Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bro. Gerard Harasym, SDB (1936-2016)

Bro. Gerard Harasym, SDB

by Fr. Dennis Donovan, SDB

Bro. Gerard Harasym, 79, passed away in a saintly manner on Thursday, August 25, at Surrey (B.C.) Memorial Hospital after a two-year struggle with cancer and almost 56 years as a dedicated Salesian brother.

Bro. Jerry at the province Jubilees Celebration
Haverstraw, N.Y., November 2010,
for his 50th anniversary.
Besides his dedication, Bro. Jerry will be remembered as a terrific youth minister and a creative artist. Involved in many civic and community affairs, he was known for leading youth renewal retreats in various places in Canada and the U.S., creating artwork for a local repertory company in Stony Point, N.Y., and serving at L’Arch Community in Ottawa, Ont. He is listed in Who’s Who in the East.

The son of John A. Harasym and Viola Lindberg, Gerard Harasym was born in Saint-Boniface, Man., on November 12, 1936. He grew up in East Kildonan (Winnipeg), attending St. Alphonsus Catholic Elementary School. His high schooling consisted of two years at St. Mary’s College in Brockville, Ont., followed by a year (1958-1959) as an aspirant at Don Bosco Technical High School in Paterson, N.J.  

In 1959 Jerry began his novitiate in Newton, N.J., where he made his first profession of vows as a Salesian brother on September 8, 1960. He studied at Don Bosco College in Newton and worked in the public relations office from 1960 to 1965. From there he went to St. Anthony Church in Elizabeth, N.J., to serve as the coordinator of youth ministry (CYM) from 1965 to 1970.

Bro. Jerry studied art at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio, from 1970 to 1974, completing a bachelor of fine arts degree. During that same period, he served as the director of arts and crafts at the Salesian Boys Club of Columbus. He created several pieces of fine art which can still be found in Salesian locations in Canada and the U.S. From 1974 to 1981, Bro. Jerry was the national director the St. Dominic Savio Classroom Club, residing first at Newton and then at Haverstraw, N.Y. He edited their monthly publication, Savio Notes, and traveled the country visiting numerous units of the Club in Catholic schools.

Having retained his Canadian citizenship, Bro. Jerry returned to Toronto in 1981 and earned a bachelor of education degree from the University of Toronto in 1982. He served on the faculty of the Don Bosco Secondary School in Weston, Ont., where he specialized in visual arts and was also a special education teacher. In 1989, he moved to Montreal to serve as CYM at Mission Dominic Savio, a post he held for seven years. He was also a pastoral animator for the archdiocese of Montreal from 1991 to 1996.

From 1996 to 2002, Bro. Jerry was Salesian community treasurer and CYM at St. Benedict Parish in Etobicoke, a Toronto suburb. In 2002, he moved to Surrey, B.C., to join the pastoral animation effort of the Salesians at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, the largest parish in the archdiocese of Vancouver.

Bro. Jerry exercised many talents including teaching, figure skating, singing, dancing, not to mention his amazing artistic ability and lifelong devotion to the Church and community. Throughout his years and travels, he brought sunshine to all he met.

All the funeral arrangements were carried out at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Surrey.

Homily for 22d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
22d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Aug. 28, 2016
Heb 12: 18-19, 22-24
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“You have approached Mt. Zion and the city of the living God” (Heb 12: 22).

We’ve been reading from the Letter to the Hebrews for several weeks, a letter that, broadly speaking, shows how Jesus of Nazareth brought to fulfillment what God did and promised in the sacred writings of the Jewish people—what Christians now call the Old Testament.

There are 2 explicit allusions to the OT in today’s passage, and an implicit one.  Explicitly, it invokes the experience of Moses and the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai—call to mind some of the scenes you’ve seen from The Ten Commandments—and the murder of Abel in Gen 4 (vv. 1-16).  Implicitly, it looks at Jerusalem, God’s holy city with its Temple, as the exemplar or model for heaven itself.

The Hebrews to whom this NT letter is addressed of course aren’t the Hebrews who came out of Egypt with Moses.  Rather, as far as scholars can tell, they were 1st-century Christians of Jewish blood and heritage.

When we read in the Book of Exodus the story of the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai, we’re given a story of God’s awful holiness—that’s awful in its original meaning of “inspiring awe,” meaning that much more strongly than we mean when we say, e.g., that Niagara Falls or Yosemite Valley is “awesome.”  The story also conveys God’s unapproachability, his terror-inspiring might, his holiness that consumes anyone and anything impure—like what happened to the Nazi villains when they opened the Ark of the Covenant in the 1st Indiana Jones movie.  Sinai is covered in cloud and smoke and fire (Ex 19:16-19), which our reading referenced (Heb 12:18)—all signs of God’s presence—and no one, not even a goat, may approach the mountain, under penalty of death (Ex 19:12-13; Heb 12:20), except Moses and his aide Joshua.
Jesus, the author of Hebrews tells us, has changed that.  Thru him we can approach God, come close to him—everyone, not just a chosen leader or a select few.  We approach the sacred mountain, Zion—not the earthly Zion, i.e., Jerusalem, but the heavenly one.  In the holy city we become part of God’s court, among “countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven” (12:22-23).  The firstborn is Jesus, the “firstborn of the dead”—St. Paul’s term (Col 1:18) and also the Book of Revelation’s (1:5).  That is, Jesus is the 1st to rise from the grave into the life of eternity, and he’s “the firstborn of many brothers and sisters”—that’s St. Paul again (Rom 8:29)—who shall follow him into eternal life.  That life is shared by the great assembly of his holy ones, all those enrolled in the book of life—this sounds like some of the scenes described in the Book of Revelation.  We dare to approach “God the judge of all” (12:23), around whom stand “the spirits of the just made holy, and Jesus the mediator of a new covenant” (12:23-24).  The just have been made holy by Jesus—no one but Jesus is just in his own right; no one is in a right and healthy relationship with God the All-Holy except those whom Jesus has justified by grace.  Those so justified can stand in God’s presence, as only Moses could do among all the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai.  (In the 2d Eucharistic Prayer, right after the consecration we give God thanks “that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.”)

