Sunday, June 26, 2016

Homily for 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 26, 2016
Luke 9: 51-62
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined [lit.: “set his face”] to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9: 51).

Last week we read the passage in which Peter identifies Jesus as “the Christ of God” and Jesus makes his 1st prediction of his passion and resurrection.  Skipping over passages about the transfiguration, an exorcism, the 2d passion prediction, and  teaching about greatness in the kingdom of heaven, we come to today’s passage, which starts  anew section in Luke’s Gospel but is related to Jesus’ being “the Christ,” to his passion prediction, to his transfiguration, and to greatness in the kingdom.  That section recounts Jesus’ slow, resolute journey from Galilee to Jerusalem to “be taken up.”

Luke speaks of the days being fulfilled.  Underlying that language is idea of God’s plan.  St. John might have said that Jesus’ hour was approaching.  Implicit is Jesus’ willingness to fulfill what God has planned.

So Jesus sets out “resolutely” for Jerusalem and the destiny that he knows awaits him there.  His “resolution” contrasts with the fickleness and shortsightedness of his disciples, who repeatedly misunderstand his teaching, resist God’s plan, squabble among themselves.  The latest example of the apostles’ density comes when James and John, those 2 “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), suggest that the inhospitable Samaritan village should be incinerated like Sodom and Gomorrah.

So the little band heads toward Jerusalem.  We may think we’re talking about Jesus and the 12, but Luke tells us in ch. 8 that they were “accompanied” by “some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities.”  He names 3, including Mary Magdalene, but adds that there were many others.  No mention of additional male disciples, tho it’s reasonable to suppose there were some.  It’s the women, however, who will reveal their resolution by staying with Jesus all the way to Calvary.

Then Luke presents to us 3 instances of irresolution that contrast with Jesus’ steadfastness in going the way determined for him by his Father; in fact, they contrast even with the faithfulness of the 12, however fickle that may have been.

1st, a fellow offers to follow Jesus anywhere.  Jesus warns him of the rootlessness, you might say homelessness, of his followers—something more severe than we religious generally practice today.  We’re not told that the man said, “Forget it!”  Neither are we told that he joined the itinerants on their way to Jerusalem.

Next, Jesus calls a man who expresses a willingness to follow Jesus—but not yet.  His reply, “Let me bury my father,” doesn’t mean that Dad has just died and must be buried—which would have been that very day—but, “I’ll come with you after my father dies”—whenever that might be.  Jesus reminds him of the urgency of proclaiming the kingdom of God.  Again, we don’t know what the man’s final response was.

Finally, there’s the fellow who wants to say his good-byes (as I’ve been doing for 2 weeks, to the detriment of packing books, clothes, and office supplies).  This man’s answer sounds quite like Elisha’s, doesn’t it?  But Jesus’ answer contrasts with Elijah’s.  It implies that the man is reluctant—unlike Elisha, who resolutely leaves behind his previous career and livelihood.

So the gospel offers us the resolution of Jesus in doing what his Father asks, versus the irresolution of other people.  It calls upon us as followers of Jesus to be steadfast in going where he calls us to go—not just from one house to another, but even leaving behind attitudes like the harshness of James and John.  He calls us, in the words of the Collect, to be “children of light,” not of thunder; to let God unwrap us from our darkness, our sins, our self-centered attitudes—no “selfies” allowed in Jesus’ camp!  Jesus calls us to be focused totally on the kingdom of God:  “You are my inheritance, O Lord” (Responsorial Psalm).  Jesus calls us each day to renew our resolution to come along with him on his journey to Jerusalem—the city of his passion, the city of his glorification.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Homily for 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 19, 2016
Zech 12: 10-11; 13: 1
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and petition; and they shall look on him whom they have pierced” (Zech 12: 10).

The prophetic reading this evening was chosen, obviously, to go with Jesus’ prediction of his passion and death in the gospel reading—the 1st of 3 such predictions (Luke 9:18-24).  Luke’s version of the story is straightforward—no reference to a blessing of Peter nor of the gift to him of the keys to the kingdom of heaven nor of Peter’s attempt to deny Jesus the fate inherent in being “the Christ of God.”

You know that Christ is the Greek translation of Messiah, and those words mean “Anointed One.”

