Saturday, December 16, 2017

Homily for Saturday, Week 2 of Advent

Homily for Saturday,
Week 2 of Advent
Dec. 16, 2017
Matt 17: 9-13
Washington Salesian Cooperators

“I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased” (Matt 17: 12).

The reading from the book of Sirach (48:1-4,9-11) praises the historical prophet Elijah, who recalled the powerful and the ordinary people of Israel to worship of the true God with powerful preaching, with the infliction of drought and its relief thru rain, with “wondrous deeds,” and at the end of his earthly days was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot.  You can read his fascinating story in 1 Kings starting at ch. 17.

There was a belief that Elijah would return “before the day of the Lord,” i.e., before the Last Day, to lead Israel, again, back to fidelity to the Lord before the judgment.  This was based on a prophecy in Malachi (3:23-24).

Our gospel reading is the passage immediately after Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt 17:1-8), during which Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus.  Thus, “as they were coming down from the mountain” (17:9), it was natural for Elijah to be on the minds of Peter, James, and John, who ask Jesus about the prophet’s return (17:10).

Jesus first says that “Elijah will come and restore all things” (17:11), i.e., get everything back into good order, viz., people’s relationship with God.  But then Jesus seems to correct himself:  “Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased” (17:12).  “They” could be the scribes, the people in general, and certainly Herod the tetrarch and his wife Herodias, who had John the Baptist executed.  For, Matthew says, “the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist” (17:13).
John in prison (
John had come to prepare the people for the coming Day of the Lord thru his preaching of repentance, of renewed fidelity to God.  That day was the day of Jesus—which ultimately IS a day of judgment; not necessarily one of wrath and divine vengeance, but one on which will be recognized the judgments, the decisions, that men and women have made thruout their lives:  for God and with God, or not.  That has been Jesus’ message, and of course is still his message.

But Jesus himself was no more recognized and accepted than John the Baptist was:  “So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands” (17:12).  So does the world at large continue not to recognize the lordship of Jesus, the rule of Jesus, for all the hoopla of “the holiday season”—we’re less and less ready even to name the holiday (as a recent poll demonstrated).  The so-called intelligentsia are even trending toward turning B.C. into BCE [before the Common Era] and A.D. into C.E., lest they imply that Jesus is the turning point of history.

But Jesus remains the decision point for everyone—first of all for you and me.  I’ll close with a passage from this commentary on today’s gospel passage:

The people did not recognize John the Baptist as the new Elijah and, consequently, would not acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah.  Reading this passage today, we might marvel at the shortsightedness of Jesus’ contemporaries.  But the word of God confronts us with the same question that perplexed the people of Jesus’ time:  “Who do you say Jesus is?” (see Matthew 16:13).  If he is merely a model to emulate, then he will not be vital to our lives.  But if we say that he is truly the Messiah, whose death and resurrection has saved us, then the only possible response is to commit our lives to him.[1]

[1] Leo Zanchettin, ed., Matthew: A Devotional Commentary (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist, 1997), p. 181.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Orient Express

The Orient Express

Fr. Henry Bonetti, American Salesian who belongs to the SDB Korean Province (since approximately 1963), sent this photo from Paranaque, Philippines, where he is rector of the Salesian theological seminary serving the whole East Asia-Oceania Region.  (Fr. Henry is seated in the 2d row, 5th from left.)

As you can see, the seminary is well populated, and Fr. Henry says their numbers are increasing.  (And these are just the students of theology--not the novices, students of philosophy, or coadjutor brothers in formation.)

Some of our East Asian provinces, e.g., the Philippines and Vietnam, have been very generous in supplying missionaries to other parts of the Congregation.

Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil Receives Mother Teresa Memorial Award

Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil Receives

Mother Teresa Memorial Award

By Fr. Joaquim Fernandes, SDB

(ANS – Mumbai, India – December 12) – Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian from the Bangalore Province who was abducted in Aden, Yemen, in March 2016 and released in September 2017, has been awarded the Mother Teresa Memorial Award 2017 for Social Justice by the Harmony Foundation. The presentation was made on December 10 at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Mumbai (Bombay).

This year’s theme is “Compassion across borders: a compassionate response to the refugee crisis.” Fr. Tom “has shown dedication and commitment to a place of great danger,” said Abraham Mathai, president of the Harmony Foundation, a Mumbai-based organization that has commemorated the Saint of Calcutta with the award since 2007, as he congratulated Fr. Tom and presented him with a citation and the memento for his bravery and resilience in the face of adversity.

Fr. Tom worked in Yemen together with the Missionaries of Charity, the congregation founded by Mother Teresa. He was kidnapped on March 4, 2016, while inside one of their centers, while four of the sisters and several of their co-workers were slain in the attack. 