The Letter to the Hebrews also refers to “a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them” (12:19).  The signs of God’s presence at Mt. Sinai are so frightening that the Hebrews beg Moses to speak with God on their behalf while they keep their distance (Ex 20:18-19).  On the other hand, Jesus has come to us speaking gently of God’s mercy.  Crowds hastened to his presence and listened eagerly to his preaching; they looked to him for healing, consolation, and hope.  Jesus is the new voice of God, not terrible to hear, not too awe-ful, but comforting and welcoming to us sinners.

For Jesus is “the mediator of a new covenant,” a covenant that succeeds the one mediated by Moses at Mt. Sinai.  This new covenant offers redemption to all people—the “many” of whom the words of consecration at Mass speak (quoting Jesus at the Last Supper [Mark 14:24])—and not only to the few, the Hebrews, not only to the Jews as a single chosen people.  Now all nations have been chosen by God to be his own people, to be saved, to be given a special land of their own, namely “the heavenly Jerusalem.”

In the OT, covenants weren’t sealed with sealing wax and a solemn stamp, or with fancy calligraphy (“John Hancock”), but with blood, usually that of a sacrificial animal.  So it was at Mt. Sinai, when Moses took the blood of young bulls that had been sacrificed and sprinkled it upon the altar, representing the Lord God, and on the people; they were bound together in a blood relationship (Ex 24:3-8).  The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we’ve been splashed—bathed!—by the blood of Jesus that dripped from his nailed hands and feet and spurted from his pierced side—the very blood that we consume in the Eucharist as a sign of this new covenant he’s made with us, binding us to himself as his sacred people, his people made holy.
The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
(from "The Garden of Delights")
This “sprinkled blood” of Jesus, the writer encourages us, “speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” (12:24).  When Cain slew Abel, Gen 4:10 tells us, Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord from the soil.  In OT terms, in terms of Middle Eastern culture right up till today, Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance.  Jesus’ blood, however, marks us for redemption, for forgiveness; it protects us from the wrath that God visits upon sinners.  In both the OT and the New, when sinners reject God’s word, they will know his wrath—as we heard, e.g., in last Sunday’s gospel, which urged us to enter God’s kingdom by the narrow gate or be refused entrance as evildoers whom he doesn’t recognize (Luke 13:22-30).  Rather, let us do as Hebrews urged us at Mass 2 weeks ago, in words from the beginning of the same chapter we’re reading today:  “Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (12:1-2).  For Jesus, God’s mercy among us, does indeed remove from us any burden of sinfulness and guilt when we turn to him in repentance; he does wash us clean in his blood poured out for us; he does covenant with us to make us his very own and to lead us into the promised land, the heavenly city for which his Father created us.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Homily for 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Aug. 26, 2001
Luke 13: 22-30
St. Joseph, Passaic, N.J.

On the 3d Sunday of the month, the deacons preach at all the Masses at Holy Cross in Champaign.  Here’s a 15-year-old but still timely homily on today’s readings.

“Behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13: 30).

Both the gospel and the reading from Isaiah speak of God’s call to all the nations to belong to him.  When Israel is scattered far and wide, says Isaiah, they will attract foreigners and lead them to the Lord, and those peoples shall become his own as much as Israel.  Jesus tells the Jews of his time that people will come from every quarter of the world to enter the kingdom of God, to feast at the Lord’s table.  We ourselves are testimony to Jesus’ words, for we don’t come from his land or his people, in an ethnic sense.

But Jesus’ words are uttered in a context of caution, even of warning.  He spoke to large crowds during his public life, he healed many people, he ate and drank in the homes of many and had others as guests at his house in Capernaum.  Yet on the day of judgment many of those folks, Jesus warns, may find themselves locked out of God’s house.  Few actually believed Jesus’ message and became his followers.

It’s not enuf to belong to the chosen people or to have been familiar socially with Jesus.  “Lord, open the door for us.”  “I don’t know you.”  “But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”  “I don’t know you.  Depart from me, all you evildoers!” (Luke 13:25-27).
Last Judgment (source unknown)
We may think that a certain social familiarity with Jesus, a certain cultural sense of belonging to his Church, of being Catholic in our bones, assures us of closeness to God, guarantees that the gates of heaven will swing wide open for us when we come knocking.  Well, as Sportin’ Life sings in Porgy and Bess, “It ain’t necessarily so.”  Being a priest doesn’t assure me of salvation.  Knowing Catholic doctrine doesn’t assure me of salvation.  Sitting here in church Sunday after Sunday, going to Holy Communion, getting your kids baptized and married in church—none of that assures you of salvation.

