Saturday, August 31, 2019

Homily for 22d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
22d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Aug. 29, 2004
Heb 12: 18-19, 22-24
Provincial House, New Rochelle

I'm moving on Sunday from my old community, the "Washington" Salesians (living in College Park, Md.), to my new-old one at the provincial house in New Rochelle.  So--an old homily delivered at that venue.                             

“You have approached Mt. Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12: 22).

Moses with the 10 Commandments (Jose de Ribera)
When Moses and the Hebrews came to Mt. Sinai after God had brought them out of Egypt, the signs of the divine presence at the mountain inspired awe, even terror, in the people, and they were forbidden under penalty of death even to approach the mountain, except Moses.  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews alludes to all that in the 1st 2 verses of our reading today—and he need only allude to it because his readers were Jewish Christians, thoroughly familiar with the exodus story, as well as with the story of Abel, which he mentions later—as all of us ought to be familiar, too.

The author recalls that scene and the fearful attitude it inspired in the people of God to contrast the Old Covenant of Mt. Sinai with the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.  The God of Mt. Sinai had struck Israel’s oppressors hard with plagues, with the angel of death, with the waters of the Red Sea.  He had likewise struck down all the unfaithful of Israel:  those who rebelled against Moses, those who had worshipped the golden calf.  This was the God who spoke in thunder, who flashed lightning bolts, who glowed in fire atop the mountain, who warned the people and even the livestock to keep their distance lest they die.

The people of the New Covenant, on the other hand, have been summoned to come closer to God, and in “Jesus, the mediator” of that “new covenant” (12:24), we’ve already done so.  We “have approached Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”  Jesus, flesh of our flesh, has gone to the throne of God, taking our human nature with him.  He has left the earthly Jerusalem for the heavenly one; the stone and cedar temple on Mt. Zion that is an image of God’s court for the real heavenly city where God in fact dwells.  And he promises to take all believers there to be with him; in him we’re already there by anticipation.

The Triumph of Christianity
(Gustave Dore')
In the heavenly Jerusalem we have approached, drawn near, joined “countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven” (12:22-23).  The angels of the heavenly court we understand.  They are those pure spirits who have served God faithfully from before the material universe was created, his occasional messengers to the world of human beings, sometimes our protectors and patrons.  With the “assembly of the firstborn” we may be less acquainted; it’s God’s faithful people.  “Assembly” is εκκλησία in the Greek text, ecclesia in Latin, “those called out,” the usual New Testament word for “Church.”  Here it may mean the people of the Old Covenant who were faithful to the covenant given thru Moses—the “firstborn” of God’s people in relation to the followers of Jesus; recall that Pope John Paul has called the Jews our “elder brothers.”  Or it may mean the followers of Jesus themselves.  In Jesus, the “firstborn” of God, “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18), all of us have become God’s favored children; St. Paul calls Christ “the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom 8:29).  In Christ we lay claim to the inheritance rights of firstborn sons.  We on earth are on our way to becoming “the just made perfect” by God’s grace, as the elect before the throne of God are already made perfect.

Unlike the Israelites in the desert, we can dare to approach “God the judge of all” (12:23).  The Letter to the Hebrews doesn’t call him Father here, but Jesus always calls him Abba, and he taught us to do the same.  Judges not only find guilt and declare sentences.  They also vindicate and declare awards.  Those who by God’s grace are just have been vindicated; their reward is a place before God.  They aren’t afraid of the judge, for they’re confident of his love for them.

This New Covenant given to us from Mt. Zion to replace the Old Covenant of Mt. Sinai has been mediated by Jesus.  Moses went up into the fire and thunder of Mt. Sinai, Jesus into heaven itself.  Moses brought with him no sacrificial offering, but when he came down from the mountain had to offer up bulls and goats and sprinkle the people and the altar with the blood of the sacrifice.  Jesus went up to the throne of God with the blood of his own sacrifice.  That blood, “sprinkled” upon the earth and upon the human race at Calvary and in the Eucharistic sacrifice, “speaks more eloquently than that of Abel,” says Hebrews (12:24).

