Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sussex County Community College Honors Its Salesian Past

Sussex County Community College Honors Its Salesian Past

by Fr. Dave Moreno, SDB

(Newton, N.J. – April 26) – The year was 1928. The location was the grounds of what had been known as the Horton property in Newton, N.J. The principal individual involved was Fr. Richard Pittini, SDB. Fr. Pittini, a native of Italy, had become the provincial superior of the Salesians in the Eastern U.S. the previous year, and he was looking for an appropriate place for a seminary for training future Salesian priests and brothers. This beautiful property nestled in the rolling hills of Sussex County seemed to fit the bill perfectly. The sale was finalized in August 1928 at a price of $50,000.

The Horton mansion was reconfigured to include a chapel, kitchen, dining room, classrooms, and dormitories. Unfortunately for the residents, the kitchen was located directly beneath the chapel, causing significant distractions during early morning meditation and Mass as the scent of freshly baked bread seeped up through the floor boards.

A seminary was soon established, and following accreditation by the State of New Jersey it assumed the name Don Bosco College, with authority to grant a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in philosophy. Some years later, accreditation by the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges also was obtained.

Over the decades the number of students increased and new buildings were erected: a larger residence with a gym and chapel, an academic building with a state-of-the-art library, and a novitiate building. On the high hill overlooking the college buildings, a summer camp developed that at its height welcomed some 350 boys each summer for up to eight weeks.

Fast forward 60 years from 1928 to 1988, and it had become clear that the number of young men seeking to enter the priesthood and brotherhood had diminished to the point that it had become obvious that the Salesians could not sustain a fully accredited college. In 1989 the provincial superiors decided to move the formation program to South Orange, N.J., with Caldwell College and Seton Hall University replacing Don Bosco College as the centers for the education of candidates and young professed SDBs. The Don Bosco College buildings and property were leased, and subsequently sold, to the newly forming Sussex County Community College.

Fr. Dave Moreno 
at Sussex County Community College
The Salesian superiors named Fr. David Moreno as the final president of Don Bosco College to oversee the last students who would graduate and to handle the details of the college’s closing. As president he convened one meeting of the board of trustees, at which one resolution was passed, to dissolve the college. Shortly afterwards he drove to Trenton and met with the chancellor of the Department of Higher Education, Dr. Edward Hollander. After a cordial chat in which the chancellor lamented that he was always saddened to see an institution of higher education close its doors, they shook hands, and that was that. The more-than-60-year presence of the Salesian Fathers and Brothers in Newton had come to a close.

The Salesian Sisters have maintained their presence in Newton a couple of miles away on Old Swartswood Road with their novitiate, a retreat center, and a summer camp.

Fast forward again from 1989 to April 25, 2019. The Catholic Campus Ministry at SCCC sponsored the placement of a historical marker commemorating the Salesian presence at the site and setting forth a history of Don Bosco College. The name “Don Bosco College,” an image of St. John Bosco, and the Salesian motto “Da mihi animas caetera tolle” have remained on the facade of the old residence building, now renamed the D Building. The newly installed plaque at the entrance is intended to help the students and staff appreciate the foundation upon which their current institution was established.

Speaking on behalf of SCCC at the dedication ceremony were William McGovern of the campus ministry staff; John Zappe, a former student who is now a seminarian at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia and inspired the creation and placement of the plaque; Dr. Jon H. Connolly, current college president; and Fr. Michael Rodak, pastor of St. Jude parish in Hamburg, N.J., and SCCC campus chaplain. Attending on behalf of the Salesians were Fr. Moreno, Sr. Isabel Garza, FMA, Sr. Karen Dunn, FMA, and other FMA sisters and novices. Frank Esposito, a Son of Mary from 1964, reminisced on his experience as a Salesian seminarian.

Frank Esposito and Fr. Dave
with commemorative plaque
In his remarks Fr. Moreno noted that some of the battlefields of the Civil War no longer exist. They have been paved over, and where brave men gave their lives there now stand strip malls, motels, and fast food restaurants. Fortunately, other battlefields, like Antietam and Gettysburg, have been preserved close to their original condition. The Salesians are gratified to know that when they had to leave the beautiful campus in Newton the buildings were not torn down and replaced by condos, restaurants, or a gambling casino. Rather, the work of education, which was so dear to the heart of St. John Bosco, continues, and the property and buildings, staff and students, of Sussex County Community College carry on the tradition of excellence in higher education that was the hallmark of Don Bosco College for 60 years.

The closing and sale of Don Bosco College have ultimately worked out well for both parties involved. Sussex County Community College has grown from a very small institution with a few hundred part-time students, renting a few classrooms at nearby Sussex County Vocational-Technical School, to a successful institution with its own beautiful campus and over 2,000 students. At the same time, Salesian seminary students have done very well and made a positive addition to the student body at Immaculate Conception Seminary and Seton Hall University in South Orange.