On Aug. 14 some fellow’s letter appeared in the Record, giving his opinion about Pres. Bush’s decision on stem cell research.  He wrote:  “It was obviously a 100 percent political decision made by a president with a lack of vision and courage to do the right thing for the majority of the people.  I don’t see any conflict of conscience at all.  As a Roman Catholic I was always taught to believe that healing and caring for the sick was the highest calling.  Now my church and other religious groups say that is not the case.”[1]

Well, yes, Catholics are taught that healing and care of the sick are high callings.  But the Church has never said it was the highest calling or the highest priority.  The Church has never said that we may do something wrong in order to produce a good effect—in the particular case referred to in the letter, deliberately and directly to kill an innocent human being in order to help heal someone else.  And, in fact, the Church has also consistently condemned the production of human beings in laboratories, whether for experimentation or for possible implantation in the womb.  People are not commodities, not products, not means to a doctor’s or a scientist’s or a parent’s end.

Instead, what the Church has always taught as the highest calling is being a disciple of Jesus.  Do you remember the gospel about Martha and Mary that was read 5 weeks ago?  Martha was hustling to prepare and serve a meal to Jesus and her other guests, while her sister Mary sat listening to Jesus, and when Martha griped to Jesus about that—“Tell her to get up and help me!”—Jesus replied, “Martha, you’re worried about many things.  Only one thing’s necessary.  Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:40-42).

Or, to return to the topic of healing and caring for the sick, sometimes compassion toward the sick means causing them pain and trouble:  surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, physical therapy—some of you have been thru that, and you know that none of it’s pleasant, but all of it may be the highest compassion.  Likewise, Jesus is being compassionate in the fullest sense—Jesus, who was so compassionate toward all of us that he suffered torture and death for us—when he directs us to a difficult road as the way to heaven:  “Strive to enter thru the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24).  In St. Matthew’s version of the same warning—we read St. Luke here, but in St. Matthew’s version—Jesus adds, “For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction….  How narrow the road that leads to life” (7:13-14).  Even the pagan poet Vergil noted that the descent into hell is easy.

Walking with Jesus isn’t all warm feelings.  Sometimes it’s hard choices, unpopular opinions:  to do good rather than to feel good; to exercise tough love; to put others ahead of oneself; to swim against the currents of a materialistic and hedonistic and “I want it now” culture—the wide and easy road to perdition.  (That’s mixing my metaphors, of course, since one doesn’t swim on a road.  Maybe I should say, “Swimming against the wide river that sweeps one over a deadly waterfall.”)

Last week Jesus asked his listeners, “Do you think that I’ve come to establish peace on earth?”, and he answered, “No, I tell you, but rather division.”  He went on to speak of households divided by their decisions for or against him (Luke 12:51-53).

Our age, our culture, wants toleration of every opinion and lifestyle; wants compromise in every disagreement.  The Gospel, however, does not compromise about sin:  “Depart from me, all you evildoers!”  The Christian who ate and drank in the Lord’s company but didn’t repent of his sins and attempt to change his ways will be wailing and grinding his teeth, will find himself cast out of the kingdom of God—just as Jesus warned the chosen people in his own time.

Therefore, brother and sisters, don’t listen to those who tell you that the Church has to accommodate itself to the morality of our time, that the Church has to understand how people are nowadays, that the Church has to get “with it”—that we have to accept and even approve of pornography, of divorce, of sex outside of marriage, of homosexual behavior, of contraception, of abortion, of in vitro fertilization, of embryonic stem cell research, etc.  Instead, “Strive to enter thru the narrow gate.”  Read the word of Jesus in the New Testament, believe what you read, practice what you believe, and trust in the power of Jesus to forgive whatever wrong you do thru human weakness.

   [1] Dennis Benigno, letter to the editor, Aug. 14, 2001.

Homily for Memorial of St. Bernard

Homily for the Memorial
of St. Bernard
Aug. 20, 2016
Holy Cross Parish Council, Champaign, Ill.

Fr. Dave asked me to preach for at least 30 minutes, but I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint him; I don’t think this will be longer than 20 minutes.

“O God, you made the Abbot St. Bernard a man consumed with zeal for your house and a light shining and burning in your Church” (Collect).

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 1090-1153, was the ecclesiastical giant of the 12th century, Europe’s citizen of the century, if you will.
St. Bernard
(St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome)
He isn’t to be confused with St. Bernard of Menthon (†1081), who lived about a century earlier and founded monasteries and hospices in the Alpine passes between France and Italy that offered hospitality to travelers.  This St. Bernard’s followers later bred those big dogs that carry his name, and they really did assist distressed winter travelers.