You remember the story of Cain and Abel.  When God confronted the murderer, he said, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil!” (Gen 4:10).  Abel’s blood demanded redemption, which in the culture of the Middle East usually means vengeance, evening the score.  The blood of our Savior Jesus has certainly evened the score for all the sins of humanity.  It’s incomparably more eloquent than Abel’s blood, which cried out only for Abel.  The blood of Jesus cried out for all of us, and it continues to cry out, to intercede, to mediate for us before God.  It cries not for vengeance but for pardon.  Therefore we eagerly, even if unworthily, come to drink in his blood, and by the intercessory power of his blood to be made worthy of approaching “Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” worthy of joining “the spirits of the just made perfect, the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven.”

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Homily for Memorial of Passion of John the Baptist

Homily for the Memorial of
the Passion of St. John the Baptist                  

August 29, 2019
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

Writing to the Thessalonians—in the oldest component of the New Testament—St. Paul links his own “life” with these Christians’ “standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thes 3:8), i.e., that they “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (3:12), that they be “blameless in holiness before our God and Father” (3:13).

We celebrate today the faithfulness of St. John the Baptist.  He “stood firm in the Lord,” proclaiming in his preaching what God expected of every faithful Jew and denouncing public and private corruption.  Holding firmly to the truth is a form of love, as you know from your experience as children being raised by loving but firm parents, and then trying to be loving and firm parents yourselves.

Herod's Feast & the Beheading of St. John the Baptist
(Giovanni Baronzio)
In a homily for this feast, quoted in today’s Liturgy of the Hours, St. Bede preached:  “His persecutors had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth."[1]

St. John Paul II’s most fundamental encyclical is probably Veritatis splendor, “The Splendor of the Truth.”  If “truth” is nothing more than a mental concept, without connection to reality—that’s the premise of transgenderism, for instance—then we deny reality, we invite chaos and a life of “every man for himself” and the rule of those with the most power rather than rule by truth and right.

So it is that Christ’s Church continues to proclaim the truth even when it’s not politically correct, or when certain politicians and organizations would confine our opinions to our church buildings—truths about the human dignity of the unborn, of immigrants, of racial and ethnic minorities, of those in prisons; about the meaning of human sexuality and its expressions; about moral and immoral ways of conceiving human beings and issues related to that; about lab experiments on the genetic make-up of human beings; about war and peace.

On a much smaller scale, we who follow Christ must strive to know what’s true, what’s right, and then to live and speak that way as best we can—in our families, our work, our recreation and social interactions, in our voting.  Thus shall we, like St. John the Baptist, “make straight the paths of the Lord” (Prayer over the Gifts), who continues coming into our world as our redeemer.

                [1] Hom. 23; LOH 4:1,359.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Homily for 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Aug. 22, 2004
Heb 12: 5-7, 11-13
Ursulines, Willow Drive

Last Sunday (Aug. 25) I was traveling, and since getting home I've been extremely busy with editorial work and packing for a new pastoral assignment. So it's taken me several days to get around to posting an old homily for last Sunday.

“Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him” (Heb 12: 5).

Part of today’s 2d reading seems like it could have come from Old Testament wisdom literature.  In fact, vv. 5-6 have been lifted from Proverbs 3.

From reading this section of the Letter to the Hebrews, we deduce that the Jewish-Christian community to whom the letter is addressed was undergoing some form of persecution.  It wasn’t a full-blown persecution that sent martyrs to death, for in v. 4 (the one immediately before our reading today) the author had just written, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.”  They must have been dealing with discrimination and harassment, the sorts of prejudice and disputes that late in the 1st century led the rabbis to expel the Jewish followers of Jesus from the synagog.

There are tens of thousands of Christians today facing real, sometimes bloody, persecution in Asia and Africa, in Sudan and China, e.g., sometimes elsewhere.  But as we know, discrimination and persecution aren’t the only trials that may come our way.  In a verse from the Book of Judith that we read regularly in the Liturgy of the Hours,[1] we “recall how God dealt with Abraham, and how he tried Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in [exile] while he was tending the flocks of Laban” (8:26).  God permitted the patriarchs to be tried severely, and he has always permitted trials to afflict his saints.  Or, to put it another way, he has never exempted his saints from the trials that afflict all the members of the human race; not even his own Son was exempt.

