Friday, May 31, 2019

Homily for Thursday, 6th Week of Easter

Homily for Thursday
6th Week of Easter

May 30, 2019
John 16: 16-20
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“Jesus said to his disciples:  ‘A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me'” (John 16: 16).

The Last Supper by Willem Key
Some of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper are hard to make sense of.  It seems to me that the passage set before us today might have 2 meanings.  John’s Gospel is full of verses, even passages, with double meanings.  One of the best known is Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in which he tells his Pharisee friend that pneuma blows wherever it wishes.  The Greek word pneuma means both “wind” and “spirit.”  No wonder poor Nicodemus was confused!

So Jesus tells the apostles that in a little while they’ll no longer see him.  That may refer to his approaching death and burial.  “The world rejoices” (16:20)—we finally got rid of him!  But then the disciples will see him again, when he’s risen and appears to them on several occasions—3 of which are reported in John’s Gospel.  Then their grief at his momentary departure “will become joy” (16:20), and they’ll react by preaching the resurrection of Jesus to the whole world.

The “little while” when the disciples will no longer see Jesus and will lament his departure could also refer to the time after his resurrection and ascension—the time we’re in now.  We feel his absence and lament it.  We long for his return, the 2d coming, after this “little while,” when the faithful will rejoice to see him again.

In the scheme of human history’s thousands of years, this post-resurrection period is just “a little while later,” a short wait.  What’s the entire span of our lives compared to eternity, when “we may perpetually render thanks for the resurrection of the Lord” because we will be fully “partakers in the redemption” that God the Father has planned for us (Collect) since he created the universe however many millions of years ago.

In Christ “the Lord has made his salvation known” (Ps 98:2).  Our lifetimes are only a little while” during which we long to see Jesus, and we may grieve or lament that we don’t literally see him.

Yet we do see him—in his sacraments.  We can speak with him—in prayer and in meditation on the Scriptures.  Christ is present among us.  He hasn’t left us orphans (cf. John 14:18) but remains with us—cause for us to be joyful and to share our joy with others.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Homily for Tuesday, 6th Week of Easter

Homily for Tuesday
6th Week of Easter

May 28, 2018
Acts 16: 22-34
Our Lady of Lourdes, Bethesda, Md.

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16: 30).

In our 1st reading yesterday (Acts 16:11-15), Paul and Silas came to Philippi in the Greek region of Macedonia and preached the Gospel for the 1st time in Europe, with some positive response.  The lectionary skips the passage that follows (16:16-21), in which Paul casts a demon out of a slave girl.  Since the demon used the girl to tell fortunes and so earned some good money for her owners, they were quite angry about the demon’s departure, and with it their income.  (No sympathy, obviously, for the plight of that 1st-century victim of human trafficking.)  So they instigated an anti-Jewish riot, identifying Paul and Silas as the chief culprits, perpetrators of anti-Roman mischief.

That’s where our reading today picks up:  the arrest and jailing of the 2 apostles; the story includes details suggestive of St. Peter’s imprisonment by King Herod in Acts 12.

Earthquakes aren’t unheard of in Macedonia, but the timing and the effects of this little jolt appear to be miraculous.  Christian readers of Acts will read it as such, again recalling St. Peter’s miraculous delivery.  The jailer, on the other hand, sees himself taking the blame for the presumed escape of his prisoners and intends to head off public shame, trial, and execution by killing himself.

Paul’s intervention saves him from that.  The jailer’s left with 2 possible interpretations for this strange event; we can’t say for sure which was in his mind.  He could have seen God’s hand at work in this way of releasing the apostles.  Or he could have seen Paul—in trouble for exorcising an evil spirit—as some kind of wizard who’s brought about the earthquake, and of whom he’d better be duly respectful.

So he pleads, “What must I do to be saved?”  If he’s heard something of Paul’s preaching, it’s a good question, one many hearers of the Gospel have asked in those or equivalent words, including the rich young man who approached Jesus with that question (Mark 10:17) and the crowds who heard St. Peter’s preaching on Pentecost Day (Acts 2:37).  If he sees Paul as a wizard, he’s asking how Paul can be placated, so that he, the jailer, can be safe.

Paul, of course, gives him the Good News of salvation thru Jesus Christ.

The question the jailer asked remains the fundamental question of the Acts of the Apostles and of all of salvation history:  what must people do to be saved?  It’s the fundamental question of our own lives.

Note that the question is in the passive voice.  It’s not, “What must I do to achieve my salvation?” but, “What must I do so that God will save me?”  The work of salvation is God’s; we can only entrust ourselves to the Father thru Jesus Christ, which is what Paul tells the jailer (16:31).