Fr. Tom was chosen “for the inspiring example of compassionate humanity, and for having continued to work for the elders of the Missionaries of Charity in Yemen, despite having had the opportunity to leave the country. We praise Fr Tom’s dedication and commitment for work in a location of great danger, where his colleagues were murdered in cold blood,” said the foundation in a written statement.

The Harmony Foundation, founded in 2005 to promote ideas of peace, dialog, and community support without distinction of religion, caste, gender, or ethnicity, has in the past awarded the prize to individuals and organizations committed to human rights, such as the Dalai Lama, Doctors Without Borders, and the young Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai. This year the awards were given to Shigeru Ban, UNHCR, IsroAID, Bayat Foundation, Caritas International, Mercy Corps, and Hellenic Resource Team along with a few eminent personalities.

Meanwhile, Fr. Tom is still engaged in official activities in India, and in Kerala, his state of origin. In each of his scheduled events so far, the Salesian continues to surprise for his clear and peaceful Christian witness, and for his declared willingness to carry out God’s plan for his life in the future. He thanked the Harmony Foundation for having honored him. “Thanks for all your constant prayers. There is goodness in everyone. It is only through love and forgiveness that we witness peace, and we need to forgive our enemies. I believe in a living God who has called me to be a witness to Him,” he said.

“I met Mother Teresa in the year 1983, and I am inspired by her love for God, her humility and simplicity and very friendly approach to people. Not all of us can do great things, but we can do great things with love, Mother Teresa said,” Fr. Tom stated.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Homily for 2d Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
2nd Sunday of Advent
Dec. 9, 1984
Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11
St. Joseph, Florida, N.Y.

Since I didn't have an "outside" Mass this weekend, I offer a homily from the archive.

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” (Is 40: 3).

The wilderness is an important time in the Bible.  Isaiah speaks of the wilderness as what stands in the way of salvation.  Mark, on the other hand, turns Isaiah around to make the wilderness a place where salvation is announced.

The wilderness is both of these, and more.  The wilderness is part of the elemental chaos on which God imposes order by his creative and life-giving power.  The wilderness is the vast emptiness wherein mankind sees its need and opens itself to God.

Each of us has a wilderness in his heart.  There is a tangle of hostile thorns, mountains of dry rock, acres of barren sand:  all the imposing power of personal sin, of selfish ambition, greed, envy, lust, gluttony, anger, sloth and pride.  The wilderness tries to block out God’s call to us, tries to keep us from repenting our sins, turning to him, and being set free.  By repenting, tho, we fill in the empty valleys; we tear down the tall and jagged peaks; we allow God to move thru our hearts with the water of his grace and turn our desert into rich earth, like the good, rich soil around here, producing the fruits of holiness.

Each of us experiences a wilderness other than the one within our hearts.  We all go thru the desert periods in our lives.  Between the 2 world wars, Winston Churchill spent most of 20 years in political wilderness, observing events, formulating ideas, writing, speaking, crying out about that madman in Germany, and mostly being ignored as an alarmist.  The experience helped shape him into the valiant leader who rallied against the overwhelming Nazi odds, the man Time magazine in 1950 would call, not Man of the Year but Man of the Half-Century.

When we look at saints like Augustine and John of the Cross, or the influential Christian leaders of our time like Thomas Merton and Pope John II, we see that they have all walked in the desert and confronted themselves, confronted anxiety, loneliness, and evil.  They learned slowly to abandon themselves, not to the thorns and rocks and sand but to the living God of love.  They allowed him finally to speak to their hearts with words of comfort, tenderness, pardon, liberation.  They abandoned themselves to him who gathers the lambs in his arms, carries them near his heart, gently leads, carefully nourishes (cf.  Is 40:11).

The living God of love is calling us today.  His tenderness, his comfort, his healing are appealing to our hearts:  “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  Push aside, knock down, throw out whatever is in the way.  Fill up your valleys of emptiness with his mercy and his goodness.

And having heard the Lord’s voice, then go out into the wilderness of the world, the world that is chasing after the wind of fame, the world that is lonely in its pleasures, the world that is hungry for power and isn’t satisfied.  Go out into that desert, and be heralded of glad tidings.  Be a voice crying out, “Make ready the way of the Lord.  He comes with the power of the Holy Spirit.  He feeds you with mercy.  He satisfies your heart with love.”  After allowing God to heal our own hearts, then we too must be prophets crying out, must play the role of John the Baptist in the wilderness.

May the Lord open your eyes to his light, our ears to his voice, and our heart to the warmth of his healing touch.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Homily for Solemnity of Immaculate Conception

Homily for the Solemnity
of the Immaculate Conception

Dec. 8, 2006
Gen 3: 9-15, 20
Luke 1: 26-38
Eph 1: 3-6, 11-12
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle, N.Y.

Altho I preached on the feast (at Nativity Parish in Washington, D.C.), I did so without a written text.  I offer my readers this older reflection on Mary and the Good News of the Savior.

“The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living” (Gen 3: 20).