So, 91 years after the establishment of the Salesian presence, and 28 years after the Salesian departure, Don Bosco, his name, and his love for the education of the young, are still alive in Sussex County, New Jersey!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Homily for 2d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Easter

April 28, 2019
John 20: 19-31
Nativity, Washington, D.C.                                               

“Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20: 19).

As most of you know, this 2d Sunday of Easter has become known as Divine Mercy Sunday, a celebration of God’s great gift to us in Christ:  the ready availability of his forgiveness, his mercy, his grace.  That’s noted immediately in today’s Collect, in which we address the “God of everlasting mercy” and pray that “the grace [he has] bestowed” be increased.

The Collect pointed to 3 aspects of the merciful grace that the Father has bestowed on us thru Christ:  we’ve been washed in the baptismal font, we’ve been reborn by the Holy Spirit, and we’ve been redeemed by Christ’s blood.  There’s a unity in these 3 aspects, e.g., shortly after Jesus breathed his last; we can say that he breathed out his Spirit, as he does explicitly in today’s gospel—“He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (20:22); shortly after he expired, blood and water poured out of his pierced side, a historical, physical fact rich in sacramental meaning:  the water of Baptism, the blood of the Eucharist.

The water, the blood, and the Spirit are our points of contact with God’s mercy.  Thru them, thru Christ’s sacrifice and his continued, living presence, our sins are washed away, we’re re-created or given a new birth, we’re saved by his grace.

Incredulity of St. Thomas - Hendrick Ter Brugghen
St. John recounts for us how Jesus appeared to 10 of the apostles in the upper room—10 because Judas was dead and Thomas was AWOL.  This was the same room in which they’d celebrated a last supper with Jesus, in which he instructed them to remember him in his body and blood consecrated out of bread and wine.  “He came and stood in their midst,” the very man who’d died and been laid bloody and stone cold in a tomb; “he showed them his hands and his side” (20:20), the very wounds that doubting Thomas would probe in their reality a week later.  As the Book of Revelation proclaims, he “holds the keys of death and the netherworld”; he is “alive forever and ever” (1:18).  Fully alive by divine power, he has opened up the world of the dead, opened up the prison gates of death—not only for himself but for all who have been reborn by the gift of his Holy Spirit, who have been washed in Baptism and redeemed by the blood of his sacrifice.  This is why Christians celebrate funerals:  Christ is alive and he has the keys to set all of us free from death.

All of that is, of course, by the mercy of God.  The divine mercy doesn’t stop with Baptism—very fortunate for us, sinners that we are.  As we heard in the gospel, Jesus gave the apostles the Holy Spirit as a permanent gift for the forgiveness of sins (John 20:22-23), and the apostolic power of forgiveness continues to be exercised in the Church in the waters of Baptism and in the sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance, or confession).  God’s mercy remains available to us sinners day in and day out if we’ll come to receive it; for the successors of the apostles hold and exercise that power of the Holy Spirit, hold “the keys to death and the netherworld” to release sinners and open for all of us the doors to eternal life.  What a great mercy is ours to have our sins forgiven when we come to the Lord in repentance for whatever we’ve done (or failed to do), and Jesus gives us the peace that only he can give, the peace of reconciliation with the Holy Trinity and with all of our sisters and brothers in faith.

“Be not unbelieving, but believe” (John 20:27).

Bro. Bruno Busatto, SDB (1932-2019)

Bro. Bruno Busatto, SDB (1932-2019)

Bro. Bruno Busatto passed away early on April 24 at Montefiore Medical Center in New Rochelle after a brief illness. He was 86 years old and had been a Salesian brother since August 16, 1949.

Bro. Bruno in 2009
Bro. Bruno was born in Don Bosco’s city, Turin, on June 10, 1932. His parents, Giovanni and Antonia, had him baptized three days later. After finishing primary school in his little town of Castagneto in 1945, still suffering from the effects of World War II, he had what he calls “the good fortune” to enter the Salesian technical school at Colle Don Bosco, the hamlet where Don Bosco was born in 1815. He loved the Salesian brothers there and decided to become one. He entered the novitiate at Villa Moglia in Chieri and made his first profession of vows there.

Bro. Bruno taught printing at the big technical school in Colle for the next six years, specializing in color separation technology. As soon as he had made his perpetual profession in 1955, he came to the U.S. as a missionary because brothers were needed for the Salesian trade schools in Paterson, N.J., and Boston. He spent the next 47 years teaching and practicing the graphic arts (printing) to and with aspirants to the Salesian brotherhood at Don Bosco Tech in Paterson (1955-1961) and Don Bosco Juniorate in Haverstraw, N.Y. (1961-1969), then returned to DBT to teach the high school students there (1969-2002) and do some commercial printing as well for the benefit of the Salesian community.

