Thursday, March 30, 2017

Homily for 4th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Lent
March 29, 1981
John 9: 1-41
Eph 5: 8-14
MHC Academy, North Haledon, N.J.

Since I was traveling (for 12 hours—by car, plane, and bus) on March 26, after the province meeting and celebration (previous post), I didn’t have a public Mass or a homily. Here’s one I gave to the Salesian sisters 36 years ago. Still timely?

“Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8).

Do you remember how you used to be afraid of the dark when you were a child?

What were you afraid of?

Darkness is probably a universal symbol of coldness, fear, evil, death, chaos.  We think of specific and tangible examples like the Dark Ages, the Black Death, the Black Hole of Calcutta, and Darth Vader.

Christ the Light of the World
(at Washington HQ of the USCCB)
What a powerful symbol, then, is Jesus when he proclaims, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).  He gives us a parable in action by opening the darkened eyes of a blind man, by letting in the sunshine of this world—and of the next, for the man then can see that Jesus is the Son of Man (9:37-38).

We also received the gift of sight, or insight, if you like.  We see that Jesus is a prophet (9:17); he is the Messiah.  We see, too, that we are sinners, men and women beset by darkness and in need of his light, warmth, and healing.

The gospel, and the epistle, too, are about choices as well as about light.  Light already implies the alternative of darkness, and that, of course, is the choice:  “Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8).  We have chosen the light of the world over against the darkness of lewd conduct, lust, silly or suggestive talk—these vices are the darkness to which Paul is referring (cf. 5:3-5).

Even the poor blind man, still blinking his eyes in the light, had to choose.  “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses” (John (9:28).  Our choices affect others, inevitably, just as the blind man’s choices affected the Pharisees and his parents.  The Pharisees and his parents prefer darkness, tho they may claim to be in the light.  Few have the courage to walk with Christ in the light.

Yes, seeing can be frightening; the darkness can also be comforting.  How a baby howls when it must emerge into the light of the world from the darkness of the womb!  And don’t our eyes resist the light when we come out of a movie theater?  We can indeed resist the change that light demands of us.  We can resist the demands that Christ our Light makes of us!

Our guilt and our sin can be more comfortable than belonging fully to Christ, no matter how deadly or sterile our darkness.  There is real evil in the world and in ourselves.  It needs to be confronted, like evil of the political and economic animals to whom [our Salesian assembly speaker] referred at Ramsey last weekend, like the evil of our little jealousies, favoritisms, sharp words, inconsiderations, all more or less deliberately chosen because to change requires effort.

Let us bring our blindness to Christ and confess that he is our healer and our savior!  Let us renew our baptismal commitment, as the gospel suggests with its references to anointing and to washing (9:6-7).  The OT reading apparently was also chosen for its foreshadowing of Christian initiation and the reception of the gift of the Spirit.  The epistle concludes with what is apparently part of a primitive baptismal hymn:  “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light” (Eph 5:14).  We beg him for the courage to turn from our sin and to “walk as children of the light” (5:8).

Directors, Pastors, Other Province Leaders Hold Annual Spring Meeting

Directors, Pastors,
Other Province Leaders
Hold Annual Spring Meeting

by Fr. Dave Moreno, SDB  

Most of the Salesians involved in province leadership met in the Paul VI room at the Don Bosco Retreat Center promptly at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 23.
“Reshaping the Communities—Reshaping the Province” was the theme of this year’s Spring Leadership Meeting, March 23-24, at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw, N.Y. Thirty-five SDBs, both priests and brothers, of the New Rochelle Province gathered for two days of prayer, information, sharing, and fellowship under the leadership of Fr. Timothy, Zak, SDB, vice provincial. These semi-annual gatherings of directors, pastors and other province leaders foster the unity of the vast New Rochelle Province, which covers the eastern U.S. and all of Canada.

Gerard O’Connor, director of consultation services at the St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown, Pa., opened the meeting by sharing suggestions for achieving health and renewal in our personal lives, in the lives of our Salesian communities, and in the life of the province as a whole, especially when we are faced with difficult or unsettling situations. Mr. O’Connor’s presence and sharing were much appreciated.
Fr. Dennis Donovan, Fr. Tim Zak, Gerard O’Connor, and Fr. Jay Horan. Mr. O’Connor on March 23 addressed the spiritual and emotional health of the confreres and the province.
The business portion of the meeting included a report on the state of the province (Fr. Zak), updates on finances, communications, and elder care (Fr. Dennis Donovan), a dynamic and creative explanation of the Salesian Educational-Pastoral Plan (Fr. Abe Feliciano), a vocations report (Fr. Dominic Tran), group work on a consultation for the international commission in Rome that is updating the Rector’s Manual (Fr. Jim Heuser), an exposition of the Rector Major’s 2017 Strenna on the family, proposals for ways that SDBs, FMAs, Cooperators, ADMA, and other branches of the Salesian Family in North America can work together in bringing the strenna to life in the coming year (Fr. Tom Dunne and Sr. Denise Sickinger), and a few thoughts on mission animation (Fr. Mark Hyde). Several directors had the opportunity to share reshaping that has occurred in their own communities as a response to the 2016 Provincial Chapter.
On March 24 Fr. Tom Dunne and Sr. Denise Sickinger described their experience as participants in last January’s Salesian Family Spirituality Days in Rome and offered suggestions for furthering family life through our various Salesian apostolates.
On the day after the leadership meeting, the participants joined with many other confreres in celebrating our annual Province Day and the mystery of the Incarnation on Saturday, March 25.