It’s puzzling that Jesus “rebuked” the apostles for identifying him as the Messiah; but he doesn’t deny it.  Rather, he “directed them not to tell this to anyone” (9:21).  And he uses another name for himself, “Son of Man,” as he forecasts the destiny that will be his.

Undoubtedly, the Jewish population, Jesus’ disciples included, had a misunderstanding of what role “the Christ of God” was to play; what sort of redemption he’d come to bring them.  Hence Jesus’ hushing them up and his telling them what lay before him.

Not only him.  You think you’re going to follow me to royal power, to throwing out the Romans and governing Israel like King David?  Well, here’s some news for you:  “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (9:23).  Not only are they going to kill me, but you too will share in my cross if you follow me!  Only if you lose your life alongside me will you truly save it.  You can’t avoid my cross for even a single day!

The prophet Zechariah speaks of someone who suffers and then becomes a font of blessing.  In his account of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, you remember, St. John quotes this passage from Zechariah in relation to the coup de grace that a Roman soldier delivered to Jesus’ body hanging on the cross:  “one of the soldiers thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (19:34).

(source unknown)
Zechariah says also that this person who’s been pierced thru will be mourned “as one mourns for an only son,” grieved “over as one grieves over a firstborn” (12:10).  We catch the allusion immediately to God’s Only-begotten Son, mourned by his disciples at his crucifixion and in the following days, right up till the women found his tomb empty on Sunday morning.  We catch the allusion to Jesus, the firstborn son of Mary, who—in John’s passion account—stood heroically beneath her Son’s cross and became then the mother of all Jesus’ brothers and sisters; he was her firstborn, and she’s carried millions since in her motherly heart.

The 3d reference to mourning in the prophecy (12:11) seems to be an allusion to the holy king Josiah, who reformed the religious life of the kingdom of Judah at the end of the 7th c. BC.  Josiah was a descendant of King David and as a king was a messiah, one anointed by God, and since he instituted religious reform he was also a redeemer of sorts.  But he died in battle at Megiddo, certainly a cause of national mourning.  He was succeeded by unworthy sons, and Jerusalem was captured 12 years later by the Babylonians and made a vassal state; and ten years later still, the city was leveled by the Babylonians—more cause for national mourning.  The psalmist lamented, “By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept, remembering Jerusalem” (cf. 137:1).

But after the mourning over the sufferings and death of the Son of Man, after his being raised on the 3d day, we see what happened to him in a different light.  No longer do we mourn for him or grieve over him—for from the pierced side of Jesus the Lord God has “poured out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” and indeed on the entire human race, “a spirit of grace and petition”; “on that day there shall be open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness” (Zech 13:1).

The traditional sacramental theology of the Church sees in the outpouring of blood and water from the side of Jesus—whatever the physiological facts of that “water” may be—symbols of Baptism and the Eucharist.  In these sacraments we receive “a spirit of grace” indeed, that grace which makes us God’s children; that grace which is a fountain of mercy purifying us “from sin and uncleanness.”  Because these sacraments tie us to Christ, we are saved:  “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ,” St. Paul writes today (Gal 3:27), and we’ve become heirs of God’s kingdom (3:29), together with Jesus—regardless of our human status, regardless of how the world rates us or ranks us:  we’re all equally “children of God in Christ Jesus” (3:26), made so by the outpouring of God’s Spirit on us in the sacraments, the font of mercy opened up to us from the pierced heart of Christ, who loves us without measure.

Summer Retreats Begin

Summer Retreats Begin

The first of the province’s annual summer retreats took place at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw, N.Y., from June 5 to 11 with some 45 confreres taking part, a healthy mix of brothers and priests. They came from almost the full length and breadth of the province, from Surrey to Belle Glade, from Boston to Marrero (“almost” because we didn’t stretch as far northeast as we might have—Sherbrooke wasn’t represented).

Bro. Tom Dion, the province’s delegate for formation, coordinated the week; it was the first time he’d done so, and he admitted to finding the task much more challenging than he’d anticipated. But the retreatants found that he did his task well.