For the last 9 days the media have informed us of the afflictions and trials of the people of central Florida.  We feel for them, especially as we realize that all of us are vulnerable to natural disaster or human accident or worse.  We Salesians have particular reason to say, “There but for the grace of God…,” because our schools in St. Pete and Tampa were in Charley’s direct path till he made that sudden veer 80 miles south of Tampa.  Why did God spare the Tampa Bay area?  Only he knows.  We pray for those who are suffering.

The discipline of the Lord touches us directly in other ways.  All of us have reached the point in our lives when our bodies are troublesome.  When Hebrews calls upon us to “strengthen our drooping hands and weak knees” (v. 12), I’m reminded of 3 surgeries for carpal tunnel syndrome and 1 to deal with torn knee cartilage—not to mention a herniated disk.  We can appreciate the kind of humor that notes you’re growing old when most of the names in your address book have “Dr.” in front of them.

Natural disasters, financial misfortunes, accidents, assaults may strike anyone, believer or not.  Bodily ailments come upon all of us indiscriminately.  Most of us also have to cope with interior affliction too, at one time or another:  the angst of adolescence, in myriad variety; unpleasant tasks to carry out; conflict with family members, colleagues, or superiors; anxiety over what may happen or is happening to someone else; the loss of beloved family members and friends; depression as our physical and mental powers fade; fear of being put aside and forgotten; interior darkness and tests of our faith; concerns about our standing before God and our readiness for death and eternal life.    

Trials are always hard while we’re going thru them.  All of us probably have undergone trials of body or spirit that we wouldn’t wish upon anyone.  Well, maybe on Osama bin Laden.  “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain” (12:11), the Letter to the Hebrews says.  But the letter continues, “Later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (12:11).  Being tempered or trained by suffering makes us stronger.  It’s true of our character.  It’s true of our spiritual life.

Christ crucified
St. Mary's Church, Fredericksburg, Va.
We believe that our Lord Jesus suffered all the ordinary travails of human beings, and the extraordinary ones of his passion and death—so vividly brought to life in Mel Gibson’s film.  In doing so he identified himself totally with us, so that we might be reassured how much God loves us, how personally; and so that he might take our nature fully to himself and redeem it.  On Friday Catholic News Service carried a story about 2 missionaries serving in Sudan.  One of them reported that when the people there, suffering incredibly from war, ethnic cleansing, famine, and exile, behold a crucifix, “they see themselves, how they are suffering, and see that their sufferings are not foreign or strange for God.  God himself is suffering as they are.  They feel this very much.”[2]

Conversely, we believers have an opportunity lacking to non-Christians when affliction comes to us, as it does to everyone.  Unlike everyone, we can see it as discipline, as training, as invitation to identify ourselves consciously and deliberately with our Savior.  “Deliberately” not in the sense of choosing to suffer and masochistically inflicting it upon ourselves, but “deliberately” in the sense of accepting graciously as God’s gift what in any case we can’t avoid.  In the olden days the nuns in school used to express this to us by telling us to “offer it up.”  As Jesus was willing to suffer injustice, pain, humiliation, and death, so do we if that makes us more like him.  Our interior union with him even makes our suffering atoning and redemptive (cf. Col 1:24).

It’s crucially important, however, that our likeness to Christ be complete.  Not physically; we don’t expect the stigmata—even the scars of carpal tunnel surgery don’t quite do that—but interiorly; our likeness to Christ becomes one of meekness, compassion, mercy.  An interior likeness renders us sensitive to what our sisters and brothers around us may be going thru.  In a deeper sense than a politician’s, we feel their pain.  And our interior likeness must be reflected in our exterior, so that by our words and actions people may see that we have “put on Christ” (Gal 3:27), that God in Christ has taught us well.  Discipline, like disciple, is rooted in the Latin word discere, “to learn.”  And when the disciples learn and become like their Teacher (Matt 10:25), we shall experience and shall share with others “the peaceful fruit of righteousness,” i.e., of a right relationship with our Father.

     [1] Morning Prayer, Monday, Week IV.
     [2] Tony Staley, “Missionaries say people in Sudan, Chad embrace Catholic faith,” CNS online, Aug. 20, 2004.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Homily for 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Aug. 18, 2019
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“O God, you have prepared for those who love you good things which no eye can see …” (Collect).