Our own salvation similarly depends upon our surrendering our lives—our hearts, minds, words, and actions—to Jesus as our master, our lord:  “Believe in the Lord Jesus.”  There’s no higher priority.  Or, as St. Peter proclaims to the Sanhedrin, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  We won’t be saved by our family or friends, nor by our country or a political party, nor by our career or fame or fortune.  If we give ourselves to Jesus, we will in fact do our best to put all of that—family, country, career, etc.—into sync with the cross and resurrection of Jesus and with his Gospel, so that, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, God may be “all in all” (1:23); might be the center of the entire universe.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Easter

April 30, 1989
John 14: 23-29
Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29
St. Theresa, Bronx

“Anyone who loves me will be true to my word” (John 14: 23).

When Jesus speaks of his “word,” he means his teaching, which he summarized in last Sunday’s gospel:  “This is how all will know you for my disciples:  your love for one another” (John 13: 35).

But the “word” of Jesus, our love for one another, always has to be specified.  You may remember Lucy Van Pelt telling her brother Linus that she loved mankind; it was people she couldn’t stand.  St. John Bosco advised his Salesians to love their pupils because love is the key that unlocks hearts.  But, he continued, it isn’t enuf to love them.  They must know they are loved.  They have to be told.  Even more, they have to be shown.

Our own experience confirms the need to specify love, i.e., to make it real thru specific deeds.  Telling a friend or a spouse, “I love you” isn’t enuf.  We have to help or comfort or remember or just be with our beloved, according to her or his needs.
The Seven Works of Mercy, by Caravaggio
We see concrete and specific love in the Acts of the Apostles.  In the 1st place, the Church leaders who gather at Jerusalem show their love for the Church by their sensitivity to the culture and the feelings of non-Jewish Christians.  The 1st great crisis of the Church was this question:  Could only Jews accept Jesus as the Christ and thus be saved?  In other words, did a Gentile have to become a Jew in order to become a Christian?  Becoming a Jew meant not only circumcision for the male converts, but dietary rules, liturgical rules, a total of over 600 specific commandments that the rabbis found in the Law of Moses.

The council of Jerusalem and the whole Jerusalem church, guided by the Holy Spirit, showed their love for others by not imposing all these restrictions on people who came from such a vastly different background.  Belief in Jesus as the Messiah was enuf to unite Gentile and Jew in a common faith.

Even so, the Church leaders did command certain actions.  They told the Gentile Christians that they would “be well advised to avoid” idolatry, blood, and unchastity (Acts 15:29).  Obviously, one could not worship the one true God, and idols as well.  Avoiding blood and the meat of strangled animals, i.e., meat with the blood still in it, meant respecting God’s power over life; for the ancients viewed blood as the vehicle of life.  The “life’s blood,” we say.  Avoiding unchastity, illicit sexual union, meant a respect for the sacredness of sex, for family, for the dignity of the human person.  So the 3 essentials commanded are 3 concrete expressions of love for God and for neighbor.  “Anyone who loves me will be true to my word:  love on another.”

Jesus makes a promise to go along with that saying, that command:  “Anyone who loves me will be true to my word, and my Father will love him; we will come to him and make our dwelling place with him always” (John 14:23).  That is a promise of eternal life.

Salesian Family Celebrates Marian Day

Salesian Family Celebrates Marian Day

Close to 400 members of the Salesian Family gathered at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., on Saturday, May 25, to celebrate the feast of Mary Help of Christians, the 150th anniversary of the Association of Mary Help of Christians (ADMA, founded by Don Bosco in 1869), and their fellowship in the Family. Groups taking part included SDBs, FMAs, Cooperators, ADMA, DBVs, and young people.

Youths from the Salesian presences in Hawthorne, New Rochelle, North Haledon, Orange, and Ramsey presented skits about Don Bosco and the Salesian Family. Talks were given on ADMA and on Mary.

In one talk, Fr. Pat Angelucci recounted how Don Bosco had placed a statue of Mary Immaculate atop the dome of the church of Mary Help of Christians in Turin to act as a lightning rod, and he affirmed that Mary is our lightning rod, our protector. He continued by describing authentic Marian devotion, according to Don Bosco, as practical, Christocentric, traditional, and complete—going into some detail on each point.

The sacrament of Reconciliation was offered at two times during the day, and a good number of pilgrims took advantage of the opportunity. There was also about an hour of Eucharistic adoration.

Including regular attendees of the Shrine’s noon Mass, the chapel was filled to capacity (about 450)—standing room only. Fr. Tim Ploch presided and preached (in both English and Spanish).

Fr. Tim’s homily described how the Virgin Mary shows the way to holiness (“Holiness is for you too”) and accompanies us on the way—just as she did John Bosco all his life, starting when he was nine years old. He named three ways that Mary does this.

1. Mary teaches us to listen to the Word of God and to allow it to have an effect on us, to be the sole determinant of our lives.

2. Mary is the woman of family, the mother given to us by Jesus at Calvary and going with her children into the Upper Room to wait for the Holy Spirit, who binds the family together.