The source in Genesis identified as the Yahwist is a master storyteller.  Our reading today offers only a fragment of his narrative of the Fall, but we all remember the rest:  the serpent tempting the woman, her tempting the man, their eyes opening, their hiding from YHWH with whom they used to walk familiarly in the garden of pleasures.

Our passage shows the man and the woman both trying to duck the blame for their actions.  So true to life!  (When we were kids, didn’t we do that?  Don’t some adults still do it?)  And we have the 1st part of YHWH’s judgment, wherein he decrees perpetual enmity between mankind and serpentkind.  The scholars tell us that the serpent represented evil in ancient Near Eastern symbology (to use the word that Dan Brown seems to have coined in the DaVinci Code).  Thus the perpetual enmity bespeaks the unending battle of humanity to resist evil and choose God’s plan.  The Fathers of the Church saw, further, the victory of the Messiah in the woman’s offspring crushing the serpent’s head, conquering evil and the death penalty that went along with our sinfulness.

Certainly the story ends on an optimistic note, whether or not that was the intent of the Yahwist or of the final editor of the text:  the woman becomes mother of all the living.  She who thru her disobedience was so instrumental in bringing death into the world—it’s not ALL her fault, but neither is that bumper sticker correct that grouses, “Eve was framed”—she is also a life-giver.

From another master storyteller, Luke, we hear of another woman, the one whom the Fathers would come to call the new Eve.  Mary of Nazareth became the new Eve, the new mother of all the living, because she brought forth the Lord of Life himself, the one who would truly crush the serpent’s head.  Unlike the first Eve, when God sought Mary’s cooperation she gave it willingly:  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Mary’s yes undoes Eve’s no.  Whatever God might have done, out of all the possibilities for redemption, she enabled this plan, so that all whom God had “destined for adoption to himself thru Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph 1:5-6) might in fact be adopted thru him whom she would name Jesus (Luke 1: 31)—“YHWH saves”—and might for all ages praise God’s grace.

Everlasting praise of his grace was, presumably, “God’s vast eternal plan” (to quote that great theologian Tevye) that Eve—and her husband—failed to go along with.  And they lost God’s favor, their own innocence, the blessings of the garden of pleasures.  Paul, who (as you know quite well) is not a storyteller, assures us that the plan is now back in place.  He “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,” choosing us “in accord with the purpose of … his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:3,11-12).

The glory of God’s grace is restored, first of all, in her who will become the mother of all the living, the mother of Life himself.  However you translate the angel’s greeting to Mary—“full of grace,” “so highly favored,” “you who enjoy God’s favor”—it speaks of a special relationship between her and the Most High whose power will overshadow but has, indeed, already chosen her “before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before him” (Eph 1:4).  The 1st Eve was so at the foundation of the world, but failed.  The 2d Eve is so, for God is creating the world anew:  “whoever is in Christ is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).  She is new and beautiful and perfect, created for Christ.  And she says, “Yes!”

Not once, but repeatedly.  At least so we must conclude by reading between the lines as we read of her in the all too few references to her in the rest of the Gospels.  How much we regret that the Gospels are the announcement of the Good News from God in Christ Jesus, and not his biography, with lots of interesting biographical information about not only him but also about his mother and his disciples.  But it seems evident that she continued to go along with the “vast eternal plan,” even when the plan wasn’t evident.  On Calvary she stood by him not only literally but also metaphorically—ever the new, beautiful, and perfect disciple.

May her example and her prayers encourage and help us “to live in [God’s] presence without sin” (Collect) in this world and forever in eternity, when all things will truly have been made new.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Interview with Fr. Angel Fernandez, Rector Major

Interview with Fr. Angel Fernandez, Rector Major

While he was in Spain from Nov. 27 to Dec. 2 for a worldwide congress of the Salesian Youth Movement, the Rector Major was interviewed by ReligiĆ³n Digital, an on-line journal. ANS published 2 excerpts from the interview, which are here combined. The entire interview is available at

“No concern for oneself. This is neither the image nor the language nor the reality of the Salesians.”
(ANS – Madrid – December 5-6) - “No careerism, no comfort zone, no concern for oneself. This is neither the image, nor the reality, nor the language of the Salesians of Don Bosco,” says Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, Rector Major, speaking clearly as the person responsible for the second largest religious congregation of men in the Catholic world, with 15,000 consecrated priests and brothers, a thousand less than the Jesuits.
You’ve just returned from a trip to Angola and Mozambique. Before that, you were in India, and before that Brazil. How do you live with your suitcases always packed and ready?
Physically, it is very demanding. The rhythms are inhumane – visiting communities, groups, days of 15-16 hours. Listening a lot. Good health is necessary, and above all, the strength that comes from faith, vocation, and the many people who have you in their hearts and thoughts.
What is the Rector Major’s vision on the Congregation?
Our congregation is present in 132 countries. We have been living a few years of profound serenity, not the peace of the cemetery, no. I see a lot of vitality, a lot of strength, a force that is not in power, in success, but in service. We are planning to open three more centers: in Gambia, Malaysia, and a new one in a refugee camp in Uganda. The Congregation has embarked on a very beautiful journey, with serenity, with great strength, in work that is shared between religious and laity.
As a congregation what guidelines are you following?
We have a few very clear guidelines from the [27th] general chapter. First of all, to live as consecrated persons. We are not social service providers. We are not a well-organized NGO with 15,000 members. We are a congregation with men of faith, consecrated, and this is the witness we want to offer. Wherever they try to silence God, we want to make God visible through our lives, through what we are and what we do. Second, there must be a permanent, ongoing response to the priorities of the boys, girls, and youths and, among these, the neediest.
And you are the second congregation in size, behind only the Jesuits?
It’s not a question of numbers, but we are a large congregation. We, as Don Bosco’s sons, are born in the peripheries. Some might say: the Salesians are with the rich, and I tell them, it’s not true! The preferential option, in 85% of our centers, is for the poor and humble people.
And the work in schools?
I recently returned from Mumbai, and I met 1,500 boys and girls taken from the street, in dozens of Salesian centers. Then I was at the anniversary of an elite school, and I spoke with the teachers. I told them: “Whether this school makes sense or not will depend on the fruits of our education. It is not a Salesian school if it does not educate to the Christian identity. If we do not educate so that our students have a clear social conscience, a sense of justice and equality. If so, the school does great social, educational, and religious work; if not, we can close it down.”

“With Pope Francis the Church is living a beautiful spring”
The Rector Major also spoke about Pope Francis and the Church, offering firm statements. The Salesian leader is convinced that with Pope Francis “the Church is living through a beautiful spring.”
Many of the key ideas of the pontificate of Francis are reflected in what you have to say. Where does this symbiosis come from?
I’ll tell you with great joy that these challenges posed by Pope Francis haven’t surprised us. We feel “like fish in water.” The Pope has a marked pastoral character and a preference for the poor. As Rector Major, I remind everyone of the priority we give to these elements of our identity.
There is the sensation that this Pope is much loved outside, but within the Church there are groups, people, or sensibilities who do not understand or go directly against Pope Francis. Do we need to help the Pope?
As a Salesian I must say what Don Bosco always said, “Long live the Pope.” The Pope is the Pastor of the Church, and a man like everyone else. He needs to feel that he is being supported, that we are with him, that we are walking together.
There are those who presume to declare the Pope a heretic.
It’s stupid. An absolute stupidity, as it is to believe that one is more enlightened than he is. And, within the Church, we are many who feel in total communion with the Pope. I add another element. I know that Pope Francis is aware that especially [those who are in] religious life are in profound communion with the Pope and with Pope Francis.
How do you see the future of the Church?
If you talk to me about the Church, I answer you on the basis of what I know. Without a doubt, the Church is full of life, full of consecrated men and women, pastors, priests, and lay people who are committed all over the world. We are experiencing a spring time. I would even dare to say: we are again living a beautiful spring, and it will not be the last one, eh? It’s enough to talk about the Church and think just of four or five people. It can be criticized, we make mistakes, but every time what I see is the Church that is there to serve, to be with people, with those who believe, with those who do not believe, and with anyone who wants to talk or needs help. It’s what I honestly think.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
1st Sunday of Advent
Dec. 3, 2017
Is 63: 16-17, 19b; 64: 2-7
Visitation Convent, Georgetown, D.C.

I once heard a preacher proclaim on this Sunday, “Welcome to the year of Mark!”  Most of our Sunday gospels for this new ecclesiastical year will come from the 1st of the 4 evangelists, chronologically speaking, and after the Holy Spirit the major inspiration for Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels.

But I’m going to preach this morning on our 1st reading, from the prophet Isaiah:  “You, Lord, are our father; our redeemer you are named forever” (63:16).

You’ve probably heard more than once that 3 figures stand out in this season:  the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, and the Virgin Mary.  So it’s fitting to attend to the prophet.

You know, as well, that Advent is a season of preparation, of waiting, of joyful anticipation—not for Santa and presents, or for jingling cash registers (well, that’s a quaint image, isn’t it?); but for the coming of the Lord.

The Lord is coming in his humanity, i.e., we recall, relive, and participate in his conception in the Virgin’s womb and his birth in Bethlehem.  The Lord is coming to us personally in his grace as we participate in his sacred mysteries if and when we, like the gatekeeper in Jesus’ parable today (Mark 13:33-37) are vigilant and ready for his coming.  And the Lord will come again in power on the Last Day:  “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed).

The passage that we heard from Isaiah speaks to all 3 of these comings of the Lord:  in history, in grace, and in glory.

Portrait of Isaiah
St. Mary's Church, Fredericksburg, Va.
According to the general opinion of Old Testament scholars, this section of the Book of Isaiah, ch. 56-66, comes from the period in Israel’s history after they’ve returned from exile in Babylon and are living precariously in Jerusalem, scarcely rebuilt from its ruins, and in the little territory of Judea around the city.  The prophecy reminds the Lord God of his special relationship with his chosen people, and of his marvelous interventions in the past.  The prophecy calls upon him to redeem them again, as he did at the exodus.  One commentary describes the role of redeemer as

one who defends the interests of a person or group, especially the poorest members of a family.  This person provides posterity for one who has died without having children, by marrying the widow and fathering a child (Ruth 3:12—4:14), pays the debts of a relative fallen into poverty, redeems one who has been sold as a slave (Lev 25:23-28,47-49), and avenges blood unjustly spilled (Num 35:19-27).  Applied to God, this title suggests that he is our kinsman, that he has taken upon himself, so to speak, the fulfillment of responsibilities to his people.[1]

Now it’s interesting that Isaiah doesn’t beseech the redeemer to deliver the Judeans from the Persians or the Egyptians or the Samaritans, or from drought, famine, or plague.  At most, he moans in vv. 18-19a, omitted in our reading, “Why have the wicked invaded your holy place, why have our enemies trampled your sanctuary?  Too long have we been like those you do not rule, who do not bear your name.”

But he doesn’t blame God for that.  Rather, he pleads with the Lord to redeem the people from themselves:  “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?  Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” (63:17; 64:4).  Isaiah prays that there might be a junction of the ways, the Lord’s ways and Israel’s.  It’s an echo of another Isaian passage, where the Lord laments that his ways appear so alien to human beings:  “Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked man his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” (55:7-9).  And here, in our passage, he prays for the Judeans’ conversion:  “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!  Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful…; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind” (64:4-5).

And that’s the subject of our prayer this morning, voiced in the Collect:  “Grant your faithful, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”  We’re not praying to be gatekeepers simply waiting for his arrival, but to look eagerly for his coming and to run out to meet him and show him how faithful to his ways we’ve been.  With reference to the parables we heard the last 2 Sundays, we want to show how well we’ve invested his funds, how well we’ve treated his people—the hungry, naked, sick, alien, prisoner.

Looking toward the Incarnation, we often cite Isaiah:  “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down” (63:19b).  Isaiah, of course, didn’t have the extraordinary coming of the 2d Person of the Trinity in mind, but some more mundane divine intervention to cure Israel’s self-inflicted hurts.  How much more wonderful, more marvelous, that the Son of God did tear open human history and come to us as a human being to be our ultimate redeemer, to be our kinsman, or to make all of us kin of the Divine Family; to erase our guilt, to make us into a clean people (cf. 64:5), to lift us up to the heavens—so much more than the prophet could have anticipated, beyond any human imagining:  “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him” (64:3).

Nor could the prophet have seen what we see in that verse:  our Lord Jesus Christ will come again.  Whatever the manner of that coming may be, we continue to use the ancient biblical imagery of the heavens being opened up and Christ returning on the clouds, perhaps in enuf royal regalia to make Prince Charles jealous, or even the Donald.  We pray that when he does come again, he will work “awesome deeds we could not hope for” (64:2), such as pardoning our sins, purifying our unclean hearts (64:5), rousing us to cling to him (64:6), shaping all our fragile clay (64:7) into beautiful vessels of his love, and gathering us among the sheep at his right hand (Collect) for eternity.

“O shepherd of Israel, rouse your power and come to save us!  If your face shine upon us, then we shall be safe” (Ps 80:2-4).

        [1] Days of the Lord: The Liturgical Year (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991), 1:42.

A Day in the Woods

A Day in the Woods

I took advantage of a business trip to New Rochelle to take a fine (but chilly) day off hiking and camping in Harriman State Park on Tuesday-Wednesday, Nov. 28-29 before driving home to Maryland.

Southbound AT & Ramapo-Dunderberg on the ridge of Fingerboard Mt.
Both days were sunny but chilly.  The air temp was in the low 40s, but a pretty good wind blowing made it feel colder.  Since these were weekdays, there weren’t a lot of hikers out.  On each day I saw a party of Koreans (about a dozen in each group), up from NYC or elsewhere.  It seems you can’t hike anywhere in Harriman and Bear Mt.’s 52,000 acres without running into large groups of Koreans—church outings or other social groups.  God bless them for getting out into God's wonderful nature!  Otherwise, at the shelter 1 elderly couple passed by at lunch time on Tuesday and 1 chap at breakfast time on Wednesday.

I parked at Lake Tiorati (big parking lot and picnic area, and site of the park ranger station), took the very short Tiorati Trail (about .3 mile) uphill to a junction with the Appalachian and Ramapo-Dunderberg trails, and followed them south for a mile, up to and along the ridge of Fingerboard Mt.  The Fingerboard shelter is a couple of hundred yards off and downhill from the trails (350', according to a sign posted there).  I covered the 1.3 miles in less than an hour.

Many readers (but not all) know that the AT runs 2,100 miles from Springer Mt. in north Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in central Maine.  According to entries in the log book (see below), the shelter is 800 miles from Katahdin.  The RD Trail goes from Tuxedo Park, N.Y., to the Dunderberg (Thunder Mt.), south of Bear Mt. on the Hudson, a mere 23 miles.  Over the years I’ve hiked almost all the AT and RD miles within Harriman and Bear Mt.

Fr. Jim Mulloy and I have camped at the Fingerboard shelter several times, but I was rather surprised to see from my markings in the Harriman Trails guidebook (after I got home) and my photos that we were there last in May 2009, quite a bit longer than I thought.  It was a nice surprise to see that the NY-NJ Trail Conference recently completely replaced the roof (rafters, boards, the works) and maybe a little before that had installed a new floor.  The stonework had been re-mortared, and the fireplaces (2) were in great shape.  God bless the Trail Conference people!

A log book placed in the shelter in July or August (school copybook, visible on the mantel in the photo) records many thru hikers as well as weekenders passing thru.  Some had the temerity to hope they’d see a bear, and a couple wrote that they had seen one (I think they meant out on the trail).  In any case, when I’m in Harriman I always bear-bag (photo).  I have no desire to meet a bear (which I did in Sept. 2016 on a different section of the RD Trail--a mama and 2 cubs).

I estimated that my backpack weighed about 35 lbs., including water, tent (in case I didn’t secure the shelter), sleeping bag and pad, stove and fuel, food, mess kit, warm clothing, saw and hatchet (used both on firewood), trowel and TP (used those too!), 1st aid (didn’t use), soap (did use), tinder and matches, medications, paperback book, ipad (breviary, missal, and Bible), Mass kit (photo), rope (see bear bag), and a bit more.  I wished I’d brought my little stool so that I could’ve sat in front of the fire instead of to the side on the wood floor.

I don’t quite comprehend how Appalachian Trail hikers can go with less than 20 lbs. of clothes and gear, plus water, even in summer.  On the other hand, it's a major mistake to overload oneself; see the hilarious description offered by Bill Bryson in A Walk in the Woods (much better than the movie, which is funny enuf).

Lots of firewood--both kindling and more substantial stuff, thanks to the saw.
If I hadn’t got the shelter, which got me out of the wind and allowed a good fire, I’d have had to use my tent, and then I’d probably not have been willing to sit out by a fire for very long after the sun set and I finished my supper—which was around 4:15 p.m. (see photos for time indications).  There was a bright, more-than-half moon above and perfectly clear sky full of stars.  There must have been a 10-degree difference in temperature inside and outside (according to a little thermometer attached to my backpack, it was 41° inside).  As it was, I stayed up past 9:00 p.m. stoking the fire, reading (and finishing) my book, and praying.  And I slept pretty well, getting up twice to stoke or rekindle the fire.
Sun disappearing behind the ridge at 4:08 p.m.

Lingering sun reflection in the clouds, 4:29 p.m.
Roaring fire--and totally dark outside, before 6:00 p.m.
My Tuesday lunch was a PB & J sandwich and a granola bar, washed down with water.  Supper:  freeze dried chili and beans (photo), orange, Crystal Lite (later, a granola bar).  Breakfast:  oatmeal, apple, pastry, peanut butter, coffee (forgot to bring creamer, alas).

Experience has shown me that, while the coffee pot (sans innards) weighs a few extra ounces, it's worthwhile to bring it for boiling and pouring water. The fuel canister and a small towel fit conveniently inside for packing.

From inside the shelter, a view of dawn (not yet sunrise) at 6:55 a.m.
A bear warning sign was posted about 50' behind the shelter, but I saw only wild turkeys, chipmunks, and birds.  

The turkeys, up near the big rock, didn't wait around for me to get a good shot of them.
On the way back to the Marian Shrine (where I’d left my non-camping gear overnite), I passed by lovely little St. John’s in the Wilderness Church (Episcopalian); it’s on the last remaining private property within Harriman and Bear Mt. parks and is still an active parish with a Sunday service.  The Long Path (New York to Albany) passes nearby, and I’ve seen the church dozens of times—even been inside a couple of times.

The complete photo album:

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Collection for Retirement Fund for Religious Is Coming Up

Collection for Retirement Fund
for Religious Is Coming Up

by Fr. Dennis Donovan, SDB
Province Treasurer

The New Rochelle SDB Province is one of the beneficiaries of the annual Retirement Fund for Religious (RFR) collection [an annual appeal organized by the U.S. bishops].  Since 1988, the province has received $2,056,174.29 from monies collected through this annual appeal.  And last month, we received a grant of $118,000 to engage the services of a consultant for the design phase of our renovations to the St. Philip the Apostle Residence in Tampa. [The assisted living facility for retired SDBs.]
Bro. Mike Brinkman, 85, is one of the
Salesians at St. Philip Residence.
Fr. Mike Chubirko, 94, is one of the
Salesians at St. Philip Residence.
Please support the 2017 collection which will take place in parishes around the country on Dec. 9-10.  In some parishes, the collection occurs this weekend (Dec. 2-3).  The proceeds from this collection offer financial assistance and educational resources that help religious institutes, like the Salesians, to care for their older members while continuing to serve the People of God.

To learn more about the fund, visit www.retiredreligious.orgPlease promote the collection among those you work with or the people you know in your local parish.  Promote the collection on your social media, like Facebook.  Pre-written posts that you can use are available at

Most of all, please PRAY for the success of the appeal and the intentions of donors whose sacrifices make the RFR possible.


Don Bosco Tech in Paterson Being Demolished

Don Bosco Tech in Paterson
Being Demolished
The SDBs bought the unused Harris Brothers Silk Mill at 202 Union Ave. in the late 1940s, and several coadjutors brothers and the provincial (Fr. Ernest Giovannini) labored mightily to convert it into a trade school, including a boarding section. It was ready to open for the 1948-1949 year. Photo by Fr. Mike, August 1999.
The Salesians closed Don Bosco Tech in Paterson, N.J., at the end of the 2001-2002 school year, after 54 years of service to disadvantaged young men (and some who were not disadvantaged) from all over northern New Jersey.  Your humble blogger was principal there in 1980-1984 and was assigned to the SDB community there (but not the school as such) in 1999-2002.  A great many SDBs served there over the years, winning the hearts--and, we hope, the souls of thousands of young men and their families, and cherishing their service there.
DBT's main building (the former mill) and part of its parking lot. The statue of St. Dominic Savio was erected to celebrate his canonization in 1954; the Dominic Savio Classroom Club was founded at DBT by Bro. Michael Frazette, SDB. The statue now graces the grounds of Salesian HS in New Rochelle. Photo by Fr. Mike, August 1999.
DBT erected a new shop building in the early 1950s. The Rector Major, Fr. Renato Ziggiotti, blessed it during his visit to the province in 1955. Photo by Fr. Mike, June 2000.
The Paterson Board of Education bought the property and turned the buildings into a charter school.  But the buildings' ages--the original factory building dated from the late 19th century--caused problems for the BOE as they had for the SDBs.  So a few years ago the school was relocated, and plans were prepared to raze the buildings and put up a new one.
DBT's chapel was always handsomely decorated for Christmas. This is 1999. Photo by Fr. Mike.
During Thanksgiving week the demolition began, as reported by the Paterson News, with at least one error in the story, which attributes DBT's closure to the diocese and doesn't mention the Salesians at all.  See

DBT's last graduation, May 2002. Fr. Jay Horan (CYM) and Fr. Steve Schenck (director) hand out a diploma. Principal Fr. Mike Conway is at the podium. Unknown photographer; photo among several given to Fr. Mike, who was away from DBT on a special assignment at the time.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

SDB Cardinal Bo Promises Francis the Prayers of Burmese Catholics

Cardinal Bo: “Holy Father, this small flock will continue to pray for you”

Francis poses with Burma's bishops, including Cardinal Charles Bo, SDB
(at the Pope's left in the photo)
(ANS – Rangoon – November 30– On November 30, the Holy Father departed Burma for Bangladesh, his second and final stop on his apostolic journey. Among the last appointments in Burma on the 29th was Mass at the Kyaikkasan Ground area in the heart of Rangoon, filled with circa 150,000 faithful from all over the country. After the Eucharist, Rangoon’s archbishop, Salesian Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, who worked hard for the preparation and success of the papal journey, expressed words of thanks to the Pope.

“This is an experience of Mount Tabor,” the cardinal began. “Simple Catholics are living a truly emotional experience. Today we are transported to a mountain of the Beatitudes, and life will never be the same again for Catholics in Burma.”

“Only a year ago,” he continued, “the thought that this little flock would have shared Bread with our Holy Father Francis would have been nothing but a dream. We are a small flock. We are like Zacchaeus. In the midst of the nations, we could not see our shepherd. Like Zacchaeus, we were summoned: ‘Come down. I must stay at your house.’ Such is our Holy Father Francis: a good shepherd who looks for the little ones and those on the margins. You, Holy Father, broke the Bread of the Eucharist with us. Let us make our own the moving words of our mother, the Virgin Mary: ‘He raised the humble. My soul magnifies the Lord.’”

“Like the disciples on Mount Tabor,” he concluded, “we return home with an extraordinary spiritual energy, proud to be Catholics, called to live the Gospel. This day will be imprinted in every heart present here, and full of gratitude, we thank your generosity. . . . Thank you, Holy Father. This small flock will continue to pray for you.”

Among the other activities carried out by the Pope in Burma on the 29th was a meeting with the Supreme Council of Sangha of the Buddhist monks with whom the Pontiff reaffirmed a common commitment “for peace, respect for human dignity, and justice for every man and woman”; a meeting with the bishops of Burma, whom he reminded that “prayer is the first task of the bishop”; and on November 30, a Mass with young people, whom he exhorted to be “courageous, generous and, above all, joyful!”

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Homily for Solemnity of Christ the King

Homily for the Solemnity
of Christ the King
Nov. 24, 2002
Matt 25: 31-46
Nativity, Brandon, Fla.

“Then the king will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matt 25: 41).

During a hot debate in the U.S. Senate back in the early 1920s, one impassioned senator told a colleague to go to hell.  The affronted senator appealed to the presiding officer, Vice President Calvin Coolidge, about the use of such language.  Coolidge, who had been leafing thru a book, looked up and said, “I have been checking the rules manual, and you don’t have to go.”

When people get angry, they’ll often curse others.  Wishing someone real harm, not just using naughty words, is what cursing is.  But quite often someone says “go to hell” rather thoughtlessly.  We say a certain injury “hurt like hell” or we have “a boss from hell.”  We’ve been known to have “a helluva good time.”  We joke about hell—how if we end up there, we’ll have a good time with all our friends.

Such flippant attitudes suit Satan quite well.  His best friends aren’t atheists, who may be sincere and virtuous people, but people who don’t take sin seriously, who don’t think their moral or immoral choices have consequences.  If hell is a joke or just a 4-letter word, then sin isn’t serious, and neither is virtue.

How awful is hell?  Consider 9-11.  All of us shudder to imagine what it was like at the top of the WTC—a friend of mine died there—or at the Pentagon.  We may gauge the horror from office workers’ preference to jump out windows rather than stay where they were.  That was an image of hell.  People who survived the Nazi concentration camps tell us they were in hell on earth, and with good reason.

Those earthly examples, however, have significant flaws.  Concentration camp inmates who sustained themselves with hope, e.g., of seeing a spouse or a child again, appear to have had a markedly greater chance of survival than those without hope.  The last seconds of office workers engulfed in burning jet fuel or choking in acrid smoke may have seemed eternal, but they were seconds.  We all pray we never find out what that’s like.

The Last Judgment by Hans Memling (Wikipedia)
The real hell, the one created for the devil and his angels, is everlasting, never-ending.  Appropriately did Dante imagine a sign over the gate of hell:  “Abandon hope, all you who enter here.”  There are no 2d chances, no reincarnations.  The hell of the Bible and of Christian doctrine is a hopeless eternity of pain, anguish, self-loathing, hatred of everyone and everything.  It’s no everyday matter.  It’s no joking matter.

There’s a tendency among some Christians to discount hell.  God is merciful, after all.  Could he really damn anyone for whom Christ died and rose from the dead?

Three answers to that, and one hope.

1st answer:  We have Christ’s own teaching that hell is a reality and a possible outcome of his judgment on our lives.  We’ve just heard his parable of the last judgment.  We may also remember his parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus who wasted away at the rich man’s doorstep, as well as some of Christ’s other warnings.

2d answer:  We all have a natural instinct for justice, an instinct planted in our hearts by God, in whose image we’re created.  Justice isn’t fully administered in this life; even when we try hard, as in democratic societies, we often fail.  We believe that God is the inescapable, undeceivable, just judge who in eternity vindicates the innocent and punishes the wicked.

3d answer:  It isn’t God’s choice to damn anyone.  It’s our own choice.  God wants us to turn from sin and be saved, but the one force against which he is powerless is our free will.  If we choose to sin and not to repent, he can’t compel us to accept his pardon, can’t compel us into heaven.  It’s as if he asks us, “Are you sorry for your sins,” and we say, “Hell, no!”  And he says, “Is that your final answer?”  And we say, “Yes!”  Only then will he utter those terrible words, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Yet there is one substantial hope.  St. Francis de Sales, the patron and namesake of the Salesian Society, believed that God in his mercy calls each of us into eternity at the moment when each of us is best prepared to go.  One modern theologian[1] published a book called Dare We Hope That All Men Will Be Saved? which, while acknowledging that damnation is a real possibility for each of us, answered positively that we may indeed hope that God’s mercy will so touch every single human heart as to win its repentance and salvation.

A final point—the point Jesus emphasizes in this parable of judgment, as well as in the parable of the rich man and the beggar at his door:  we will be judged, and our eternal fate depends, upon the mercy we extend to or withhold from our brothers and sisters.  It’s God’s grace that saves us by moving us to repent and by moving us to imitate Christ in our lives.  But it’s always within our power to reject grace or accept it and act on it.  And we’ll be judged, according to what Jesus tells us, not by what we’ve believed—all the mysteries of our Christian faith—but by what we’ve done, the sin or the virtue in how we’ve treated one another.  “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40).

      [1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 1988.