Our St. Bernard came from a small village in east central France near Dijon.  His family was minor nobility, and they’d not have minded if he’d joined one of the old, well-established Benedictine monasteries.  But they were shocked when, around age 21—the year isn’t known precisely—Bernard decided to join a new monastery (founded 1098) that was experimenting with a reform of the Benedictine tradition.  This monastery was in a nearby place called Citeaux; its name seems to derive from a word meaning “reeds”—in other words, the place was a swamp.  And the monastery was struggling, even tho its early abbots were saints.  When Bernard arrived, the abbot was an Englishman, St. Stephen Harding (†1134).  Bernard didn’t show up alone but came with 30 other young men, including 4 of his brothers, other relatives, and friends.  He should be the patron saint of vocation directors!

And suddenly, Citeaux began to flourish.  When the monastery became crowded, Abbot Stephen started sending out groups of monks to found daughter houses—which is the way things work with the monastic orders.  So the Cistercian Order—the monks of Citeaux—was born, and it thrives to this day, including a 17th-century reformed branch, the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, better known as the Trappists (because the reform began at the monastery at La Trappe, France).

St. Stephen designated Bernard in 1115 to lead one band of monks to establish a new monastery.  Think about it:  he’d been at Citeaux no more than 5 years, and perhaps as little as 3 years, and he was just 25 years old!  (George Rogers Clark was 24 when he captured Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes, and thus the entire Northwest Territory, for the United States during the American Revolution.  The young are capable of great things when they have proper motivation and support.)

So Bernard and his group settled in a place called Vallée d’Absinthe, the Valley of Wormwood in northeastern France. That wasn’t a place belonging to a henchman of the Dark Lord (Harry Potter’s nemesis) but, nevertheless, apparently wasn’t a very friendly place.  In the Middle Ages, new monasteries tended to be established in places that no one wanted as farmland or a center of trade or military defense; rather, in swamps, deserts, or other wilderness areas. 

Bernard proved to be an effective leader of his monks.  Benedict XVI says, “Bernard firmly recalled the need for a sober and measured life, at table as in clothing and monastic buildings, and recommended the support and care of the poor.”[1]  Soon enuf the monastery became known as Clairvaux, “the Valley of Light.”  Hence 2 allusions to light in our collect today.  It grew, and soon was founding its own daughter houses.

Besides that, over the course of the next generation Bernard became renowned as a preacher, letter writer (he answered everyone, high or low, who wrote to him), author of theological treatises, mediator of disputes both civil and ecclesiastical (including one involving an antipope), and a man widely consulted for his wisdom, prudence, and learning.  One of his best known works is a commentary on the Song of Songs in the Old Testament, a mystical image of the marriage relationship between God and humanity, between Christ and the Church.  Here’s a sample from that commentary, from the Office of Readings in the breviary today:

Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it.  Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be.  For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him. (LOH 4:1333)

He defended the Church’s doctrine against several heresies of the day, including the major heresy, the Cathars or Albigensians, who held that there were 2 gods, one good and the other evil—a variation of the Manichean heresy that St. Augustine dealt with, if you’re familiar with his life.  These 2 gods are, supposedly, battling each other for control of the universe, and human salvation consists of aligning oneself with the good god by liberating oneself as far as possible from any contamination with evil, starting with the material world of sex, food, and other forms of pleasure.  When you think about it, this constitutes an assault on our Creator.  Bernard defended the Jews against the violence that broke out sporadically against them out of ignorance, prejudice, and avarice.  At the request of the Pope in the 1140s, he preached a crusade against the Turks, who were conquering western Asia; the 2nd Crusade was a disaster, thanks to infighting among its leaders and the un-Christian behavior of its participants.

All this is the background for the collect’s describing the saint as “a man consumed with zeal for [God’s] house and a light shining and burning in [his] Church.”

In his writing and preaching St. Bernard defended the Church’s traditional way of doing theology, relying entirely on the Sacred Scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.  He opposed a new approach just getting underway in some abbeys and schools (the great medieval universities like Bologna [1088], Oxford [1096], and Paris [1150] were just being set up).  This new approach, while continuing to use the Bible and the Fathers, mixed in the natural sciences and philosophy as well—pagan thought like that of Plato and Aristotle, and even the Muslim thought of Arab scholars (most of Spain was still under the control of the Moors, and North Africa wasn’t far away).  This new approach eventually did take hold in the universities during the 13th century and became known as Scholasticism, the theology of the schools, and its proponents then included St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure.  But that was a century in the future, and in Bernard’s time it was widely regarded as suspect, a dangerous innovation.  Bernard stuck to the tried and true—the Scriptures and the Fathers—and so has himself been called “the last of the Fathers” (that in fact is the title of a fine little biography of him written by Thomas Merton, who was a Cistercian).

In his later years, one of Bernard’s pupils was elected Pope—it was in 1145, and the Pope took the name Eugene III.  Bernard wrote a treatise for him called the Book on Consideration, full of advice, Benedict XVI says, on how to be a good Pope, and still useful reading, he says.  It also contains a theology of the Church (ecclesiology) and of Christ (Christology), all rooted in contemplation of the Trinity—who is to be sought, 1st of all, in prayer.