Things appears 3 times in the Collect that we prayed a few minutes ago.  The prayer reminds us that God has prepared “good things” for us.  It urges us to love God “in all things and above all things.”

We know that when God created the universe, he created it good; everything God made is good—even if we may be tempted to curse mosquitoes, Canada geese, or the Atlanta Braves.  The book of Genesis in the Bible’s very 1st chapter tells us that everything is good, before adding that God found human beings “very good” (1:31).

Yet all these good things, all of beautiful creation, all the magnificent people we know, our beloved country—are secondary to God.  We pray that we may love God not only “in all things” but “above all things.”

Jeremiah by Enrico Glicenstein
By Hamaxides - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
It was such love that landed the prophet Jeremiah in the mud at the bottom of a cistern (38:6).  He was a most reluctant prophet, reluctant because he knew he’d meet vicious opposition and even violence when he preached God’s message.  He loved God enuf to preach anyway; loved God above all things, even his own safety, even his own life.

The 1st generations of Christians, like those addressed in the Letter to the Hebrews, also loved God above all things, even in the face of violent persecution.  The author urges them, “Let us … persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,” who “endured the cross” but has been glorified by God, as we hope to be if we give our love to God above all things—all persons, all material goods, all power, prestige, pleasure or self-centeredness (Heb 12:1-4).

Jesus, too, cautions us about divisions within our families (Luke 12:49-53).  He’s not talking about the sort of family issues that lead people to write to Dear Abby or other advice columnists, but the divisions that result when people must choose between God and family wishes, which sometimes we must do; between conscience and what everyone else wants.

The Collect reminded us that God’s “promises surpass every human desire.”  God promises us eternal life, and that he can deliver on his promise is evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus, as well as in that Marian feast we just celebrated, her bodily assumption to the side of Jesus in heaven.  God promises us deliverance from all pain and sorrow and fretting; we pray at every Mass to be “delivered from all anxiety.”  He promises to deliver us, finally, from any kind of danger to body or soul, even from death, but only by way of the cross in Jesus’ footsteps.

If God promises all that and can fulfill what he’s promised—“the good things which no eye can see” in this life—why would we want to listen to the allurements of the world and its empty, unsatisfying promises about wealth, sex, power, fame, fleeting affections, or temporary comforts?

May God “fill our hearts,” as we prayed, “with the warmth of [his] love”—and may we, filled with that love, live it and share it.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Homily for Solemnity of the Assumption

A Living House for the Lord

My friend Deacon Greg Kandra has posted a beautiful homily (title above) for today's feast:

Imagine for a moment the map of Italy. On the back of “the boot,” along the Adriatic Sea, you will find one of the more unusual shrines in all of Europe. It is in the town of Loreto. At the heart of the town, here’s a huge basilica. Inside of it is a humble stone house. The house is now a chapel.

Read the entire homily:

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Homily for Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe

Homily for the Memorial of
St. Maximilian Kolbe

August 14, 2019
Salesian & Lay Missioners Retreat, Don Bosco Retreat Center, Haverstraw, N.Y.

The Collect today calls our attention to 2 characteristics of St. Maximilian Kolbe, viz., his “burning love for the Immaculate Virgin Mary” and his “zeal for souls and love of neighbor.”  These are qualities that every Salesian can identify with.

Maximilian joined the Conventual Franciscans in his youth and dedicated his priestly ministry to preaching and using the press to catechize the lower, less literate classes of Polish society and to spread devotion to Mary Immaculate.  Later his zeal for souls took him to Japan to carry out these ministries as a missionary.  He and his confreres had not only to learn Japanese but also to set up the printing press they’d brought from Poland to compose with Japanese characters.

In the late 1930s Fr. Maximilian returned to Poland and his thriving Franciscan convent and its ministries.  But after World War II began and the Germans occupied Poland in 1939, Catholic media were shut down, and before the year was out, the Gestapo came for Fr. Maximilian and his confreres.  The Nazis were as intent on eventually exterminating the Poles—whom they considered Slavic inferiors—almost as much as they went after Jews.  Their 1st targets were Polish leaders, such as academics, priests, and army officers. 

