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday morning, we haven’t fulfilled our Sunday obligation and are guilty of mortal sin; and, further, unless we’re abstaining from meat every Friday, we’re committing more mortal sins.

Something like that was going on in the large, fervent Christian community at Antioch in northern Syria—now it’s just across the border in Turkey and is called Antakya—where Jewish Christians had begun to preach the Gospel to Gentiles and convert them, too, to Jesus.  This Christian community had also commissioned Paul and Barnabas for their missionary journeys into Cyprus and Asia Minor, where they won over Gentiles as well as Jews to Jesus.

So there was quite a disturbance when these people came down from Judea—perhaps some of the Jewish priests who had become Christians, according to Acts 6:7, and converted Pharisees—and they insisted that Jesus had come as God’s anointed one (Christ) only for the Jewish people; so Gentiles, to be saved, would have to be circumcised and practice the entire Torah, as Jewish Christians like Paul and Barnabas had continued to do.
St. Paul at Council of Jerusalem
(from Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls)

The issue of Gentile converts had come up once before, when St. Peter had baptized the Roman centurion Cornelius and his entire household (Acts 10), and Peter had had to explain himself to the other apostles and the elders in Jerusalem—his explanation being, 1st, that he had had a direct revelation from God that nothing God created is unclean, and 2d, that he and his companions had witnessed the Holy Spirit’s coming upon Cornelius et al. as soon as Peter had started to preach the Gospel to them (11:1-18).  Evidently, God wasn’t waiting on Torah but was acting on a different plan.

But it was also evident that the matter hadn’t been settled, because the argument came up again, resulting, as we read this evening, in a delegation’s being sent from Antioch to Jerusalem “to the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 15:2).

Our reading skipped over the debate within the so-called Council of Jerusalem—20 verses—and went right to its result, the letter sent to Antioch instructing the Church there that they need not be burdened by circumcision or the rest of the Torah so long as they observed some important moral rules, which we might summarize as the avoidance of idolatry, the shedding of blood, the consuming of blood (blood being regarded as a sign of God’s power over life), and sexual immorality.

There was as yet no New Testament that the apostles and elders could refer to, to help them reflect upon the issue at hand.  There was only the oral Gospel that they had all accepted and been preaching, which included Jesus’ inaugurating a “new covenant in his blood” (Luke 22:20).  So what guided the decision that they reached?

Two things:  their experience and the action of the Holy Spirit.  Their experience included what had happened with Cornelius the centurion and what was happening among other pagans in Antioch and wherever Paul and Barnabas—and others, I’m sure—had been preaching the Gospel.  The letter that the apostles and elders sent specifically alludes to the Holy Spirit:  “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us” that this is what you must do (Acts 15:28).  They’re very conscious of exactly what Jesus had promised to his disciples at the Last Supper:  “The Advocate, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you,” as we heard in the gospel reading moments ago (John 14:26).

If the Father sent the Holy Spirit upon the Church—as the John’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles both testify and as we firmly believe as a doctrine of the faith—then the Spirit is as much with us today as it was in mid-1st century when the apostles and elders sat down with the delegation from Antioch.

Today we also have an additional tool of the Holy Spirit, viz., the New Testament, which the Holy Spirit authored later in the 1st century thru the quill pens or styluses of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and possibly some other disciples of Jesus, and which the Holy Spirit confirmed by helping the 2d-century Church sort out which writings truly were inspired, to be held as sacred Scripture, and which other writings didn’t make the cut.  The Bible is our rule of faith; at the same time, the Church is the author of the Bible; both Church and Scriptures are the work of the Spirit.

And like the Council of Jerusalem and the rest of the early Church, we’re also guided by our experience.  We invoke the Spirit upon what we see going on in the world and in our lives; on what we hear from the people of God (which is what the recent synods of bishops were doing, right?) and from people of other faiths and from the world at large—so that the Spirit may guide us to discern truth:  true doctrine, true teaching, about what we should believe and how we should act as disciples of Jesus.

For instance, what does it mean today “to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage”?  Our world worships many idols, doesn’t it?  Not Zeus or Athena, to be sure:  but wealth, power, fame, and comfort.  Pope Francis is constantly warning the world not to make a god of money, to be concerned for the poor and downtrodden; and to use power to serve humanity, not to lord it over them.  Someone else once said something like that:  “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45) and “The one who is greatest among you will be the servant of all” (cf. Mark 9:35).

What can we say about bloodshed?  Life is cheap on our city streets, in abortion clinics, and in war zones.  We demand capital punishment in far too many cases, where the protection of society certainly doesn’t require it.  Is there a problem with our gun laws, with how they’re enforced or not, or with our failure to attend to people suffering from various mental illnesses?

Hardly anyone agrees any longer with traditional sexual morality or with the Church’s consistency in teaching it.  The word used in the Greek text of Acts is porneia, literally, “fornication,” or more broadly “sexual immorality.”  In the context of Acts 15 it’s usually taken to mean, as translated here, “unlawful marriage,” which we needn’t interpret now.  Obviously, “unlawful marriage” is a hot topic in the news, tho, as are other sexual issues like contraception (the Obamacare case currently before the Supreme Court); contraception is still hotly discussed even with the Church.  The country is experiencing an epidemic of pornography (rooted in the word porneia, obviously), ranging from teens sexting each other to, it can be argued, topics in presidential debates, and including of course a major media industry that addicts millions of victims—to the extent that Utah recently declared pornography a public health hazard.

The Holy Spirit still knows a thing or two, and we believe the Spirit still speaks when the Church teaches thru the Scriptures, the liturgy, the 2d Vatican Council, and the official teaching of the Holy Father (which doesn’t include his in-flight press conferences!)—e.g., Blessed Paul VI’s changing the law of Friday abstinence (while reminding us all of the obligation to do penance, but trusting us to be mature enuf Christians to decide for ourselves how to do so) and allowing Saturday evening vigil Masses. 

Jesus says in the 1st line of this evening’s gospel, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14:23).  We know where to find his word; the Spirit still speaks it to us.

[The reader may also be interested in Fr. Tom Rosica’s reflection about the Council of Jerusalem at Salt + Light:]