Sunday, April 29, 2018

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Easter

April 29, 2018
John 15: 1-8
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower” (John 15: 1).

In Palestine and many other parts of the world, including significant parts of our own country, vineyards are important to people’s way of living and to the general economy.  You and I probably don’t relate to that so much—at most you might have put a little trellis with a vine in your back yard.  But we can appreciate Jesus’ analogy—even if we’ve never even tried to raise some tomatoes.  We understand that our beautiful cherry trees and dogwoods and magnolias (like the one outside the side door) won’t blossom if their branches are broken off from the trunk.

Jesus’ words today—taken from what he said to the apostles at the Last Supper—remind us, 1st, that Jesus has come to us from God the Father:  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”  That is, the Father has planted this vine; he has sent Jesus his Son, into the vineyard of the human race.  And we know from other verses that the Father’s reason for doing that was love, e.g., that most famous verse:  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).

2d, this vine, Jesus Christ, has branches, attached parts of the vine.  Those branches are what St. Paul calls the members of Christ’s body (1 Cor 6:15), viz., the Church—us.  We are the branches of this vine, and as long as we remain attached to it, we’re alive.

This life, of course, isn’t our physical life—altho our attachment to Christ includes the promise of the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day, as we profess every week in the Creed.  But immediately, this life is our spiritual life, the life of our innermost selves, the life of our souls.

How do we maintain this interior life?  How do we remain firmly attached to the true vine?  By prayer, by reading the Scriptures, by participating in the sacraments.  Just as the branches of a vine or a tree need life-giving sap to feed them, our souls need the life that flows from our daily conversation with the Father, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit in prayer.  We need the nourishment that comes from letting the Holy Scriptures seep into our hearts and souls; this is the dew of the Holy Spirit moistening and refreshing us as nothing else can.  We need regular contact with Jesus himself, the Person of Jesus, in the Eucharist and Reconciliation (the sacrament of Penance), and we need to draw on the graces that come from living the unique sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation that we received, most of us, so long ago, graces that aren’t “once and done” but forever-lasting.  Most of us also have available the graces of a vocational sacrament to nourish us thru life, to enable us to “live Jesus,” as St. Francis de Sales phrases it:  the sacrament of Christian marriage for many of you, or most of you, and the sacrament of Holy Orders for me.

3d, the Father has planted this vine and enabled its branches to flourish in order that those branches may bear fruit:  “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.  By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit” (15:5,8).  The branches don’t exist for their own sake but for the sake of bearing fruit.  What good would a vineyard be without grapes?

So what is the fruit that the Father desires us to produce?  What does the life of Christ flowing thru us produce?  Virtue.  E.g., in Gal 5:22-23, St. Paul lists as “fruits of the Holy Spirit” the virtues of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  Obviously there are numerous other virtues:  the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity; the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; the religious virtues of chastity and obedience; the virtues that Jesus puts into prominence in the Sermon on the Mount, and Pope Francis stresses in his recent apostolic exhortation:  poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, sympathy with others in misfortune, purity of heart, peaceableness, and other virtues too: perseverance, patience, a sense of humor, boldness, passion.

That is by no means an exhaustive list of virtues.  The point isn’t to list them or to define them, of course, but to practice them—to be fruitful thru the working of grace, the divine sap running thru us branches of Christ the true vine.  That’s how we glorify the Father, which is the purpose for which God made us.

When Jesus promises the apostles toward the end of this evening’s gospel, “Ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you” (15:7), he means primarily to ask to remain faithfully united with him, to be his faithful disciples, to remain fully alive in him—in this life and in eternal life.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Lay Missioner's Day

A Lay Missioner's Day

By coincidence only, your humble blogger is happy to note that this is his 1,000th post since this site was born in April 2009 (with a post noting a bloody "missionary" excursion into the wilds of the Catskills).

From the Democratic Republic of Congo, Salesian Lay Missioner Andrew Wood, commissioned last August, in an email sent on April 28 answers questions on the minds of all his friends:  "What do you eat there in the missions?" and "What do you do all day?"

The second most common question I receive in life is: “Andrew what is the food like in Africa?” (the most common question is “how do you manage to be so handsome, intelligent, and entirely lovable at the same time?”).

Because of this, I’ve been wanting to write a FOOD episode for a long time. Also because food is important, and I eat it every day.

Before we jump in, I should give a small update in my life. This last month has been relatively calm, excepting a very busy and happy Easter weekend, my first time swimming since I arrived (I went to a swimming pool!), and having a tussle with malaria (excepting exhaustion, a fever, and a headache, there was nothing much wrong with me). AND I hit my 6 month mark in the Congo a few weeks ago! I think that is quite exciting.