Photos by your humble blogger.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Homily for 3d Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Lent
Feb. 26, 1978                                                           
John 4: 5-42
St. Andrew’s, Upper Arlington, Ohio

For the 3d time in 3 straight A cycles, I have to post a homily from the past.  In 2011 and 2014 it was because I was preaching to Boy Scouts without a written text that could be posted. This year it’s because on the 3d Sunday of every month the deacons preach at Holy Cross and I had no homily at all. Here’s one preached by Deacon Mike a long, long time ago (but not in a distant galaxy)!

“The water I shall give him will become a fountain within him, leaping up unto eternal life.”

How many times have you heard someone misquote Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner?

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.                    (119-22)

We know well, as did the old sailor, that water, fresh water, is life, and lack of it means terrible suffering and death.

The meaning of water was a daily fact of life in the Judea and Samaria of Jesus.  Central Palestine is a rocky, dusty, hot country.  Without the scattered wells and winter rains, neither the people, their flocks, nor their crops could survive.  Travel by foot through Samaria was a burden possible only because of wells such as the one at Shechem.

So we are not surprised that Jesus should stop by Jacob’s well at noontime and ask for a drink.  What does take us aback, and the Samaritan woman as well, is that he should then offer her a drink from a better source than hers.

Artist unknown (to blogger)
What is this water Jesus offers?  It is the Holy Spirit, the source of eternal life.  What water is to our bodies, the Spirit is to our souls.  The verb Jesus uses to describe this fountain as “leaping up” is the same one used in the Old Testament to describe the actions of Samson, Saul, and David when they are possessed by the “spirit of God.”  Jesus refers to the “gift of God” which he gives; many times in John’s Gospel, Jesus promises the gift of the Spirit to his disciples; this is but one instance, using the metaphor of water, as John often quotes the Lord as doing.  In just two months, the young people of our parish will receive the sacrament of confirmation.  As the bishop or priest anoints each candidate, he says to him or her, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

To accept Jesus means to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We have been baptized and confirmed as temples of the Holy Spirit.  So we might expect that this fountain within us will now leap up unto eternal life.

Yes, we have the gift.  We have the water to quench our thirst.  We must drink of it if we want eternal life.  We must drink of it in prayer.  We must make contact inside our spirits with that Holy Spirit who unites us to Jesus and to the Father.  We must make contact with that Holy Spirit who reveals to us who we are and who we are called to become, the Spirit who makes us whole persons and thus holy persons.  We must make contact with that Holy Spirit who joins us to one another.  Drinking deeply of this fountain, like drinking of fresh water, is a daily need we have as believers in Jesus.  Prayer in the Holy Spirit will then lead us naturally to a fully Christian way of living and to a full share in eternal life.

May you know the love of God which is poured into your hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5).

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Homily for Memorial Mass for Mike Giannattasio

Homily at Memorial Mass

for Mike Giannattasio[1]
March 17, 2017
Wis 4: 7-15
Rom 14: 7-12
Salesian Boys & Girls Club, East Boston, Mass.[2]