So, thousands of priests and religious were sent to various camps and prisons, such as Auschwitz and Dachau, including most of our confreres at the province offices and St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Krakow, whose youth ministry helped shape the faith of their young parishioner Karol Wojtyla and, eventually, his vocation.  All of those confreres perished in the camps, several have their cause as martyrs underway, and as you know Fr. Joseph Kowalski, parish priest and provincial secretary, has been beatified.  Another victim of the Nazis was Fr. Steve Plywaczyk, whom many of us older confreres were privileged to know.  After his practical training at Ramsey, he’d returned to Poland and in 1940 was director-pastor of the Salesian orphanage and parish at Plock.  Fr. Steve survived his imprisonment and the medical experiments carried out on him at Dachau.  Our confrere Cardinal Hlond was driven into exile, and in 1944 was captured in France and interned in Germany until the U.S. Army liberated him—a story given ample coverage in the Don Bosco Messenger, early U.S. version of the Salesian Bulletin.

Eventually the Nazis killed 6 bishops, over 2,000 priests, and hundreds of male and female religious; in all, about 6 million Poles, half of them Jewish.

Nevertheless, in 1940 Fr. Maximilian and his fellow Franciscans were released and resumed their pastoral care, which included thousands of refugees from other parts of Poland, as well as desperate Jews.  Fr. Kolbe’s family was of German heritage; the Nazis offered him German citizenship and better rations if he would agree not to minister any longer to Poles.  He refused.  And in 1941 he was arrested and imprisoned again, subjected to very harsh treatment particularly because he was a priest.

In prison camp, Fr. Maximilian heard confessions regularly, tho it was against the regulations, shared his meager food rations, and encouraged his companions as much as possible.  All of that amply demonstrated his zeal for souls and love of neighbor.  That love culminated in his well-known substitution of himself for another prisoner condemned to death by starvation.  A prisoner had escaped, and in retaliation the Germans picked 10 prisoners to die.  In the starvation bunker, Fr. Maximilian kept up the spirits of the other 9 men until they died one by one.  When only he was left, the bunker was needed for another lot of victims, so the Germans gave him a lethal injection on August 14 and burned his body along with others.

In our own time, with greater freedom than the Poles had but in a more secular peacetime environment, we can, like St. Maximilian, draw inspiration and strength from Mary Immaculate, who was Don Bosco’s Madonna in the early days of the Oratory.  It was her statue that Don Bosco set up in the Pinardi chapel, where it remains today; her statue that adorns the dome of the Mary Help of Christians Basilica; she who inspired Dominic Savio to gather a sodality of young apostles that became the seedbed of the Salesian Congregation; she to whom Don Bosco pointed when he promoted purity for both youngsters and Salesians.

Obviously, St. Maximilian also models for us zeal for souls in practical love for our neighbor, defense of the weak and those discriminated against, attention to the least in society, the use of mass media and social media to spread the Gospel and catechize, and the exercise of our priestly, religious, or missionary ministry.

St. Maximilian Kolbe is a saint for this age of secularism, of massive discrimination and genocide, of such great need for education, catechesis, and evangelization, of the world’s need for the motherly image of Mary, model of purity, self-giving, and submission to God’s will.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Visit to the Province Cemetery

Visit to the Province Cemetery

For many years it's been the custom for the SDBs on retreat at Haverstraw to visit the province cemetery in Goshen, N.Y., on the day of the retreat dedicated to remembering our deceased brothers.  That day was August 13 this year.
30 SDBs, including our retreat preacher, made the trip and took part in a brief prayer service of intercession, remembrance, and gratitude.

2019 Salesian Lay Missioners

2019 Salesian Lay Missioners
Part I

This summer there are 10 men and women preparing to give a year of service as Salesian Lay Missioners .  They're now in their 3d week of orientation, which consists of a retreat alongside the Salesians at Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw, N.Y.

The 10 include 8 women and 2 men; 7 young adults, 1 a bit older, and 2 we may call seniors.  They come from as nearby as Mahopac, N.Y., just across the Hudson River, and as far away as California.

As usual, they spent the 1st week of orientation in New Rochelle, getting introduced to Don Bosco, the Salesians, and Salesian missionary endeavors.  They met a good number of SDBs at the provincial house and also visited some local Salesian works.  In their 2d week they moved 12 miles up I-95 to Port Chester to do some service work and some youth work in our parish's summer camp.