Also, I recently created a video showing a day in the life of both myself and the other American volunteer here in the city, Barbara [Brzeski]. It’s the best look at what my life is really like here! Check it out here, and other Africa videos I’ve made (I don’t email you all of my videos… so you should really subscribe to me to keep up to date!):


I eat Congolese food, every. single. day. "What is Congolese food?" you may ask. To answer this question, I suggest you flip to Appendix A, the photo I have attached to this email showcasing a plate of Congolese food, taken directly before I ate. Here’s what’s on that plate (starting at the top and working clockwise):

  1. Bukari. Dominating the skyline of Congolese cuisine is the heart and soul of every meal: bukari. That is an imperfectly formed baseball made out of cornflour and water, boiled together. It’s flavorless by itself, but it goes well with most other Congolese foods. It’s common to eat it with fish, meat juice, or vegetables. You can use silverware, but the common Congolese fashion is to eat it with your hands. IT’S POLITE TO EAT WITH YOUR HANDS OKAY!!! Don’t judge me.
  2. Fish. Fish is a super big part of the diet here. Situated to the right of the hunk of bukari in this photo, this is a pile of tiny little fish dudes, which taste awesome. However, more common is a big ol’ fish. I used to never eat these because trying to remove the bones was slow and tedious and not worth it. That was before I learned that you can: a) eat with your hands; and, b) eat a staggering amount of fish bones without unbalancing your digestive tract. Now I love eating fish.
  3. Vegetables. In this photo, it’s tomatoes (yes I know they’re technically a fruit). However the usual Congolese vegetable dish is a bunch of leafy greens, ground down and boiled together to make an almost mushy mixture. Some of it is decent. Normally you eat this together with bukari.
  4. Kikanda. This is a fake meat made out of peanuts. It’s pretty good usually, but occasionally saltier than the Dead Sea.
  5. Rice. While it’s not as ubiquitous as in many other countries, I definitely eat my fair share of rice. The community keeps one bottle of ketchup, and it’s kind of become my thing to eat rice with ketchup. It’s how I keep in touch with my American roots.
  6. Meat with juice. One of the pillars of the Congolese cuisine is meat. Notice I don’t specify the type? I usually don’t know, but sometimes it’s chicken and sometimes beef and sometimes I don’t ask. The juice is then used to flavor things and clog your arteries. It’s quite decent most of the time.
Things not shown that are common:
  1. Soup. We eat soup here before every lunch and dinner, a remnant of Belgian culture. Often salty but quite comforting. I try not to slurp but no one is perfect.
  2. Bread. Our breakfast every day, and many of my snacks, consists of: bread. After six months of daily excessive bread consumption, I’m pleased to report that I’m nowhere near sick of it. How is bread so good?
  3. Salad. A rare but exciting member of the menu, salad is always a welcome treat, despite the only dressing being mayonnaise.
  4. Caterpillars. I have eaten quite a grand number of caterpillars in my day, and I’m pleased to say that they’re not half bad!
  5. Fries. Basically fried potatoes, these rarely resemble American fries and yet still get me excited! Still I miss the high-quality heart-attack-factories that are McDonald’s fries.
  6. Fruit. Almost always my favorite part of the meal. Domestically, my life-long love, bananas, are common. And mangoes, when they were in season, became my addiction. However, we also occasionally eat apples and peaches and other fruits that are less common here.

This is not everything I eat here, but it is the majority. It’s mostly pretty good, and I’m so lucky to have food on a consistent basis, which is by no means guaranteed here. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m not terribly excited when I have a chance to eat something foreign! I’m planning a list of food and restaurants I need to go to when I get home.

Okay people, signing off. I hope all of your lives are dazzlingly magnificent!


For more information about the Salesian Lay Missioners: 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Homily for Thursday, 4th Week of Easter

Homily for Thursday
4th Week of Easter

April 26, 2018
Acts 13: 13-25
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“From Paphos, Paul and his companions set sail and arrived at Perga in Pamphylia” (Acts 13: 13).

Parts of the middle section of Acts of the Apostles, where we are now, read like a travelog, and you probably wonder where all these strange places are.  St. Paul and his fellow missionaries are roaming all over the territory that is now Turkey and then on to Greece.

Paul Preaching in Athens, by Raphael
On the feast of St. Mark yesterday we omitted the reading from Acts that describes how St. Paul and St. Barnabas were commissioned as missionaries by the Church at Antioch in the Roman province of Syria—the 3d-largest city in the entire Roman Empire and the site of a major Christian community, where—as we heard in the reading on Tuesday, the Gospel was beginning to be preached to pagan Greeks and not only to Jews.  Thus St. Luke, the author of Acts, is showing us the gradual expansion of the faith.  In fact, we believe that Luke himself was a native of Antioch.

We’ve already heard of the 1st steps in that expansion to the Gentiles with Philip’s preaching in Samaria and to the Ethiopian, and Peter’s receiving the household of Cornelius into the Church.  That expansion continues as Paul and Barnabas, accompanied by John Mark, undertake what we now call Paul’s 1st missionary journey.  In the 1st lines of ch. 13, which we didn’t read yesterday, they go to Cyprus—where Barnabas was from (Acts 4:36)—and preach the Gospel with some success.  Today it’s back to the mainland.  They land at Perga on the coast of southern Turkey, in the province of Pamphylia, then make their way about 100 miles inland to another town called Antioch in the province of Pisidia.  (These different cities with that name were all named for members of a Greek dynasty that ruled the region after Alexander the Great until they were conquered by Rome, in the 3d and 2d centuries B.C.)