3. Mary is the woman of service, rushing to the aid of her cousin Elizabeth, coming to the assistance of young couple in trouble at their wedding (the day’s gospel reading was that of the wedding at Cana), always sensitive to our needs and problems.

Fr. Tim said that Mary is a living presence who shows the Salesian Family how to be present to the young and urges us, as she did the servants at Cana, to do whatever Jesus tells us.

In conclusion, Fr. Tim reminded the congregation that at the Eucharist Christ works a greater miracle than he did at Cana, changing bread and wine into his own Body and Blood. Our participation in this Sacrament unites us not only with him but also with his Mother and all the members of the Salesian Family.

At the end of Mass four Salesian Cooperators from the Ramsey center made their promises.
The day ended with a Rosary procession—the decades prayed in 5 languages—and the crowning of the statue of Mary, with a major assist from the Stony Point Fire Department.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Homily for Thursday, 5th Week of Easter

Homily for Thursday
5th Week of Easter

May 23, 2019
Acts 15: 7-21
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said…” (Acts 15:7).

Debate, argument, disagreement are nothing new in the Church.  Yesterday’s reading ended with the apostles and elders coming together in Jerusalem to hash out a contentious issue—the contentious issue—of the early Church:  the relationship between Jews and Gentiles within the community of believers.  That’s where our reading today begins.
A depiction of St. Paul at the Council of Jerusalem
(from Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls)
It’s about 50 A.D., according to the scholars, some 20 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, 20 years after the Good News of our redemption began to spread from Judea to Samaria, and then to the Greek world of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Did Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Arabs, and others have to adopt circumcision and all the rest of the Torah in order to follow Jesus and be saved?  Did Jesus come to save only his own people, and does that salvation depend somehow also upon Moses?

The great gathering in Jerusalem decided that Jesus offers salvation by is by grace—by faith, as we heard the Collect stress—not by the Law.  God calls whomever he wishes, including the Gentiles, and freely bestows his Spirit also upon them.

How did the council of Jerusalem come to that decision?  By listening!  By listening to the Church’s experience, as reported by Peter as well as by Barnabas and Paul; by listening to each other in the “much debate” of the 1st verse of today’s reading—and I’ll bet it was heated debate; and by listening to the Sacred Scriptures, to see how the Word of God enlightened their experiences and opinions.

This is just what Pope Francis has been trying to do as he leads the Church today:  to promote full and honest debate on issues like marriage and family life, youth ministry, the environment, and spreading the Good News in today’s world.  What’s our experience?  What are the different opinions and options?  What does the Word of God and the long tradition of the Church say to us?

All of which can be applied also to our own lives:  to our personal decision-making, to our family life, to our parish life.

May we always keep ourselves open to God’s voice, to his touch, to his guidance in our own experiences, in dialog with others, and in our prayerful reading of the Scriptures.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Following the Celebration of Mary Help of Christians in Turin

Following the Celebration
of Mary Help of Christians in Turin

(ANS – Turin – May 22) – For the Salesians, Mary Help of Christians is much more than a personal devotion: she is a dimension of our charism and mission. This is why the feast of Mary Help of Christians in Don Bosco’s city is never a local event, but rather an event that calls for global attention. Again this year, the main events can be seen and followed via different options.

The calendar of the main events (local times):

- May 24 - 11:00 a.m. (UTC + 2) - Solemn Mass, presided over by the Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin;

- May 24 - 6:30 p.m. (UTC + 2) - Solemn Mass, presided over by the Rector Major, Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime;

- May 24 – 8:30 p.m. - Solemn procession of Mary Help of Christians, with Abp. Nosiglia again presiding.

All these festivities can be seen LIVE on the ANS Facebook page, with multi-language commentary, and on or via satellite on Telepace.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Easter

May 19, 2019
John 13: 31-35
Rev 21: 1-5
Acts 14: 21-27
Nativity, Washington, D.C.                                                          

“I give you a new commandment:  love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13: 34).
Last Supper
At the Last Supper Jesus gave his disciples the new commandment of love.  It’s no ivory tower commandment like so many social and political ideas put forward by professors, Hollywood personalities, and politicians who seem never to have lived in the real world.  It is, instead, a commandment based on the example that Jesus gave us in his public ministry, exhausting himself to teach and to heal people, and at this same Last Supper when he washed the feet of the apostles, and on Good Friday when he offered his life in atonement for our sins.

In other words, Jesus’ love isn’t a warm-fuzzy love, a feel-good love, some sort of sentimentality.  It’s a sacrificial love, a love that leads him to offer himself to us, and to his Father on our behalf.  This is the love that he commands us to show for one another.

This is also the love that perfects the image of God in us.  So Jesus tells the disciples that “God is glorified in him” (13:31); he reflects the Father’s love in his own life and so gives glory to God.  And, he is confident, “God will also glorify him in himself” and do that “at once,” quickly, immediately (13:32), because the cross will open for him the life of the resurrection, and God will glorify even his human nature; and thru his glorified human nature, God will open the path to heavenly glory for us too if we imitate Christ in his sacrificial love.

The Book of Revelation gives us a prophetic vision of the heavenly glory that’s the destiny of those who follow Jesus:  “God’s dwelling is with the human race” in “the holy city, a new Jerusalem,” adorned (or glorified) like a bride for her husband, where there will “be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain,” for God will make all things new.  The new Jerusalem is the new creation, a wholly renewed universe for all those who follow the Lamb of God (Rev 21:1-5); a garden of Eden without forbidden fruit, but with only the pleasure of walking always with God and the saints.

What does it mean, in practice, to love one another in a sacrificial manner?  The 1st reading shows us how Paul and Barnabas did that in the middle of the 1st century.  They hiked around the country that we now call Turkey, preaching the Gospel in one town after another and meeting a lot of opposition and persecution as they did so.  They followed up by returning to their converts to “strengthen their spirits and exhort them to persevere in the faith” even as they live with “many hardships” (Acts 14:21-22), like Jesus himself.  True love doesn’t just leave people but follows up with them and tries to remain close to them.

Paul preaching
(Painting in Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome)
Furthermore, Paul and Barnabas didn’t hide their faith but made it known, as their Christian communities had to do and as we also must do at least by the example of our lives and by our willingness to speak of it when it’s appropriate to do so.  And we must be people who encourage and strengthen others with our friendship, words of comfort and healing.  We must offer to the Lord the hardships, pain, disappointments, and hurts that we experience and try, by our own patience and kindness, not to cause pain, disappointment, or hurt to others, starting with our own families, the members of Nativity Parish, the people we work with, our next-door neighbors.

Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders in each church” (14:23), i.e., they left leaders to maintain the apostolic teaching and to celebrate the Eucharist.  In your families, you are the elders who are charged to teach the faith to the youngsters, to teach them to pray, to encourage them to come to Mass—to this personal encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus in the sacrament of his body and blood.  You also need to pray for priests and bishops who maintain the apostolic teaching and celebrate the Eucharist, and pray for vocations for the Church so that the apostolic ministry may continue.  Welcome, encourage, and pray for Fr. Ebuka, who will be ordained in a few weeks; and not only on his ordination day but give him your support afterward too.

Finally, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, to the Church that had commissioned them for their missionary journey.  They weren’t freelance missionaries.  They had to give an account of their work—perhaps including an expense account?—“reporting what God had done with them” (14:27).  Those who serve God’s Church have to be accountable, and the Church has to hold them accountable—a lesson that the Church today is struggling to re-learn. 

Pope Francis gave us an example of accountability on May 10 while addressing the superiors general of women religious in Rome.  The Pope set up a commission 2 years ago to study the question of women deacons, historically and theologically; they submitted their inconclusive report a couple of months ago.  Pope Francis said the question required more study by the commission, and consideration in the light of Divine Revelation, of the Word of God.  Even the Pope is accountable!  He’s accountable to the Word of God, as are all of us.

Being faithful to one’s commission, to one’s responsibilities in the Church, is a concrete expression of the commandment to love one another.  The Church is certainly hurting today because some leaders haven’t been faithful (not that this is anything new, really, except in how widely known it is), and this infidelity also impedes the preaching of the Gospel because it makes Christ’s message less credible.  How often when a priest or bishop tries to present the Gospel message about human life, human dignity, or God’s plan for human sexuality, he and his message are rejected out of hand because of the failures of some Church leaders to live that Gospel message themselves.

So, brothers and sisters, hold us accountable.  We will make mistakes and even commit sins, “vessels of clay” or “earthen vessels” that we are (to use one of Paul’s phrases, 2 Cor 4:7).  In all kindness, like Paul and Barnabas exhort us “to persevere in the faith” and in our apostolic ministry, and pray for us, that we might truly love you as Christ loves us all.

May 19 is the anniversary of my own priestly ordination, 41 years ago, and I commend myself to your prayers.  Without the prayers of God’s people, no priest would easily persevere in is union with Christ, the one, great priest of God, and our ministry would be next to useless.  Thank you, and God bless you!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Pastoral Assignments for 2019, Round 2

Pastoral Assignments for 2019, Round 2

It's been months since Fr. Tim Zak announced pastoral assignments for 2019-2020, specifically the appointment of directors.  On May 13 he published more "obediences."

Fr. Mark Hyde
It seems to your humble blogger that the most significant announcement is that Fr. Mark Hyde will step down after 11 years as director of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle.  Fr. Tim wrote simply, "God bless you for the wonderful work you have done!"  Amen to that.

Fr. Mark will be succeeded by Fr. Augustine Baek, the founder and long-time director of Reborn Young Christ in Stony Point, N.Y., a mission for young Korean-Americans.  Fr. Gus has had a nationwide ministry, in fact.

Fr. Gus Baek
The change at Salesian Missions is to be effective on Sept. 1.  There was no announcement of a new assignment for Fr. Mark or of a replacement for Fr. Gus in Stony Point.  Update: on June 7 Fr. Tim Zak (and Abp. Aymond of New Orleans) announced that Fr. Mark will become pastor of St. Rosalie and St. John Bosco parishes in Harvey, La.  Fr. Mark was quite pleased.

Another significant appointment was the confirmation of Fr. John Nazzaro as director of the formation community in Orange.  He's already been serving ad interim in that capacity during Fr. Mike Pace's extended absence (caused by visa issues with U.S. immigration authorities--Fr. Mike being Canadian).

Other news in Fr. Tim's letter included the 1st priestly assignments for our 2 men who will be ordained on June 8, Frs. Juan Pablo Rubio (St. John Bosco Parish, Chicago) and Eduardo Chincha (Cristo Rey Tampa); some changes in practical training assignments for 2 young confreres; the start of theological studies for 2 others; 2 men heading for the novitiate in August, and 2 starting the prenovitiate program.
Fr. John Nazzaro during his earlier incarnation as executive director 
of Salesian Boys & Girls Club of East Boston.  (Photo supplied by the Club)
There were some other assignments, and word of 2 priests on loan from their own provinces to ours who will now be returning home.

All in all, an interesting list, with nothing earth-shattering in it unless you think the change at Salesian Missions fits that bill.

Another SDB Murdered in Burkina Faso

Another Salesian Murdered in Burkina Faso

At lunchtime on May 17 in the SDB community of Bobo Dkoulasso, Burkina Faso, Salesian Fr. Fernando Hernandez was murdered, apparently in an act of vengeance.  Fr. Hernandez was the community treasurer.  Three months ago, on Feb. 15, Fr. Cesar Antonio Fernandez of the same province, Francophone West Africa, was assassinated by Islamic terrorists near the Burkina Faso's border with Togo while driving toward his community in Ouagadougou.  Both murders were witnessed by Fr. Germain Plakoo-Mlapa of the Bobo community, who was wounded in today's attack.

The Francophone West Africa Province includes 8 countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, and Togo.

The Rector Major communicated the terrible news almost immediately to the Salesian world:

When only faith, silence and prayer are possible ...

(ANS – Rome – May 18, 2019)
Dear brothers and sisters of the Salesian Family in the world,
I write to you to share sad news and to invite you again to put your life and your mission in the hands of the One in whom the full meaning of every event resides: the God of love and his Son Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord.

I was coming to Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo) for the visit to this new vice province when the provincial of the French-speaking West Africa Province (AFO) informed me that, a few minutes before, the missionary confrere Fr. Fernando Hernandez was cruelly murdered and that Fr. Germain Plakoo-Mlapa was seriously injured and is now in the hospital. Fr. Germain Plakoo-Mlapa was at the side of Fr. Cesar Antonio Fernandez, who was assassinated just three months ago.
The reason for this tragedy is related to an act of revenge. In fact, it seems that the old chef of the community, who was fired about a year ago, entered the refectory of the confreres during lunch time and enacted his vendetta with a machete.

In three months, two missionary confreres have lost their lives in this province. We pray intensely for the healing of Fr. Germain and also for the wounds that will remain imprinted in his soul, since it must be terrible to endure all that he has lived during this time.

Dear brothers and sisters of our dear Salesian Family, I share with you all the sorrow that the confreres share with their families and ask you to remember them in prayer at such a dramatic moment.

We are living through the time of Easter, and at this moment I can only hold on and anchor myself in faith to the Lord, keep silent, and pray that he may transform the blood of these martyrs, cruelly and innocently shed, to life and good for the African people and for all peoples.
Our two confreres, Fr. Cesar Antonio and Fr. Fernando, lived profoundly loving the African people, young Africans and their families, always seeking their good in the name of the Lord.
Our prayer today should be an intercession for them, an intense prayer for Fr. Germain, and a request for forgiveness for their assassins, as the Lord has done.

Our Mother Help of Christians takes us by the hand and leads us before God the Father. She accompanies us and takes care of all of us, sons and daughters, on this earth.

With these words, I intend to express our condolences and our closeness to Fr. José Elegbede and the confreres of the AFO Province, much tried by these tragic events.
(Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime)


Friday, May 17, 2019

Homily for Thursday, 4th Week of Easter

Homily for Thursday
4th Week of Easter

May 16, 2019
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“You restore human nature to yet greater dignity than at its beginnings” (Collect).

In the beginning, men and women had the dignity of having been created in God’s image (Gen 1:27).  Now—in the Easter season—we praise God for restoring that, because sin had spoiled the image, like slashing a priceless painting.

Being raised to Christian dignity:
St. Patrick baptizes a pagan Irish king
(St. Catharine Church, Spring Lake, N.J.)
But the prayer speaks of “yet greater dignity”—greater than being an image of God.  What dignity could be greater?  The dignity of being his adopted children, members of his family, because of our intimate relationship with his true Son, Jesus Christ.

We come then to the actual prayer.  We plead with God to “look upon the amazing mystery of your loving kindness.”  It is amazing that God should do for us sinners what he has done, take us back and even upgrade our status.  Come on up from coach to first class!  And he’s done so out of “loving kindness,” out of his own benevolence toward us, as undeserved as it is.

We ask this further grace:  that God “preserve the gifts of your enduring grace and blessing” in “those you have chosen to make new through the wonder of rebirth.”  Our restored and upgraded dignity is that rebirth of which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus (John 3:1-8); we’ve been born again, given a new life, thru the resurrection of Jesus.  The former translation of this prayer emphasized that this “rebirth” refers to Baptism, and “those chosen” are the newly baptized.  But all of us have been baptized, so in truth the prayer speaks for all of us.  We share in Jesus’ new life thru “water and the Holy Spirit,” thru the water of Baptism and thru the whole sacramental life of Christ’s Church, in which the Holy Spirit always plays a vital role, as you can note, for instance, at the consecration of the bread and wine at Mass.

All this is by God’s choice, by his having chosen us.  At the Last Supper, Jesus told the apostles, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16).  We may think it’s our decision, but it’s only our response to the gift that he offers.  Would you like to be given eternal life, eternal happiness?  Jesus offers it to you!  Please say yes!

We need God’s help to say yes day after day, as all of us know.  There are days when we don’t quite feel like saying yes.  So we pray that he preserve his gift in us.  The Church has always advised us to pray for the gift of perseverance:  that God’s grace endure in us thru holy lives, that God’s blessing go with us all our lives and into eternal life.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Easter

April 16, 1989
Rev 7: 9, 14-17
St. Theresa, Bronx, N.Y.

This weekend of 2019, I'm visiting our SDB works in Tampa, my hometown.  These works and some of the particular confreres here fostered my vocation.  I also paid a visit to my old home parish, Nativity in Brandon.  Since I didn't have an opportunity to preach at Mass, here's an old homily.

“I, John, saw before me a huge crowd which no one could count” (Rev 7: 9).

During the Easter season, the Church always puts before us in the 1st reading the Acts of the Apostles.  Acts is the story of our Christian beginnings in the 1st enthusiasm of Easter and Pentecost, the story of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s leadership, the story of the 1st persecutions of our ancestors in faith.

The 2d readings this year come from the book of Revelation.  They tell us where our Christian faith is taking us:  tribulation, perseverance, judgment, and heavenly glory.  Revelation was written at the end of the 1st century, a time of intense persecution, and it was meant to encourage believers, to give them hope.

Like 1st-century Christians, you and I need hope.  We aren’t dragged into court and ordered to worship idols or an emperor, as early Christians were.  We undergo more subtle persecution.  We suffer double taxation to support our schools.  We’re mocked for clearly teaching that human sexuality is sacred.  We are taken to court for defending human life.  A very distinguished priest is appointed director of the public library, and the Times is flooded with letters of protest and bigotry.  The media portray every bishops’ meeting as some kind of confrontation.  Turn on your TV or your radio, and everything you believe and want to pass on to your children is under assault.  If we protest any of this lunacy, we’re labeled ayatollahs.

So we too are in a “great period of trial” (Rev 7:14).  Trials are part of being disciples of a crucified master.  “If they persecuted me,” Jesus warns, “they will also persecute you” (John 15:20.

The 144,000 elect (Blessed Osma, 11th c.)
But what does John tell us today?  The crowd of triumphant believers is too huge to be counted!  They’re dressed in white robes, baptismal robes, of victory over all trials, over all temptations.  They carry palms of victory.  “They” include us—if we keep our eyes on the Lamb of God, if we continue to wash our sins white in his blood, if we persevere in our faith and in our discipleship of good deeds.

At the Last Supper Jesus promised us not only persecution in this life but many places in his Father’s house (John 14:2).  Before God’s throne we will always have shelter; neither the rent nor the taxes will go up, and the sewers won’t break down.  We won’t hunger, have our water rationed, or worry about the ozone layer.  God’s Lamb has become our shepherd, and he’s leading us to eternal life, eternal youth, eternal health, eternal joy.  The Shepherd tells us that we shall never perish; no one shall snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28).

So no matter what trials we face in our Christian lives, no matter how we struggle each day to know what’s right and then do it, we have great hope.  Christ our Shepherd has gone ahead to prepare a place for us, for a numberless crowd of us.  If we follow him, no lasting harm can touch us, and we shall not be lost.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Homily for Feast of St. Dominic Savio

Homily for the Feast of
St. Dominic Savio

May 6, 2019
Don Bosco Cristo Rey, Takoma Park, Md.