Bro. Tom Dion, Sr. Lory Mazzei, and Sr. Clara Remartini. 
This retreat was unusual (not unique, if my memory’s correct) as SDB retreats go in that it was preached by two religious sisters, in this case members of the Apostles of the Interior Life. This is a small (16 members), new congregation founded in 1990 to promote the spiritual life, especially through mentoring (direction). They do so in the U.S. and Italy principally on college campuses (Kansas University and Texas A&M, and at one time the University of Illinois in Champaign) and in a multi-week program in spiritual mentoring in the Kansas City, Kan., Archdiocese that Bro. Tom is taking—which is how the Apostles came to be invited to preach our retreat.

Preaching a week-long retreat to priests and religious was a first-time experience for the apostles. But our two preachers, Sister Loredana and Sister Clara—who were asked by their superior about their availability—eagerly accepted, not only because they know Bro. Tom but also because both of them have Salesian connections in their native Italy.

Fr. Dennis Hartigan presiding at one of the Eucharistic celebrations.
The two sisters tag-teamed the daily conferences, using their written texts, music, video, and of course their own experience and wisdom. They spoke of what Pope Francis has called the four pillars of the spiritual life for priests and seminarians: prayer, community, intellectual study, and the apostolate. They illustrated these pillars in the life of a 20th-century priest, Blessed Carlo Gnocchi, and they pointed to the Virgin Mary as a model for us in her faith, her joy, her obedience, etc. In their last two conferences, they presented an “instrument” to help the confreres apply what we’d heard to our own lives and invited us to “share” in small groups what we’d found valuable in our week’s experience. Sisters Lory and Clara deeply impressed the retreatants with their presentations, friendliness, and joy.

In addition to the sister’s fine conferences, the retreat featured the usual SDB camaraderie, the customary pilgrimage to the province cemetery at Goshen (the only day it rained, of course), Good Nights that updated the confreres on the local reshaping taking place in Ramsey, Port Chester, and Orange, and some in-depth commentary about province matters from Fr. Tim Zak.

Praying for our deceased confreres in the cemetery at Goshen.
Bro. Henry Van der Velden enjoying an ice cream cone after the cemetery visit.

Conviviality and fellowship at the dinner table.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

"Tweet Me in St. Louis"

“Tweet Me in St. Louis”

Catholic Communicators Hold Annual Conference in the Gateway City

2016 CMC’s program features the Old Cathedral
of St. Louis at the foot of the Gateway Arch.
(Catholic Press Assn.)
Approximately 350 Catholic journalists, editors, directors of communications, broadcasters, financial and advertising officers, vendors, and speakers converged on the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark from May 31 to June 3 to upgrade various skills, hear inspiring messages about their ministry, gather information, network with each other, and have a good time at the 2016 Catholic Media Conference.

The CMC’s planning committee couldn’t resist promoting the convention with the wordplay at the head of this story.

I, of course, had to shoot the cathedral and Arch from ground level!
The CMC is the annual joint meeting of the Catholic Press Association of the U.S. and Canada and the Catholic Academy of Communications Professionals. This year’s conference took place in the shadow of St. Louis’s famed Gateway Arch, a block from Busch Stadium (hence the hotel’s name) in one direction and, in the other direction, from the Old County Courthouse where the Dred Scott case was heard in 1846, and two blocks from the archdiocese’s Old Cathedral of St. Louis.

So close to the ballpark, the hotel had vintage photos of the Cardinals all over the main floor (unfortunately lacking IDs), and this collection honoring the Cardinal of all Cardinals:

Not sure why that's right over the entrance to the bar; maybe that's where it gets seen by more people than anywhere else! (For non-baseball fans: it's Stan Musial.)

I stayed, instead, at the Missouri Athletic Club--very nice hotel in addition to club facilities (which I didn't have time to use)--about 7 blocks from the Hilton. That gave me at least 2 short walks every day, right down one of St. Louis's main drags, Broadway: past the Federal Reserve Bank, various businesses (very few eateries tho), and the Old Courthouse, with terrific views of the Arch from about 3 blocks away. This shot, however, comes from a long block farther away. The construction site (which was across the street from the convention hotel) is a public park being redone; beyond it are the Old Courthouse and the Arch.

The Salesians were represented by your humble blogger, editor of E-Service (a member organization of the CPA) and Hannah Gregory of Salesian Missions/ (also a CPA member). Although we’ve worked together online for more than six years, especially during the Haiti earthquake crisis in January 2010, this was the first time that Hannah and I actually met each other.