We’ll hear often how Paul and his companions go into the synagogs on the Sabbath in different cities and preach Jesus Christ.  The sermon that begins today will continue tomorrow, and it’s similar to the long sermon that St. Stephen delivered back in ch. 7 before his martyrdom.  Luke presents these sermons as typical Christian preaching, showing how Jesus of Nazareth brings to completion all that God has been doing in Israel, starting with Abraham and continuing thru Moses and David.  Jesus is the Son of David who fulfills what God promised, the salvation of his people.  And John the Baptist—whose disciples also had spread around the eastern Mediterranean—pointed to Jesus as the savior of Israel.

Thus far today’s reading.  What does it tell us?  1st, Jesus comes forth from a people, a people with a definite, God-directed history.  He’s not a myth, like the stories of the Greek and Roman gods.  2d, Jesus fulfills a plan that God set forth thru that people, Israel.  3d, by referring to that people and their history and showing forth God’s plan, Paul more effectively preaches the Gospel.

Of course that message holds true for us in the 21st century, and not just for the people of the 1st century.  It would mean even more for us if we were more familiar with Israel’s history and the words of Israel’s prophets—for they truly are our own history, our own ancestors; the Old Testament is our own Scriptures.  Our Scripture reading has to begin with the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament; but then we have to reach back to the Torah, the prophets, the Psalms, etc.

The reading, or more generally, the preaching set forth in Acts, can also point out to us that it’s important for us to know the history of Christianity after the apostles—the story of the Church from the 1st century to today.  Who are we, how did we get here, how has God continued to direct the history of his people?  How is what we believe and teach as true today in continuity with what Paul, Barnabas, Peter—and Jesus—preached?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Intensive Training to Benefit Poor Youngsters

Intensive Training to Benefit Poor Youngsters

(ANS - Vien Kham, Laos – April 25) – Laos is a country characterized by a rapidly growing economy, based mainly on investments from neighboring countries, and a very young population. For some years now, it has also become a territory where the spiritual sons of Don Bosco are active. The Salesians now intend to increase their educational offer to help the poorest young people thru a new vocational training course.

On May 24, 2004, under the auspices of Mary Help of Christians, 5 past pupils of the Salesian vocational training schools of Thailand, a teacher, and Fr. Tito Pedron – an Italian Salesian with over 40 years of missionary service in Thailand – rented a house to start the Laos Project. They started with 12 students; the year later, there were 24. When the inspectors sent by the Ministry of Labor visited, they were very impressed by the teachers’ professionalism and the students’ level of learning.

Given that the country has a Communist government, the Salesians, while enjoying the esteem of the authorities for their work in the field of formation, cannot spread the Gospel. But they can spread Don Bosco’s Preventive System thru education.

Therefore, and always with the aim of providing local youths with more opportunities for the future, the Don Bosco Center in Vientiane, the capital, has decided to carry out a project in cooperation with the Youth Union (the Laotian Communist Party’s youth organization) of Vientiane and Vien Kham, the rural site of the initiative. Don Bosco will offer an intensive vocational course to train mechanics specializing in servicing motorcycles.

“Here, where the most popular means of transport is the moped or scooter, it’s certainly a winning choice from an occupational point of view,” commented Fr. Patrizio Maccioni, SDB, also an Italian Salesian with decades as a missionary in the Thai Province, to which the work in Laos is attached. 

The course, of brief duration, will be attended by 25 youths, selected from among the poorest in the area, due to their not being able to take longer courses in more distant cities. Many will also be hosted in a boarding school. In this organizational phase, they are also trying to raise funds to support the expenses related to food, accommodation, and training of future students.

Further information is available at:

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pastoral Activity in Palabek Refugee Camp

Pastoral Activity in Palabek Refugee Camp

(ANS – Palabek, Uganda - April 20) – Pastoral activities in Uganda’s Palabek Refugee Camp are led by Fr. Ubaldino Andrade, one of the Salesian missionaries serving at this newest Salesian center. The Palabek Refugee Camp welcomes about 36,000 refugees from the violence in South Sudan.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Homily for Tuesday, 4th Week of Easter

Homily for Tuesday
4th Week of Easter

April 24, 2018
Don Bosco Cristo Rey, Takoma Park, Md.

In the Collect we prayed that we might “merit to receive the joy of our redemption” thru our “celebrating the mysteries of the Lord’s Resurrection.”

Pope Francis’s recent exhortation that all of us are called to be saints reminded us that holiness is the work of God’s grace, not something we merit by our knowledge of the faith[1] or our good deeds.[2]

So what is this “merit” in our prayer?  It follows from our “celebrating the mysteries of the Lord’s Resurrection,” i.e., our sacramental participation in the life of the Risen Jesus.  So the “merit” isn’t what we do but what Jesus does—just as we acclaim at every Mass:  “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  The healing word of Christ cleanses our souls and makes us worthy to receive him.

Likewise, “the joy of our redemption,” i.e., our salvation, is made possible by the grace of Christ flowing from his mysteries—his passion and resurrection, his eternal life, accessible to us in Baptism, the Eucharist, Reconciliation, and the other sacraments.  May we merit the joy of being redeemed by our being bound to our Savior in his mysteries.

        [1] Gaudete et exsultate, nos. 35-46.
        [2] Ibid., nos. 35, 47-59.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Easter

April 22, 2018
1 John 3: 1-2
Visitation Convent, Georgetown, D.C.

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us” (1 John 3: 1).

The entire Gospel—“the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” as Mark announces in the 1st verse of his version of the Gospel—is that God loves us.  We acknowledge that perhaps a little bit more on this Sunday called Good Shepherd Sunday.

from Catacombs of
St. Callixus, Rome
The Good Shepherd lays down his life to protect his sheep (John 10:11)—a supreme act of love.  The apostles heal a cripple in Jesus’ name, an act which Peter equates with salvation (Acts 4:9,12), at least in a symbolic way, a symbolic healing pointing to the complete and eternal healing won by “Jesus Christ the Nazorean . . . whom God raised from the dead.  There is no other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (4:10,12).  God’s love is generously shared with a great multitude of people.  In fact, the Good Shepherd enlarges God’s chosen flock:  “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  These also I must lead and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).  These are the Gentiles—the entire human race beyond the original chosen people.  The brave Shepherd has gone before us to heaven, guiding his humble flock thither (Collect).

Why all that?  “That we may be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).  Not just called his children, but in fact become his children:  “yet so we are” (3:1).  The humble flock guarded and led by the good and brave shepherd somehow becomes so identified with the Shepherd that they are enabled to assume his status:  to become God’s children thru a mystical union with the Son—a sacramental union.

The Good Shepherd’s supreme act of love expresses the Father’s love.  By giving us his Son, the Father “has bestowed [his] love on us,” has lavished his love upon us.  That love transforms us from sinners into saints, from vagabonds into members of the family.

And, as the TV ads say, “Wait!  There’s more!”  (You do watch TV, don’t you?)  What “more”?  We are already, here and now, God’s children (3:2) thru our participation in the sacraments, which unite us to the Son.  But “what we shall be has not yet been revealed” (3:2).  That there could be more is mind-blowing; it’s way more than we can imagine.  At least more than I can!  What could be better than being a child of God for eternity alongside Jesus?

I don’t know.  But St. John says, “We do know”—notice that word:  we know, not suppose, not guess, not hope, not wish—“that when it [whatever that more is] is revealed we shall be like him,” i.e., like God himself.

The gross ambition of the 1st couple in Eden is going to be realized.  The serpent’s duplicitous promise is going to be fulfilled, after all, tho certainly not due to anything the Evil One wished:  If you eat the forbidden fruit, he told the woman, you shall be like gods (cf. Gen 3:5).  Instead, we have been commanded by “Jesus Christ the Nazorean” to take and eat, take and drink, the fruit of the earth, the fruit of the vine, to eat his Body and drink his Blood.

And this is life-giving fruit, transformative fruit for eternal life.  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54).  Eating this commanded fruit changes us already into the Mystical Body of Christ, God’s daughters and sons thru a most intimate union with Jesus Christ the Son of God.  And it promises more when we finally enter our Father’s eternal home.  “What we shall be has not yet been revealed.  … we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

You’ve probably heard of Medusa from Greek mythology.  The story is that anyone who looked upon her was instantly turned into stone.  I dare say there was no basis in fact for that myth, altho there certainly have been prefects of studies or deans of discipline who could freeze students with a look.  St. John, however, is telling us that when we look upon the reality of God—what has traditionally been called the “beatific vision”—we shall be changed in some way into a likeness of him—certainly not into stone but perhaps into perfect images of our Lord Jesus; not in a physical sense, for we must keep our own identity, but in some manner, moral and spiritual, beyond what we can imagine.  And this transformation will be the perfect fulfillment of all our desires and yearnings; will give us that “share in the joys of heaven” for which we prayed in the Collect; will make us happy beyond our wildest dreams and hopes—beatifically happy!

So much does God love us.  So much does he long for us to be with him forever, like the father in Jesus’ parable who watched daily for his younger son to show up in the distance, coming homeward (Luke 15:20).  So much does he freely give this gift to us without our deserving it; rather, he bestows it, like the father’s lavish and unmerited love in the parable—in sign of which we come this morning to the great banquet of the Lord’s Body and Blood, to continue the process of our transformation in love.

Salesian Websites Renewed

Salesian Websites Renewed
Updates for Valdocco and the Catacombs of St. Callistus 

(ANS – Rome – April 20) – Valdocco, the beating heart of the Salesian world; and the catacombs of St. Callistus, a space rooted to the origins of Christianity, for decades entrusted to the care of the Salesian Congregation, are both places of great spirituality and pilgrimage, and both have recently renewed their websites.

The new website of the Salesian Motherhouse,, went online this month. Characterized by a fresh and simple graphic layout, it immerses the user in the generous complexity of Valdocco.  The first access screen to the site – designed specifically by artist Salesian coadjutor Bro. Luigi Zonta – immediately reveals the different co-existing realities via interactive hotspots.

The site is divided into several sections and can be viewed quickly by the scrolling of a single page, which immediately unveils the diverse richness of the cultural, religious, and formative offer of Don Bosco’s house.  Through the new website, it is indeed possible to reach the entire “digital galaxy” hosted within Valdocco:  the website of the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians with its reception and hospitality facilities and the services available to pilgrims [apparently this is the only one that includes an English-language option]; Missioni Don Bosco; the Salesian province of Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta; Mary Help of Christians Parish; the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales; the Valdocco Middle School; the province’s Youth Ministry Office; the Valdocco Technical School; and the Salesian University College.

The Catacombs of St. Callistus are one of the largest and best preserved of Rome’s ancient Christian burial grounds.  Sixteen popes, dozens of martyrs, and many other Christians were buried within the complex.  The Salesians have been entrusted to the care of all this enormous sacred, historical, and cultural heritage site since the pontificate of Pius XI.  The new website – – ​​is a means to access this capital:  there is news on the history and symbolism of the catacombs, description of the itineraries and environments to be seen, references to inscriptions, historiographical anecdotes, archaeological interpretations, etc.  And, of course, there are sections with practical information for visiting pilgrims.

Characterized by a strongly visual compact and able to capture immediately the viewer’s attention with evocative images of the whole complex, the site is available in Italian, English, Spanish, French, German, and Polish.  It also contains special modules for booking groups and Mass celebrations.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Homily for Memorial of St. Anselm

Homily for the Memorial of St. Anselm

April 21, 2018
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“Bishop St. Anselm sought out and taught the depths of divine wisdom” (cf. Collect).

National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
St. Anselm (1033-1109) embodied the universalism of the Church, at least in his own time.  He was born in Italy, became a monk in France, and was made archbishop of Canterbury in England.

His career also had a universalism about it.  In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, he was “a monk with an intense spiritual life, an excellent teacher of the young, a theologian with an extraordinary capacity for speculation, a wise man of governance, and an intransigent defender of the Church’s freedom … who was able to harmonize all these qualities, thanks to the profound mystical experience that always guided his thought and action.”[1]

When his father wouldn’t let him enter the Benedictines, young Anselm adopted a dissipated life and began to travel.  Arriving in Normandy, he regained his faith and morals under the influence of the great abbot and teacher Lanfranc and at age 27 became a monk.  In short order, he succeeded Lanfranc as the monastery’s master teacher.  He was remarked for his respect for the freedom of his students (“an excellent teacher of the young”).

The monastic schools were the forerunners of the universities, and Anselm is considered the father of scholastic theology—that great system of thought, the “theology of the schools,” that flourished in the medieval universities in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries and whose finest examples are St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure.  It was Anselm who defined theology as “faith seeking understanding,” which is still as fine a definition as ever, and it was alluded to in today’s Collect, when we prayed “that our faith in God may aid our understanding.”

He wrote many books, the best known being those concerning the existence of God and the mystery of redemption.  Concerning our redemption, Anselm wrote a book titled Why did God become human? in which he said that since our sins have offended an infinite God, they require of us an infinite form of satisfaction or atonement, which, of course, we’re incapable of offering.  Only a Redeemer who combines the infinite nature of God and our humanity could do so—and that was the answer he posited to his question, “Why did God become human?”

After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, just a few years after Anselm entered the monastery, William the Conqueror, duke of Normandy and now king of England, brought many Norman monks and clergy to his new kingdom, including Lanfranc, whom he made archbishop of Canterbury.  So Anselm was elected abbot in his place and governed the monastery as wisely as he had taught there.

And following the deaths of both William and Lanfranc, the new king and the English bishops (who were all Normans) forced Anselm to become archbishop.  He was unwilling, but eventually he had to accept a papal command.  He was successful in reconciling the old Anglo-Saxon Church and the new, Norman-dominated one.  He was much less successful as a man of the world, as a politician, and soon had such great quarrels with 2 successive kings over the rights of the Church—concerning taxes, property, and episcopal appointments—that twice he had to go into exile (like his successor some 80 years later, Thomas Becket).  It seems that the liberty of the Church to carry out its mission to preach the Gospel in word and action is always in jeopardy from governments, which have a natural tendency to want to rule everything about the lives and even the souls of their subjects.  It was true in the Roman Empire, in Anselm’s England, behind the Iron Curtain, in Red China—and remains a danger in our own Western world.

Anselm was a great devotee of our Blessed Mother and a great man of prayer.  All of his study aimed at knowing God better, at entering more deeply into contemplation.  One of his prayers is:  “I pray, O God, to know you, to love you, that I may rejoice in you.  And if I cannot attain to full joy in this life, may I at least advance from day to day, until that joy shall come to [its fullness].”[2]  Perhaps that prayer was the inspiration for our Collect petition that our faith-aided understanding “may give delight to our hearts.”  For delight—eternal joy—is the final object of all our believing, our study, our following and loving Jesus.

      [1] Church Fathers and Teachers from Saint Leo the Great to Peter Lombard (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2010), pp. 146-147.
      [2] Cited by Benedict XVI, loc. cit., p. 149.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Homily for Thursday, 3d Week of Easter

Homily for Thursday, 3d Week of Easter

April 19, 2018
Acts 8: 26-40
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, ‘Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza’” (Acts 8: 26).

The Philip whose apostolic activity is reported in Acts 8 isn’t the apostle Philip but the deacon Philip, one of the 7 chosen to serve the needs of the Greek-speaking widows in ch. 6.  Stephen was the 1st of those 7, followed by Philip.

Yesterday’s reading described some of his preaching in Samaria and the conversion of the 1st batch of non-Jewish believers.  Today we have a new episode in a different geographical zone.  Samaria is north of Jerusalem; the road to Gaza is southwest of the city.  Here Philip encounters a foreigner from—the scholars tell us—what is now Sudan, south of Egypt, and not the country that we know as Ethiopia.  However that may be, he’s some sort of convert to Judaism and has just been worshiping in the holy city.  Now he’s on his way home, and he’s reading from the Scriptures.

In the ancient world, people read aloud, not silently as we do.  So Philip hears him as he reads from Isaiah.  The passage is one of those that foretell the sufferings of Jesus—one of those texts so often referred to in Acts, and also Luke 24 (the disciples on the road to Emmaus), about the necessity of the Christ to suffer and so fulfill God’s plan.

So that point is made again—a most fundamental point of Christian teaching.  We follow a God-man who suffered and died, as we suffer and die, but who rose physically from the dead and who will raise us up too if we follow him faithfully.

The 2d point of the reading today is the continuing spread of Jesus’ message to the non-Jewish world:  1st Samaria, now to black Africa, and soon to Greeks and even Romans.  Jesus’ salvation is for the entire world.

The 3d point is the joy that the Ethiopian experiences as he proceeds, now baptized.  Yesterday’s reading about the Samaritan converts ended on that same note, and it’s a note mentioned repeatedly in Acts.  When students of religion and of history ask how it was that Christianity so quickly and so completely captured the Roman Empire, in spite of abundant prejudice and vicious persecution, one of the answers is the joy of believers.  What is it that makes these people so happy?  I want to know.  I want to be part of that.  And that, dear sisters and brothers, is still a powerful message, a powerful witness to Jesus that we ought to be giving to our families, friends, co-workers, and the whole world.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Now I Understand Don Bosco!"

“Now I Understand Don Bosco!”
Muslim Teachers from Morocco Visit Salesian Holy Places

(ANS – Kenitra, Morocco – April 18) - The Salesian center of Kenitra, active in Morocco since 1937, organized a visit to the Salesian sites from April 9 to 17. Seven of the school’s teachers, all Muslims, they were accompanied by the director of the institute, Fr. José Antonio Vega.

The teachers in the Salesian school of Kenitra are exclusively Muslim, and the course on Islam is mandatory. The Salesian charism is, however, well-known thanks to the constant presence of Salesians among the young and many educators consider themselves “Salesian Muslims.”

On this occasion, Fr. Vega organized a formation program that included a visit to all the Salesian holy places: Valdocco, the city of Turin, Becchi and Colle Don Bosco, and Chieri. The Salesian communities of Colle, Chieri, and Valdocco, aware of this experience, invited the group to share meals with them, to learn more about the meaning of this initiative.

Teachers from Kenitra in the church of St. Francis de Sales at the Oratory in Valdocco
The Salesian center of Kenitra now has 1,400 students and 80 Muslim teachers. The different sectors of the Salesian center (kindergarten and elementary, middle, and high schools) experience an ongoing dialog with the Muslim world in their own daily lives, apply Salesian pedagogy, respect their surrounding world, and bear witness with the utmost respect.

Don Bosco is known and loved by everyone. For this reason, it seemed that the time had come to respond to suggestions from the teachers themselves, who had expressed a wish for formation as Salesian “cooperators” and wanted to learn about the sites where Don Bosco was born and lived. At the beginning of the school year, this idea was proposed to a small group and some accepted, paying the costs of their trip themselves.

The aim of the initiative is that teachers, parents, young people, and past pupils may live this profound experience of Salesian spirit and content.

All the participants returned to Morocco happy and admired: “I have known Don Bosco for years, but now I’m able to understand much more, and above all the reason for his work for the young,” said one of the teachers at the end of the experience.

The Salesian center in Kenitra also includes a small parish for foreigners, mainly young African university students, which brings together about a hundred faithful from about 30 countries at its Sunday Mass.

“In everything we do, we want to be a little bridge (which is the meaning of the name Kenitra) between Christians and Muslims. This small ‘witnessing’ church in a city that is 100% Muslim is significant for the life of the Church,” the Salesians in Morocco conclude.

The Church for Amazonia, Amazonia for the Church

The Church for Amazonia,
Amazonia for the Church

(ANS - Vatican City – April 17) – On April 12-13, the first pre-synodal council meeting of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region was held, with Pope Francis presiding. The theme of the synod, scheduled for October 2019, is “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.”

The meeting was attended by the 18 members of the council and 13 experts, who examined the draft of the preparatory document for the synod. A Salesian of Tuyuca origin, Fr. Justino Sarmento Rezende, the first indigenous Salesian ordained to the priesthood, 24 years ago, was among the participants. (Fr. Rezende belongs to the SDB Campo Grande Province in Brazil, based in Mato Grasso State.)

After related proposals for improvement, the document was approved by the council and will now be transmitted, together with a questionnaire, to all episcopal conferences and other bodies involved to start pre-synodal consultations.

“The Church is watching us. It is with us with its heart and mind, placing in the people of Amazonia the hope of receiving important contributions, so that the Church may be in time grow increasingly rooted at the local and more universal level,” said a satisfied Fr. Rezende.

Fr. Rezende was also the author of one of the reports presented to the council, which he did on April 12. In addition to expressing his joy at being able to meet Pope Francis for the first time, he expressed his wish, on behalf of the indigenous peoples, to “give thanks for the many missionaries, priests, and bishops who gave their lives for us, the peoples of Amazonia and the indigenous peoples. Some were martyred to defend us, and many of them acquired an indigenous face, learning its culture, language, and traditions, and today they are buried in mission lands.... Thanks to this missionary work, many lay people in the Church, catechists, extraordinary ministers, religious, and priests have emerged. And this is the face we must offer as a Church.”

According to the Salesian, the synod will be “a very important moment to show the ways of the Church in our region and to propose new paths, keeping in mind our Christian life and our commitment to the defense of nature, our way of practicing an economy, sustainability, and pastoral life....”

“We indigenous peoples, evangelized and evangelizers, can contribute to the enrichment of our Church,” concluded Fr. Rezende.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Light of Christ in the Heart of the Church

The Light of Christ in the Heart of the Church

(ANS – Rome – April 13) – A seminar to consider issues concerning the promotion of the causes of beatification and canonization in the Salesian Family took place in Rome, April 10-14.  On its 4th day Fr. François-Marie Lethel, a Carmelite, showed participants how holiness is able to unite in a wonderful and fascinating synthesis the scientia fidei, “knowledge based on faith,” or as Benedict XVI called it, scientia amoris, “knowledge of love.”

The day had already begun with a call to discernment and compassion as the main roads indicated by the Pope as calls to holiness, also stressed in the recent apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate.  That came in the homily preached at morning Mass by Fr. Francesco Cereda, vicar of the Rector Major.

Fr. Lethel, uniting great depth of thought with simplicity of language, indicated how discernment and compassion, faith and love, are the paths which the saints have traveled and opened for everyone, where one finds that unity between faith and life, theory and practice, earth and heaven which is at the heart of the Christian mystery.

A particularly fascinating element, which the Carmelite priest made his audience tangibly perceive, is the communion between saints and charisms, “as in heaven, so on earth.”  The saints have never been jealous or parochial, and it is surprising to see how already in their earthly experience there was an admirable exchange of gifts between Dominic, Francis, Ignatius, Teresa, John of the Cross, et al.  The same can be seen in Don Bosco, for those who listen attentively to his spirituality.  Indeed, communion is the very heart of holiness, that is, life in God.  Charisms do not add up; they multiply when communion intensifies.

In concluding his address, Fr. Lethel – who in 2011 preached the annual retreat to Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia, receiving praise and thanks – expressed himself an enthusiastic admirer of the venerable Salesian Fr. Joseph Quadrio, a “perfect example of the religious saint, priest, theologian, and mystic,” and of Salesian Cooperator Vera Grita,” a humble consecrated lay person in whom I joyfully discovered a great mysticism of the Eucharist, perhaps one of the greatest, with a truly prophetic message for the Church of today and tomorrow.”

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Homily for 3d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
3rd Sunday of Easter

April 14, 1991
Luke 24: 35-48
Troop 40, Alpine, N.J.

This little nugget comes from well before I officially became Troop 40’s chaplain; with one T40 Scout in my freshman English class at Salesian HS, I got invited now and then to accompany the troop and offer Mass in the field for them.

Some of you may have followed the story, a couple weeks ago, of the woman who was exploring the deepest part of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico with a group of cavers.  When she broke her leg in an accident, it became a national story; people everywhere seemed to be concerned about the progress of the rescue team working its way down several miles from the surface over a period of two days (I believe), and seemed to admire the woman’s courage and strength down below with her partners.  Once the rescuers reached her with a stretcher and additional first aid, they had to haul her out, which took another several days of pulling her dead weight, protecting her from further injury, and keeping up her spirits.  Everyone involved strained very hard to save this woman from the brokenness she had experienced, and in fact her brokenness built something of a new spirit of teamwork and salvation—a spirit they all experienced despite their exhaustion when they had finished and whatever bruises they had gotten in the process.

Yesterday we all did some hiking, and a lot of it was in the rain.  When we finished we were pretty tired; we had strained a lot.  Maybe we got a bruise or two from a fall, or some blisters or some sore muscles.  We experienced a kind of brokenness through our hike.  But after all that, we felt a lot of satisfaction too.  We’d accomplished something, maybe something we weren’t sure we could do; and some of us earned a merit badge through our painful efforts.

The experience of the cave explorers and rescuers, and our experience, is a little like the experience that Jesus went through.  Jesus’ heart was crushed on Holy Thursday by betrayal and by the fear of torture and death.  On Good Friday his spirit was beaten by the injustice of his trial and condemnation, and his body was broken by torture and finally by death on the cross.

In the gospel we heard how Jesus appears to his disciples after he has risen from the dead, and how he reassures them that he isn’t a ghost but the real flesh-and-blood Jesus, the same Jesus who had been so broken by the cross.  This same Jesus is now alive.  He speaks with his friends and even asks them for some fish to eat.  The body and the spirit that had been pained, tortured, and broken has been raised up.  The payoff isn’t national TV coverage, teamwork, or a merit badge, but “the remission of sins for all the nations” (Luke 24:47).

The gospel reading began with a reference to a pair of disciples who “had come to know Jesus in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:35).  “The breaking of bread” became a New Testament term for the Eucharist.  The body of Jesus is still being broken for us, for the forgiveness of sins, at every Mass.  When the priest breaks the Bread before Communion, he reminds us of how Jesus’ body was broken by death for us; the Mass, you know, is the very same sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, made present to us here and now because we could not be physically present at Calvary.  The Eucharistic bread is one, but it is broken into several pieces to symbolize that all of us are made one in Christ; Christ died for all the nations.  Indeed, we have that symbolized right here by Scouts from Mount Vernon and from Queens celebrating the Eucharist in New Jersey, and we come from a bunch of different national backgrounds.

Being broken is not just for Jesus and for special occasions like dramatic rescues and merit badges.  We who break the bread of Jesus, with Jesus, must be broken every day.  We must be broken by keeping his commandments, by keeping the values of the Scout oath, by doing our duty, by keeping ourselves clean and honorable in body and heart.  It breaks us sometimes to be honest, to be pure, to be loyal, to do our schoolwork, to obey, to help someone, to think of others before ourselves, not to put someone else down.  Every Eucharist in which we break bread with Jesus is a call to live the Eucharist, to break the sinfulness in us.  But the payoff in being broken like that is to be like Jesus, and eventually to share in his glorious resurrection.

Manny Mota: "I am a son of Don Bosco"

Manny Mota: “I am a son of Don Bosco”

Major League Baseball star for 18 seasons (1962-1979) with the Giants, Pirates, Expos, and Dodgers, with a lifetime batting average of .304, held the MLB career record for pinch hits (150) for 22 seasons before it was surpassed in 2001.

by Maria E. Perez

(ANS - Santo Domingo, D.R. – April 11) – The baseball glove, the ball, and that characteristic smell of the playing field define the life of Manuel (Manny) Mota – a historic player and professional coach in Major League Baseball. Among his victories, one of the most beautiful is certainly to have married Margarita Matos, with whom he had eight children and adopted four others: 12 children who have, so far, made him a grandfather of 18 grandchildren. Today he says that Don Bosco has always been part of his life, and he thanks God for giving him more than he thinks he deserved.

Childhood and Salesians

In my childhood I lived in the San Juan Bosco neighborhood of Santo Domingo. It was a very nice childhood, which I’m proud of, and I was able to play a lot of sports. I played soccer with the Salesians in the Don Bosco youth center, because most of the teachers involved with the Salesians were Europeans and played soccer.

Proud of Salesian formation

To play baseball, we had to attend Mass every Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.; then, until noon, we were allowed to play baseball, but before Mass we had to confess. I feel proud and grateful for the formation I was able to receive from the Salesians, as well as that of my parents. I participated in many tournaments. I played soccer and basketball, but I was more inclined to baseball. I believe that Salesian formation, together with military discipline, has played a preponderant role in my life throughout my career.

On education

For me education is fundamental: I urge children not to leave school, and those who have the opportunity to go to university, because that degree that they have obtained thanks to sacrifice and perseverance will be something that no one can take away from them. Children are the hope, pride, and future of every country; we parents are called to give them guidance and joy, so that they know that there is always room to improve, and that they try to be humble and to maintain good discipline, because success depends on this.

Another great success or accomplishment of the former athlete and coach is the Manuel Mota Foundation, created in 1967, which provides food, schooling, and sports supplies to children and teens with limited resources, as well as food for vulnerable elderly people.

Long bio, including his Don Bosco connection: