Sunday, February 26, 2017

Homily for 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
8th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Feb. 26, 2017
1 Cor 4: 1-5
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“Thus should one regard us:  as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4: 1).

The passage from 1 Corinthians that we read this evening/morning comes on the heels of last week’s passage, as well as earlier ones, in which Paul lamented that there were factions within the Church at Corinth.  Different groups proclaimed some sort of allegiance to various preachers and apostles, including Peter, Paul, and Apollos, while others said they belonged to Christ.

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?  Wouldn’t we love to know a lot more about all that!  Can you imagine the tabloids in the supermarket checkout lanes?  But Scripture scholars and Church historians know precious little.  And it would be mostly beside the point, anyway, for our celebration of the sacred liturgy and taking home a message from the Word of God.

Paul, of course, isn’t happy about serious divisions or factions within the community.  Those are never good—whether the community is the body politic or the body ecclesiastic.  For the Church, Paul preaches unity based on Jesus Christ, even while the believers come from different social and national backgrounds (slave and free, Jew and Greek) and have different gifts or charisms within the community, and probably different preferences about some things.  There’d be nothing wrong, for instance, with preferring the preaching style of Paul to that of Peter, or Apollos to Paul, or Fr. Dave to Fr. Mike.

St. Paul Preaching at Athens, by Raphael
But the preacher or the apostle, Paul insists, must be a “servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God.”  This applies to Apollos, to Peter, to Paul himself.  And it must be apparent that it is so:  “thus should one regard us.”  This is how we should be seen.

Paul’s point remains absolutely valid today.  The preacher must preach Jesus Christ and not himself.  He must serve Jesus Christ and not himself.  He must seek to gather and safeguard disciples for Jesus and not his own little flock of devotees or fans.

What does it mean to be a “steward of the mysteries of God”?  A steward is a householder’s chief servant, like the butler in aristocratic households, or a great landlord’s estate manager, like the “dishonest steward” in Jesus’ parable (Luke 16:1-8).  He’s the President’s chief of staff—Leo McGarry in The West Wing or, in real life, Rahm Emanuel and 4 others under Obama.  (Pop quiz:  name them!)

So Paul teaches that the apostles and other preachers of the Gospel must be “stewards of the mysteries of God.”  The apostle or preacher doesn’t own the household or the mysteries.  He’s not really in charge.  He’s a caretaker and guardian.  He sees that the mysteries are available or accessible to the rest of the household, for which he’s responsible.  You may remember that Jesus speaks of “the faithful and prudent servant whom the master has put in charge of the household to distribute to them their food at the proper time” (Matt 24:45).  The steward sees that the proper rations assigned by the master are dispensed, and he must dispense them without diluting or substituting them.

The steward of the mysteries of God—Paul, Peter, or Apollos; John Paul, Benedict, or Francis; or any bishop, priest, catechist, Catholic school teacher, or Catholic parent—is a steward of the mysteries and has the responsibility before God of teaching and preaching and handing on “the mysteries of God”—not his own opinion or sentiments, but the apostolic faith received from Jesus Christ and preserved by Christ’s Church.

What are these “mysteries of God” or “divine mysteries”?  At the beginning of almost every Mass, we “prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”  “The mysteries,” 1st of all, are the Eucharist and all that it contains or implies.  We can only begin to sum that up by professing that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Christ our Savior; that it is the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross made present and effective for us; that it is the living Christ, triumphantly risen from the tomb and ascended bodily into heaven; that our sharing in the Eucharist is a sharing in the eternal life of Jesus Christ; that it is an anticipation of Christ’s return on the Last Day as universal king and judge.  We proclaim as “the mystery of faith”:  “your death, O Lord, and your resurrection until you come again,” or some variation of that liturgical text (you’ll find 3 forms in the missalette).

All that is what Paul means when he calls the apostles “stewards of the mysteries.”  But wait!  There’s more!  “The mysteries” include all the sacraments:  those visible, audible, physical signs that somehow—“mysteriously”—convey to us the spiritual life of God, the life of grace, the “mystery” of salvation.  Ordinary water can cleanse our body; sacramental water with the power of the Holy Spirit cleanses our souls.  Anointing with oil may perfume our bodies or have some physical restorative power; anointing with sacred oil heals our souls or thru the power of the Holy Spirit transforms a man into an alter Christus, “another Christ.”
Anointing the hands of a newly ordained priest with chrism
Finally, beyond the sacraments, “the divine mysteries” of which Paul speaks refers to everything that has to do with our relationship with God; e.g., that Christ has redeemed us thru his cross and resurrection; that Christ truly forgives our sins when we repent; that Christ has established the Church to continue his redemptive work thruout the world and thruout the ages; that God is 3 and God is 1, and God has called us to share in his Trinitarian life for all eternity; that the Bible is the unique, powerful Word of God addressed to us.

So far, I’ve spoken mainly of “us” in Paul’s text as referring to the apostles and other preachers of the Gospel.  But Paul’s addressing the whole Christian community at Corinth.  He’s been challenging all of them—as we’ve been hearing since Jan. 22—to separate themselves from the “wisdom” of this world or of the present age, and to cling to the wisdom of Jesus Christ, which Paul also calls the foolishness of Christ crucified (1:18-25).  We are all “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  We’re all responsible for holding, preserving, and passing on the Gospel of Jesus in its purity.

Today’s passage continues with a short discussion of conscience and our being under God’s judgment.  Suffice it to say for now that Christ will come as our final judge—“he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” (Creed)—to judge our actions, our words, and our motives (4:5); that we must all form our consciences well in the light of Christ’s teachings in the Sacred Scriptures and Christ’s teachings mediated thru his Church, to which he gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt 16:19); and that we must examine our consciences, not by what our friends and relatives or our enemies think of us, or how good we think we are—“I do not even pass judgment on myself,” Paul says (4:3)—but by the standards of Jesus Christ.  For several Sundays we’ve been listening to some of those standards in the Sermon on the Mount; we’ll hear more of those standards during the 40 days of Lent.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Directors Appointed for 2017-2020

Directors Appointed for 2017-2020

Fr. Timothy Zak, vice provincial, has announced the names of Salesians appointed to serve as directors of communities in the New Rochelle Province for the period July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2020.

The letter was dated February 16 (but your humble blogger hasn't been able to attend to his blogging with sufficient diligence).

Three confreres were appointed for first terms as superior in communities where they're already serving:

-- Fr. Alain Leonard in Sherbrooke, Que.  He has been responsible for campus ministry at Seminaire Salesien for most of his priestly life, and he served as director of the community some time back.  He will succeed Fr. George Harkins, who completes 6 years as director.

-- Fr. John Mariapragasam in Edmonton, Alta.  A member of the SDB province of Madras, India, he is on loan to our province by special request of the Rector Major (along with 3 other Indian confreres).  Fr. John is pastor of Annunciation Parish.  There are also 2 Canadian confreres in the community.  For the last few years the confreres in Edmonton have been attached to the Surrey, B.C., community and so haven't had local superior.

-- Fr. Mario Villaraza in Etobicoke, Ont.  Fr. Mario has been at St. Benedict's Parish for 2 years after serving in Surrey, B.C., for a good number of years, including 6 years as director and pastor.  Since July he has been pastor of St. Benedict's; now he'll succeed Fr. John Puntino as director, as well.

In addition, Fr. George Atok was appointed to a 2d term as director of the community of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Surrey.

Fr. James McKenna and Fr. Louis Molinelli were named to 3d terms as director of their communities:  the Marian Shrine-Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw-Stony Point, N.Y., and Archbishop Shaw HS in Marrero, La., respectively.  Two parishes (St. Rosalie and St. John Bosco) in Harvey, La., also are served by the Shaw community.

Salesian directors are nominated by the provincial superior with the consent of his council.  The appointments are confirmed by the Rector Major.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Homily for Wednesday, Week 6 of Ordinary Time

Homily for Wednesday
Week 6 of Ordinary Time
February 15, 2017
Gen 8: 6-13, 20-22
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“Noah built an altar to the Lord” (Gen 8: 20).
Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat
by Simon de Myle (fl. ca. 1570)
The lectionary gives us 3 selections from the story of Noah, 1 each from Gen 7, 8, and 9; just 4 verses from where the story starts in ch. 6.

As you read the story of the great flood on your own, you’ll probably notice some duplications and discrepancies in it.  You remember that Gen 1-2 give us 2 creation stories by different biblical authors.  The final editor—the inspired sacred editor of Genesis, whoever he was—made no attempt to reconcile those stories; he simply included them both, one following the other.  But with the Noah story, we have 2 versions of the great flood that that final editor kind of wove together, while leaving those duplications and discrepancies duplications and discrepancies.  E.g., you all know that Noah took 1 pair of every animal into the ark, right?  So God commands him in 6:19-20.  But we heard in yesterday’s reading that he was to take on board 7 pairs of all the clean animals and birds and 1 pair of the unclean (7:2-3).  Those extra pairs of the clean animals come in handy at the end of today’s reading when Noah offers a great sacrifice to the Lord; obviously it wouldn’t have done to have saved just 1 pair of sheep or 1 pair of cattle and then offered them up as a holocaust.

So what is God teaching us thru this story of the great flood?  We heard 1 point yesterday in Fr. Dave’s homily:  Noah was a man of faith who did what God commanded, even without knowing what God was planning.

What else?  You know that anywhere you have a great river, like the Mississippi— sometimes even a small river or a creek—periodic floods are a problem, causing every now and then great destruction and loss of life.  You can imagine what that was like in the ancient world before river control systems like dikes and dams, before weather forecasting and government warning systems.  You also know that the stories of Gen 1-12 are set in Mesopotamia, precisely the “land between the rivers,” the great flood plain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

So floods were a regular experience of the people who remembered and passed along these stories.  In that ancient world, pagan peoples blamed natural disasters like floods on capricious gods who did whatever they wanted:  while fighting with each other, deceiving each other, or just amusing themselves at human expense—like kids in the bathtub.  Check your Greek mythology.  Same was true of Babylonian myths, the context in which our Bible was born.

But the Hebrews didn’t believe God is capricious or uncaring.  He has purpose.  He has a plan.  He is just.  So the great flood—any natural disaster—doesn’t happen on a divine whim but as a just punishment of sinful humanity:  “When the Lord God saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil, he regretted that he had made man on the earth” (6:5-6).  But in his justice, God spares the 1 just man, Noah, and his family.  Nature isn’t capricious but is an agent of God’s goodness or of his justice, and God takes care of his faithful servants.  At the end, we see another aspect of God’s control of nature and his care for his creation:  he begins the regulation of the seasons:  “seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter” (8:22), hitherto not mentioned as part of creation.

Another point is what Noah does after he and his family finally disembark:  “Noah built an altar to the Lord” and offered a great sacrifice to God.  This is the 1st time in the Bible that we hear about an altar.  On it Noah burns numerous animals as holocausts, “from every clean animal and every clean bird” (8:20)—offerings entirely consumed by fire on the altar, given entirely to God and no portion kept for the ones offering the sacrifice, the most perfect form of Old Testament sacrifice.  Noah is simultaneously adoring God thru sacrifice and giving thanks for his deliverance.  Adoration and thanksgiving are 2 of the 4 universal purposes of prayer, purposes purer than atonement or petition.  Noah is setting a pattern for the future patriarchs, King David, and Jewish religion in general.

Of course, on our altar we offer a perfect sacrifice, one incorporating all 4 purposes of prayer, as we offer the Body and Blood of God’s Son, grateful for our deliverance from the overwhelming flood of sin around us—and in us.  May God preserve us thru his Son’s sacrifice!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Homily for 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Feb. 12, 2017
Matt 5: 17-37
1 Cor 2: 6-10
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“I have not come to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them” (Matt 5: 17).

2 weekends ago we began 5 Sundays of gospel readings from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ new law for the new people of God created by the new covenant he came to establish.  The 1st 3 of those gospel readings come consecutively from Matt 5:  the Beatitudes, the similes of Christians as salt, light, and a city on a mountain, and today’s specifics about Christian attitudes and behavior.

Sermon on the Mount
by Carl Bloch
At the Last Supper Jesus spoke of that new covenant between God and the human race, established by the sacrificial shedding of his own blood—words that we repeat at every Mass as Jesus once more consecrates our meager offerings into the rich-beyond-words gift of himself to us.

As we listen to Christ’s words in the gospel today, we hear his teaching that his new covenant, this new relationship between God and humanity, doesn’t destroy the old covenant— the one mediated by Moses on Mt. Sinai, expressed in the Torah, and preached by the prophets.  Rather, Jesus takes that covenant deeper, carrying its wisdom and holiness into our hearts, our attitudes, beyond our external behavior.

What Jesus teaches is what St. Paul calls “a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away” (1 Cor 2:6).  By “mature,” Paul refers to spiritual maturity, a mature Christian discipleship.  By “the rulers of this age,” he means both the Roman Empire—Caesar, his governors, and subject kings like Herod; and the Devil and his cohorts who wield so much power in the present age.  For us, Paul still means the Devil, of course, and the earthly powers of our age:  presidents, monarchs, dictators, armies, the Fortune 500, the mass media, academia, et al.  Pope Francis probably would add, “church careerists.”  These are “the rulers of this age.”  In the end, only God’s wisdom will remain.  For now, that wisdom is “mysterious, hidden” (2:7)—in the cross of our Savior.  On the Last Day, it will be evident to the entire world, and those who lived by the wisdom of the world will be, in Jesus’ words, “liable to judgment” (Matt 5:22), while those who embraced the cross and the “righteousness” of Christ (5:6,10,20) “will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (5:19).

The 1st specific teaching that Jesus presents to us is an extension of the 5th commandment.  For Jesus, the commandment includes much more than the avoidance of murder.  Physical violence stems from one’s heart, one’s attitude.  So Jesus condemns anger—not the feeling we all experience when we think we’ve been wronged, whose arousal is automatic, so to speak; but the feeling that we nurture and savor, the one that we obsess over as we hold a grudge, plot how to get even, make rash judgments, attack the reputation of someone, hate to the degree that if we thought we could get away with it we would do physical violence.  Jesus warns us not to dare to approach the altar of sacrifice—this altar here—without reconciling ourselves to our brother or sister—which means, in the 1st place, our fellow believers, and then more generally the rest of mankind.  That’s why we begin almost every Eucharist by calling to mind our sins and repenting of them.  That’s why we exchange a symbolic sign of peace before coming toward the altar for the Eucharist.  That’s why the Church makes the sacrament of Reconciliation so readily available to us weak sinners.