Altho Dominic's dies natalis is March 9, the Salesian Family celebrates his feast on May 6 since March 9 always falls during Lent.
One of the most traditional images of Dominic Savio.
There are no sketches of him from life.
Dominic is one of the young saints highlighted by Pope Francis in Christus vivit (n. 56).  The Holy Father cites Don Bosco’s guidance of him.  He was wise enuf to seek a sure guide and to obey that guide even when Don Bosco’s guidance ran counter to his own instincts, and even tho there were times when Don Bosco was completely mystified by the boy’s spiritual gifts.

The Holy Father also cites Dominic’s last words:  “Oh! I’ve never seen anything so lovely!”[1]  We don’t know what he saw, obviously, but we may guess it was heaven opening up before him as he made his passage from Mondonio to eternity.  The youngster prepared for that passage and its lovely vision all his life by keeping his eyes focused on his friends Jesus and Mary, on fulfilling his duties, on being of service to his companions in Don Bosco’s house.

We don’t have to be adolescents to learn from the precocious wisdom of this boy whom Pius XII called “a giant of sanctity.”

[1] “Oh! che bella cosa io vedo mai,” according to DB’s biography in Fonti salesiane (Rome: LAS, 2014), 1:1082.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Homily for 3d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Easter

April 19, 1977
Acts 5: 27-32, 40-41
Rev 5: 11-14
John 21: 1-19
Practicum in Preaching

I was already a deacon when I took the required seminary course on how to preach well.  This a homily prepared for that course rather than for a church congregation.

This morning’s readings from the Scriptures offer us images of two transformations.  1st, Jesus has been transformed.  2d, his disciples have been transformed.

The Easter season announces the change in Jesus that results from his resurrection.  When he appears to Peter and the other disciples by the Sea of Tiberias—which we know more familiarly as the Sea of Galilee—they do not recognize him at first.  When the apostles stand before the Sanhedrin, on trial for their preaching, they boldly proclaim that the crucified Jesus has risen and been made Leader and Savior of Israel.  The vision of John in the book of Revelation shows us Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb, in heavenly glory with the Almighty Father.

Jesus’ transformation is wondrous enuf.  We know how long it took the apostles to grasp what had happened thru the resurrection of their Lord.  But much more wondrous is what happened to them when the reality of the resurrection sank into them.

Take Peter.  We know he was a rough, impulsive fellow, apparently the kind who’d rather act than think.  And we see a little of those qualities here in the abruptness with which he says he’s going fishing and in the way in which he plunges into the lake.  We also know that these qualities led him, at the Last Supper, to assure Jesus of his undying loyalty, his willingness to die for his Lord—only to lead him shortly after to deny even knowing Jesus.  If any of you saw the movie Jesus of Nazareth on TV Easter Sunday, you saw a very powerful portrayal of Peter.

Peter approaching Christ on the lakeshore (source unknown)
Now Jesus stands on the shore.  There’s no more rashness in Peter, but a charming sort of simplicity and sincerity.  Jesus asks him whether he loves his Master more than the others do, and Peter is much wiser than at the Last Supper, too wise to say, “Yes, of course!”  He says only, “Lord, you know that I love you.”  That is the only assurance he has now, the only one he can give Jesus.  He no longer relies on himself.  This change in the source of his strength from self to Jesus changes Peter from a denying coward to a courageous apostle.

In the 1st reading, we find Peter and the other apostles before the Sanhedrin.  They’re under arrest.  These are the same men who ran and hid from the Jewish police on Good Friday because they were scared to death.  After seeing Jesus alive again and receiving the Holy Spirit, they are different.  They are still plain, uneducated fishermen, but they are bold.  They are preaching to the leaders of their nation, saying they and the Holy Spirit have a message to deliver.  They count it a blessing to suffer for the name of Jesus.  The transforming power of the risen Jesus is at work.  It is a power which forgives and encourages because it is alive with love.

And the transforming power is at work now, among us here.  We have all sinned, like Peter and the 12.  We have denied Christ when it was more convenient not to be recognized as his followers.  We have been cowards and run away.  In our business dealings, we have sometimes found Christ embarrassing and put him aside.  We have run from our children because we didn’t have time for them.  When we gather with friends at school or at home we usually don’t think of Christ’s being there; we might have to speak more kindly and act honestly if we did.

But we can be forgiven, and we can love simply and sincerely like Peter.  We have to let the risen Jesus and his Holy Spirit transform us—not in a day, certainly, but day by day.  Seeing the risen Lord and loving him convinced Peter and the apostles that they had to be different.  They could risk martyrdom in order to be fishers of men and proclaimers of the Gospel even when it was inconvenient.  We receive the same call as Peter:  “Follow me.”  We wouldn’t be here in church this morning if we didn’t believe Jesus is risen.  It is our task now to bring the risen Christ with us when we deal with a customer or client, when we have friends over to our homes, when our children ask us for our interest in their games and projects, when our parents give us jobs to do for the family, when we go out shopping, and so on.  Will we now let Christ transform our noncommittal lives into a sincere announcement of our Christian faith?

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Homily for Thursday, Week 2 of Easter

Homily for Thursday
2d Week of Easter

May 2, 2019
Acts 5: 27-33
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5: 32).

St. Peter before the Sanhedrin (artist unknown)
Being witnesses and giving testimony is a theme in today’s readings.  Jesus is the witness of God’s love for human beings and of his fidelity to the covenants he made with Abraham and Moses (cf. John 3:32).  The apostles bear witness to God’s new covenant with humanity made thru the death and resurrection of Jesus and confirmed by the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples (Acts 5:30-31).

To be witnesses and give testimony that Jesus is risen and lives both in heaven and in our souls is our task now, as it was the task of Peter, John, and the others.  We too have been given the Holy Spirit to assist us—at our Baptism, at our Confirmation, and ever on call when we ask him to assist.  Many Christians pray daily, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.”

We too are on trial, tho not in a law court.  We’re on trial before our families, friends, colleagues, fellow parishioners, the people we work with.  If we’re joyful, if we’re truthful, if we speak kindly of and to others, if we pray daily, if we confess our sins every month—we give witness to our faith in Jesus, who has been raised to life, who lives in us, and in whom we hope to live forever with God his Father (cf. John 3:36).

Homily for Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker

Homily for the Memorial of
St. Joseph the Worker

May 2, 2019
Gen 1: 26—2: 3
DBCR School Mass, Takoma Park, Md.

Since holding a corporate job is an essential component of a student’s life at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School and Corporate Work Study Program—the full name of our institution in Takoma Park, Md.—as it is of all the more than 30 schools in the Cristo Rey Network, we celebrate the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker with a little solemnity, including an all-school Mass.  This year it was observed on May 2, a day late, because of another event on the school calendar for May 1.

Today we’re celebrating St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, as an example and patron for us, particularly as a worker.

St. Joseph the Carpenter (Georges de La Tour)
What makes him an example for us?  Not just that he was a worker, a craftsman, a carpenter—probably a good carpenter.  The 1st thing is that he carried out what our opening prayer calls “the law of work for the human race.”  That may sound a little bit like drudgery or even servitude—work is a law!  But our reading from Genesis spoke of the 1st man and woman, Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden before they sinned and were punished.  God shows them the beautiful world he’s created for them—the animals, the fish, the birds, the plants, and everything else—and tells them to “subdue” this creation.  That means some form of work—not as a punishment, not as a burden, not as servitude, but as a share in all God’s creative work.  They’re put in charge as his agents to keep things in good shape.  Everything around them on which they will continue God’s own work is his gift to them.  They are to be co-creators with God thru what they do.

That’s what St. Joseph did; he worked with God’s materials—wood and tools and maybe other materials.  Undoubtedly part of his work was also to repair the tools of the people of Nazareth, like plow handles, ax handles, and parts of weaving looms, the tools with which other people would be able to do their work.

Work has its own dignity, a dignity that belongs to it, that lives within it.  God worked, as we heard in Genesis, and he asks us to work along with him.  St. Joseph models this just by being a good carpenter.  He’s an example and patron for us, not because we’re carpenters; none of you do carpentry as your job, right?  Most of us have something resembling an office job.  But we’re people who use God’s gifts in some creative, productive way—even in office work, school work, music, and teaching.  If we don’t do much work with our hands as a carpenter does, we work with machines and paper and electronic gadgets, and above all with our minds—all things that come, ultimately, from God for us to use to “subdue” what’s around us and so make our lives and our world better.

The 2d thing St. Joseph did was to pass on his skill.  He taught the carpenter’s craft to Jesus, which is the way everyone lived and worked in the 1st century anywhere in the world.  Boys learned a skill from their fathers:  how to farm or fish or care for sheep, how to make pottery or benches or ironware, and how to be fathers.  Girls learned household skills from their mothers:  how to weave and sew, cook and bake, nurse a sick child, and how to be mothers.  All children learned social and family skills from their parents.  So Jesus learned from St. Joseph and Mary.

You, my young friends, learn similar things, and so much more, from your parents, teachers, coaches, and work supervisors.  In that, you’re like Jesus at St. Joseph’s side.  But you older students are like St. Joseph when you guide your younger schoolmates or younger siblings, helping them learn important life skills, as eventually most of you will also do for your own children.

In our prayer this morning, we didn’t just observe that St. Joseph is an example and patron for us.  We actually prayed that “God, Creator of all things,” will help us “complete the works” he’s “set us to do”—whatever our work is now and will be in the future, whatever his plan for each of us may be, by which we’ll continue, with God, to create the world, to make the world better and happier:  works that may include learning and teaching, parenting, craftsmanship, engineering, health care, social work, entertainment, a vocation in the Church, any career—all noble work, as St. Joseph shows us.