Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Family Like Ours

A family like ours: Homily for December 31, 2017, Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
This Sunday, as we honor the Holy Family, it is tempting for us to think of them as we see them here in the crèche: perfectly sculpted figures, frozen in time and place. There’s the prayerful mother, the strong and attentive father, both adoring the innocent, beaming baby in the manger.
As beautiful as that is, it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.
To appreciate the Holy Family in all its beauty and fullness, we should see them not as figures carved from wood or molded from plaster. We should see them, instead, as flesh and blood—people who struggled, who worked, who suffered.
St. Paul famously wrote of Christ, “He was a man like us in all things but sin.” [ed. note: see Heb 4:15--which isn't St. Paul.] I think the same could be said of the Holy Family. They were like us. They knew the kinds of setbacks, disappointments, challenges that every family faces.
They are patrons of every family, in every circumstance—even those like so many of us who are far from perfect.
First, they are patrons of those who are outcast. They are a family nobody had room for. And they are a family that was forced to run for their lives. This has a special urgency and relevance today.
Nearly a century ago, Pope Pius XII [ed. note: Pope 1939-1958] wrote:
“The émigré Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, is the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, living in exile in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are, for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.”
Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the family in Iraq, displaced to Kurdistan, fleeing the terror of ISIS.
They are migrants from Central America, seeking a better life in the fields of Texas.
They are the family you see huddled under a bridge, with no place else to go, worrying about where the journey of life will take them and who will give them shelter.
They are the people so many in our society overlook or look past.
The Holy Family intercedes on behalf of those who are desperate and alone.
Secondly, they are the patrons of parents who live with fear and anxiety.
The first words of the Gabriel to a startled young Mary were words to guide her through life: “Do not be afraid.”
She probably recalled those words again and again throughout the next three decades. She would have much to fear. An unexpected pregnancy. An arduous journey to give birth in a faraway city. Death threats. Living in a strange place far from family and friends. Making ends meet in a hostile and uncertain world. Searching for a missing child. Watching that child grow into manhood—and watching, too, as he stood trial and suffered and died.
These are people who day by day lived with mystery and uncertainty.
But they also lived with trust in God and obedience to his will. This is what held them together.
They are the advocates for every parent whose child has gone missing, or whose bank account is dwindling, or whose son is on death row.
They stand beside every mother and father who wonders what God has planned, how they will get through the next day, next week, next month—and to them the Holy Family whispers to them, “Do not be afraid.” Know hope. Know trust. Know that you are not alone.
Finally, they are the patrons of the unexpected. It’s safe to say that Mary and Joseph had very different plans for their lives—plans that didn’t include visits from angels; a birth in a stable; a flight into Egypt; and a son standing trial and undergoing a brutal and humiliating public execution.
When they became betrothed, they didn’t foresee their story unfolding this way.
But God had a different story to tell.
It is a story of “Do not be afraid” and “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Significantly, it is a story that ends in resurrection.
The Holy Family can serve today as advocates of every family who sees life taking unexpected and sometimes alarming turns. They stand before us as models of faith, hope and trust—people who embraced all that in spite of everything they encountered.
Their journey was never easy. But that is true for all of us.
And what is also true is that God is never outdone in mercy. His grace can help all of us bear the unbearable and endure the unendurable. That may be the greatest lesson we can learn from this family we call “holy.” To all of us who wonder or worry, every parent who questions or doubts, this simple little family offers reassurance: Here is hope.
This Sunday, stop by the crèche. Think of what it contains—and what it portends. It represents a future they couldn’t have predicted, hardships they never could have imagined, and miracles they never could have dreamed. Their lives tell a story that plaster and wood cannot.
It is a story of resilience and prayer and faith. In fact, it is the very beginning of the greatest story ever told.
May we work every day in the new year to make that story a part of our own.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Rector Major Officially Presents 2018 Strenna

Rector Major Officially Presents 2018 Strenna to Salesian Sisters

(ANS – Rome – December 18) – In a festive environment, on December 27 Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime officially presented the 2018 Strenna (theme for the year) at the Generalate of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. The strenna is titled “Let us cultivate the art of listening and accompaniment” with, additionally, a reflection on the biblical text, “Lord, give me this water” (John 4:15). The event started with the presentation of a video that summarizes the strenna.

The event began when the FMAs welcomed the Rector Major, who then spoke as the successor of Don Bosco. Fr. Fernandez thanked Mother General Yvonne Reungoat and the many representatives of the Salesian Family for their presence. The event was also attended by Fr. Filiberto Gonzalez, Salesian general councilor for communications, with the team of his department.

“For us Salesians it is an urgent task, necessary and essential, to work by listening and accompanying our boys and girls,” began the Rector Major, who then asked: “What are we waiting for? Why do not we decide to make ourselves available to accompany our young people? Why do not we work on what is important in the lives of young people? What is stopping this task fundamental for us educators? Why busy ourselves or spend time on other things when this is the real educational and evangelizing priority for us?”

Mother Yvonne and Fr. Angel
After the presentation, Mother Reungoat thanked the Rector Major for the gift of the strenna, inviting the FMAs to live and fulfill this fundamental project of the charism of Don Bosco and Mary Mazzarello.

At the presentation of the strenna, which will lead the process of education and evangelization for all of 2018, other members of the Salesian Family were also present: Salesians of Don Bosco, Salesian Cooperators, members of the Association of Mary Help of Christians (ADMA), Past Pupils of Don Bosco, Salesian Oblates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Don Bosco Volunteers, and a large and very active FMA presence, filled the Generalate auditorium.

Accompaniment, the Rector Major insisted, is a fundamental occupation that has “dialog” as its task; its objective, “to foster the relationship between the person and the Lord. If our accompaniment does not lead to Jesus Christ, we are not accompanying our youngsters.”

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Agreement Signed Between Vatican Communications and Salesians

Agreement Signed Between Vatican Communications and Salesians

(ANS – Vatican – December 26) – Following the indications of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, the Secretariat for Communication of the Holy See recently signed an agreement with the Society of St. Francis de Sales. At the center of the agreement is the collaboration of the Salesians within the Vatican information system in accordance with the communications reform called for by Pope Francis. This agreement will allow the contribution of Don Bosco’s charism to be shared within the framework of the different services provided by the Secretariat. It will last three years, after which it may be renewed.

The Rector Major of the Salesians, Father Angel Fernandez Artime, and the prefect of the Secretariat, Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, signed the agreement.

The agreement follows the signing of a similar document with the Society of Jesus, now present as a mission community within the Vatican communications system.

Source: Vatican – news

Monday, December 25, 2017

Homily for Christmas

Homily for Christmas
Mass during the Day
Dec. 25, 2004
John 1: 1-5, 9-14
Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scarsdale, N.Y.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1: 5).

Adoration of the Shepherds (Robert Leinweber)
Why do we feel better on bright, sunny days like today than on overcast or rainy ones like Thursday?  Why do horror movies so often involve dark old mansions?  What is it that attracts us to a glowing fireplace or a campfire?  Why do we instinctively fear the dark?  Why are light and color so important a part of our Christmas festivity?

Light and darkness are powerful images.  Light makes us feel comfort, warmth, splendor, life.  Darkness is threatening, cold, ugly, deadly.  We dress our heroes in light—the knight in shining armor, Luke Skywalker in astronautical whites.  Our villains wear black hats, black capes, even black masks, like Darth Vader.

Light and life, hope, glory, security—these are the intangible and everlasting dreams of all men and women in all ages, in all places.  We dream of creating utopian societies, cities of light, justice, and peace.  We create and pass on romantic myths:

          Don’t let it be forgot

          That once there was a spot

          For one brief shining moment

          That was known as Camelot.

King Arthur’s pursuit of righteousness and peace has come down in legend, poetry, musical drama, and the Sunday comics.  We’ve created the historical myth of an American Camelot, the “one brief shining moment” of 1961 to 1963.

Our pursuit of the light and what the light symbolizes is always shadowed, however.  Our dark world has its Mordreds, its Oswalds, its Herods.  Our own inner selves hold powers that, like the Star Wars script, we may call the “dark side” as well as any other name.  Light always contends with darkness.  Mortal, sinful, and grasping as we are, we carry within us the seeds of both light and darkness.

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.  Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw how good the light was” (Gen 1:1-4).  The author of the priestly creation story in Genesis appreciated the power of symbol when he made light the 1st of God’s creations, the 1st step in bringing order out of the primeval chaos of wasteland, abyss, wind, and water.  The 1st Christians appreciated the power of symbol when they recognized Jesus as the light of the world, a world still a wasteland of greed, oppression, war, poverty, illness, every sort of human misery.

No one knows when Jesus was born.  We’re not sure of the year, much less the month and the day.  The Church celebrates the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25 because the pagan Romans celebrated the promised triumph of light over darkness, life over death, on that day.  Three or 4 days after the winter solstice came the festival of the Unconquered Sun:  darkness hadn’t conquered the world; days were starting to lengthen again; spring, life, and warmth were sure to return.  So the Romans made merry and praised their gods.

When Rome was christianized in the 4th century, all of Rome was christianized—book-burnings and such barbarism would come only in the Dark Ages—but in the 4th century, pagan temples became churches, pagan Vergil became a prophet, and pagan festivals became holy days.  Dec. 25 became the day of the Eternal Sun (there’s no play on words in Latin), the light of the world, the day when he shone upon mankind by entering our history.

“In the beginning was the Word….  All things came to be thru him ….  What came to be thru him was life, and this life was the light of the human race” (John 1:1,3-4).  Christ’s birth is, for John the Evangelist, the culmination of God’s long process of enlightening us with his Word.  The light of God’s eternal Word has meant life and light for us since that 1st moment of creation John evokes, since the giving of the Law to Moses, since the preaching of the prophets.  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5).  Both the chosen people and the pagan nations resisted the light of the Word and the life it means.  But the light can’t be put out.

With Christ’s coming among us, we see God’s love personalized and enfleshed.  We see God’s love in action.  We see and understand that God’s Word is part of us.  The light shines in the darkness—the darkness of our sinfulness, our misery, our mortality—and this darkness still doesn’t overcome the light.  No matter how much the powers of darkness resist Jesus, they can’t overcome him.  He overcomes them, finally, decisively.  “The Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God” (Is 52:10).

Jesus takes to himself our sins and forgives them.  He overcomes the darkness of the grave, shows us that death is hollow and life is eternal.  He offers us a way to peace within ourselves and between ourselves, promises us a place in his eternal glory.  “When the Son had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3), and “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16 RSV).

Making Christmas a season of light is more than appropriate.  We’re not only brightening dismal December but also reminding ourselves that Jesus is our light, and no darkness can overpower him in our lives or in our destiny.

Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Advent
Dec. 20, 1987
2 Sam 7: 1-5, 8-11, 16
Luke 1: 26-38
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

“Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Sam 7: 16).

The theme running thru today’s liturgy is house building.  We all know something about that:  we’ve at least built sandcastles at the beach.  Quite possibly we’ve moved into a new house, found its defects, and grumbled, “They sure don’t build houses like they used to.”

Houses, like life, are fragile.  They reflect their materials and their builders—created, weak, mortal, part of a violent world. Ps 127 reminds is, “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it” (v. 1).

David Praying (The Art Bible)
King David, who reigned 1,000 years before Christ, united the 12 tribes of Israel into one nation, defeated her enemies, and made Jerusalem her capital.  He gave justice and security to the nation, and he worshipped God reverently.  Israel always looked back to him as the ideal king, much as we look to Washington as the ideal president.  Even today the Star of David graces the flag of Israel.

“When King David was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies on every side,” 2 Sam tells us, he proposed to build a worthy house for the Ark of the Covenant, i.e., a temple for the sacred symbol of God’s intimate relationship to his people. (For those of you not so familiar with the Bible, I’ll point out that the ark is what Indiana Jones was looking for in Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

To David’s surprise and, I suppose, to Nathan the prophet’s, God declines the offer.  Not in displeasure, however, but in grace.  What David proposes to do in gratitude and reverence for God, God proposes to do freely and spontaneously for David and for Israel.

David says, “No, I will build God a house,” i.e., a temple.  God says, “No, I will build you a house,” i.e., a dynasty.  “You were a shepherd boy, and I chose you from the fields.  Now your descendants shall shepherd my people forever.”

The story of David’s royal dynasty reads like a biblical soap opera.  It lasted not forever but a mere 400 years.  “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.”  Human infidelity wrecked God’s house.

After Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome in turn subjugated the little kingdom of Judea, the Jews kept the Davidic promise alive as a hope—the hope for a messiah who would restore everything:  their freedom, their friendship with God, every man’s original state of paradise.  This Savior would be the Son of David, and his reign would be everlasting.

If the apparent meaning of God’s promise to David was a washout—washed out by human infidelity—God’s providence always surprises us, like his original response to David’s proposal.  The promise is fulfilled, and fulfilled in a miraculous way.  Luke’s Gospel tells us how.  The Virgin Mary will conceive and bear a son.  She will name him Jesus—which means “God saves.”  His earthly family is descended from David, and “the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.  He will rule over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:32-33).

The promise is fulfilled not in the resurrection of David’s empire, not in Jewish independence, wealth, and national pride.  Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver his people from affliction, from wickedness.  He is the embodiment of God’s loving care for mankind.  He is the good shepherd of God’s people.  We are all the house of Jacob, the sheep of his flock, the recreated Israel, children of the resurrection and eternal life.

Which is why Christmas will bring us such joy.  We’re eager to hear those glad tidings, “Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:11,14).

Which is why Advent still reminds us that Christ will come again.  We’re eager to welcome him not as a helpless babe but as the Lord of glory, conqueror of sin and death, redeemer of those who’ve put their trust in him, those who’ve been able to say to God, “I’m the Lord’s servant.  Let it be done to me as you say” (Luke 1:38).

And we shall sing the favors of the Lord forever (Ps 89:2).

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

30,000 Salesian Cooperators in 60 Countries

30,000 Salesian Cooperators 

in 60 Countries

(ANS – Rome – December 20) - The history of the Salesian Cooperators dates from the time of Don Bosco, who from the beginning of his ministry wanted to collaborate with laity in the service of education for the young. At least as early as 1850 he associated them to his mission in Valdocco, Turin. Their official existence was recognized in 1876. Here is a brief historical overview of this important branch of the Salesian Family, characterized by its originality and specificity.
The Rector Major (center) poses with some Salesian Cooperators and their FMA, SDB delegates
The identity of the Salesian Cooperators lies above all in their mission: the construction of a truly human world and the building up of the Church, local and universal, especially by the young. Don Bosco wrote that “becoming Salesian Cooperators is a practical way to become useful to society and to promote good morals.” Don Bosco spoke yet again of “honest citizens and good Christians”! It is about grasping the meaning of these words and translating them today into true and concrete commitment.

The Salesian Cooperator must “belong to the masses and take the floor,” wrote Fr. Giuseppe Casti, Salesian world delegate for Salesian Cooperators. This means that the Salesian Cooperators must be the voice of those who have no voice – the poor, the socially disadvantaged. “The search for the common good requires an ongoing search, a gradual progression. It requires perseverance and a certain rigor,” he added.

In an epoch like the present one, the Salesian Cooperators must be able to face the emergencies that challenge them and the challenges and expectations of the weakest and those most threatened by economic and political insecurity. And this according to an ethic that fosters growth, rejects vanity, and seeks truth. Don Bosco was a dreamer, and he wanted his successors to be realist utopians.

Today, the presence of Salesian Cooperators is growing all over the world and on all six continents. Their number exceeds 30,000 members, spread across 60 countries, as stated by the world secretary of the Association of Salesian Cooperators, Filippo Servili. Their different missions and lifestyles color their actions wherever they are. As Don Bosco said: “You will complete the work that I begin. I sketch; you add the colors.”

Source: Don Bosco Aujourd’hui, the French edition of the Salesian Bulletin

"Salesian Pantheon" in MHC Basilica Open to Public

“Salesian pantheon” in Mary Help of Christians Basilica Open to Public

by Andrea Parodi

(ANS – Turin – December 19) – Of late, the crypt of the basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin has become the shrine and burial site of the most important figures of the Congregation’s history. On Sunday, December 17, the “Salesian pantheon” was opened to the public to foster the memory and prayer for the past Rectors Major, who continued the dream of Don Bosco with fidelity and commitment.

For months the relics chapel had remained closed to the public and to the faithful due to, according to a simple sign, a generic “restoration work.” Now, with the transferal of the last missing Rector Major, at the end of a long and complex series of bureaucratic practices, the much-wanted operation of the 27th Salesian General Chapter, has come to its conclusion.

“For the Salesians, the Rector Major is the center of unity for the entire Salesian Family,” adds Fr. Cristian Besso, rector of the basilica. “His is a charismatic function of communion; with this new environment, we do not want to create a cult toward any one person. This site is a cherished place, much sought for a desire of unity of the great Salesian Family present throughout the world.”

Two of the Rectors Major, Michael Rua and Philip Rinaldi, are buried on either side of the altar. Their special position is due to their both being blessed.  Three Salesian saints – John Bosco, Dominic Savio, and Mary Mazzarello – are buried in the basilica, upstairs.

The new tomb complex is a bright and warm space where three types of marble were used: the predominantly white Carrara marble; the gray Carnico for the entrance and the perimeter; the decorative inserts in Levanto red. All the material was carefully chosen in relation with that used in the upper part of the basilica. At the center is a niche where there is a crucifix, “a work of the early twentieth century that comes from the sacristy of the basilica,” explains Fr. Besso.

The inscriptions on marble are very simple. To commemorate the six gathered Rectors Major, there are, on the side, as many medallions by the Turin artist Gabriele Garbolino Ru. These are bronze bas-reliefs that closely resemble the faces of the six Rectors Major.

The relics chapel and the new tomb complex of the Rectors Majors are open to the public every day from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Young People, Reason for Salesian Congregation's Founding

Young People, the Reason for Salesian Congregation’s Founding 158 years ago

(ANS – Rome – December 18) – In Don Bosco’s mind there was no other idea but to give himself to God through young people. Despite the few years of priesthood, he understood that “if we want to have a good society we must concentrate all our efforts on educating young people about Christianity. Experience has taught me that caring for young people is the only way to achieve a sustainable civil society.” Thus, knowing he was doing the will of God, Don Bosco founded the Salesian Congregation, and December 18, 1859, can be considered as the official date of the founding of the Society of St. Francis de Sales (BM 6:181).
An 1870 photo of Don Bosco (front row, wearing biretta) with some of the Salesians. On the photo 2 Salesians are identified, at the left of the front row: Fr. James Costamagna, a future bishop, and Fr. John Cagliero, who would become the first SDB bishop and cardinal. Others in the front row: Fr. Celestine Durando immediately to DB's left; to his right: Fr. Joseph Lazzero, Fr. Angelo Savio, seminarian Bros. John Pellegrini, Julius Barberis, and Joseph Bertello.
The name given by the founder was “Pia Società di San Francesco di Sales,” or the Pious Society of St. Francis de Sales, and at its origins it counted 17 members besides Don Bosco: a priest, 15 seminarians, and a student). The first Salesian coadjutor entered the Congregation on February 22, 1860. The Church approved the Congregation on July 23, 1864, and officially recognized its Constitutions and Regulations on April 3, 1874.

Don Bosco gave the name “Salesians” to the Congregation in honor of the holy bishop of Geneva, Francis de Sales (1567-1622). On January 26, 1854, Don Bosco gathered the first four young men who were proposing to “have ... an experience in the practical exercise of charity with others” and “according to the words of Father Lemoyne, they took the name of Salesians for the first time. Looking back, this event would represent the first significant experience leading to the foundation of the Congregation in 1859,” wrote Fr. Arthur Lenti.

After these significant events, the Salesians inaugurated new presences: the first Salesian house outside Turin was in Mirabello, opened in 1863; while the first house outside Italy was in Nice, France, in 1875; the first center outside Europe was in Argentina, where the Salesians arrived in the same year.

On this day, when we celebrate the anniversary of the Salesian Congregation’s foundation, let us not forget the words of Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, the Rector Major: “The first great sensation is that God continues to want Don Bosco’s charism for the good of the young people of world.”

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Homily for 3d Sunday of Advent

Homily for the
3rd Sunday of Advent
Dec. 12, 1993
Is 61: 1-2, 10-11
1 Thess 5: 16-24
John 1: 6-8, 19-28
St. Agnes, Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama Is.
St. Vincent de Paul, Hunters, GBI

Presenting an old homily because I don't have a new one for today.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord” (Is 61: 1-2).

Do the 1st 2 verses of Isaiah 61 sound familiar?  According to Luke 4, Jesus began his public ministry in the synagogue of Nazareth by reading those same verses and applying them to himself: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21).

When the ancient Jewish prophet uttered those 2 verses, he was perhaps announcing his own prophetic mission to the dispirited people who had returned from the Babylonian captivity and hoped for the rebuilding of their glorious capital city and its holy temple.

Obviously, the Church, by placing it in our liturgy for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, has Jesus in mind.  Not only do we have in mind Jesus’ own use of the passage in the Nazareth synagogue, but also note its underlying theme of joy.  That underlying theme becomes more explicit in the rest of the reading, taken from 2 other verses of the same ch. 61: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul” (v. 10).  The joyous theme continues in the psalm response, taken from Mary’s hymn of praise: “My soul glorifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47); and in the 2nd reading, from 1 Thess: “Rejoice always, never cease praying, render constant thanks: such us God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (vv. 16-18).
Unfortunately, my Advent picture doesn't have 3 candles lit.

We see that rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath, which we lit this morning; and some of you can see the rose-colored veil over the chalice.  Those of us of a certain age, including me, remember when the priest wore a complete set of rose vestments on the 3rd Sunday in Advent—which we may still do if we choose and if we can find the vestments.  (The CCD children had a good laugh yesterday a.m. when I showed them our old rose chasuble, which I found in the vestment closet.  But they agreed I’d better not wear it.)

Well, that rose color was to break the somber violet of Advent, and it went with the theme of rejoicing for this Sunday, the 3rd of Advent.  In fact, the 3rd Sunday of Advent was called in the old liturgy Gaudete Sunday, using the Latin word for “Rejoice,” from the words of St. Paul with which the Mass used to open that day.

Why rejoice?  Because the Lord’s coming is near.  The “year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God” is at hand.  Advent is almost over and soon we’ll be celebrating our Savior’s birth and our redemption.

The words which Isaiah put into the mouth of the Jewish people now become our words too:  “I rejoice heartily in the Lord: in my God is the joy of my soul.  For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.”

The Jewish people looked for salvation and justice from God for a thousand years, their expectation building and intensifying.  So when John the Baptist appeared along the Jordan River, preaching powerfully—not afraid even to take on the Sadducees or King Herod—and demanding repentance for all, they wondered whether John might be the Messiah, or at least Elijah or the prophet like Moses who were supposed to precede the Messiah’s appearance.

John, as we heard, denied being any of them.  He was only a voice, a baptizer in water, the message, not a voice; the baptizer in the Spirit; the way, not the opener.

The much greater one is already among us, brothers.  The much greater one is already here, sisters.  Most of the scribes and the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the courtiers of King Herod and the soldiers of the Roman occupiers did not recognize him when he came.  Not that he is here, do we recognize him?

If we do recognize him, then, yes, we can rejoice on Christmas day and every day that we live in his presence, “whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body, irreproachable” (1 Thess 5:23).  If we do not recognize him, no amount of Christmas presents, no pile of Christmas cards, no Christmas bonus, no Christmas turkey, no nothing can give us grounds to rejoice; for there is no ground under our feet.

During the parish mission, many of us recognized Jesus and turned to him, honored his mother, rejected our sinful ways.  There is still time.  There is still time before Christmas to turn away from sin and turn toward the one whose sandals John was unworthy to loosen.  There is still time before “the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:23) to judge the living and the dead, to turn to him and make our baptism in the Holy Spirit more than an empty rite, to make it a rite of salvation because we continue to repent.  There is still time to get onto solid ground.

Does turning to Jesus make us perfect?  We all know it doesn’t.  The devil surely likes to tempt us with discouragement when we fall again; he doesn’t want us to repent and get up.  But Paul’s prayer in 1 Thess is not meaningless: “May God of peace make you perfect in holiness.  He who calls you is faithful, and he will accomplish it (5:23-24).  If we keep our faces turned toward Jesus, if we keep our hands in his hand, then he will gradually do his work in us.  So, brothers and sisters, “rejoice always, never cease praying, render constant thanks; such is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Homily for Saturday, Week 2 of Advent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Orient Express

The Orient Express

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

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

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

Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil Receives Mother Teresa Memorial Award

Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil Receives

Mother Teresa Memorial Award

By Fr. Joaquim Fernandes, SDB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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