Many of you may be thinking, “I’d like to be reconciled with so-and-so, but she has hurt me so badly that I don’t want anything to do with her”—and you call her a real so-and-so!  Or you may think, “I’d like to be reconciled, but it takes 2 to reconcile, and that’s just not gonna happen.”  No, peace and harmony aren’t always possible.  The key question is our attitude:  Would I really want to be reconciled?  Can I wish that other person God’s blessings?  Do I pray for my enemies, as Jesus commands?  Even if I no longer count them as friends, can I at least be polite when they’re around and not speak ill of them when they’re not around?  Do I ask Jesus to help me be more forgiving, after the example that he himself set?

Then Jesus speaks of sexual morality.  Avoiding the physical act of adultery is insufficient virtue for his disciples.  He immediately addresses our hearts, our desires:  wishing to commit adultery, desiring it, lusting for it is just as great a sin as the act itself.  How many real, personal relationships have been damaged by online relationships?  Our age is suffering a tremendous plague of pornography—so great that some states are considering declaring it a public health hazard like tobacco.  Porn turns people—the images of God—into objects, toys for our amusement, our selfish gratification like playing a video game or diving into a big bowl of ice cream.  I don’t need to mention some of the specific social ills that follow from that sort of mindset.

Jesus uses a strong image as he speaks of our sexual desires—about cutting off hands and plucking out eyes.  His Semitic culture liked such exaggerated images; recall the line about a camel squeezing thru a needle’s eye.  The point is to control our bodies, to avoid the occasions of sin, to resist temptations, even to practice traditional Christian mortification; not to let anything get between us and God.  Remember the resolution that St. Dominic Savio made when he was 7:  “Death rather than sin.”

Still speaking of adultery, Jesus goes on to address divorce and remarriage—a hot topic, shall we say, in contemporary Church discussions.  Could his teaching be any plainer?  The Church takes its doctrine of the permanence of marriage from Jesus’ own words, expressed not only here but also in a debate with the Pharisees; see Matt 19 (and parallel passages in Mark and Luke, as well as 1 Cor 7).  “Unless the [1st] marriage is unlawful” (5:32), he says here, i.e., for some reason isn’t an authentic marriage (is invalid), divorce and remarriage is adulterous.  A careful reading of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia will find the teaching of Jesus upheld, despite the interpretations that some have put on it.

Finally—for today’s gospel reading—Jesus takes up the question of truthfulness in our speech.  Christians aren’t to be deceptive or devious but to speak the truth plainly.  Yes means yes, and no means no.  If I give you my word, I keep it.  If I speak of someone or something, I speak as honestly about him or it as I possibly can.  We needn’t go into the intricacies of moral theology here, e.g., about who is entitled to hear the truth and from whom we may withhold it.

So Jesus isn’t doing away with any of God’s commandments when, e.g., he summarizes the law and the prophets as loving God wholeheartedly and our neighbor as ourselves.  He sets a very high standard for us to follow if we would be his disciples—so high that later he’ll compare following him to carrying a cross toward crucifixion.  It is a challenge, absolutely, to follow Jesus as one of his disciples.  The words that St. Paul quotes from the prophet Isaiah, then, are encouraging, about the wonderful things that “God has prepared for those who love him”:  far beyond anything we can possibly imagine (1 Cor 2:9).

Friday, February 10, 2017

Homily for Friday, 5th Week of Ordinary Time

Homily for
Friday, Week 5 of Ordinary Time
February 10, 2017
Gen 3: 1-8
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the Lord God had made” (Gen 3: 1).

Folklore likes to use animals to present life-lessons.  Aesop’s Fables are told entirely with animal characters like the tortoise and the hare, the ant and the grasshopper.  Many of us read Brer Rabbit stories in school.  Today the sacred writer introduces us to a talking serpent.

Just yesterday we heard that God had created all the creatures and given dominion over them to the man before he made for the man a “suitable partner” (1:20).  The story today picks up from there; the villain, so to speak, is one of “the animals that the Lord God had made,” not some dark, external power that rivals God; remember that some religions propose that there are eternal Beings, one good and the other evil, contending with each other.

The serpent is described as “cunning.”  In the context of Hebrew religion, we can say that this cunning is worldly wisdom, which sets itself up in opposition to God’s laws.  The serpent works at such worldly wisdom, and Jesus, St. Paul, and Christian spirituality constantly warn us against it.
The Temptation of Adam & Eve
But the villain of this story is not the serpent.  It’s the 2 human beings who make a conscious, deliberate decision to violate God’s command.  The serpent makes suggestions to them—we all know the power of temptations to present to us something that we really know is evil and convince us that, somehow, it’s good.

As a matter of curiosity:  the story doesn’t identify the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  It seems that Latin-speakers initiated the idea that it was an apple, making a pun on the word for apple, which is malum.  Malum also means “evil.”

Isn’t knowledge good?  Well, not every form of knowledge is good.  The fruit of this tree counters all the good that has surrounded the man since God created him and placed him in the garden.  If there’s nothing but goodness around you, why would you want to know about evil?

In biblical language, moreover, “knowing” means “experiencing.”  It’s not merely intellectual knowledge.  An astrophysicist may know how space flight works; but an astronaut knows space flight.  It’s not good for humans to know evil in that sense.

The man and woman’s choice, further, is motivated by what the Greeks call hubris— inordinate pride.  “You will be like gods!” (2:5).  To aspire to greatness, of course, is a good thing.  To go beyond our nature, our essence—not so good.  It’s scary today to see so many people aspiring to be like gods—deciding for themselves what’s true and what’s false, what’s right and what’s wrong; creating and destroying life at will; messing around with the human genetic code; creating creatures half-human and half-animal; etc.  As in the story of the Fall in Gen 3, that can result only in disaster.  When anyone can decide his own moral code, there is no moral code, and anyone can do what he likes—if he’s powerful enuf.  We’ve seen too many examples of the powerful deciding what’s right and what’s not.

The 1st fruit of the couple’s new knowledge is their vulnerability.  They are naked.  They are shamed.  They are defenseless.

The 2d fruit is alienation.  Now that they’ve experienced evil, they feel they must hide from God, the All-Good with whom they had been on such intimate terms when goodness was their only knowledge.  And, as the story goes on, we learn that they’re also alienated from each other and from the rest of creation.  More about that tomorrow.  As Oliver Hardy might have said, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”

Fortunately for humanity, God didn’t leave us in the mess we created by our foolish choice.  He offers us the unwarranted grace of forgiveness and redemption, which we celebrate in these sacred mysteries.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Three Members of Salesian Family Declared "Venerable"

Three Members of Salesian Family Declared “Venerable”

Most of this material was published by ANS. Excerpts from a letter of the Rector Major, Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, also are used. The blogger has added a touch here and there.

On January 20, Pope Francis received in audience Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. During the audience the Holy Father authorized the CSC to promulgate decrees concerning the heroic virtues of seven Servants of God, including Salesian priests Fr. Francesco Convertini and Fr. José Wech Vandor and Salesian parishioner Jan Tyranowski.

In declaring someone Venerable, the Church confirms that a Servant of God practiced to a heroic degree the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity toward God and neighbor, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, as well as the other virtues essential to a Christian life, and that he or she enjoyed a reputation for holiness.

The cardinal and bishop members of the CSC had reached such a conclusion concerning the seven new Venerables at its ordinary session on January 10.

Venerable Fr. Francesco Convertini, SDB (1898-1976)
Francesco Convertini was born in Locorotondo (Bari), Italy, on August 29, 1898. He was drafted for military service during World War I, during which he was wounded, taken prisoner, and interned in Poland. When he returned home, he answered to the Lord’s call by entering the Salesian missionary formation community at Ivrea.

He set out from Genoa to India after receiving the missionary crucifix from the hands of Blessed Philip Rinaldi. On his arrival in Assam, he was a novice of Venerable Stephen Ferrando and after his profession became a disciple of Archbishop Louis Mathias and the Servant of God Fr. Constantine Vendrame, and was distinguished for his exceptional apostolic zeal.

His mission field was Bengal in northeastern India, where he made a huge number of friends and spiritual children, both unschooled and learned, both rich and poor. He was the only missionary who could enter the homes of both Hindus or Muslims. He was continually on the move from village to village on horseback, by bicycle, or on foot with nothing but his knapsack. In this way, he could meet many people and talk to them about Christ.

He gave himself without distinction to all: Muslims, Hindus, Christians; and everyone loved and revered him as a master of the interior life for his human and spiritual wisdom, which he possessed abundantly. A loving devotee of the Blessed Virgin, he died at Krishnagar, India, on the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11, 1976, whispering: “My Mother, I never displeased you in my lifetime. And now, you help me!”

Fr. Convertini came from a family marked by bereavement and hardship. His father died when Francesco was less than three months old. His mother was a woman of profound Christian faith, entirely dedicated to the family. To Francesco, who helped in the fields, watched the turkeys, or did other chores fit for his young age, she used to repeat: “Do it with love! Do it with love!” In the evening the family gathered to pray the Rosary.

Death visited Francesco’s home again when he was 11; in 1909 his mother died in childbirth. Soon afterwards, with his brother Samuele, he was taken to the fair where children were hired as shepherd boys. Their masters were good and very faith-filled people who got to love the two orphans. In their turn, the boys called them Mom and Dad.

This family history marked the missionary style of Fr. Convertini, who evangelized by visiting the homes of the people – Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists – to speak to them of God in a comprehensible way and try to bring to their families a message of peace and reconciliation. Because of his transparency and simplicity of life, homes opened to him, and Hindus and Muslims, too, welcomed him as a man of God.

The life of Fr. Convertini is rich with heroic expressions linked to his charity, his penances, and his charm as a man of God who brought “the water of Jesus who saves.” He conferred Baptism upon thousands. He deprived himself of everything to give to the poor: even his clothes, shoes, bed, and food. He always slept on the ground. He fasted at length. He was poor to an incredible degree. There are so many episodes, enriched also by supernatural gifts, which gained him a reputation for sanctity even during his lifetime. He belonged to all without any distinction of religion, caste, or social condition. Everyone loved him. Fr. Francesco Convertini is undoubtedly a model of Salesian missionary life, an example of true enculturation of the Gospel, a master of the interior life and of exceptional self-denial in a pastoral key, one who made his own life an adventure in the Spirit with the apostolic heart of Don Bosco.

All during life he was able to accept others and to meet people with his heart, his goodness, and his humanity. This is the legacy he has handed on to us and especially to the new generations.

Fr. Convertini was not a man for theory. He was very practical and was able to branch out in many directions with the values and ideals of the Gospel. He understood mercy not as a vague sentimental emotion but in the concrete practice of all the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

The diocesan inquiry for Fr. Convertini was carried out at the chancery of Krishnagar, India, from 1997 to 2005. After the Positio was prepared according to the usual procedure, members of the CSC discussed whether the Servant of God had practiced the virtues in a heroic degree. A positive conclusion reached in 2015 was affirmed by the CSC’s theological consultors in 2016.

Venerable José Vandor, SDB (1909-1979)

Venerable Fr. José Vandor was born to a farming family in Dorog, Hungary, on October 29, 1909, and died in Santa Clara, Cuba, on October 8, 1979.

His birth name was Jozsef Wech. He made his Salesian novitiate in 1927-1928, and in 1932 he went to Turin for his theological studies. At that time he changed his surname from Wech to Vandor, which means “pilgrim.” This name proved prophetic: for many years, his life turned out to be a wandering journey, marked by stages, stops, and new starts.

He was ordained in 1936 and soon afterwards was sent as a missionary to the Antilles. From 1936 to 1954, Fr. Vandor’s life was characterized by constant movements: at Guanabacoa, Moca, Matanzas, and Camagüey he exercised his ministry in the midst of trials and hardships. From 1954 to the end of his life, he lived in Santa Clara, Cuba, sent thither for the pastoral care of the church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and for the construction of the Rosa Perez Velasio School of Arts and Trades.

A Hungarian, he proved he was able to understand the Cuban people, sharing their hopes, fears, and expectations. He was a “messenger of truth and hope” and a worker for peace. During the battle of Santa Clara in December 1958, the final, decisive military engagement of the Cuban revolution that ended on January 1, 1959, with Castro’s victory, he endangered his own life to mediate a truce that saved many lives.

Fr. Vandor suffered from numerous ailments, such as tuberculosis, ictus, hepatitis, and arthrosis, but he never complained. He accepted these with a great spirit of abandonment to with the will of God. Because of his manifold pastoral and educational initiatives, he is a model of a priest for the New Evangelization. The faithful appreciated in him the zealous parish priest, the greatly sought-after confessor, and the sick person who without regard for himself visited the sick.

Doing good and working for the salvation of souls was his only concern during his 43 years of pastoral labor on Cuban soil. His personality, spirituality, and pastoral creativity left profound effects in the diocese of Santa Clara. Fr. Vandor can be compared with St. Francis de Sales for his patient docility, prudent commitment, and enlightened wisdom in spiritual direction; he can also be compared with St. John Bosco for his apostolic dynamism, his love for the poorest, his spirit of faith, his serene cheerfulness, and his cordiality.

On October 4, 1978, the 50th anniversary of his religious profession was celebrated in the presence of the Rector Major, Fr. Egidio Viganò. Fr. Vandor was by now renowned all over the city as a peacemaker, an exemplary priest, a man of profound union with God, a very sought-after spiritual director. He showed that he was a true parish priest with the heart of the Good Shepherd, with the style of the Preventive System of St. John Bosco.

His Salesian life, spent in difficult conditions, was made yet more difficult in the 1960s by the Castro regime’s growing opposition to the Church. But today it remains a sign for the Cuban population, where the fame of his sanctity is alive, particularly in the diocese of Santa Clara.

The diocesan investigation for Fr. Vandor was carried out at the chancery of Santa Clara, Cuba, from 2003 to 2008. After the Positio and discussion, according to the usual procedure, as to whether the Servant of God had exerted virtues in a heroic degree, a positive finding was given in 2016 and confirmed at a meeting of theological consultors.

Venerable Jan Tyranowski (1901-1947)

Jan Tyranowski (February 9, 1901-March 15, 1947), a parishioner of the Salesian parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Krakow, was an important figure for that Salesian setting in very difficult times, viz., World War II and the German occupation of Poland. A tailor by profession, Mr. Tyranowski distinguished himself for his gifts of human balance, piety, and apostolic zeal.

Mr. Tyranowski was the spiritual guide of Karol Wojtyla when the future Pope, a fellow parishioner while doing forced labor under the Nazis, was discerning his vocation to the priesthood. They met in February 1940 when the older man was leading some religious youth meetings promoted by the Salesians, who anticipated Nazi interruption of their own ministry. After the arrest and deportation to Auschwitz of the pastor, Fr. Jan Swierc, and most of the other Salesians – one of them, Fr. Joseph Kowalski, has already been beatified as a martyr, and the others are undergoing the inquiry for the cause of beatification – Mr. Tyranowski was given the responsibility of the pastoral care of the young men of the parish. Thus he became a mentor for young Karol. He created the Living Rosary Circles, which Karol joined and became a youth leader in. He guided his young charges toward a Carmelite spirituality, in which he was steeped himself, introducing them to St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. Years later, Pope John Paul II described him as “educator-theologian, apostle of the greatness of God, of the beauty of God.”

The diocesan inquiry of Mr. Tyranowski was carried out at Krakow’s chancery from 1997 to 2000. Initially his cause was entrusted to the Salesian Family’s postulator general. The vice postulator of the cause, Fr. Adam Nyk, SDB, drew up the Positio, which was delivered to the CSC in 2011. The archdiocese of Krakow has assumed responsibility for the further advancement of the cause.

Following the usual procedure, the CSC discussed whether the Servant of God practiced virtue to a heroic degree. The positive assessment was confirmed by CSC’s theological consultors.

Today Mr. Tyranowski’s remains rest in St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Krakow, a few steps away from the chapel dedicated to Mary Help of Christians, where Karol Wojtyla often prayed.

St. John Paul II’s distinguished biographer George Weigel paid tribute to the new Venerable in his weekly newspaper column (February 1):

Salesian Venerables

Following the decree of January 20, Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni, the Salesian Family’s postulator general for saints causes, commented, “Let us express our gratitude for these new Venerables of the Salesian Family, who remind us the missionary passion of the Salesian charism lived with fidelity and heroism also in situations of difficulty and hardship.”

If and when a miracle is attributed to a Venerable and the miracle is verified by the CSC, the person may be beatified.

The other Venerable members of the Salesian Family are

§  Fr. August Arribat, SDB

§  Fr. Andrew Beltrami, SDB

§  Margaret Occhiena Bosco, Don Bosco’s mother

§  Dorothy Chopitea, Cooperator

§  Fr. Vincent Cimatti, SDB

§  Bishop Stephen Ferrando, SDB

§  Attilio Giordani, Cooperator

§  Fr. Rudolf Komorek, SDB

§  Sr. Laura Meozzi, FMA

§  Bishop Louis Olivares, SDB

§  Sr. Teresa Valsé Pantellini, FMA

§  Fr. Joseph Quadrio, SDB

§  Bro. Simon Srugi, SDB

Homily for Wednesday, 5th Week of Ordinary Time

Homily for Wednesday
Week 5 of Ordinary Time
February 8, 2017
Gen 2: 4b-9, 15-17
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“At the time when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens…” (Gen 2: 4b).

Monday and yesterday we heard what’s often called the 1st creation story, which was rather like both a catalog and a hymn.  Today and tomorrow we hear the 2d creation story, more like a narrative—a good story; and it will continue with the adventures—or, rather, the misadventures—of the people in the story.

No doubt you’ve heard many times that the Bible isn’t teaching us science.  It’s more concerned to teach us about the universe’s relationship to its Creator, and man’s place in the universe and in God’s plan, than about how the universe was created.  About that, we need believe only that God created it; it didn’t create itself.  These stories are about the meaning of the universe.

The Garden of Eden, by Thomas Cole
So we’re dealing with a story here in Gen 2.  If Jesus can tell a parable about a father welcoming back a wayward son, to convey the truth of God’s forgiving love (Luke 15:11-32), then the sacred writers of Gen 1-11 can tell us a whole series of stories to teach us not about cosmology or paleontology but about our human relationship with God and with God’s world.

For instance, we learn today that creation was incomplete until God created man.  The earth, we hear, was barren, for “there was no man to till the soil” (2:5).  Then God creates the man, who is integral with the earth—created out of the dirt or clay of the earth.  Even the Hebrew word used, adam, meaning “man” or “human being” (it’s not a personal name), is related to the word for “earth” or “dirt,” adamah.

But what God shapes from the mud isn’t whole until God breathes life into it.  In ch. 1, we read that God created men and women in his own image (v. 27).  Here we read that God’s own life-breath infuses life into us.  It’s another way of saying that human beings are made in God’s image.  Much later in the Scriptures—in John’s Gospel—we’ll hear Jesus breathing that same Spirit upon the apostles, restoring the image of God in them after their failures during the Lord’s passion and empowering them to restore the divine image in men and women by forgiving sins (20:19-23).

Then God plants a wonderful garden for the man—a royal park, as it were.  The Hebrew word used suggests a great royal garden that would be truly impressive in a land where there’s so much desert.  What a home for the man!  God commands him to tend that garden, which means not only that work is basic to who we are, even before the Fall, but also that God has made us his colleagues, his partners, in caring for his wonderful creation.

We could also comment on the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  But that’s enuf for one weekday homily.  You get the idea of what the inspired writer is teaching us about how important we are to God.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Homily for 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Feb. 5, 2017
Matt 5: 13-16
Is 58: 7-10
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.: Scout Sunday

You are the light of the world.  A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden” (Matt 5: 14). Last weekend we began 5 Sundays of gospel readings from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ new law for the new people of God created by the new covenant he came to establish.  The Sermon takes up ch. 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel; in 5 readings we get only selections from those 3 chapters, obviously.
Our very short selection today—just 4 verses—comes immediately after the Beatitudes, our reading last weekend.  Together, these 2 passages make up the general introduction to the whole Sermon on the Mount.  If the disciples of Jesus live the Beatitudes, they will in fact be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a beacon shining in the darkness like Champaign-Urbana as you arrive on the interstate in the middle of the nite.

Two weeks ago, a parishioner faulted my homily for being “too political.”  The word politics comes from the Greek word polis, which means “city.”  In the gospel we just heard, Jesus compares his disciples to “a city set on a mountain.”  How are we to be cities seen by everyone?  to be the light of the world?  to be like salt, which gives a good flavor to our food or preserves it from spoiling?

Certainly not be withdrawing from the world and hiding ourselves like survivalists in the mountains of Idaho.  Certainly not by spending our lives only at prayer, being “pious” people in the privacy of our churches and families.  Now, being pious and spending time at prayer in church and at home are essential to our being disciples of Jesus.  We can follow Jesus only if we are with him, only if we listen to him and talk to him.

But that’s not enuf to make us light and salt for the world, cities on a mountain.  Jesus says explicitly that others should see our good deeds, and that should promote God’s glory (5:16).  As we read the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, we’ll hear Jesus getting more specific about how to give godlike flavor to the world around us, how to shine the light of God’s love upon our world.

And we heard some of that in the 1st reading this morning.  If you will, Isaiah is a very political prophet—all the prophets are political—insofar as he tells us how to live in the polis, in the city, in our society, among our neighbors.  Following the teaching of the prophets and of Jesus, the Church has an entire moral doctrine called “social justice” or “the social gospel.”

What did Isaiah command us today?  “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked” (58:7).  That sounds like Jesus’ parable of the Last Judgment in Matt 25, in which he tells the saints and the damned alike, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (25:40,45).  That’s why saints like Vincent de Paul, Don Bosco, and Mother Teresa dedicated their lives to the poor, the neglected, the hopeless of this world.  Those are some of the good deeds the world needs to see—and to learn to imitate, and so to glorify God.  That’s why we as individual Christians and a parish are expected to do the same within our own means (time, treasure, and talent, as we so often hear).  That’s why the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts take oaths “to help other people at all times” and strive to “do a good turn daily,” to let the light of their good deeds shine.  Baden-Powell was a very religious man and deliberately instilled gospel values into Scouting.
Walpi, Ariz., 1941 - National Archives
Both Christianity and the Scouting programs also expect us to bring our helpfulness and our sense of justice into the wider world of the polis—to be citizens of the nation and of the world; in Don Bosco’s phrasing, to be “good Christians and upright citizens.”  We are to be politically involved in matters of social justice like homelessness, hunger, health care, refugees, the environment, war and peace, life and death—whatever concerns the dignity of human beings made in God’s image.  Popes have been teaching that since Leo XIII at the end of the 19th century; the 2d Vatican Council taught it in our own lifetimes (if you’re my age); our bishops teach it constantly; it’s a strong theme in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ and countless homilies and addresses, including his words to the U.S. Congress in September 2015:

Keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.  They too need to be given hope.  The fight against poverty must be fought consistently and on many fronts, especially in its causes.  It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth.  The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology, and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy that seeks to be modern, inclusive, and sustainable.[1]

We are to be politically involved in matters of social justice because God tells us, thru Isaiah, to remove oppression from our midst and to stop lying and slandering others; just yesterday someone deplored to me all the “inflammatory rhetoric that’s out there.”  We are to feed the hungry and bring relief to the afflicted (58:9-10).  We are to act thus, Isaiah says, if we want God’s light to brighten our darkness; if we, in turn, want to reflect the light of Christ into the darkness of our sinful world, becoming beacons of faith, hope, and love, becoming a polis of faithful disciples and good citizens for God’s kingdom—here on earth and in eternity.

[1] Quoted in Richard E. Pates, “Values and Voting,” America, vol. 214, May 23-30, 2016, p. 17.