It's customary for the group to have a day of hiking in Harriman State Park or at Bear Mt., and your humble blogger is ordinarily their guide.  When we've done Bear Mt., in addition to Mass and a picnic lunch near the famous Bear Mountain Inn and Hessian Lake and a strenuous hike up the mountain, we've also visited Fort Montgomery's ruins and the Revolutionary museum there, and I've given an orientation about the Revolution in the Hudson Valley.
All but 1 of this year's SLMs with their orienteers, Adam Rudin (program director, standing at right), 
Fr. Tom Brennan (chaplain, kneeling at left), and Clare Pressimone (returned SLM, in bus doorway), 
at Rte 6 parking lot ready to hike
The 1st year that we hiked, we went to Big Hill Shelter; some got tired and stopped at the fire tower.  This year, like last year, we hiked 2 miles down the Long Path from U.S. Rte 6 to the Stockbridge Shelter for our Eucharist and lunch stop, 
SLMs and Fr. Tom Brennan, ready for Mass in Stockbridge Shelter
Photo by Clare Pressimone

then 1½ miles down the Menomine Trail to Silvermine Lake parking lot.  Unlike last year, when it started to rain while we were at the shelter
2018 SLMs lunching in the shelter while rain pours down
 and we got soaked on the way down to Silvermine, this year the weather was sunny and mild.  
3 SLMs enjoying the sun in front of the shelter
Also unlike last year, with time available, we diverted from the shelter down an unmarked trail to Baileytown Road and paid our respects to the dead in the old, unmaintained Bailey family cemetery (one of many scattered around the park as family burial grounds).
Baileytown cemetery, October 3, 2017

Monday, August 12, 2019

A Diversion in the Woods

A Diversion in the Woods

Since my local superior indicated that he wanted me back in College Park right after retreat (Aug. 11-17) and I should take my intended couple of days off for hiking before retreat, I did so this weekend, Aug. 9-11:  Friday a.m. thru Sunday a.m.

I hiked relatively short distances (all that my out-of-shape legs would allow), less than 2 miles each day.  On Friday my legs groaned well before I reached my destination, the shelter at Bald Rocks.  On Saturday they were decidedly more cooperative as I made my way on the Dunning Trail from Bald Rocks to a pleasant camping site above Green Pond.
20 minutes up the White Bar Trail from 106
I used some trail sections that were new to me—yes, there are parts of Harriman SP that I haven’t been to yet:  the White Bar Trail from the parking area along Rte. 106 up to its intersection with the Dunning Trail, then the Dunning to the Ramapo-Dunderberg just north of Bald Rocks.  I'm very familiar with the R-D.  I'd never been on the Dunning between Bald Rocks and Green Pond.  The trails were pleasantly shaded by balsam firs and hardwoods and also had loads of ferns.  Despite all our recent rain, there were no really muddy sections.  The Dunning from White Bar to R-D had no drastic ascents or descents, which also made for happy hiking; it had several of them west of White Bar, however.
Setting sun from Bald Rocks
I encountered relatively few day hikers and a few backpackers, including 1 who'd just left Bald Rocks and assured me the shelter would be available, 7 (in 2 parties) who camped at Bald Rocks, and on Saturday 3 who were heading up there along the Dunning.

On Friday I secured the shelter by arriving in late morning, and I had to area to myself for a few hours before a trio of hikers came in.  They set themselves up very comfortably about 100 yards north of the shelter, mostly screened by trees and bushes.  3 more guys and a boy showed up shortly before sunset, and they set up at another good spot with a big fire pit.
3 men and a boy--from Long Island--enjoying a tremendous breakfast of steaks, ribs, eggs, and more.  They invited me to partake, which I did modestly, having already had my own breakfast--I was actually hiking out when they detained me.

I'd hoped to be able to resupply my water at Green Pond, but dense cattails made the open water completely inaccessible.  Consequently, I had to hike a third of a mile on the Nurian Trail down a steep descent to a brook to get enuf water to get me thru Sunday breakfast, and then tote that back uphill.  All the exercise and the fresh air left me so pooped out that I didn't even start a fire after having collected a good stash of wood--which was abundant around the camping area.  Apparently the site hasn't seen a lot of use lately, altho I did clean up some litter from the firepit.
My camp above Green Pond (before I put the tent fly on).
Mid-afternoon clouds west of Green Pond
Supper: a full packet of freeze-dried lasagna.  Not quite like what you get at home or an Italian restaurant, but hearty enuf at the end of a day in the woods, and very simple to prepare.
The hike out on Sunday a.m. followed the Nurian Trail (also mostly new to me) until its junction with the White Bar.  It would be have been a little easier and quicker to take Island Pond Road when the Nurian crossed it; that road the White Bar come together at Rte. 106.

More photos: 

Homily for 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Aug. 12, 2007
Heb 11: 1-2, 8-19
Christian Brothers, Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.
Willow Towers, New Rochelle
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“By faith Abraham obeyed” (Heb 11: 8).

Our 2d readings shift for 4 weeks to a series from ch. 11-12 of the Letter to the Hebrews.  The anonymous author of this magnificent treatise is concerned about the perseverance of those he’s addressing.  They seem to be wearying of the Christian faith.

In the 11th chapter, the examples of the Old Testament patriarchs are held before the Church.  These were men and women of faith.  (The author cites one female exemplar—11:31.  He could easily enuf have found more, of course.)  The author begins by giving us his understanding of what faith is—the only definition of faith in the Bible.  It’s “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (11:1).

That’s a bit foggy.  I take it to mean that we act as tho what we hope for but can’t see—with either our eyes or our understanding—is quite real, quite certain.

The March of Abraham (Jozsef Molnar)
And Hebrews, after brief mention of Abel, Enoch, and Noah in the 5 verses omitted from our reading, comes to the great example of Abraham, whom St. Paul calls our father in faith (Rom 4:16), the father of all who believe God’s word.  Abraham is held up to us as a model of faith because “he obeyed when he was called to go out … not knowing where he was to go” (Heb 11:8); because he believed he and Sarah could conceive, in spite of age and past failure, “for he thought that the one who made the promise was trustworthy” (11:11); because “when put to the test he offered up Isaac … his only son” (11:17).

These were acts of faith—acts because Abraham had to do something.  Faith can’t be only intellectual and rational.  In fact, by any rational assessment, Abraham was crazy:  leaving father and homeland and kin because God promised him some unseen foreign land; remaining with Sarah when he could easily have had any of his slave girls or arranged a new marriage with the daughter of another sheikh; being ready to sacrifice the long-awaited son of the promise.  But whenever God asked something of Abraham, he obeyed; he acted.  That was faith, confidence in the one he couldn’t see or understand, hope in a future reality of a land and a people—the kind of immortality people of Abraham’s time understood.

The author of Hebrews speaks of Abraham’s family as looking to a heavenly homeland, better than what they’d left behind.  As far as we know, they didn’t have an idea of heaven; that’s really the homeland for the Christians to whom our letter’s written.  Not that we have much of an idea of heaven, either.  It isn’t going to be a pair of designer wings, a halo, a harp, and a puffy cloud.  It’s a place—to use language we can understand—worth desiring; a state of everlasting happiness, way more than we can conceive because we’ve never been happy for an extended period in this existence so full of worry, pain, and sorrow; a permanent relationship with the one we love, the one the Song of Songs calls “you whom my heart loves,” the one whose love “is more delightful than wine” (1:7,2), viz., God; and at the same time a joyous relationship with all those who love God and have been saved.

All that’s more than our minds can imagine; it requires faith to hope for this reality, to see in the life, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus “evidence of things not seen,” to believe God “has prepared a city” for us, which the Book of Revelation calls the new and eternal Jerusalem (ch. 21), where the Son of God will be our everlasting light.  Jesus told his apostles at the Last Supper that he was going to prepare a place for them, for in his Father’s house there’s abundant living space (John 14:2).