The key to all of Bernard’s teaching is Jesus.  I quote Pope Benedict again:  “Jesus alone—Bernard insists …--is ‘honey in the mouth, song to the ear, jubilation in the heart.  The title Doctor Mellifluus [honey-flowing], attributed to Bernard by tradition, stems precisely from this; indeed, his praise of Jesus Christ ‘flowed like honey.’  … the Abbot of Clairvaux never tired of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus of Nazareth.  ‘All food of the soul is dry’ he professed, ‘unless it is moistened with this oil; insipid, unless it is seasoned with this salt.  What you write has no savor for me unless I have read Jesus in it’”—that’s a quotation from his commentary on the Song of Songs.  Benedict continues:  “For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consisted in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love.  And, dear brothers and sisters, this is true for every Christian:  faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus; it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship, and his love.  It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him, and to follow him more and more.”[2]

Where shall we look for Jesus?  Where shall we find him who is the Light of the World, who transformed the Valley of Wormwood into the Valley of Light?  What was the source of the light that Bernard brought to his monks, to the Church, and to all who read or study his life?  There are 3 sources that lead us to Jesus:  the Scriptures, the Fathers, and prayer.

“The Fathers”—the Fathers of the Church—is a title you’ve heard but you probably don’t know its meaning.  It refers, in the words of one reference book, to “those early figures whose teaching … is considered the foundation of orthodox Christian doctrine.”[3]  These Fathers stretch in time from the beginning of the 2d century (St. Ignatius of Antioch) to 7th- and 8th-century figures like St. Isidore of Seville and Bede the Venerable—or, as already noted, even to St. Bernard.  They include theological giants like St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and St. Leo the Great.  Of course, not a great many people read the Fathers these days, but if you’d like a digestible taste, you could look at the selections from their writings in the Liturgy of the Hours, aka the Breviary.  You can also find a few of their works like Augustine’s Confessions readily available in bookstores or libraries.  If you really want to get into them, there are 2 magnificent series being produced since the 1950s, Paulist Press’s Ancient Christian Writers and CUA’s Fathers of the Church.  As it happens, the Jane Addams Bookstore on Neil St. has on sale an old collection, probably expensive, called The Ante-Nicene Fathers, i.e., the Fathers who wrote before the Council of Nicea in 325.

Much more accessible to us are the other 2 sources, Scripture and prayer.  Fr. Dave and I didn’t consult about what we’d say this morning, but I’m going to use the same quote from the Letter to the Hebrews:  “The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (4:12).  Jesus, the Light of the World, wants to penetrate into our hearts and souls, our minds and our wills, thru his Word, and so to transform us from sinners into saints in order that we may, as the collect says, “walk always as children of light.”  Thus we say in an antiphon from today’s Morning Prayer:  “Blessed Bernard, your life, flooded by the splendor of the divine Word, illumines the Church with the light of true faith and doctrine” (LOH 4:1335).  Thru us the Creator who said, “Let there be light,” and overcame the chaotic darkness “in the beginning” (Gen 1:1-3) expects us, filled with the life and light of Christ, to transform the chaos of social and cultural and political world in which we live; like Bernard, to be “consumed with zeal of [God’s] house”—his house of the parish, the wider Church, the world itself.

So, brothers and sisters, it’s essential, it’s imperative, that we read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles too, which is full of the earliest preaching of the Gospel.  This is where we meet Jesus Christ, get to know him, become familiar with him, and thru the inexorable power of the penetrating Word of God become more Christ-like in our minds, hearts, and actions.

The 2d—also essential—way by which we come to know Jesus Christ is prayer.  We can, of course, pray without the Scriptures, and it’s surely good for us to pray in any way we’re comfortable with, to pray directly from our hearts.  But the Church’s most familiar prayers are Scripture-based:  the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Angelus, even the Creed.  Our reading of the Scriptures should lead us to prayer in our own words, even in silence:  prayer of praise, prayer of contrition, prayer of thanksgiving, prayer of petition, depending upon the particular text and our particular situation.  If the Scriptures are truly exposing us to God, they’ll naturally unite us more closely to him like 2 lovers growing closer together, talking to each other or just enjoying each other’s presence—contemplating each other.

I’ll conclude with another assessment from Pope Benedict:  “Saint Bernard, solidly grounded on the Bible and the Fathers of the Church, reminds us that without a profound faith in God, nourished by prayer and contemplation, by an intimate relationship with the Lord, our reflections on the divine mysteries risk becoming an empty intellectual exercise and losing their credibility. . . .  Together with Bernard of Clairvaux, we too must recognize that man seeks God better and finds him more easily ‘in prayer than in discussion.’”[4]

         [1] Wednesday audience, Oct. 21, 2009, in Church Fathers and Teachers from Saint Leo the Great to Peter Lombard (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2010), p. 158.
         [2] Ibid., pp. 159-160.
         [3] The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, ed. Richard P. McBrien (San Francisco: Harper, 1995), p. 520.
         [4] Op. cit., p. 161.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What Jorge Bergoglio Learned from the Salesians

What Jorge Bergoglio Learned from the Salesians
Address for Teacher Orientation Day

Holy Cross School, Champaign, Ill.
August 16, 2016

In an article in America early this year, Jesuit historian Fr. John W. O’Malley is cited for a list of “five hooks that unify Jesuit teaching”:[1]

        1. help students examine their assumptions about life;

        2. help them understand the past (personal and larger);

        3. communicate faith that does justice, that serves others;

        4. study great literature, teaching how to put ideas into words;

        5. teach prudence by sharpening critical thinking skills.