Hannah Gregory at the Salesian Missions booth.
As is customary with the CMC, the night before the official opening was a social event, in this case an outing to the City Museum,

a slightly weird and definitely eclectic collection of St. Louis architecture, archeology, arcana, and nostalgia that also functions as a huge indoor and outdoor playground for young people—which evidently also includes Catholic journalists! It was fun to see so many of them in a second childhood.

Catholic journalists at work?

Architectural remnants inside the museum.
More seriously, the first full day of the CMC (Wednesday, June 1) offered a series of day-long “master camps” for writers, editors, advertising personnel, designers, communications officers, and reporters. I took part in one titled “Parables, Profiles and Facebook Posts: The Infallible Truths of Effective Writing.”

The “master camp” on more effective writing.
Days 2-3 (June 2-3) presented numerous educational sessions that covered writing, editing, photography, film, design, audience-targeting, media literacy, marketing, podcasting and other platforms, budgeting, archiving, staying Catholic, and more. There were also business meetings of the CPA and Catholic Academy members and roundtable discussions for communicators, editors, advertisers, and regional groups (someone suggested that I claim “dual citizenship” in both East and Midwest regions; I went to the Midwest Region and met up with Tom Dermody, editor the Catholic Post of the Peoria Diocese, which will be my new home).

Hannah Gregory manned a booth for Salesian Missions and worked hard to attract followers for MissionNewswire. Other booths were set up by such diverse organizations as the Knights of Columbus, EWTN and other media, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic News Service, and various tourism agencies.

The main speakers of the conference were Michael O’Neill, “the Miracle Hunter” and a Mariologist, who spoke particularly about Marian devotion and apparitions; Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vt., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Communications and one of the first blogging bishops, who updated principles of Catholic media practice that he first laid out in an earlier CMC address (Indianapolis, 2012); and Sr. Helena Burns, FSP, who spoke about responsible use of social media.

Michael O’Neill commenting on the development of devotion
to the Virgin Mary at Wednesday’s luncheon.

Bishop Chris Coyne of Burlington, Vt.
“Bishop Coyne urged the journalists and communication leaders to follow the example of St. Therese of Lisieux, who saw every task as a chance to make the love of God more concrete. With this in mind, he said every news story, video, blog post, tweet, email or response to an online comment can ‘become an opportunity to manifest God’s love.’” (Carol Zimmermann, CNS)

Sr. Helena, a movie reviewer, filmmaker, speaker on media literacy and theology of the body, urged three places where Smartphones should never be used: Mass, meals, and the master bedroom. Pay attention to the people in front of you! Be master (or mistress) of your social media and not their slave.
Sr. Helena Burns summarized
her PowerPoint talk this way.

Each full day of the CMC included celebration of the Eucharist, twice at old St. Louis Cathedral (1834) and once at the new (1914) cathedral celebrated by Archbishop Robert Carlson. After the latter, a docent explained the magnificent Byzantine-style mosaics, and the attendees had time to explore the nave and side chapels. In addition, a prayer room was available for about ten hours daily in the hotel meeting area.

The “new” St. Louis Cathedral.

On June 2, the CPA’s Bishop John England Award for the defense of religious freedom was presented to Greg Erlandson, former president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor and now a consultor with the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. The award citation noted: “In its editorial positions, [OSV] publications have taken measured and balanced positions in favor of the rights of the church, its institutions and every American, Catholic and non-Catholic, to act according to closely-held beliefs in God and what is right without impinging upon the rights of others to act in a free society.”

On June 3, the CPA’s “top prize,” the St. Francis de Sales Award for outstanding contributions to Catholic journalism, was given to freelance journalist Maria de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda “for her dedication to Catholic media for more than 30 years, and for telling the human side of many of the tough social and political issues facing our state, Church and nation.”

Maria Scaperlanda with her “Frannie.”
An honorary “Frannie” was also presented via Skype to Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, who usually attends the CMC in person, for his long-standing support for Catholic journalism and all forms of communications.

The Catholic Academy presented its President’s Medallion posthumously to Mother Angelica Rizzo in recognition of her lifetime of spreading the Gospel through the media, relying completely upon Divine Providence for the means of doing so.

The 2016 CMC concluded on Friday evening with the CPA’s awards banquet, recognizing the members’ and member organizations’ outstanding work in the last year in newspapers: reporting, editorial writing, opinion writing, artwork, design, advertising, general excellence, etc.; and in books: fiction, non-fiction, theology, spirituality, Scripture, ministry, family life, etc.

Next year’s CMC will be held at Laval University in Quebec, June 21-23, in partial conjunction with the SIGNIS World Congress (June 18-21).

Homily for 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
10th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 5, 2016
Ps 30
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

I'm really late posting this because I went on retreat on the 5th, and after coming back have been up to my ears in work--and packing.

“O Lord, you brought me up from the nether world; you preserved me from among those going down into the pit” (Ps 30: 4).

(source unknown)
Our 1st reading this morning tells how Elijah revived an apparently dead little boy, and the gospel records how Jesus revived a young man being carried out for burial.  Between these 2 Scripture passages, the psalmist praises God for saving his life from his enemies:  the Lord has saved him “from the nether world,” from hades, from the underworld, the place where the dead go; in old English, this was translated as hell, with this meaning, and not meaning the place of eternal damnation.  Hence, Christ at death “descended into hell,” the Apostles’ Creed says.  In classic Hebrew poetic style, the psalmist continues with a parallel phrase, “You preserved me from among those going down into the pit,” i.e., into the grave.

Both the 1st reading and the gospel, and the responsorial psalm too, are meant to foreshadow our ultimate delivery from the grave, from the nether world of the dead—the resurrection of God’s faithful people on the Last Day and our eternal welcome into the Father’s home, that “place” or state that we call heaven.  As Jesus raised the dead son of the widow at Nain, so will he raise us—not to die a natural death again, as did the son of the widow at Zarephath and the young man of Nain, but to live forever in perfect health and perfect happiness, by the grace of God.

But you all know that we use this kind of language also metaphorically:  “such and such an experience was the pits,” or in humorist Erma Bombeck’s memorable book title, If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, Why Am I Always in the Pits?  In stronger language, we might refer to some awful experience as “hell”:  the boss from hell, a marriage that’s hell, a travel experience that was hell (I spent 12 hours yesterday flying and not flying between St. Louis and N.Y., but I wouldn’t call it “hell.”), and of course Gen. Sherman’s class description, “War is hell.”

There are times when we feel very far from God and when we feel that our lives are in some kind of deep pit.  It’s so common these days that suicide rates are rising horrendously.  I dare say that that’s in part because our society has put God so far out of our lives—not you, or you probably wouldn’t be here this morning, but Western society in general.

So what can we do when we feel that God has abandoned us somehow, or perhaps that we’ve abandoned God thru our sins and fear that he won’t take us back?  We can take courage in the example of Jesus, who cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  He knows how we feel because he’s been there.

We can do what the widow at Zarephath did and blame God—she did this indirectly, blaming the prophet:  “Why have you done this to me, O man of God?”  But she was also appealing to him.  Call that a prayer, if you will.  And Elijah responded.  The widow at Nain didn’t even have to ask Jesus for help.  But we can, and we must, turn to God when we’re in the pits, when life seems desperate.  We can remember, as did the psalmist, that difficult times are temporary:  “his anger lasts but a moment; a lifetime, his good will.  At nightfall, weeping enters, but with the dawn, rejoicing.”  Everybody’s life has darkness, even Jesus’ life; but we also know that Christ is the light of the world and he remains with us.  And, like the psalmist, we implore:  “Hear, O Lord, and have pity on me; O Lord, be my helper.”

Another thing we can do is try to spend time with God.  When St. Paul’s life was turned upside down by Jesus’ appearance to him on the road to Damascus, he “went into Arabia,” into the desert, for quite some time to reflect upon his life and what had happened to him.  We need to spend time with God in prayer—all of us, regularly, not just in times of crisis.

Finally, we remember always, “God has visited his people,” as the folks in Nain exclaimed after Jesus revived the young man.  God has visited the human race in the person of Jesus, and Jesus remains with us, accompanies us, leads us toward eternal life and eternal joy.  We let him guide us, do our best to stay by his side.  He gives us hope.