Long-time friends and colleagues at Don Bosco Tech, Bro. Bruno and Bro. Bernie Zdanowicz
With the closure of DBT in 2002, Bro. Bruno changed career. For two years he served on the staff of Nativity Parish in Washington, D.C. (2002-2004). From 2004 until his death he was on the staff of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle, N.Y., working in the international relations department. He made several trips to Sierra Leone and Nigeria to help set up print shops in Salesian schools and also represented the director of Salesian Missions on various occasions in several countries. He loved his job in the mission office because he could do something practical to help Salesians in the mission fields all over the world.

Fr. Pascual Chavez, SDB rector major, making a point during a conversation with Bro. Bruno in 2007 when he was visiting the province
All his life Bro. Bruno was grateful to God and to Mary Help of Christians for his Salesian vocation, which he lived faithfully and with notable regularity. He was cherished by his former students, colleagues, numerous friends, and his confreres.

Fr. Anthony Mastroeni of the Paterson Diocese wrote: “I remember Brother Bruno from the Tech in Paterson. He also made the spiritual exercises [retreat] I was asked to direct two years ago in Haverstraw. What a sincere and gentle man, a Salesian who loved his vocation!”

Former SDB Fr. Roy Shelly of the Monterey Diocese observed, “He has gained his reward but the province has lost a treasure.”

Bro. Bruno’s funeral was celebrated on Friday, April 26, in the chapel of Salesian High School in New Rochelle. Fr. Mark Hyde preached the homily.  Brother was buried the following day in the Salesian Cemetery at Goshen, N.Y.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Homily for Holy Thursday

Homily for Holy Thursday

April 18, 2019
Salesian Community, College Park, Md.

“Grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity and of life” (Collect). 

Our prayer this evening emphasizes the “new sacrifice” which Christ instituted at his last supper with the 12.  A “new sacrifice” implies a new priesthood, but the priestly aspect of this nite’s “great mystery” receives only that passing allusion and a mention in the preface.  What is emphasized is the Lord’s triple self-giving, his triple form of service to the Church, and thru the Church to all of humanity.  The 1st self-giving is “handing himself over to death.”  The 2d is giving himself in this “new sacrifice … the banquet of his love.”  The 3d self-giving is his example of humble service.

by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret
From the “great mystery” expressed in these forms of self-giving, we pray “that we may draw the fullness of charity and of life.”  That is, we pray that we may be fully conformed to our Lord Jesus, completing the divine work that began with our Baptism.  Our being conformed to Christ is God’s work.  We can’t effect it ourselves; we can only be open to divine grace, willing to “draw from the mystery,” from the Lord’s passion and resurrection, from the Eucharist.

What we aspire to draw from the mystery is a twofold conformity to Christ:  the fullness of charity and the fullness of life.

Jesus gives us the example of the fullness of charity thru his self-giving and his service.  He gives us his own body and blood, not only in the sacrifice he offered upon the cross for our redemption, but also in this “banquet of his love” whereby we share in his “new and eternal” sacrifice, whereby he becomes our food and nourishment, whereby he subtly, mysteriously, and ever so gradually transforms us into images of himself.

As images of him we don’t pose like icons on a wall.  We try to act as Jesus did—to be icons in action, if you will.  “What would Jesus do?” isn’t just a pious slogan but a plan of life.  If we don’t literally wash one another’s feet, there are countless ways every day in which we do so figuratively by how we serve others.  We speak of ourselves as “servants of the young,” and inasmuch as we live that ideal thru service directly to the young or to their parents, to school staff, to the poor, or to parishioners, we imitate Christ’s charity and we are conformed to his Person.

In this service we die to ourselves sometimes, “hand ourselves over to death” figuratively, thru availability for the mission:  in the classroom, in meetings, in planning, in school or parish functions, in sacramental ministry, in long and stressful days, in travel, in meeting province requirements, in accepting obediences, and more.

At home we practice humble service in ways that sometimes are noticed, sometimes not, which mark our care for one another and are imitations of Jesus’ footwashing:  shopping, washing dishes, writing minutes, preparing meals, setting the table, making calendars, tending to the chapel, taking out the trash, cleaning up the yard, caring for guests, etc.

By God’s grace, we’re doing a lot to be conformed to Christ in our self-giving and our humble service.  All of us have ways to grow more like our Master, as well.  We pray that thru the “great mystery” of the life, death, and resurrection of the Master we may be drawn ever more to “the fullness of his charity.”

We pray also to “be drawn to the fullness of life.”  We look to the eternal life promised in the Lord’s resurrection and in the Eucharist.  This faith and this hope fill us whenever we mourn the loss of a confrere, a relative, a collaborator like Rob Smith, or a friend.  This faith and this hope enable us to comfort others who mourn.  Most of all, however, we pray that our participation in the Eucharist may be life-giving for ourselves, may fill us with the life of our Risen Savior; may be an anticipation of “the banquet of his love” that he has set for us in our Father’s house.

Sr. Alessandra Smerilli Appointed to Vatican Council of State

Sr. Alessandra Smerilli, FMA, Appointed to Vatican City’s Council of State

(ANS – Vatican City – April 18) – The Holy Father has appointed Sr. Alessandra Smerilli of the Daughter of Mary Help of Christians as a member of the Vatican City State’s governing council. Sr. Smerilli is professor of Political Economy at the Pontifical School of Educational Sciences Auxilium, the Salesian Sisters’ university in Rome. The appointment was announced through a press release of the Holy See on Wednesday, April 17. Pope Francis’s decision was dated March 5.

Sr. Alessandra Smerilli with Pope Francis at the 2018 Synod of Bishops
A note from the Auxilium explains: “Her mandate is five years and is carried out collegially together with other councilors who form the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State. The council of state provides assistance in the elaboration of the Vatican laws and in other matters of particular importance.”

The Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State, composed of a general councilor and five state councilors, is the body that exercises legislative power in the Vatican City State. It is the dicastery that de facto administers the Vatican City State, overseeing most public functions and representing the state on behalf of the Pope.

Sr. Alessandra Smerilli was born in Vasto in 1974 and graduated in economics from the University of Roma Tre. She then specialized in political economics at the Sapienza University of Rome and at the School of Economics of the East Anglia University in Norwich, England.

In addition to teaching on the Auxilium faculty, she holds teaching positions in other university institutions, is a member of the scientific and organizing committee of the Catholic Social Weeks, promoted by the Italian Episcopal Conference, and is one of the experts of the National Council of the Third Sector, a body established at the Italian Ministry of Labor and Social Policies.

Last October Sr. Smerilli participated as an auditor in the Synod of Bishops on “Young people, faith, and vocational discernment.” In that synod the voice of the young called for, among other things, greater consideration of women in positions of responsibility within the Church.

Now the Pope has called for Sr. Smerilli to take on a responsibility in which she will bring her experience on the subject of economics.

Don Bosco Prep Announces New Principal

Don Bosco Prep Announces New Principal

Story and photo by Jennifer Passerino

(Ramsey, N.J. – April 17) – Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey has announced the hiring of a new principal, Ermanno (Manny) Morelli. The appointment is effective on July 1, 2019.

A 2002 graduate of Don Bosco Prep, Mr. Morelli earned his B.A. in history from Boston College, after which he went on to earn two Master’s degrees, an M.Ed. in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and an M.A. in education leadership from Ramapo College of New Jersey.

Mr. Morelli has most recently been serving as dean of students at Regis High School in New York City. Prior to that, he taught over ten years in several schools: Westwood High School, Cresskill Middle/High School, and Newark Academy, where he also served as director of the Community Service Program. He has also been an adjunct professor at Relay Graduate School of Education in Manhattan, forming social studies teachers and designing curriculum.

“It is a proud moment to welcome back an alumnus as our new principal. Manny embodies the best of a Don Bosco Prep education, and he will build well on the academic excellence, spiritual vitality, athletic distinction, and accomplishment in the arts that is the tradition of Don Bosco Prep,” said Fr. James Heuser, director/president.

Mr. Morelli will replace Robert Fazio, who will step into the role of Don Bosco Prep’s president on July 1, 2019. He will be the first lay president in the school’s 104-year history.

“I am humbled and honored to serve as the next principal of Don Bosco Prep,” said Mr. Morelli. “It is an incredible gift to know I’m coming home to the place that played such an important role in molding me into the man I am today. Bosco’s focus on faith, service, and academic rigor empowered me to choose the education profession, and I am excited to pay that forward to the next generation of Ironmen as we work to bring Bosco to the next level.”

DBCR Loses Beloved Teacher, Mentor, and Friend

DBCR Loses Beloved Teacher, Mentor, and Friend

by Fr. Mike Conway, SDB

(Takoma Park, Md. – April 17) – On April 14 Catholics and other Christians around the world celebrated Palm Sunday, remembering Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. The celebration marked the beginning of the holiest of weeks, when Jesus lovingly and willingly underwent his passion and death out of love and in obedience to his Father and then rose from the dead for our salvation.

On that very day, after several years of battling cancer, Robert (Rob) Smith, a much beloved teacher, mentor, and friend of very many at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, passed away at the age of 38. Thus concluded Mr. Smith’s own passion and, God willing, began the ultimate fulfillment of his belief and hope in the Resurrection.

Mr. Smith was a highly regarded math teacher and an integral part of our school community since 2008. He was well respected by peers and students and will be sorely missed. When news of his death was shared with the school community on Monday morning, the outpouring of grief was great—even teachers weeping openly. Yet students and staff all came together to comfort one another, trusting and believing that Mr. Smith no longer suffered and now rests with our Father in Heaven.

Elias Blanco, DBCR’s interim principal, voiced these thoughts to the students and staff: “Some words that describe who Rob was are kind, selfless, role-model, faith-filled, joy-filled, listener, inspirational, and more. I thank God for the life of Rob Smith, he touched the lives of all he met and I think he made us be better.

“Rob cared a great deal about our students and their education, he was also a man of prayer and encouraged others to a closer relationship with God, and he served without counting the cost or expecting anything in return. What a great example!”

DBCR’s students, staff, and alumni ask the readers of Salesian News to keep Mr. Smith, his family, and the DBCR school community in their prayers during this difficult time. Funeral services will be held on Easter Monday, April 22, at St. Jerome’s Church in Hyattsville, Md., at 11:00 a.m.

Photo credit: Don Bosco Cristo Rey

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Homily for Palm Sunday

Homily for Palm Sunday

April 14, 2019
Luke 22: 14—23:56
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“This is your hour, the time for the power of darkness” (Luke 22: 53).  Jesus speaks those words to the temple guard and the elders who’ve come to arrest him.

One way of looking at the passion of our Lord is as a great cosmic struggle between “the  power of darkness,” Satan and his allies, and God our Creator, who called forth light out of darkness and who sent his Son into the world to bring the light back.

St. Luke concludes his account of the temptations of Jesus, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time” (4:13).  Now he’s back; it is his hour, not to tempt Jesus but to try to crush him and crush his Father’s plan for our redemption.

Satan has his allies:  the Jewish leaders who hate Jesus; Judas, who sells out his master for 30 pieces of silver (cf. 22:3-6); Pontius Pilate, who knowingly and cowardly condemns an innocent man (23:4); Herod, interested in Jesus only as entertainment and not as the Word of God (23:8-11); the crowd of onlookers at Jesus execution, and one of the criminals crucified with him, who mock him (23:35-37,39)—perhaps a final temptation that Jesus should despair and renounce the Father who appears to have abandoned him.

by Paolo Veronese
All the powers of darkness align against Jesus and have their brief, apparent victory:  “It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land” (23:44).  But Jesus prays to his Father, surrenders to what the Father requires—that he proclaim the truth and not run away.  He offers a final act of service to the human race—“I am among you as one who serves” (22:27).  He freely makes himself the Passover lamb whose blood staves off the angel of death, Satan, as he tries to conquer the world.  Jesus perseveres to the point of commending his soul to his Father as he dies (23:46).

This great cosmic battle between darkness and light, between evil and good, between Satan and Christ, forms one of the classic themes of literature.  To speak just of the last several generations, we’ve anxiously followed the Fellowship of the Ring in their battles with the Dark Lord Sauron; the Jedi knights combating Darth Vader and the Empire; and Harry Potter and his pals striving to outwit Voldemort.  But the battle’s very real, and it involves us—which is why its literary forms are so powerful.

I suppose the Devil knows he’s already lost the war:  Christ has risen, Christ lives, Christ offers redemption to all of us.  But Satan’s not a quitter, and he’s too proud to submit.  Vengefully, he continues the battle, trying to destroy goodness—and people—as much as he can.  He has his allies in every age—the monstrous villains of history like Mao, Stalin, and Hitler within our living memory; as well as lesser ones:  warlords, Mafiosi, drug dealers, abortionists, human traffickers, child molesters, etc.

Satan wants you and me too.  So the war for our souls goes on.  Christ has shed his blood to cleanse our sins, and it’s our choice to let that blood wash over us and then to stand with him thru the culture wars and our personal temptations, as the faithful women from Galilee stayed with Jesus at Calvary (23:49) and eventually discovered his empty tomb and became the 1st to announce the resurrection (24:1-10).  Like Jesus, each of us will someday be asked to commend our souls to God in a final act of free and generous surrender.

All the forces of darkness and hatred arrayed against us could discourage us—which would immensely please the Prince of Darkness.  But when we observe Jesus during his passion, we see his constant compassion.  He encourages Peter even as he acknowledges that Peter will fail in a moment of weakness (22:31-34).  He appeals to Judas at the moment of betrayal:  “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (22:48).  As he’s being arrested, he heals the high priest’s servant (22:51).  He consoles the mourning daughters of Jerusalem on his way to Calvary (23:27-31).  He forgives his executioners (23:34)—presumably not only the soldiers obeying their orders, who probably include some of the same men who’d tortured him hours earlier, but also those responsible for his condemnation.  He promises salvation to the criminal who asks for it (23:43).  Jesus is totally focused on those who need healing, comfort, and redemption, and not on himself even in those most awful moments of his life:  “I am among you as one who serves.”

In his opposition to Sauron and his minions, Gandalf is a Christ figure, but he’s not the light of the world.  Luke Skywalker fights “the dark side” and the evil Empire but is not the light of the world.  By offering himself in a Christ-like sacrifice, Harry Potter defeats Voldemort, but he’s not the light of the world.

Christ the Light of the World
on grounds of USCCB, Washington
Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  He has conquered the darkness.  In him God said, “Let there be light, and there was light” (cf. Gen 1:3).  His compassion offers us God’s mercy.  His blood washes us clean.  His light burns away our sins.  We come today to feast at table with him in this foretaste of the kingdom of heaven.  We come to his altar to offer to the Father the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and to offer ourselves at the same time.  We come to this Eucharist full of faith that thru it this day we commune with him Paradise (cf. 23:43).

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

National Cherry Blossom Festival

National Cherry Blossom Festival

The cherry trees of Washington, D.C., are world-famous, and that was evident on Sunday, April 7, when I ventured downtown to see and photograph them.  There were thousands and thousands of people on hand, and countless among them were the tourists from abroad, judging from the languages I heard.  Around the "peak" of the blossoms is the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, going on in these weeks.  (The "peak" was, more or less, April 1 this year.)

Here are some pix:

Homily for Wednesday, 5th Week of Lent

Homily for Wednesday
5th Week of Lent

April 10, 2019
Dan 3: 14-20, 91-92, 95
John 8: 31-42                                                 
Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS, Takoma Park, Md.

In our Collect today, after an appreciative note that the God of compassion stirs us to a sense of devotion, we made 2 petitions:  that he enlighten the hearts of his children—meaning us, of course—and that he grant a gracious hearing when we cry out to him.

by Simeon Solomon
The prophetic and gospel readings are related to these 2 petitions.  In Daniel the Lord hears the prayers of the 3 young men condemned to a fiery death on account of their fidelity to him (prayers skipped over in the reading but included in part in the responsory), and rescues them.  The story’s one of several in Daniel meant to encourage the Jewish people in a time of persecution.  So we pray that we may be rescued—not so much from temporal threats, altho Christians have to deal also with those; but especially from the ultimate dangers of infidelity, sin, and eternal disaster.  We pray that God’s grace always protect us.

In the gospel Jesus assures his listeners that his word is truth and it sets us free from sin or safeguards us from sin.  His word enlightens our hearts.  His word is the truth that guides our lives if we will truly be his disciples and remain in his word (John 8:31-32,34,36).

So that’s our prayer today for ourselves and for the entire People of God:  for hearts enlightened by Christ and for a gracious hearing whenever we’re in need of divine assistance—which is always, isn’t it?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Meeting the Archbishop

Meeting the Archbishop

On Friday afternoon, April 5, I got a call from Nativity Parish.  Fr. Blake Evans, the pastor, invited me to that evening's Lenten fish fry dinner because they were expecting a "special visitor" whom he wasn't free to identify.

Math isn't my strong suit, but I can add 2 + 2.  I got my camera out, expecting that we'd be receiving our archbishop-elect, Wilton Gregory, whose appointment had been announced on Wednesday and who was in town starting to get acquainted with his new flock.
Moments after arriving, Abp. Gregory engages with one of the fish fry workers.

And that turned out to be a good guess.  Accompanied by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, our outgoing bishop, Abp. Gregory arrived shortly after 6:00 p.m., was greeted with applause, and stayed for 20 or 25 minutes, greeting this small portion of his flock--those on hand for a fish dinner and those who, like me, had been tipped off and specially invited.

The archbishop and cardinal were making a few parish rounds; they'd already had a supper somewhere before getting to Nativity.  And the archbishop had deliberately chosen this way to get to know the archdiocese rather than to go to a Catholic Charities fundraiser that same evening.  He proved to be friendly and patient, posing for numerous photos and chatting easily with folks and making a fine 1st impression. He was also pleased to know that he has Salesians in his new diocese and informed me that he'd had a Salesian professor in Rome once upon a time (I didn't recognize the name and don't remember now what it was).
Two Salesian Cooperators, Laura Juarez (l.) and Jocelyn Daughtry, with Abp. Gregory and Fr. Evans

Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Lent

April 7, 2019
Phil 3: 8-14
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3: 8).

Except for the very, very rich—probably considerably fewer than today’s proverbial 1%—the 1st century wasn’t a consumer society.  When St. Paul “accepted the loss of all things” and “considered them so much rubbish” (3:8), he wasn’t surrendering a vacation home, a BMW, a flat screen TV, tickets to the Kennedy Center, and opportunities to get his kids into Harvard or Georgetown (even honestly).

What he lost, instead, was his career, his prestige and public reputation, friendships from his early life, a reasonably comfortable life by 1st-century standards, the chance to marry and have a family, his freedom, and his physical safety.  This letter to the Christians of Philippi in northeastern Greece, in the region of Macedonia, Paul wrote from one of his several imprisonments, with his life in danger (1:20-23).
Paul in prison, writing a letter
Paul had found something more valuable than career, prestige, family, physical comfort and safety; someone more valuable:  “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8).  In contrast, all that he gave up was so much “rubbish”—the polite English translation of skubalon, which means “manure.”  Paul doesn’t mean that he knew about Jesus, altho surely he did, from conversations with Peter, John, and other apostles, as well as from his thorough knowledge of the Scriptures—what we call the Old Testament, there being as yet no New Testament writings except the letters that Paul himself was starting to write.

No, Paul knew Jesus personally.  He’d met him in that famous vision-encounter on the road to Damascus, and he’s spent years with him in prayer and meditation.  His mind, heart, and soul were intimate with Jesus.  To “gain Christ and be found in him” was for Paul—and is for us, as well, my sisters and brothers—all that truly matters.  Our salvation, our ultimate, eternal safety, doesn’t depend upon our possessions, family connections, or reputation but upon our relationship with the Risen One, the one who gave up his own life that we might have life, who rose from the dead that he might raise us up in himself.  To “be found in him” on the Last Day, the day of his 2d coming and the general resurrection of every human being, is to be safe, to be saved, to possess the Kingdom of God along with him.

Paul learned from his encounter with Christ that he “had no righteousness of his own based on the Law” (3:9).  As a good, faithful Pharisee, he had thought that observing the Law of Moses would make him holy—“righteous” or “just” in God’s eyes; he even persecuted Jesus’ disciples to enforce his belief, acting as the Taliban do in our time to enforce their version of Islam.  The Law of Moses isn’t just the 10 Commandments but an abundance of rules and precepts, and Paul knew, as you and I do, that no one keeps all those commandments perfectly well—honoring God always, being truthful, being pure, respecting the property and the person of everyone at all times, not acting vengefully, caring for the poor, keeping the Sabbath diligently, etc.  On the basis of the Law, no one is “righteous” before God; all of us are sinners.

Instead, Paul found righteousness, i.e., a restored relationship with God, “through faith in Christ,” through “knowing him and the power of his resurrection” (3:9-10).  Thru Christ God freely grants us forgiveness of our sins, offers us grace.  That the Father raised Jesus from the dead demonstrates the power of what Jesus offers us; his message of divine mercy wasn’t just talk but truly expressed the Father’s will to erase our sins and make us just.

To obtain a share in Christ’s righteousness Paul’s quite willing to “share in his sufferings” here and now, even to “be conformed to his death” (3:10) if it comes to that—as it eventually did when he was condemned and executed in the persecution of Nero.  The prize for gaining Christ and being found in him, for knowing him closely and following him, is “the resurrection from the dead” (3:11), eternal life at his side in heaven.

In April 2008 candidate Barack Obama famously, or infamously, lamented voters who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” rather than clinging to him.  Do you and I cling to something that threatens to distance us or cut us off completely from Christ Jesus:  a grudge, pornography, a love for gossip, a habit of stealing, indifference for the poor or for migrants, support for immoral public policies by our votes for public officials who push those policies?

Brothers and sisters, we’ve passed thru 4 weeks of Lent as a reminder of “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord,” as an opportunity to deepen our relationship with Christ, as a preparation for Easter, the celebration of the Risen Lord who offers a share in his life to all persons who, like St. Paul, surrender their entire selves to Christ Jesus, who will not let anyone or anything come between them and him—no earthly attachment, no illicit desires, no clinging to the 7 deadly sins.

The psalm response today says, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy” (Ps 126).  The joy of salvation comes from forgiveness and restoration as soon as we turn from our sins and turn toward our Lord Jesus, like that lost son featured in last Sunday’s gospel (Luke 15:11-32).

Friday, April 5, 2019

Homily for Thursday, 4th Week of Lent

Homily for Thursday
4th Week of Lent

April 4, 2019
Ex 32: 7-14
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“Moses implored the Lord, his God, saying, ‘Why, O Lord, should your wrath blaze up against your own people…?  Let your blazing wrath die down; relent in punishing your people” (Ex 32: 11, 12).

The Hebrews worshiping the golden calf
(Nicolas Poussin)
We all know the story of the golden calf and the sin of the recently liberated Hebrews who worshiped it.  We’re probably less familiar with the rest of the story:  how Moses interceded for his people and turned away God’s justified anger.  Moses prayed for them, mediated between them and God.  He did so selflessly, for God had made him an enticing offer, the same one he’d made centuries earlier to Abraham:  “I will make of you a great nation” (32:10).

This role of intercessor between God and the people is a priestly role.  Like Moses, priests pray to God on behalf of men and women:  bringing their sacrifices to him, bringing him their praises, their pleas, their contrition—speaking to him for them.

For Christians that priestly role isn’t restricted only to the ordained—to deacons, presbyters, and bishops.  All the baptized people of God are priests in a general but real sense.  St. Paul, in fact, tells us all to offer to God our bodies as spiritual sacrifices (Rom 12:1) that are different from the animal sacrifices offered by the Jewish and pagan religions in his time.  And we all have the role of intercessor, asking God’s mercy and his favors, in Christ’s name, upon humanity or upon specific persons, such as Mr. and Mrs. Tan, for whom we offer the Holy Eucharist today and for our archbishop-elect, Wilton Gregory.  That’s why we have intercessory prayers at Mass.  That’s why we ask each other to pray for this person or that, for this intention or that—for the Church, for civil society, for those with special needs, for our families, and so on.

So it’s not only Moses who implores the Lord his God for pardon or for blessings, but all of us.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Pope's Soccer Team

The Pope’s Soccer Team
San Lorenzo de Almagro: Club with Salesian Roots

(ANS - Buenos Aires – April 2) – On April 1, the Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro celebrated its 111th birthday. Among its fans is none other than Pope Francis, holder of membership card number: 88235N-0.

San Lorenzo, as it’s more commonly called, was established in Buenos Aires, and precisely at the San Antonio festive oratory directed by the beloved Salesian priest Lorenzo Bartolomé Martin Massa.

The Salesian priest wanted to offer his boys a new recreational space. According to Fr. Massa himself, the colors of the team’s shirt were taken from an image of Mary Help of Christians which he kept in the oratory.

It all started with some youngsters from the Almagro neighborhood who had started to meet in the street to practice that new sport, soccer. They would play at the intersection of Mexico and Treinta y Tres Orientales in their neighborhood.

San Lorenzo played its first friendly matches on the soccer field of the San Antonio oratory, always on condition that its young players would participate in Sunday Mass.

Fr. Massa and one of his soccer teams
The club slowly grew, and Fr. Massa was sent to continue his work of evangelization with other assignments at other destinations. Yet, even so, Fr. Massa was always attentive to the club of his boys and those who continued to pass through his oratory.

Fr. Massa died in Buenos Aires on October 31, 1949. A few days later, Fr. Raul Entraigas, spiritual assistant of the San Lorenzo de Almagro club, wrote: “His love for the San Lorenzo de Almagro club was his life and his death, his joy and his drama. San Lorenzo was his spiritual son. Fr. Massa did not love it as a father, but as a mother. He rejoiced for its triumphs and suffered for its defeats.”

Today San Lorenzo de Almagro is one of the main Argentine clubs, and its activities have expanded, including, in addition to soccer, other sports, such as basketball, volleyball, and hockey. And among the many fans, it also boasts the Successor of Peter, Pope Francis.

Source: Salesianos Cooperadores Argentina

Read more about the Salesian influence on Pope Francis:

A Community That Discerns and Accompanies

“We must be a community that discerns and accompanies”

Interview with Fr. Rossano Sala on the apostolic exhortation Christus vivit

(ANS – Rome – April 2) – The apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis Christus vivit (“Christ is alive”) was presented on April 2 in the John Paul II Hall of the Holy See Press Office. The exhortation, which the Holy Father signed on March 25 on the occasion of his visit to Loreto, is the fruit of the Synod of Bishops last October on the theme “Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment.” In fact, as per the synodal path, the pontifical document is in the form of a “Letter to the young.” Fr. Rossano Sala, who was special secretary of the Synod, spoke in an ANS interview about Christus vivit.

Starting from the title of the exhortation, Christus vivit, how do you think Christ actually lives today among today’s young people?

In the fifth chapter, Pope Francis asks himself: how is God present in history? The answer is: through young people. Through a young man who really has really met Him and brings Him into the world, takes Him to school, university, politics, social work, in serving children, in a thousand ways. Thus I would say: the presence of Christ in history passes right through the lives of young people. This is the Pope’s wish.

What would Don Bosco think in reading this apostolic exhortation?

It must be said that Don Bosco is present in the exhortation. Pope Francis, naming a series of saints, in fact refers to Dominic Savio and his teacher Don Bosco [in n. 56; and to Ceferino Namuncurá in n. 58].

Painting displayed at the Salesian Sacro Cuore (Sacred Heart) house in Rome.
Furthermore, there is a part in which the Holy Father asks the Church to return to crying when it sees the miseries of today’s youths in a globalized world, in a world dominated by the culture of waste, the culture of abuse. At one point he says: “We must ask for the gift of tears.” Don Bosco immediately comes to my mind. What did Don Bosco do the first time he left a Turin prison? He came out with tears in his eyes. Therefore Don Bosco shares the passion of Pope Francis, who, after all, was baptized by a Salesian! He, too, has in Don Bosco’s DNA.

These viscera of mercy are moved by seeing the hardships, the marginalization, the unease of so many young people in the world.

How do you think the apostolic exhortation will be received by the worldwide Salesian Family?

First of all, I’d like to reiterate that if in this exhortation ready-made answers are sought, one will be disappointed. On the contrary, strong is the invitation to work together. We must be a community that discerns, accompanies, and is ready to move.