There’s some great stuff there, as we’d expect from an order that has given the Church and society many great educators since 1540.

Other teaching congregations have their own approaches and styles, of course, e.g. the LaSalle Christian Brothers, the Irish Christian Brothers, the Marists, and countless societies of religious sisters.  I enjoyed eight grammar school years with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who were wonderful educators, catechizing us, teaching writing skills, fostering my love for reading—and of some relevance here, thru our 6th grade world history text introducing me to St. Thomas More, who became one of my favorite saints.

We Salesians, too, have our educational approach and style.  You’ve heard and experienced some aspects of that in the last three years, e.g., reason, religion, and kindness; Communion and confession; the three “white devotions” (Eucharist, Mary most holy, and the Holy Father).  Another key phrase or summary often used by Don Bosco was that we aim to make of our pupils good Christians and upright citizens.  That aligns very well with the Jesuits’ “five hooks,” but it’s broader in that it accommodates non-scholars, such as pupils in trade or agricultural schools or people of all ages learning basic life skills—as Salesian ministry does in many parts of the world.  You can imagine that would be the case, since our presence in more than 130 countries ranges from Amazonian jungles to high tech First World universities, from refugee camps in Kenya to hostels for university students.  We cover a wide range of educational needs.

I’d like to look with you this morning at how we answered the needs of and left lasting marks on two parishioners from different parts of the world, from very different contexts, who went on to distinguished careers—to understate it.

[Part I: What Karol Wojtyla Learned from the Salesians, was posted previously.]

A second distinguished former Salesian parishioner, also a past pupil, is Jorge Bergoglio.  Jorge’s father Francesco, like Don Bosco, came from the province of Asti in Piedmont, northern Italy.  He met his bride-to-be after emigrating to Buenos Aires, like thousands of Piedmontese in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  (We usually think of the millions of immigrants who poured into New York in that period, but lots and lots of them also went to Argentina, especially Italians.)

It was to minister to those immigrants that the first Salesian missionaries left Turin in November 1875.  In Buenos Aires they were given Mater Misericordiae Parish in the Italian neighborhood, staffed by three of the missionaries, while the rest headed to a parish on the boundaries of rugged, uncivilized Patagonia—Argentina’s equivalent of the Wild West, a region of 311,000 square miles, roughly twice the size of California.  Within two years, and with additional missionaries having arrived from Italy, the Salesians took on the parish of San Carlos Borromeo in the Almagro neighborhood of the capital and ventured into the frightful La Boca slum to start youth work.[2]

Maria Regina Savori was a young Argentine woman living in Almagro whose parents were from Piedmont.  One of the Salesian assistants at San Carlos, Fr. Enrico Pozzoli (†1961), introduced her to his fellow Italian Francesco Bergoglio.  Before long the young couple were engaged, and Fr. Pozzoli witnessed their marriage in December 1935 at San Carlos.  A year later their first child, Jorge Mario, was born, and on Christmas Day 1936 Fr. Pozzoli baptized him at San Carlos.[3]

To be honest, the Bergoglios weren’t precisely parishioners of San Carlos but worshipped at San José in the Flores neighborhood.  But they were close enuf to San Carlos for Jorge to take part in the annual processions in honor of Mary Help of Christians—San Carlos was and is popularly called the “basilica of Mary Help of Christians” [4]—and in youth center activities and to confess to the Salesian clergy.  At San Carlos he picked up two lifelong passions:  devotion to Mary Help of Christians and soccer.  Whenever he was in Buenos Aires, even as cardinal archbishop, Jorge Bergoglio came early on the 24th of every month to celebrate Mass and pray for an hour at the shrine of Mary Help of Christians at San Carlos, before the image that Don Bosco himself had blessed before sending it to Argentina with his missionaries.[5]

Cardinal Bergoglio is thrilled to receive a jersey
from "his" San Lorenzo de Almagro soccer club.
In 1907 Fr. Lorenzo Massa (1882-1949), a young Argentine Salesian at San Carlos, realized that the neighborhood youths needed some activity to get them off the streets.  He organized soccer games, which led to the formation of a competitive team—now one of the best in Latin America—that the players insisted on naming San Lorenzo, nominally after the holy deacon martyr, of course, but really in honor of their founder.  Their jerseys, as Cardinal Bergoglio was always ready to point out, include the Virgin Mary’s colors; she’s their patroness.  Young Bergoglio became a huge fan of San Lorenzo de Almagro, and as archbishop was proud to own their fan club membership card #1.

Sixth graders, with Jorge Bergoglio circled,
at the Salesian school in Ramos Mejia, 1949.
For just one school year, 1949, twelve-year-old Jorge and his younger brother enrolled in the Salesian school in suburban Ramos Mejia, close to their father’s work.  Jorge took first place prizes that year in conduct and religion.  He recalled later that he also learned the values of study, sports, compassion, and forming good habits.  At this point Fr. Pozzoli was one of the school’s designated confessors, and he became Jorge’s spiritual director.[6]  It’s also probable that Jorge learned how Don Bosco used to give his boys a short talk after nite prayers, ending with his wishing them, Buona notte, “Good nite,” which has been a universal Salesian practice since Don Bosco’s Mama Margaret began the custom in the 1840s[7]; in day schools or youth centers it may be “translated” into a Good Morning.  Did you notice that when he was introduced to the world, Pope Francis ended his little address and request for prayer to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square by wishing them all, Buona sera?  Where did he learn that, I wonder!

Fr. Enrico Pozzoli
When he was 19, I believe, Jorge had some sort of conversion experience that he’s spoken of often.  Whatever that may have entailed—he certainly was no notorious sinner—it didn’t involve a Salesian church or confessor.  But not very long after, Fr. Pozzoli gave him some helpful advice regarding his recovery from pneumonia and the removal of part of one lung, and then helped him enroll in the diocesan seminary.  In the preface of Cardinal Bergoglio’s first book, Meditations for Religious, he refers to the “strong impact” that Fr. Pozzoli had on his life and the “example of ecclesial service and religious consecration” that he gave.[8]

Bergoglio didn’t remain long in the diocesan seminary, transferring in 1958 to the Jesuits.  And the rest is history.

But that wasn’t the end of his Salesian connections.  He developed particular connections with two Salesian blesseds, both from Argentina, and remains very aware of his Salesian roots.

Bro. Artemides Zatti (1880-1951) was another emigrant to Argentina from northern Italy.  He became a Salesian in Argentina and spent his life as infirmarian at the Salesian mission in Viedma in Patagonia, caring tirelessly for the sick who came to his clinic and riding his bicycle all over town to tend the sick in their homes.  He was beatified by John Paul II in 2002.

Bro. Artemides Zatti
As Jesuit provincial in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, Fr. Bergoglio noticed that his province, and the Jesuits in general, weren’t attracting vocations to the brotherhood, which he believed was an essential component of the Society of Jesus.  An Argentine bishop told him about Bro. Zatti, whose cause of canonization the Salesians had recently initiated, and gave him the brother’s biography.  “His example, that of a complete lay religious, made a deep impression on me,” Cardinal Bergoglio later wrote to a Salesian friend.  “I felt that I must ask God, thru the intercession of that great brother, to send us some lay vocations for the Jesuits.  I made novenas and got our novices to do the same.”  By 1986 their prayers had been answered with 23 vocations to the Jesuit brothers, of whom 18 persevered.  Cardinal Bergoglio described them as “hard-working, pious, happy, and level-headed.”  Bro. Zatti chose his candidates wisely!  “I repeat,” the cardinal wrote, “that I am convinced of Bro. Zatti’s intercession, because we have prayed so much thru him as our advocate.”[9]

Ceferino Namuncura'
The second blessed is Ceferino Namuncurá (1886-1905), whose feast in fact occurs ten days from now, August 26, which also happens to have been his birthday.  Ceferino was a son of one of the great native chieftains of Patagonia.  The Indians were often at war with Argentine settlers and the army—as I said, Patagonia was the “Wild West” in the 1870s and 1880s.  A Salesian missionary who’d won the Indians’ trust succeeded in mediating a peace treaty, and eventually he baptized Ceferino, who was named for St. Zephyrinus, a 3d-century Pope and martyr whose feastday is August 26, the boy’s birthday.  Ceferino went on to study with the Salesians, modeling himself on Dominic Savio and desirous of becoming a priest so that he could evangelize his own people.  But he contracted TB and died in 1905 at 18 years of age.

When arrangements were being made for the youth’s beatification—the first native American from Latin America to be canonically recognized for sanctity—the Vatican wanted to do the rite in Buenos Aires, the capital city.  But Cardinal Bergoglio insisted that it must be done in Ceferino’s hometown, a village of only 8,000 people roughly 600 miles from the capital, among his own people.[10]  The cardinal observed then, “The Salesians have done everything in Patagonia,” a tribute he later repeated in his famous interview for Jesuit magazines, including America.[11] 

After the beatification ceremony in faraway Patagonia, the cardinal joyfully presided at a procession and Mass in honor of the new blessed in Buenos Aires (photo above).[12]

As Pope Francis, he continues to admire and promote Salesian works, especially those with refugees and people on the margins of life, e.g., by visits to the center the Salesians run for migrants in Rome adjacent to the central railroad and bus station.  Last month, during his pastoral visit to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, he visited the Salesian parish in Azerbaijan, a country 93% Muslim where the Salesians are the only Catholic priests.  When he visited Turkey in December 2014, one of his stops was the center the Salesians run for Syrian refugee kids in Istanbul.  When he’d returned to Rome, he told a general audience, “These Salesians work with refugees, and they are good!  The Salesian youth center for refugees is a beautiful thing.  It is a hidden work.”[13]

Last November 21, Francis received in audience the participants of an international congress on Catholic education who were studying issues we face in the 21st century.  He held up Don Bosco as model.  He told the audience:  “There are three languages:  the language of the head, the language of the heart, and the language of the hands.  Education must go forward in these three ways:  instructing students in how to think, helping students to feel well, accompanying students as they act.  The three languages must be in harmony:  the child thinking about what he feels and does, feeling what he thinks and makes, and doing what he thinks and feels.”[14]  This, as you know, is what Don Bosco did.

In June of last year, you recall, Francis went to Turin to venerate the Holy Shroud, which is brought out for public veneration only rarely.  This exposition of several months was organized in conjunction with the culmination of Don Bosco’s bicentennial.  Don Bosco’s Oratory—the Salesian motherhouse—is about 15 minutes’ walk from Turin’s cathedral, where the Shroud is kept in its own chapel between the cathedral proper and the old royal palace.  (The Shroud used to be the property of the House of Savoy, rulers of Piedmont and then kings of Italy.)

Pope Francis praying at Don Bosco's tomb, June 21, 2015,
in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, Turin.
So Francis made a triple pilgrimage in June:  to the Shroud, to Don Bosco’s Oratory, and to his own Piedmontese relatives.  In the basilica of Mary Help of Christians, crammed with SDBs, FMAs, and other members of the Salesian Family, the Holy Father recalled Fr. Pozzoli, Fr. Massa, and the year he studied at Ramos Mejia.  There, he said, he learned “to love the Madonna” and was educated “toward beauty, love, and affectivity” in Don Bosco’s style. “I am so grateful to the Salesian Family for what it has done in my life,” he summarized.  He praised the way Salesians, like Don Bosco, continue to meet the needs of the young, both different and the same as in the 19th century.  “Your charism is a great reality.  The Salesian is concrete, and he sees the problem, thinks about what to do, and handles the situation.”[15]

What are some takeaways from Jorge Bergoglio’s experience with the Salesians?

        1. As just noted, he was captivated by Don Bosco’s and the Salesians’ flexibility, adaptability to their situation, their context, the real needs of the people whom they served.  This requires, first of all, perception:  that we be aware of our world and the world of our kids (and of each other’s worlds, for that matter), and then it requires a readiness and willingness to respond to what we perceive, to provide the young with the tools they need to face life in this century, in this society, in this culture.

        2. Don Bosco and the Salesians addressed the whole person:  the three languages that Francis spoke of, or reason, religion, and kindness (appeals to head, soul, and heart).  We appeal to the young who thirst to learn, thirst for friendship, thirst for recognition and affection, and thirst for God.  We reach them with the three Rs, with music, with theater, with sports, with service projects, with opportunities to pray.  In words you’ve probably heard before, taken from the Salesian Constitutions, we try to make of every Salesian presence a school, a home, a parish, and a playground.  Obviously, Jorge Bergoglio found that at San Carlos Parish and in his brief stay in a Salesian school.

        3. Jorge observed that the Salesians had come to Argentina to minister to immigrants and to evangelize the native peoples—and to arrange for peace between those natives and the newcomers.  The Salesians went right to the margins of society, to the peripheries.[16]  He certainly carried that message away with him, didn’t he?  Champaign isn’t the 3d World, nor a ghetto or favela, but we still have a lot of kids, serve a lot of families, who are on the edges in one fashion or another—thru their family needs, their emotional needs, their educational handicaps, their financial situation, the distance they have to travel to get here, etc.  And we have an obligation to raise the awareness of even these kids of the wider world, those who are far less fortunate than they are in Haiti or South Sudan or the Amazon interior or the Pine Ridge Reservation; of people who’ve just lost their homes to wild fires or flooding, people who’ve been driven from their countries by persecution or violence or hunger.

        4. It seems that Fr. Enrico Pozzoli and Fr. Lorenzo Massa had the smell of the sheep.  They were present to the young and knew how to accompany and guide them.  That’s a challenge for us—a little easier with the kids, perhaps, because (I hope you’ve experienced this) so many younger kids worship their teachers (not so many older kids, to be sure!); but the challenge includes the kids’ families too.  They’re among the sheep whom we pasture at Holy Cross.  And it includes one another!  We minister to one another and accompany one another—call it mentoring or presence or a listening ear or a helping hand or anything else.

        5. Vocations!  Jorge got at least some of his vocational guidance from Fr. Pozzoli—and that guidance didn’t direct him to the Salesians, you notice.  Fr. Bergoglio prayed intensely for more Jesuit vocations, for brothers specifically.  Of course we need to pray for vocations.  We might pray for our students—the graduates as well as those who are here now—that they will come to know where God is calling them to serve him.  And we should be planting seeds for future vocational maturation, as I said in different words earlier when speaking about St. John Paul.

        6. Jorge Bergoglio became devoted to Mary Help of Christians as a youngster and kept that devotion faithfully for 70 years.  We’re never too grown up to need our Mother’s help, to thank her for a favor, to look to her for the example of the most faithful disciple of Jesus.

May we all find in this great Salesian “old boy,” Pope Francis, something to inspire us and help us be, not just better teachers, but better educators, better evangelizers, better servants of the young.

      [1] Raymond A. Schroth, SJ, “Teacher, Heal Thyself,” America, Jan. 18-25, 2016, p. 24.
    [2] Eugenio Ceria, SDB, The Biographical Memoirs of Saint John Bosco, trans. Diego Borgatello, SDB, vol. 12 (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Salesiana, 1980), pp. 190-192; Morand Wirth, Don Bosco and the Salesians, trans. David de Burgh (New Rochelle: Don Bosco Publications, 1982), p. 192.
    [7] Giovanni Battista Lemoyne, SDB, The Biographical Memoirs of Saint John Bosco, trans. Diego Borgetello, SDB, vol. 3 (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Salesiana, 1966), p. 142.
    [8] ANS March 14, 2013.
    [11] America, Sept. 30, 2013: