Sunday, July 31, 2016

Homily for 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 31, 2016
Col 3: 1-5, 9-11
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3: 1).

In the 1st 2 chapters of the Letter to the Colossians, St. Paul presents some basic Christian doctrine.  E.g., last week he told his readers—and us—“You were buried with [Christ] in Baptism, in which you were also raised with him thru faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12).  In the 3d chapter, where we are this evening/morning, Paul applies the doctrine to life, i.e., to our daily attitudes, choices, and actions—to morality.

Baptism, he implies, has identified us with Christ.  Our descent into the sacred waters—early Christians were baptized by immersion—is a symbol of Christ’s death and burial, and our coming out of the waters, of his resurrection.  Our union with Christ thru the sacrament is so powerful that it will carry us, too, thru death into the immortality of the resurrection.

Do you remember how you anticipated Christmas when you were child?  All during Advent could you think of anything else than Santa, presents, and the tree?  Paul urges us to place the same laser focus of our minds on our Lord Jesus Christ.  He commands us to live as if we’re already risen, already enjoying the life of heaven, life above, with Christ our Savior:  “Seek what is above….  Think of what is above. . . .  Put to death the parts of you that are earthly….  You have put on the new self, which is being renewed … in the image of its creator” (3:1,2,5,10).

Paul uses an image we understand:  changing clothes, like getting out of our work clothes or beach clothes for an appointment or celebration that demands something more formal, something cleaner, something dressier, like dinner at a fine restaurant, a wedding, or coming to church (in our “Sunday best”).

Even more would 1st-century Christians grasp the change-of-clothes image.  For their Baptism into the new life of Christ, they literally stripped to be immersed in the waters of life, and on coming out put on the clean, new, white garment of the neophyte, the newborn member of the body of Christ.  They had put on a new self, a new persona, symbolized by a dramatic change of clothes.
Baptismal ritual in the early Church
(source unknown)
We have echoes of that today in the baptismal ritual, in which a white garment is still presented to the newly baptized—which adults usually put on over their street clothes and an infant wears symbolically for a moment or 2.

In the old days, when a young man or woman was vested in the habit of a religious order, often these words of Paul, or their parallel in Ephesians, were quoted; the religious was taking on a new persona, undertaking a newer and more intense union with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and was committing himself or herself to act accordingly.  With that new persona often came a new religious name, e.g., Thomas Merton became Fr. Louis Merton—that’s what you’ll see on his gravestone at Gethsemani Abbey—and Edith Stein became Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  Some religious orders continue these practices today for the same reasons.  (FYI, the Salesians have changed the formula for their clothing investiture, and we never changed our names.)

You know, of course, that a newly elected Pope takes a new name, indicating his new persona as the successor of St. Peter and the vicar of Christ—no longer merely shy, quiet Jorge Bergoglio from Buenos Aires, but bold, outspoken Francis, bishop of Rome.

To return to Paul.  What’s he telling the Colossians to take off, to put aside, like dirty or raggedy clothes?  Their pagan way of living!  Paul names some prominent vices, and you know very well they’re not afflictions of only the 1st century:  impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, and idolatry are listed in our passage; in v. 8, which the reading skips over, Paul names in addition “anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language.”  Then the reading picks up with lying.

Paul has hit on most of the capital sins, the so-called 7 deadly sins that are at the root of just about all the evil that people commit:  pride, lust, greed (or covetousness), gluttony, anger, sloth, and envy—which, if left unchecked, will land you in hell faster than the Cubs can blow a late-inning lead.

The new self clothed in Christ “seeks what is above, … thinks of what is above,” desires what is above, where Christ our life is.  From our heart come our words and deeds.  If we aspire to “appear with him in glory” (3:4) when he returns on the Last Day and raises everyone from our graves for the final judgment, then our hearts must assume that mind, that attitude, which was in Christ Jesus, as Paul exhorts the Philippians, an attitude of humility and sensitivity to the needs of our brothers and sisters.  The new self clothed in Christ is humble, chaste, kind, attentive, patient, and joyful.  It exercises self-control, exhibits fortitude, practices piety and other virtues.
The Last Judgment, by Hans Memling
Yes, we all fall short; none of us is a perfect image of the new man who is the Risen Christ.  That’s why Christ in his mercy and wisdom left us a sacrament that’s like a new Baptism, viz., Reconciliation.

Our reading today ends with a reminder of the universality of God’s call, God’s gift, God’s grace in Christ Jesus.  (It also ends our short series of Sunday readings from Colossians, altho the letter itself goes on for another chapter and a half.)  Paul reminds us that in Christ there are no distinctions between different races or nationalities or social standing or economic status.  Christ wondrously transforms all who seek him sincerely, all who open focus hearts on him.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Homily for Wednesday, 17th Week of Ordinary Time

Homily for Wednesday
17th Week of Ordinary Time
July 27, 2016
Jer 15: 10, 16-21
Marian Mass
Holy Cross, Champaign

You all remember reading Hamlet in high school?  You might even remember the advice the courtier Polonius gives to his son Laertes before he heads off to university.  Amid the 20 or so lines is this:

            Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
             For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
             And borrowing dulleth edge of husbandry.[1]

(For those not up on 17th-century English, husbandry means “control and judicious use of resources.  But we still speak of “husbanding our resources, don’t we?)

But borrowing and lending aren’t what’s gotten Jeremiah into a black mood, into a deep hole in Jerusalem’s social life.  Poor Jeremiah!  Altho he says today that he’s devoured the Lord’s words, and those words “became my joy and the happiness of my heart” (15:16), he’s not at all a happy fellow.  He’s the prototype of the prophet of doom:  “a man of strife and contention to all the land!” (15:10).  In the 1st line we heard tonite, Jeremiah laments his birth, and in another passage he curses the day of his birth and the man who brought its supposed good news to his father (20:14-15).

Michelangelo's Jeremiah: Sistine Chapel
Why?  Because he himself is the object of men’s curses—not because he’s been a stingy lender or a profligate borrower, but because of that word of God that he’s devoured; because he bears the name of the Lord of hosts, meaning that he knows he’s a prophet of the Lord, however unwilling, and everyone knows he claims to speak in the Lord’s name, whether they want to believe it or not.

The trouble is, they don’t believe it, or don’t want to believe it:  not the king, not the nobles, not the priests (and Jeremiah himself belongs to a priestly family).  We don’t really know what the common people—the 99%—thought, and in biblical times that didn’t count for much anyway.  And nobody likes someone who’s always got a big black cloud over his head, warning of God’s anger and the coming destruction of Western civilization, or in Jeremiah’s case, of Jerusalem and all of Judah.

So Jeremiah is alone, an outcast:  “I did not sit celebrating in the circle of merrymakers; under the weight of your hand”—he’s addressing God—“I sat alone because you filled me with indignation” (15:17).  Jeremiah’s indignant because of his people’s sins—their worship of Baal and Astarte, their oppression of the poor, their violations of the Sabbath, their disregard for the covenant between them and the Lord God—and indignant because of the situation that God’s put him in:  “Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?  You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook, whose waters do not abide!” (15:19).  Another time he yells at God, “You deceived me, O God, and I was deceived” (20:7), or in Msgr. Ronald Knox’s more colloquial rendition, “[You] sent me on a fool’s errand.”

Jeremiah’s ticked off at God and is telling him so.  We’ve all heard, “No good deed goes unpunished,” and Jeremiah’s going thru that in spades.

Consolation isn’t exactly what God answers him with:  “If you repent, so that I restore you, in my presence you shall stand.  If you bring forth the precious without the vile, you shall be my mouthpiece.  Then it shall be they who turn to you, and you shall not turn to them” (15:19).  The Lord goes on to promise that Jeremiah will be able to withstand the insults and assaults of the people because God will stand by him.

Do you ever feel like Jeremiah?  Feel like you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do to be a good family member, good employee, good disciple of Jesus—and you get the cold shoulder, unfair blame, insufficient credit, or worse?

Unfortunately, that’s part of life.  Not only Jeremiah but also Jesus had the experience.  Like Jeremiah, Jesus felt isolated and abandoned.  His chosen friends betrayed him, denied him, and ran away.  Even his Father seemed to have forsaken him, as Jesus cries out from his cross, quoting Ps 22 (Mark 15:34).  The psalmists, too, do their share of moaning to God.

Both Jeremiah and Jesus show us that we can complain to God about the events of our lives, the people in our lives, the flow of our lives.  We can lay it all out—because God is our Father, our abba or daddy, Jesus calls him and teaches us to call him (last Sunday’s gospel—Luke 11:2).  God can handle our distress, our anger, our despondency; and we ought to express them to him.

Then, like Jeremiah, we have to listen to God’s reply.  God told him to suck it up, to get his prophetic act back together—to be faithful to his vocation, and God would be faithful to him.

Faithfulness was Jesus’ approach too.  “Abba, not what I will but what you will,” he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36); and on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Mother Teresa used to say, “God doesn’t call us to be successful but to be faithful.”  That’s a struggle, for sure, for us who aren’t Mother Teresa.  Yet from her private letters we know now, years after her death and approaching her canonization, that she spent years in spiritual darkness, not feeling, not experiencing, the presence of God in her life.  But she persevered, as all of us can—because we know God loves us.  That love is the treasure in the field for which we risk everything, the pearl of great price that we grab hold of (cf. Matt 13:44-46) because we know its incomparable value.

We look also to the example of our Blessed Mother, who experienced untold pain and grief—her traditional 7 sorrows—but we know how richly God has rewarded her faithfulness and perseverance.  We invoke her protection and intercession as we too strive to be faithful and persevere in following her Son.

                [1] Hamlet, I, 3:75-77.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Homily for 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 24, 2016
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

O God, protector of those who hope in you, … bestow in abundance your mercy upon us” (Collect).

You know, of course, that about 5 years ago we started using a new form of the Roman Missal at Mass, with a heavily revised translation of all the prayers, a translation that’s more literal, more formal, and—truth be told—more accurate than what we had in the Sacramentary of 1970.  This new translation’s also harder to follow, often harder for priests to proclaim, and harder to understand at times.

The collects, which we used to call the “opening prayers,” are particularly challenging.  Take for example the one we prayed today.

Like all the collects, it has 3 parts:  a statement of some attribute of God, a petition, and an intercessory conclusion—the part that usually begins, “Thru our Lord Jesus Christ….”

In the 1st part of today’s prayer, we call God the “protector of those who hope in you.”  We all want protection, of course.  We want national security.  We want safe highways.  We have government rules to protect us like building codes and food inspection.  In this part of the country, we’re likely to have a tornado shelter; that’s a new one to me—where I grew up, we needed hurricane shelters.  But the collect isn’t looking to God in the sense of physical safety, but rather in the sense of the next line:  “without [you] nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy.”

We look to God, we trust in God, we hope in God (as the prayer indicates) as the foundation of our lives.  We need to be grounded in God, to base our lives on God:  on his 10 commandments, the beatitudes, a warm and loving relationship with him who loves us more than we can imagine—so much that he became our flesh and blood and lived among us, and left us his flesh and blood to nourish us and transform us into his flesh and blood.

Nothing is holy without God.  No one is holy without him.  The goal of our entire existence is holiness, i.e., life with God, eternal life.  As Jesus asks, “What does it profit someone to gain the entire world but to forfeit himself?” (Luke 9:25).  Only God can protect us from what threatens our holiness, which is temptation and sin.  In the last line of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, we pray to be delivered “from the final test”; that’s a prayer for protection.  Only he can extend to us the mercy that restores us to holiness when we do sin.

And in fact, that’s the 1st gift we pray for from God today as we come to the 2d part of the collect, the petition:  “bestow in abundance your mercy upon us.”  We need forgiveness and guidance and strength to walk with Jesus in this earthly life with all its distractions and falsehoods.  We depend on God’s mercy and not on our own wisdom or power to live virtuously or to return to the right path after we’ve strayed from it.  Jesus himself is our assurance that the merciful Father truly desires this.  Defending his decision to stay at the home of the tax collector Zacchaeus, he explains, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
By Gunnar Bach Pedersen - Own work (Own photo)(Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark), Public Domain,
Second, we imply a prayer that God will be “our ruler and guide.”  The original temptation of the human race, we read in Gen 3:5, is that we want to be “like gods.”  We want to be in charge!  We want to write our own moral codes, plot our own route thru life.  When we look at modern history or the current breaking down of Western society, we see what happens when the true God, the Creator, the Father of us all, is tossed aside.  We’ve seen what becomes of society when Marx or the Fuhrer becomes our ruler and guide.  We will not find a firm foundation or holiness in a political party or Planned Parenthood or Wall Street.

We will find a firm foundation for our lives and holiness in him who created us in his own image; who put into our hearts an unquenchable thirst for himself:  “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions.

In today’s gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Jesus teaches his disciples to pray—Luke’s version of the Our Father, just a little different from Matthew’s (6:9-13), which is the version we’re more familiar with.  When we pray that God’s kingdom may come (Luke 11:2), aren’t we praying that he be our ruler and guide?  We want to be citizens of his kingdom in this life and, of course, in the future life; and we hope, we pray, that every single person will be part of that great kingdom, the new Jerusalem that Revelation 21 speaks of so glowingly.

We need God’s guidance on our way to the heavenly city; guidance in making choices that honor God as our ruler.  So our collect asks God our protector to help us “use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that endure.”

The created world is full of good things!  On the 6th day, God reviewed all that he had made and found it “very good” (Gen 1:31).  Family life is one of the greatest blessings of this life.  Food and drink are good.  One’s native country is good.  Self-esteem is good.  The woods and the fields, the mountains and the lakes are good.  Air conditioning is very good!  Recreation is good.  The arts and sciences are good.  This list could get really long!
Lake Skenonto, Harriman State Park, N.Y.
August 31, 2008
But all of those things—all of them—are “good things that pass.”  Unlike our very selves, to which Jesus referred in his comment about gaining the whole world, they won’t last into eternity.  So we can’t make these passing things ends in themselves; can’t turn them into idols; can’t use them for evil purposes.  In the National Catholic Register online today/yesterday, there is/was an article titled “John Paul II’s Advice on Using Media Well.”  Both the mass media and social media are created things with potential to do a great deal of good, and the Church encourages us to use them to promote the Gospel and human dignity and many other values, which many Christians are doing in a marvelous way.  The writer in NCR speaks about how most of us use TV and computers:  “There seem to be limitless options, but I know most of them are not worth watching.  Why would I spend time watching something that will make me a worse person the next day?”  She’s talking mainly about how the media disregard the virtue of chastity, but we could be considering any number of moral values—or lack of them, such as violence, the idolatry of the self, greed, etc.  You remember the line from the movie Wall Street, “Greed is good.”  No, it’s not!

Rather, we strive to use God’s good gifts for good purposes:  to honor him, to assist our brothers and sisters, to keep our lives in harmony; e.g., to enjoy recreation without neglecting our responsibilities as parents, students, or workers; to celebrate our sexuality within the context of hetero marriage; to spend money on what we need while sharing our surplus with the poor; to use our artistic or scientific talents in ways that respect human life and dignity; and so on.

In short, we strive to use God’s good but passing things “in such a way as to hold fast even now to those [good things] that ever endure.”  St. Paul tells us there are 3 things that last:  faith, hope, and charity (1 Cor 13:13).  Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Store up treasures in heaven, whether neither moth nor decay destroy, nor thieves break in and steal” (Matt 6:20)—the treasure of our relationship with God (remember last week how Mary chose the better part by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him? [Luke 10:42]); the treasure of our care for one another (2 weeks ago we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan with its command to go and do likewise [Luke 10:29-37]).  For the honor that we give to God and the good that we do to our sisters and brothers will endure into eternity.

May God in his abundant mercy guide us in our choices and our doings.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Homily for Wednesday, Week 15

Homily for
Wednesday, Week 15
July 13, 2016
Is 10: 5-7, 13-16
Marian Mass
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“Thus says the Lord:  Woe to Assyria!  My rod in anger, my staff in wrath” (Is 10: 5).

Prophet Isaiah
St. Mary's Church, Fredericksburg, Va.
Isaiah prophesied in Jerusalem in the kingdom of Judah for some 40 years in the 2d half of the 8th century B.C.  During that time, the northern kingdom, Israel, with its capital in Samaria, was collapsing under the weight of its sins, especially idolatry and social injustice, and from the might of the expanding empire of Assyria, in what is now northern Iraq, with its capital at Nineveh.  (In the news you’ve heard about ISIS capturing the Nineveh plain and driving out the Christians living there.)

The Assyrians were strong, proud, and brutal.  When they overran Israel in 722-721 B.C., they destroyed the nation and took the 10 northern tribes (Asher, Napthali, Manasseh, Zebulon, Issachar, Gad, Ephraim, Dan, Rueben, and Simeon) into exile, and those tribes disappeared from history.  Later, the Assyrians also threatened Judah, but Jerusalem was miraculously delivered, as you can read in both 2 Kings 19 and Isaiah 37.

Our reading from Isaiah this evening concerns what the Assyrians did to Israel, the northern kingdom.  The prophet asserts that God sent them to punish Israel for their sins:  “against an impious nation I send him” (10:6).  But the Assyrians went further than the Lord intended by utterly destroying the kingdom and its people.  Isaiah chastises Assyria for its boasting of its might, its claim, “By my own power I have done it, and by my wisdom,” and so on (10:13-14).  Isaiah reminds his audience that God is the one calling the shots, not the mighty Assyrian empire:  “Will the ax boast against him who hews with it?” (10:15).  And the Lord promises to humble Assyria:  “Instead of his glory there will be kindling like the kindling of fire” (10:16)—which happened when the Babylonian empire crushed the Assyrians in the next century.
Assyrian Empire
By Ningyou - Own work data from Based on a map in 'Atlas of the Bible Lands', C S Hammond & Co (1959), ISBN 9780843709414., Public Domain,

Contrast the Assyrians with the one whom we honor in our Mass this evening, the one who describes herself as “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38), the one who readily acknowledges, “He who is mighty has done great things for me” (1:49).  She was one of those childlike people to whom the Lord is able to reveal his deepest mysteries, as Jesus says (Matt 11:25; cf. Gospel verse).  God did great things in the Virgin Mary, using her as his instrument, because she humbly allowed him to do so.  We believe that the Lord continues to do great things thru her, e.g., the wondrous delivery of Christian Europe from Turkish invaders in 1571—it was after the great, unexpected victory at Lepanto that St. Pius V added the invocation “Help of Christians” to the Litany of Loreto—and 1683, and the liberation of Pope Pius VII from his imprisonment by Napoleon in 1814 (noted on your prayer cards).  I dare say that Mary, to whom St. John Paul the Great was so devoted, assisted him in the role he played in bringing down the Evil Empire that ravaged Eastern Europe for 45 years in our own lifetimes.

Mary’s example and the Word of God delivered to us this evening challenge us to let ourselves be instruments of the Lord—axes or saws for him to wield, clay for him to shape, his servants listening for his voice suggesting to us what choices we should make, how we should be brother and sister to each other, what faults we need to turn away from.  He created each of us, as he did Mary, to be his instrument in some particular fashion.  It may be a very humble fashion, even a childlike fashion; but all that matters is that we trust him and let him direct our steps, direct our hearts.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

2016-2017 Pastoral Assignments, Round 3

2016-2017 Pastoral Assignments, Round 3

On July 16, Fr. Steve Shafran, provincial, announced another round of assignments for the coming pastoral year.

Fr. Donovan
They include 3 changes at province level. Fr. Dennis Donovan, province treasurer, will take on also the responsibility of delegate for communications (an office that has been vacant for the last 3 years or so) and will continue to lead province planning for care of our senior confreres.

Taking from Fr. Dennis the post of delegate for the Salesian Cooperators is Fr. Tom Dunne, our former provincial.

The province secretary, Fr. Dave Moreno, will also serve as archivist. (The secretary already supervises the archives ex officio, but he doesn't necessarily do the actual work there.)

The current archivist, Fr. Ken Germaine, will move to the St. Philip Residence in Tampa, as will Bro. Charles Mayer from the Haverstraw community. Both confreres are suffering from some decline in their health.

Fr. Rich Alejunas has been assigned to St. John Bosco Parish in Chicago, departing from the role of CYM at Salesian HS in New Rochelle. Bro. Steve DeMaio will become CYM there. Bro. Bernie Dube also has been assigned to Salesian HS.

Salesian HS's long-time principal John Flaherty really is retiring this year after an attempt to do so last summer. Fr. John Serio, already the school's director-president, will take on the additional role of principal. (Two searches in the last 2 years did not bring forward a candidate that the school's leadership found suitable for the responsibility. This blogger supposes that the search will continue.)
John Flaherty with Cardinal Dolan during the cardinal's
visit to Salesian HS in November 2014.
Fr. Tom Brennan, the Salesian Society's official representative at the United Nations. is moving to East Boston to "explore possible college campus ministries throughout the province." Nothing is said in Fr. Steve's letter about the U.N.

Fr. Jorge Rodriguez, a confrere on loan from the province of Medellin, Colombia, will serve as an assistant pastor at Corpus Christi-Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester, N.Y.

Bro. Adam Dupre, who has been studying theology for a year in Jerusalem, will continue his studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary in South Orange, N.J., and be part of the formation community in Orange.

In another province-level move, the vocation office will relocate from Orange, N.J., to the provincial house. Fr. Dominic Tran, incoming vocation director, will take up residence in the provincial house (when he's not traveling).

Mary Help of Christians Comes to Champaign

Mary Help of Christians Comes to Champaign

Almost from the moment the Salesians came to Holy Cross Parish in Champaign, Ill., 3 years ago, our pastor, Fr. Dave Sajdak, has been eager to place a larger-than-life statue of Mary Help of Christians in the parish church.  This past week--on Tuesday and Wednesday--it finally happened.

It was the end of a long saga, I've been told by parishioner-artist Harry Breen.  Harry designed the renovations of the church after the 2d Vatican Council, and in last few years he's been involved in further alterations of the worship space because Bishop Daniel Jenky, CSC, of Peoria mandated that the tabernacles in all church should be placed in the center of the sanctuary, as in the "old days."

So within the last 3 years, that was done at Holy Cross, leaving the beautiful chapel that Harry had designed for worship of the reserved Blessed Sacrament vacant.
The Blessed Sacrament chapel, just to the right of the sanctuary,
following the removal of the large marble, now-disused tabernacle
early in July to prepare for the arrival of the new Marian statue.

The statue that arrived at Holy Cross last Tuesday (July 12) actually was the 3d one designed for us by the Chinese sculptor commissioned for the work.  (I don't know the name of sculptor or company.)  Harry rejected the 1st one because it was done in inferior marble and the 2d one because both Madonna and Child had oriental features.  (I don't know how Harry made his determinations, but I don't think they were actually shipped here.)

Another stage of the preparation for this Mary's coming was the removal of the life-sized statue of her that was already in the church. It was taken from a little shrine on the left side of the nave
and moved temporarily to the parish center, where it has a nice setting for the time being.

The plan is for Harry to design an appropriate shrine for the statue in the little cloister garden between the church and the parish center.
So those were the early stages of this Marian saga.  With the statue's arrival around 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, another stage began.  I witnessed some of its phases during the 2 days it took to unload and erect our new statue, which is 7' tall and weighs about 1,500 lbs.  I missed other parts while doing necessary work or going out for medical appointments.

1st, it took quite some time to position the truck delivering the statue from Georgia, where parts of it had been gilded after shipment from China. For several hours it completely blocked Clark St. at the front door of the church.
Then the 2 deliverymen spent more than 3 hours uncrating the statue, which sat perpendicular to the side walls of the truck, and turning her to go out feet first.

By the end of the day, they had managed to get her thru the church doors, up the center aisle, and to the altar rail in front of her destination.
Then they started to set up scaffolding and a pulley system with which to hoist the statue up to its pedestal and then stand it up. The statue's lying overnite in the prone position led to quips about celebrating our Lady's Dormition.

The workers got the statue upon the pedestal shortly after morning Mass on Wednesday.
Then it was a long struggle to secure the statue with straps, balance the weight, keep the pulley chains moving freely without excessive contact with the marble, etc. Shortly after noon they thought they were ready to hoist her upright and made a start before determining that something wasn't right--which may have been clearance at the top.

Thru most phases of all this, various onlookers gathered to watch and to take pictures.
Harry Breen is standing at the right. He is extremely pleased with both the statue and its siting.

By 4:00 p.m. they'd gotten the statue upright but facing backwards.  Unfortunately, I missed the raising while out to see a doctor.
These 2 men worked hard for several more hours to turn the statue slowly and dismantle the scaffolding. Finally, on Thursday a.m. we got to see the Help of Christians in her glorious new setting.
The parishioners have been voicing a lot of admiration for this addition to our church.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Homily for 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 10, 2016
Luke 10: 25-37
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“A scholar of the Law stood up to test Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Luke 10: 25).

As we heard, Jesus answers that we must love God totally, entirely, with our whole being, and our neighbor in the same way we love ourselves.  Moses tells the Israelites that God’s commandments aren’t “mysterious and remote” (Deut 30:11) but “very near” them, already in their mouths and hearts (30:14).  Learning from Jesus, we see that God’s command is as close as our neighbor.

The scholar of the Law—literally, the “lawyer”—who was testing Jesus, asked a follow-up question:  “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).  Luke tells us that he asked this “to justify himself” (10:29), i.e., to be given a pat on the head and the assurance that he’s a good chap who’s faithful to the Law and beloved of God.

According to the Law of Moses, the Jews were obliged to regard all their fellow Jews as their neighbors and to assist them in need—even those who might be personal enemies.  But there was no obligation whatever to help a Gentile; with clear conscience you could watch him drown.

As we heard, Jesus doesn’t give the lawyer a direct answer.  He tells one of his most famous parables, the one we know as “the Good Samaritan.”

The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was notoriously dangerous, lonely, winding, with many places where a traveler might be ambushed and robbed.  So it happens to the anonymous man in Jesus’ story.  Once he’s been stripped of his clothes and beaten unconscious, there’s no way to identify him, neither ethnic garb nor language.  He might be Jewish, Arab, Greek, Egyptian, Phoenician, even Samaritan.

The priest and the Levite who pass him by could easily justify their behavior.  If the robbers’ victim is dead—you can’t tell without touching him—they’ll become ritually unclean from that touch, and unable to perform their sacred duties.  Besides, the road’s dangerous enuf without lingering on it.

No doubt Jesus shocked his audience by introducing as the 3d character not a Jewish layman but a Samaritan.  As you know, Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  And this Samaritan—evidently well-to-do because he’s got a donkey and some cash and is a frequent traveler on this road—stops to help, with no idea whom he’s helping, except that it’s a fellow human being in desperate need.  He gives 1st aid and transport and arranges for 1st-century hospitalization (such as it was), at some risk to himself, both obvious and less obvious.
The Good Samaritan (Rembrandt)
Then Jesus asks the scholar of the Law almost the same question the lawyer himself had asked:  which one proved to be a neighbor to the man in need (10:36)?  The lawyer practically chokes on his answer.  The Jews so despised Samaritans that he can’t even say the word, but only, “The one who treated him with mercy” (10:37).

Jesus’ final answer is, “Go and do likewise” (10:37).  This answers the lawyer’s original question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  That, of course, is the question for every one of us.  And Jesus’ answer for each of us is the same:  Do what the Samaritan did in the parable—treat every man, and woman and child, as your neighbor.  Have compassion, extend mercy, to everyone, including people you don’t know and people you don’t like—to anyone in need.

You remember the Pope’s answer to reporters during his press conference on his return flight from Mexico last February?  It’s not Christian to build a wall to prevent people from seeking refuge from violence or from economic desperation.  Refugees—whether they’re fleeing Central American violence or Syrian violence—are our neighbors.  Are we as a society prepared to “Go and do likewise”?
(The Southern Cross)
We hear often that we should stop providing foreign aid and take care of our own people 1st.  Yes, we should take care of our own people.  We should see that everyone in the U.S. has enuf to eat, has adequate health care, gets a good education and job training.  We should repair our racial tensions and prejudices, maintain our infrastructure, support clean energy and a healthy environment, and so on.

But taking care of our own 1st doesn’t excuse us from taking care of those in need in other parts of the world when we have more than sufficient means to do so.  The Samaritan traveler probably was not taking care of one of his own.

Now it’s true that Americans are among the most generous people in the world, if not the most generous, in responding to terrible natural disasters like the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or the Haitian earthquake in 2010.  It’s also a demonstrable fact that people of faith are much more generous in their charitable giving than secularists.  That needs to be acknowledged.  (Give yourself a pat on the back!)

But we have to ask whether we as the wealthiest nation in the world are doing enuf to care for the world’s 65 million refugees (not counting internally displaced persons), or the hundreds of millions whose income at home is under $2 a day, or the one billion people who lack clean, potable drinking water; enuf to end human trafficking; enuf to rescue children forced into dangerous employment in mines and factories, or coerced into taking up arms in various civil wars (as portrayed, e.g., in the 2006 film Blood Diamond).

U.S. foreign aid, even including military aid, is about 1% of the total federal budget.  Is that the best we can do for our neighbors in need?  As a country, are we afraid if our taxes were higher we couldn’t eat out as often, go to as many movies, buy as expensive a car, or go skiing in Colorado every winter?

There’s a kind of parallel between this parable and the one in Matt 25 about the Last Judgment, when the Great King welcomes into the heavenly kingdom all who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed strangers, visited the sick, etc., because in doing so they were treating him with mercy; and those who failed to do those acts of mercy toward the people in their lives—well, they were not welcomed into heaven but sent elsewhere.  Both parables tell us what we must do to inherit eternal life.

If you’re already doing as the Samaritan did in some fashion—none of us can rescue the entire world, of course—may God bless you with his peace, a joyful heart, and knowledge that you’re walking with Jesus on the path toward eternal life.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Coming to Champaign

Coming to Champaign

Greetings from the Heartland, ye faithful few stalwart readers of From the Eastern Front!  Having been reassigned by the provincial, I arrived at Holy Cross Parish in Champaign, Ill., about 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, June 30, and have been receiving a warm welcome ever since.

About the parish, see  Fr. Dave Sajdak, the pastor and my younger confrere, told me there were lots of pictures there, but I couldn’t find any. There are probably a lot on the Facebook page, which I can’t access. When we got a couple of nice, sunny days late last week, I shot several dozen and put them up at Shutterfly.

I’ve still got a lot of settling in to do—not just trying to figure out where to put my books and camping gear, but also finding doctors; signing up for Medicaid; changing my driver’s license; registering to vote; and learning the SDB community administration, the workings of the parish, the names of the people, the local geography, etc.

They said it was flat out here, and it is.  They said there was a lot of corn out here, and there is (there was across most of Ohio and Indiana too), with a little bit of soybeans on the side.

Champaign itself is a small city, pop. about 84,000, with a small but lively downtown—it is a college town after all, and UI is a very large school, with about 44,000 students.  The streets are laid out mostly in a grid, are well shaded, have sidewalks, and are lined with many stately old homes, at least in our part of the city—which is just a couple of blocks west of downtown.  Two interstates pass thru (74 and 57), and 72 starts here, running west toward Springfield (the state capital, home of Abraham Lincoln).  There are big shopping malls on the north side of 74, and Fr. Dave and I were already out there to shop for bookcases for the assistant pastor’s office. I’m looking forward to their delivery this Tuesday.

Getting here was an adventure, shall we say?  I was supposed to leave N.R. on Tuesday morning, June 28, but wasn’t nearly ready. In my rush to clean out my room, apparently I overlooked my clock-radio and have been without Morning Edition as my day starts ever since. Copying my computer files (documents and esp. photos) to my laptop took much longer than I’d imagined it would, and I didn’t finish doing all that—besides the packing and loading the rental truck—till 10:15 p.m.  The truck was a Penske 12-footer, which I didn’t quite fill up with clothes (esp. lots of winter clothing), books, camping gear, CDs, and various files.
In the rectory driveway at Holy Cross before unloading.
7 of the cartons of books are for the community library
and one that's potentially for the parish.
My brother-in-law David was extremely gracious in leaving the door open and porch light on for my eventual arrival in Columbia, Md.  I left New Rochelle at 10:30 p.m., drove in rain all the way thru New Jersey, with a gazillion semis keeping me company all the way down to Maryland.  I made a couple of stops to catnap and one for coffee, and got to Columbia at 4:00 a.m.  Rita and David were dog-sitting, and as soon as I stepped out of the truck (still out on the street), the dog began barking.  So much for a quiet entrance!  David calmed her down and went back to bed (of course), and I went right to bed (of course), having been up 23 hours straight.

I got up at 9:00, and after Mass and breakfast David and I visited a little bit.  Rita had gone to work, so I didn’t see her at all, unfortunately.  I left on the next leg of my trip at 11:00, driving across the length of Maryland and into West Virginia, then north toward Pittsburgh and west again across the W.V. panhandle.  How many people get to drive thru “Almost Heaven” (the motto on W.V.’s license plates) twice in one day?  The mountains and occasional rivers were pretty, and it was a fine day for travel.  Again, I had lots and lots of trucks keeping me company, most of them traveling faster than I.
At a rest stop on the Ohio-Indiana border.
After 8 hours of driving and short stops, I reached Columbus, where I overnited with an old friend from my 4 years of theological studies and pastoral ministry there.

From Columbus it took 6 more hours to drive across the rest of Ohio and all of Indiana (I took a long lunch stop, tho), and 40 miles into Illinois.  I guess Central Time started at the Illinois border; I didn’t notice any sign.  The 1st town in Illinois is Danville, which, as a former New Rochellean, I’ve been reminded numerous times is the REAL home of Dick Van Dyke (who is now 90 years old).

I was introduced at the Friday and Saturday a.m. Masses, the Saturday vigil Mass, and 3 Sunday Masses, the last of which I celebrated (having concelebrated at the others).  Apparently I got a passing grade as celebrant and homilist.

On Saturday evening, July 2, I began to meet the local clergy.  Every Saturday the priests of the vicariate gather for dinner at one of the parishes.  There were about a dozen of us at this one, including us 3 SDBs.  There are 3 of us here right now:  Fr. Dave, Fr. Joe Santa Bibiana my predecessor (who will leave on the 14th), and me.  Fr. Bill Bucciferro, one of the Newman Center chaplains, left on Friday for his vacation.  The area priests seem to be a friendly bunch; those from out of town are looking after 2 churches in separate little farm towns.  (Our gathering last nite, July 9, took place in Tolono, one of those small towns out in the corn fields, about a dozen miles south on U.S. 45—the last parish in the Peoria Diocese, geographically.

We had a quiet 4th here after declining an invite from a parishioner to a family cookout; not really sure why we didn’t go.  There were a lot of firecrackers, etc., in the neighborhood, and somewhere or other there were some official fireworks that we didn’t see.

My last full week in N.R. involved 2 day-long trips to Orange, one to pack up the research library, and one to load it and its bookcases onto a rented truck and transport it all back to N.R., where it originated in the Don Bosco Multimedia Center in the 1980s.  Now it’s reposing at Salesian Missions.  That, in part, is why it took me so long to get my personal stuff packed up.  There were also several more farewell dinners:  two with my godson’s family and other old friends from Connecticut; one with the community; and one with some of the Troop 40 Scouters and parents.  As Shakespeare said, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”  Unlike Romeo and Juliet, I have no prospect of seeing these old friends again “on the morrow,” tho—God willing—eventually.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 3, 2016
Gal 6: 14-18
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

Your humble blogger has taken up his new pastoral assignment as assistant pastor of the Salesian parish of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and director of the local Salesian community. Here’s the homily from his first Sunday Mass at the parish. I don't have photos and artwork moved to the office computer yet--so just text here.

“May I never boast except in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, thru whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal 6: 14).
The Crucifixion (Giotto)
For 5 weeks we’ve been reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.  The main theme of this letter is that God saves us thru the grace given to us by Jesus Christ and not by our perfect observance of the Law of Moses.  Hence Paul writes today, “Neither circumcision nor lack of circumcision means anything, but only a new creation” (6:15), i.e., whether one has been created anew by God’s grace.  Evangelical Christians call that being born again.

Paul continues with a blessing:  “Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God” (6:16).  The rule that Paul means is the rule of grace, and the “Israel of God” he means is the new Israel gathered and redeemed by the passover sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

What is this grace that Paul refers to repeatedly?  The basic term means a freely given gift, something you don’t earn or deserve—a Christmas bonus (which many of you may have received); a gubernatorial pardon (which I hope none of you has needed); a “grace period” for a late car payment.  For us disciples of Jesus, grace is God’s gift of forgiveness, of mercy, of restoration to a healthy relationship with God.  Grace makes us God’s children, heirs along with Jesus of the kingdom of God.

How does God’s grace come to us?  Not thru anything we’ve done or can do.  As Paul insists over and over again in Galatians and other letters, it doesn’t come to us because we obey the Law—the 10 Commandments and all the other regulations of the Torah, including the rule of circumcision, by which Jewish males entered the covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants.  No; God’s grace, his free gift of pardon for our sins, his call to enter a new covenant relationship with him, comes thru “the cross of OLJC.”  Jesus announced that new covenant at the Last Supper in words that we repeat at every celebration of the Eucharist:  “This is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you and for many.”

Paul’s saying this evening that the cross of Jesus is our only cause for boasting.  It’s thru the cross of Jesus—which means the entire passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus—that we’re saved, restored to a good relationship with God, made brothers and sisters of Christ and with him heirs of the heavenly kingdom.

Paul preached that the grace of God in Christ is available to every human being.  A couple of Sundays ago, we heard that in Christ there’s no distinction between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free person (3:28).  All are made participants in the new Israel of God by Baptism and Eucharist, by sharing in the paschal mystery of Christ’s cross and resurrection.

That kind of preaching made enemies for Paul.  So he says, “I bear the marks of Jesus on my body” (6:17), meaning he’s been beaten and scourged and chained for preaching the Gospel.  One of the results of original sin is that we humans tend to want to make distinctions between us and them, to exclude certain other people whom we want to regard as inferior to ourselves.  So people fight wars over nationality, religion, and race; attempt to exterminate ethnic groups; enslave certain groups; or legislate against foreigners or different classes of people.  As individuals, we criticize others and gossip about them as if we were superior to them—a grave sin that Pope Francis speaks against over and over.

Such an attitude of exclusion, or of regarding oneself or one’s “group” as superior, is part of what Paul refers to today as “the world.”  His acceptance of the Gospel of JC has crucified him to the world, alienated him from the world, i.e., from the sinful tendencies and attitudes of the human race.  We could include among such attitudes—as Jesus does in some passages of the Gospels and Paul in parts of his letters—the love for power or pleasure or money.  It’s Paul who tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10) and also observes that those who make a god of their bellies—the pursuit of sensual pleasure—will end in shame and destruction (Phil 3:19).

On this weekend we proudly proclaim our American heritage; we boast of our freedoms and, I hope, of how much God has blessed our country.  We may at other times boast of our ethnic heritage—being Irish, German, Italian, Hispanic, African, etc.  We may feel inclined to boast of our education, our talents or accomplishments (like some politicians and businessmen), our wealth, our physical strength or beauty.  And we know in our hearts that none of that lasts.  In the light of eternity, there’s only one reason to boast:  that God, for his own reasons, has chosen to love us and demonstrated that love for us thru the death and resurrection of OLJC.  Like Pope Francis, we can say with grateful joy, we’re sinners whom God loves and forgives.  We respond to God’s love and mercy with gratitude for his gift of grace—a presidential pardon, as it were—a gratitude that appreciates also God’s gifts to everyone, a gratitude that leads us always to combat our sinful attitudes and behaviors and to live like sisters and brothers of Jesus.

“The grace of OLJC be with your spirit, brothers and sisters.  Amen.” (6:18).