“The just man, tho he die early, shall be at rest.  For the age that is honorable comes not with the passing of time, nor can it be measured in terms of years” (Wis 4: 7-8).
Mike was very proud of his family. He sent me this photo at the time of young Mike's graduation from college,
which seems to have been in 2012. From left: Kathy, Mike jr., Mike sr., and Kevin.
Our friend Michael was taken from us far too early.  You all agree that he was a very good man, a good husband, a good father, a good friend—one of the finest guys in the Class of ’77.  In the world of the Old Testament, many people would have viewed his death at such a relatively young age as a sign that he was evil in some way and God was punishing him (altho in Old Testament days he’d have been seen as quite an old man already, given the average life span of the time; yeah, some of you guys do look like quite old men already!).
People took such a view—age, good health, an abundance of material goods were signs of God’s good pleasure—because this life was the only life they knew.  You got blessed by God here because “here” was all there was.
The Book of Wisdom, chronologically one of the last of the books of the Old Testament, offers a different perspective.  That perspective gives us a lot of consolation and abundant hope when we consider Michael.
After those opening verses, the Wisdom reading speaks of the just man’s virtues and how God had to remove him from our corrupt world “lest wickedness pervert his mind” (4:11).  “His soul was pleasing to the Lord; therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness” (4:14).
I hope you weren’t the wicked company from which the Lord rescued Michael!
Seriously, we don’t come to the Eucharist to canonize our deceased loved one—not Mike, not Rich Mercurio’s dad,[3] not anyone.  We come to pray for them, to ask the Lord to cleanse them of their sins—all of us are sinners—and make them just and “pleasing to the Lord” (4:14).  We ask the Lord to bring them into the heavenly kingdom among his chosen ones, his elect (cf. 4:15).
We may consider that Mike died young.  Certainly by American expectations he did.  In this he preaches a sermon to us.  Joe Ruggiero, since he deals with death every day,[4] probably could preach a better one.  A famous tombstone epitaph reads
          Remember, man that passeth by:
          As thou art now, so once was I.
          And as I am, so thou must be;
          Prepare thyself to follow me.
Where Mike has gone, you and I shall go in our turn.  St. Paul cautions us about that:  “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God” and “each of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Rom 14:10,12).  We pray that our Lord Jesus recognized Mike as a good and faithful husband, father, and friend and welcomed him when he came to judgment.
Some of you have spoken about how much you treasure what you learned at Savio.  Certainly the book knowledge—the math, English, history, and all that—was important.  Friendship and life-knowledge were more important, as you have experienced so powerfully as a class.  [Name omitted] keeps telling me that was my doing.  You guys have known for 40 years better than to believe him, haven’t you?  [loud laughter]  Rather, I’d say it was God’s doing and your openness to God’s grace.
Many of you also learned the most important lesson of Dom Savio—what young Dominic himself lived:  my friends will be Jesus and Mary.  I’ll keep Sunday as a holy day.  I’ll go to confession and Communion often.  I’d rather die than commit sin.
When Mike came to God’s judgment a month ago, and when we appear there, Christ isn’t going to care how many books we read—believe it or not!  No quiz on A Tale of Two Cities or Jonathan Livingston Seagull.[5]  Nor about sinking a sky hook[6] now and then, or about the Pats or our fine suburban homes or even our marvelous class reunions.  Christ cares about our relationship with him, our having made him the center of our lives.  As St. Paul says, “None of us lives for himself….  If we live, we live for the Lord….  This is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Rom 14:7-9).
The take-home from your Savio education and from these months that we’ve gone thru with Michael needs to be that Christ loves you, and he really wants to be part of your life:  in prayer, Scripture reading, the sacraments, and example, i.e., you try to model of your life and your attitudes on him.  He wants you to be in a strong, healthy relationship with him.  Keep that strong and healthy, or do something now if you need to, to make it strong and healthy.  (Both Fr. John and Fr. Jay[7] will be happy to help you get there; me too, while I’m here.)
If you don’t want to hear St. Paul appealing to you, then hear Michael appealing from eternity, just as he appealed to a good number of you to come and reunite with your classmates.  When our own time comes, early or late in life, to follow where Mike has gone, may it be said that the Lord found us pleasing to him, and so he snatched us away from the world’s wickedness and brought us home to live with him.
God bless you all:  Kathy, Mike, and Kevin; Class of ’77; and all who loved and mourn Michael G.
Members of the Class of '77 at the Great Savio Reunion in 2012.
Mike G. is at the lower right; your humble blogger at the lower left.

                [1] St. Dominic Savio HS, Class of 1977, member of the 1973-74 freshman class whose dean and English teacher I was.  He died on 2/15/17 at age 57.
                [2] The Club now uses one of the buildings that was St. Dominic Savio HS, specifically the one where the freshmen had their classes—which is one reason why the class chose to celebrate this memorial Mass there.
                [3] Who was buried that same morning.
                [4] Class member, owner of a funeral home.
                [5] Two not-very-subtle references to books they read in class or as optional reading for freshman English, which I taught.
                [6] Reference to a seldom-successful basketball shot by one of the class, present for the Mass.
                [7] Salesians at the Boys & Girls Club.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Homily for 2d Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Lent
March 12, 2017
2 Tim 1: 8b-10
Gen 12: 1-4
Matt 17: 1-9
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“Beloved:  Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God” (2 Tim 1: 8).

In the wonderful musical Camelot, Lancelot du Lac arrives at the court of King Arthur as an incredibly proud knight, boasting in the song “C’est Moi” not only of his physical courage and prowess but also of his moral purity:  “Had I been made the partner of Eve we’d be in Eden still.”
Lancelot didn’t prove to be as pure as he boasted.  By the story’s end, he’s entered an adulterous relationship with Queen Guenevere and helped destroy the “most congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering that was known as Camelot.”

In Christianity there’s a long history of self-reliance, of believing that we can be so good that God must reward us with heaven.  That actually isn’t so different from what Jesus’ foes in the Gospels believed:  perfect observance of the Torah was what made people pleasing to God, and less observant mankind—including all of the Gentile world—was doomed.  It’s not so different today from what’s known as the “prosperity Gospel,” which preaches that if you live a virtuous life God will make sure you prosper even in a material sense.  And from a belief in one’s own virtue, it’s not a far stretch to think, as many do today both inside and outside the Church, that we’re entitled to define what is virtue, what is morally good, regardless of what the sacred Scriptures or the Church may teach.

Jesus had a hard time with the self-described virtuous (or righteous).  Instead, he welcomed and forgave sinners.  He offered grace, i.e., God’s pardon and eternal life, not as something earned by the practice of virtue but as God’s freely given gift.

Who hasn’t sinned?  Who has kept God’s law perfectly?  We know very well the answers to those questions.  St. Paul speaks to us today of relying on the strength of God and not on our own strength.  Our own strength is no more powerful against our sinful inclinations and the baneful influences of the world than Lancelot’s strength was.

Recall last weekend’s readings.  Had we been in Adam’s or Eve’s place in Eden, how would we have responded to the tempter’s appeal to our pride and self-esteem?  Had we been with Jesus when the devil came to him in the desert, would we have whispered to Jesus:  “Yes, Lord, do it!  I’m hungry!  Let the world see how much God loves you!  Think of all the good you could do if you ruled the world!  And you can just be pretending to worship Satan.  You know he’s the father of lies, so you can lie back to him.  What’s a little white lie, anyway?”

Instead, St. Paul reminds his faithful disciple and helper Timothy, “God saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works” (1:9).  God has called us for holiness, but that holiness isn’t the fruit of our own good deeds or virtuous actions.  On our own, we’re a bunch of Lancelots.

If God were to call you the way he called Abram in today’s 1st reading—“Leave your father’s house and your kin, leave your homeland, pack up your immediate household, your tents, and your flocks, and move to a new land that you’ve never seen, among other tribes and nations whom you don’t know” (cf. Gen 12:1)—would you do it?  No road map, no GPS, no compass; no texting, no telephone, no mail; only some word-of-mouth knowledge about where you’re heading.  Would the virtues of obedience and trust be strong in you?

Even priests and religious struggle with that kind of directive sometimes when their bishop or provincial superior tells them to pack up and move to a new assignment.
The Lord's Agony
(Carl Bloch)

We can imagine that Jesus struggled with his “assignment.”  At his transfiguration (Matt 17:1-9), he conversed with Moses, the giver of the Law, and Elijah, Israel’s 1st great prophet.  What did they converse about?  I’m sure it wasn’t the weather, the stock market, or the Cubs.  Immediately after the vision experience, Jesus charges his 3 favored apostles, “Don’t tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (17:9), which strongly suggests that Moses, Elijah, and he had been conversing about his “assignment,” his fulfilling the Law and the prophets thru his approaching passion, death, and resurrection.  In fact, in his account of the transfiguration, St. Luke says that is what they talked about.

To go thru with that, Jesus certainly needed “the strength that comes from God,” from his Father in heaven.  If you doubt that, re-read the Gospels about the agony he suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, when there was still time for him to run away, or even—as he says to Peter while he’s being arrested—time for him to “call upon my Father and he will provide me at this moment with more than 12 legions of angels” (Matt 26:53) to protect him from the malice of the Romans, the Jewish leaders, and the devil.

So, assuredly, we need God’s help to live holy lives.  God has called every one of us to holiness.  That call doesn’t depend upon our own goodness, our own virtue, but only on “God’s own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim 1:9).  God has had a plan for your holiness and mine forever, even before he created the universe!  His plan doesn’t depend on our goodness but only on “the appearance of our Savior Jesus Christ, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light thru the Gospel” (1:10).

Sometimes it’s hard to live a holy life.  You know that, even if God doesn’t give you a dramatic call like he did to Abram, or if he doesn’t knock you on your tail like did to St. Paul when Paul was persecuting the Church.  Sometimes it’s hard to be truthful, to be faithful to our spouse, to work diligently, to be patient with people, to follow the Church’s moral teachings on sexuality, human life, and biotechnology, to spend a little time every day in prayer or Scripture reading, to be known among your co-workers or fellow students as a Catholic.  “Beloved:  bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.”  We need God’s strength to be faithful.  With his strength we can be faithful.  With his strength we can live the holy lives to which he has called us.  His holy ones will enjoy eternal life because Jesus has “destroyed death and brought life and immortality”—as a gift to us from God, who called us because he loves us and wants us to be with him.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Homily for Wednesday of 1st Week of Lent

Homily for Wednesday
of the 1st Week of Lent
March 7, 2017
Luke 11: 29-32
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

People come to Jesus asking him to perform some sign that he has come from God--as if he hasn't already cured enuf sick people or driven out enuf demons. They don't really want to meet God thru Jesus--to be converted.  They just want to be entertained.

How much time do we spend seeking entertainment and diversion--in mindless TV, use of the Internet, playing solitaire, shopping, recreating--not as a necessary form of relaxation (we all need a bit of that, of course) but as a way to avoid introspection, reviewing our relationships with God and with others and keeping those relationships in good repair?

Hundreds of Boy Scouts Invade Holy Cross

Hundreds of Boy Scouts
Invade Holy Cross

Reviewing various components of basic first aid in the parish hall
In Champaign, Ill., Holy Cross School and the parish’s social hall were taken over by hordes of Boy Scouts on Saturday, March 4, for Troop 9’s 28th annual Merit Badge Seminar. Troop 9 is sponsored by Holy Cross Parish.

From all over Illinois, parts of Indiana, and as far away as St. Louis, Mo., came 436 Scouts, 103 adult leaders, and (more locally) uncounted course instructors, Troop 9 parents, and student volunteers from the University of Illinois. (The volunteers taught some of the classes, monitored hallways, delivered paperwork, and helped with clean-up.)
Practicing CPR
Three troops totaling 60 people arrived on Friday night and camped out in the school gymnasium and were served breakfast in the cafeteria. Others Scouts moaned about having to get up at 3:00 a.m. to arrive at Holy Cross in time for 7:15 a.m. assembly, presentation of the colors, and directions for the day.
Pack 9 committee chairman John Farney, who's also Champaign County's auditor,
led the class for citizenship in the community.
Assistant Scoutmaster Chris Williamson directing the computers course.
Doesn't look like anyone came prepared for a backpacking hike.
From 7:15 until 5:00 p.m., 65 merit badge sessions were offered for a total of 35 badges (out of more than 135 approved by the BSA). Most of the program took place in the classrooms and library, but other classes were given in the parish hall and even off campus. Scouts could walk a block to a firehouse for the fire safety badge or be shuttled to the Champaign Police Department for law enforcement, a courthouse for law, the University for cooking, Parkland College’s planetarium for astronomy, or Willard Airport for the aviation badge.
While the 436 Scouts went to class, many of their adult leaders hung out in the cafeteria,
close to the coffee and donuts, and straining Holy Cross's wireless network.
When the python wasn't needed for animal study upstairs, Jon Whittington gave it a tour of the school.
But Odin's handler kept him on a short leash after his session.
Troop 9’s adult leaders spend months planning for the MBS every year and execute it almost flawlessly, all things considered.
In the school office, Dave Unger (bottom), Mike Clapper (seated left), Chris Williamson, and Anthony Frasca coordinate the day's activities, including registration, attendance, lunches, classroom use, and transportation.

Change in Ownership of Seminaire Salesien in Sherbrooke

Change in Ownership
of Seminaire Salesien in Sherbrooke

Provincial Announcement
March 3, 2017

The following letter was published on March 3 by the authority of Fr. Timothy Zak, vice provincial.

The Salesian Province of New Rochelle, N.Y., with presences in the Eastern USA and Canada, has been in a process of reshaping, so as to give clear witness to our charismatic identity as Salesians and our vocation as consecrated religious. We have spent significant time in study of the signs of the times and in prayer and reflection to understand better this reality and make some decisions that will enable the mission and spirit of Don Bosco to grow.

As part of our reshaping process, we feel the importance of working closely with the groups of the Salesian Family, collaborators, and the local Church. The Salesian mission is extensive and shared by a vast movement of people working together for the education and evangelization of the young and the poor.

To this end, the Salesian Province of St. Philip the Apostle announces the sale of Le Salésien in Sherbrooke, Quebec, to the Corporation of Séminaire Salésien, represented by their Board of Directors.

The sale of Le Salésien has been under consideration for a number of years. The decision is made now as part of the process of reshaping the entire Salesian province is working through. This decision has the support of Archbishop Luc Cyr of Sherbrooke and the Rector Major, Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, SDB, and his council.

The Salesians of Don Bosco will remain active participants in the mission at Le Salésian. The agreement between the Salesians of Don Bosco and the Board of Directors assures the continuity of the Salesian charism in school in a number of ways: the presence of SDBs on the various leadership groups, a full-time position on the staff, space in the school for youth ministry offices and programming, formation of the faculty in the Preventive System, participation in province events, some rooms reserved for a Salesian library, offices, and workshops, etc. The SDB community will continue to reside in the residence a short distance from the school. In fact, all of this is already being done very effectively by the SDBs, and is well received by the administration, faculty, and students.

A very positive indication of the vibrant Salesian spirit at Le Salésian is the Salesian Cooperator center, which recently had new members make their promises. As in the time of Don Bosco, they will work closely with the SDBs to advance the Salesian mission to the young and their families.

The Salesian province is grateful for the dedication of the Salesians at Le Salésian, to Raymond Lepage, the current principal, and his administrative team, to Fr. Richard Authier and Claude Métras, commercial mediator. The Salesians feel confident that this decision is an effective way to preserve the charism of Don Bosco without being bound to administrative offices. For over 50 years, Le Salésien has helped thousands of young people grow in knowledge and faith; we pray that fidelity to this mission continues for many more decades.
Le Salesien's CYM Fr. Alain Leonard (bottom, 2d from right)
with some of the school's Salesian Youth Movement members.
Your humble blogger notes that at present the Salesian community in Sherbrooke consists of 6 confreres, 2 of whom are priests working directly in campus ministry at Le Salesien; in addition, 2 priests help out with religious activities, and 2 brothers assist with some extra-curricular activities--including the province's oldest confrere, Bro. Gerard Richard, who's 94. Five of the 6 are French Canadian and 1 is Haitian.

Another 4 French Canadian Salesians are in Montreal--2 in active ministry and 2 in retirement.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Homily for 1st Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
1st Sunday of Lent
March 5, 2017
Gen 2: 7-9, 3: 1-7
Ps 51
Rom 5: 12-19
Matt 4: 1-11
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“Thru one man sin entered the world, and thru sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned” (Rom 5: 12).

The sacred Scriptures today summarize salvation history.

We don’t read the opening chapters of Genesis literally, as we do, for instance, the stories of Israel’s kings or the accounts of Jesus’ ministry.  But we do learn from those early chapters that God created for us a good world; that he created men and women in his own image, including the gift of freedom; that we abused that freedom by choosing evil rather than good, and so we—not God—introduced evil into creation:  “Thru one man sin entered the world, and thru sin, death.”

Did God have to create us with freedom?  Of course not.  But he made many, many creatures that lack freedom:  the stars, the trees, the rocks, the oceans, the beasts, and the birds.  They all glorify God but have no choice about it.  They just are.  Generally speaking, if you have a dog, you know that it will love and be loyal to just about anyone who feeds it and rubs its tummy.  If you have a cat—well, you’re loyal to the cat, which is more interested in the song birds in your flower beds than in you.  (My family has had lots of dogs and a few cats.)

God created 2 forms of creatures who do have a choice because they’re free—so that their praise of God, their acting well, glorifies God in a way that the stars and rocks and animals don’t.  Those 2 creatures are the angels and human beings.  We don’t know how it was the angels chose evil and became devils, except that they chose that course, and some angels remained loyal to their Creator (since angels don’t have bodies, obviously, no belly rub was needed).  There are various pious stories and theories about that, but no biblical evidence and no dogmatic teaching.

God doesn’t have a body either.  So if God created men and women in his own image, it’s not on the basis of our bodies.  Which is probably a good thing!  By the freedom of our minds and our souls we image God.  However it happened at the origins of humanity, we used that God-given gift of freedom, that imaging of God, to reject him and choose ourselves.  Even Greek mythology knew that was a bad thing—poor Narcissus was doomed because he worshiped his own image reflected in a pool of water.  According to Genesis, the 1st human beings were companions of the all-perfect, all-good, and all-wise God; were in an intimate relationship with him.  But they wanted something … less:  “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen 3:6):  goodness, pleasure, and wisdom, but not God.  And less than goodness, wisdom, and the deepest satisfaction of our souls is what we got instead of God.  We got evil, chaos, betrayal, and death.
The Temptation & Fall of Man
(William Blake)
Catholic writer George Weigel puts it this way:

Adam and Eve will decide for themselves what is good and what is bad for them, rather than accepting the gift of God’s specification of good and evil.  Egotistical, self-centered self-assertion is the primordial sin.  And in its consequences—the quest for control … the quest for power … [imposing] my will on my own life, on others, and on the world—self-asserting pride prepared the ground for the rest of the catalogue of death-dealing sins.[1]

Some human beings actually find a sadistic glee in evil, chaos, betrayal, and death.  Think of the monster dictators of the last century, or of ISIS or Kim Jong-Un or drug kings or human traffickers today. Some human beings only lament the evil and death of the world we live in, and hopelessly throw up their hands:  what’re you gonna do?  And some human beings go beyond lamentation and cry to God for pardon and redemption.

So we hear the Psalmist plead:  “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.  Thoroughly wash me from my guilt, and of my sin cleanse me” (Ps 51:3-4).  Traditionally, that psalm is ascribed to King David; its 1st 2 verses are actually a title:  “A psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after his sin with Bathsheba.”  David had committed adultery and murder, and was convicted of his crimes by the prophet (2 Sam 11-12).  God pardoned David, but eventually, like all of us, he paid the price of sin:  “the wages of sin is death,” St. Paul states bluntly (Rom 6:23).

God’s original plan for men and women was glorious.  But we used our freedom to blow up the plan.  So God went to Plan B:  “the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life thru the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17).  If the rebellion of one man—Genesis blames the woman, Paul the man—the obedience of another man undoes the crime and restores humanity to God’s grace.  The name Adam, incidentally, means literally “the human being”; in other words, Everyman.  Jesus Christ comes as another Everyman, embodying in himself the ideal human being—the perfect image of God; in fact, St. Paul calls him “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15), i.e., of the new creation, as Adam had been the firstborn of the old creation.

This new Everyman, this new Adam, makes all men and women just again.  “Just” means right with God, holy.  God of course, didn’t have to pull out Plan B.  He could’ve done what you and I tend to do:  OK, people, you’ve made your bed.  Now lie in it.  Go on killing, lying, stealing, betraying, wreaking sexual havoc; and when your miserable life is done, then go to hell with those rebel angels whose horrid voices you’ve listened to.

Well, thank God, God’s not like us!  Thank God, he sent his Son to become incarnate, to become a human being, to be a new Adam, an obedient Adam, who would take us along with him into a just relationship with God, as the original Adam had destroyed that relationship.  “The gift is not like the transgression.  For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many” (Rom 5:17).

The behavior of Jesus of Nazareth is a reverse image of the behavior of our ancestors in the Garden of Eden.  When the serpent (traditionally interpreted to be the devil), whispered his temptation to Eve, she took the bait, preferring her own wisdom, pleasure, and goodness to anything that God had already offered.  When the devil comes to Jesus—tired and hungry—he offers things that are undoubtedly good inasmuch as they’re part of the created world:  bread, reliance on Almighty God, and the power and glory and wealth of the world.  Implicit in the devil’s offer, tho, is self-centeredness—not true reliance on God.  The devil suggests to Jesus that he use his miraculous power to serve himself:  make yourself some bread; that he demonstrate his reliance on God in foolish behavior that has no right to expect God’s protection; that he switch his allegiance from his heavenly Father to the devil, whose evil influence lurks behind so much of the world’s power, glory, and wealth.  Ultimately, Jesus is being asked to choose between carrying out his Father’s Plan B for the redemption of fallen humanity, or blowing off his Father’s plan, as the 1st Adam did.

Lent is our season of preparing for Easter, for participation in the sacred mysteries of the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus:  for becoming part of redeemed humanity or reaffirming our belonging.  The Collect of today’s Mass calls all of this “the riches hidden in Christ.”  And it prays to the Almighty Father that our “worthy conduct pursue their effects,” i.e., the effects of Christ’s passion, death, resurrection, and ascension.  What’s translated here as “conduct” is the Latin word conversatio, which would be more aptly rendered as “conversion of life.”  We pray that a conversion of life may make us worthy of the effects of Christ’s redemption.  And conversion of life means acting less like our 1st parents, who chose their own version of goodness over God’s version, and acting more like Jesus by resisting our own self-centered behavior, choosing instead to worship the Lord our God alone, to serve him alone.

    [1] George Weigel, Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches (NY: Basic Books, 2013), p. 57.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Prayer Meeting for Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil

A Prayer Meeting

for Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil

One Year after His Abduction

(ANS – Bangalore - March 2)On Saturday, March 4, it will be exactly one year since the attack by terrorists on the work of the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. Sixteen people were killed, including four sisters, and an Indian Salesian missionary, Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, was kidnapped. The Bangalore Salesian province, to which Fr. Tom belongs, has prepared a prayer meeting to pray for his release and to keep attention focused on his situation.

The Salesians of the province say: “We are deeply distressed by the delay in assuring his release. We are organizing a prayer meeting to take place at 5:00 p.m. on March 4 at the Ernakulam Town Hall, with the collaboration of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the State of Kerala.”

The program provides for a time of prayer followed by a public meeting. Prominent persons from the Church and politics will be present. Of particular note is the participation of Archbishop Soosai Pakiam, president of Kerala Bishops Conference, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, president of the Bishops Conference of India, who is major archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankars; Cardinal George Alancherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church; and Archbishop Joseph Kalathiparambil of Verapoly.

A memorandum, approved by the assembly, will then be sent to the prime minister and to the minister of External Affairs.

Fr. Zeman Declared a Martyr, Bishop Ortiz Declared Venerable

Fr. Zeman Declared a Martyr, Bishop Ortiz Declared Venerable

(ANS - Vatican City - February 27) - On February 27, in an audience granted to Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, Pope Francis authorized that Congregation to promulgate decrees confirming the martyrdom of the Servant of God Fr. Titus Zeman, SDB (1915-1969), and the heroic virtues of the Servant of God Ottavio Ortiz Arrieta, SDB, bishop of Chachapoyas, Peru (1878-1958).

Fr. Titus Zeman

The inquiry for the beatification and canonization of Titus Zeman started only in 2007. The diocesan inquiry was held in the archdiocese of Bratislava from February 26, 2010, to December 7, 2012. The validity of the diocesan inquiry was recognized by the Congregation for Saints’ Causes on June 28, 2013. When the positio was prepared, the discussion took place, according to the usual procedure, whether the death of the Servant of God was a true martyrdom. The result was positive, and a special meeting CSC’s theological consultors took place on April 7, 2016. At the ordinary session of February 21, 2017, the cardinal and bishop members of CSC recognized that the Servant of God was killed for his faithfulness to Christ.

Fr. Zeman was born in Vajnory, Slovakia, on January 4, 1915, the son of peasant farmers who were also the sacristans of their parish church. He suffered various illnesses from early childhood. After a sudden recovery at the age of 10, he promised Mary to “be her son forever” and to become a Salesian priest.

He became a novice in 1931, made his perpetual profession in 1938, and was ordained in 1940. He remained steadfast against the Communist regime. In 1946 he was dismissed from the school where he taught because he defended the crucifix. He managed to escape the “Night of the Barbarians” and the deportation of religious (April 13-14, 1950). He then looked for ways to help Salesian seminarians reach the priesthood. He organized expeditions to pass them through the Iron Curtain to Turin, but on his third venture (April 1951) he was caught.

Fr. Zeman had to face about 13 years of wrongful imprisonment and torture, experiencing hardship in prison and labor camps. He was forced to endure long periods of isolation and to work with radioactive uranium without any protection. He was branded as a “man marked for elimination.” In 1964 he was given five years on parole but was constantly spied on and persecuted. He was forbidden to exercise the priestly ministry publicly. He died in his home town on January 8, 1969, after a triple heart attack, a martyr for vocations.

Already at the time of his death he was regarded as a martyr. In 1991, following the fall the Communist government, a review of his case declared him innocent.

The witness of Fr. Zeman is the embodiment of the vocational call of Jesus and of a pastoral predilection for the young, especially for young Salesians, which became for him a true passion. He once said, “Even if I lost my life, I would not consider it wasted, knowing that at least one of those I had helped had become a priest in my place.”

Bishop Ottavio Ortiz Arrieta

In the cause of Ottavio Ortiz Arrieta, the diocesan inquiry took place in the Chachapoyas diocese from July 8, 1992, to December 22, 2001. It was recognized as valid by the CSC on October 3, 2003. When the positio was prepared, the discussion took place according to the usual procedure, whether the Servant of God had exercised the virtues to a heroic degree. The result was positive, and on February 19, 2015, a special meeting of the theological consultors was held. The cardinals and bishops in the ordinary session of February 7, 2017, recognized that the Servant of God practised the theological, cardinal, and other related virtues to a heroic degree.

Bishop Ortiz, the first Peruvian Salesian, was born in Lima, Peru, on April 19, 1878, and died in Chachapoyas, Peru, on March 1, 1958. He was bishop of Chachapoyas for 37 years.

In December 1893 Octavio entered the Salesian school for the poorest as a carpentry pupil, and was later admitted to the academic school. He did his novitiate in Callao, and in 1902 he pronounced his perpetual vows before Fr. Paul Albera, who was carrying out an extensive extraordinary visit of all the houses of the Americas on behalf of the Rector Major, Fr. Michael Rua. In 1906 Bro. Octavio was sent to found a new vocational school in Piura. He was ordained on January 27, 1907, and later he was director in the houses of Cuzco and Callao.

On November 21, 1921, Fr. Ortiz was appointed bishop of the far away diocese of Chachapoyas (in the northern parts of the Andes). The see, comprising a territory of 37,000 square miles, a little larger than Indiana, with a population of 250,000, had been vacant for five years. He was ordained a bishop in the shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Lima on June 11, 1922, but he reached his episcopal see only after a month’s journey. His life was spent in continuous travelling: by horseback and on foot, in the mountains and the jungle and along the rivers. He was amiable, welcoming, cheerful, and close to the people.

A born organizer, Bishop Ortiz planned missions and spiritual retreats for lay people and priests in all the centers of his diocese. Catechesis, preaching, care for priests and seminarians, and the promotion of vocations were the constant concerns of his 37 years as a bishop. He taught catechism whenever he could, and young people filled the rooms of his old episcopal house. He did eight pastoral visitations, celebrated three diocesan synods and a Eucharistic Congress. He put parish archives in order, created associations and confraternities, and published a newspaper.

When the archdiocese of Lima became vacant, the apostolic nuncio, on behalf of the Pope, offered it to him. Bishop Ortiz thanked him but declined the proposal; he wanted to stay among the people of his pueblos unto death, which claimed him at the age of 75.

[Ed. note: The decree that Fr. Zeman was martyred for the Faith means that he can be beatified as soon as a date can be set and the rite of beatification arranged.  The decree that Bishop Ortiz is Venerable means that if a miracle will be attributed to his heavenly intercession, and confirmed as such by the CSC, he can be beatified.]