That promise of a place in the Father’s house, the promise of a city on high with God at its center, is a promise made not just to the apostles but also to us.  When following Christ seems difficult, when we’re weary of doing good, when Christ seems to ask too much of us in patience, suffering, fidelity—then we need faith like Abraham’s in what we hope for, what we can’t see.  Like Abraham, we’re asked—often—to sacrifice what’s dear to us, even our own selves:  our wants, our time, our comfort, our ego.  Like Abraham, we’re asked to be faithful to the people in our lives because we have a covenant relationship with them thru marriage, vows, family tie, or some kind of promise; or simply because they’re part of God’s plan for us.  Like Abraham, we’re asked to obey when we don’t understand where God’s leading us:  to obey the commandments, the Gospels, the teaching of the Church, the Rule, lawful civil authority.  Like Abraham, we remember that we’re “strangers and aliens on earth … seeking a homeland … a better homeland, a heavenly one” (11:13-14,16).  We’re never going to be content in this life, and we’re not supposed to be.  We don’t put our faith in our material possessions; we don’t put our faith in people—not family, not scientists, not politicians, not even priests; we don’t put our faith in political systems or man-made laws.  We put our faith only in the God of Abraham, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who keeps his promises (cf. 11:11), the only one who can content the deepest longings of our hearts.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Homily for 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Aug. 5, 2007
Eccl 1: 2; 2: 21-23
Col 3: 1-5, 9-11
Luke 12: 13-21
Christian Brothers, Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

I celebrated a parish Mass this morning, but there was a mission appeal by an outside speaker.  The congregation at Iona College includes laity. 

“What profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” (Eccl 2: 22).

The Worship of Mammon (Evelyn DeMorgan)
Modern technology is supposed to have made our work easier, faster, more efficient:  household appliances, transportation, communication, etc.  So, theoretically, we ought to have more leisure time, more time to connect with family and friends, with God and nature, more time for literature, the arts, whatever deepens our humanity, more time to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Col 3:2).

It doesn’t seem to work out that way, does it?  We need fast food and Chinese take-out because our lives have become even faster-paced.  Our children’s sports and music lessons leave them no time for themselves; or they delve into video games and the Web unendingly and don’t interact socially.  We need instant gratification, and our attention spans have shrunk to a bit more than nanoseconds—a word none of us had even heard of 10 years ago.  One presidential election has barely ended before the next campaign begins.

“What profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?”  The author of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself Qoheleth or “the Preacher,” was searching for meaning in life, searching for God’s ways with humanity.  He didn’t understand God’s purposes, but he could see that working long, hard, and wisely and amassing wealth didn’t make people happy, didn’t make them secure, didn’t put them at ease.  So much that we spend our lives pursuing, worrying about, or trying to avoid—it’s all vanity, emptiness, chasing the wind (1:17).  “All one’s days sorrow and grief is his occupation” (2:23).  Achievement, wealth, fame, pleasure—Qoheleth considers all of these and finds they come up short as the answer to life’s ultimate questions.  Soon enuf we pass from the scene and leave our property to others, leave our reputations behind us.  “This also is vanity” (2:21,23).

When Ecclesiastes was written, probably in the 3d century B.C., the Jews didn’t yet have the insight that God will raise up our bodies at the end of time or even that our souls are immortal, that there will be an eternal reward or punishment for us, according as we have sought God and his purposes, or not.  And therein is the answer to Qoheleth’s questions.

Jesus points us in that direction, e.g., with his parable of the rich man suddenly called to judgment:  “You fool, this nite your life will be demanded of you” (Luke 12:20).  Someone—maybe it was Garrison Keillor—has observed that he’s never seen an armored car following a hearse.  You really can’t take it with you:  neither wealth nor fame nor reputation.  We go into eternity with ourselves:  our lives, the record of our words, deeds, thoughts, relationships, above all our relationship with God.

Which is what we religious are all about.  We’re not teachers or social workers or guidance counselors or ministers of the sacraments 1st, but people in a relationship with God.  “The essential contribution that the Church expects from consecrated persons is much more in the order of being than of doing,” Pope Benedict wrote in his recent apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist.[1]

Our lives are, 1st of all, centered on God and eternity, not on the accumulation of wealth or the enjoyment of the fine things of life (cf. Luke 12:19) or building a reputation or “fulfilling ourselves.”  Whatever we do or say or think is directed toward Christ, measured against the standard of Christian discipleship.  At least that’s what we profess to strive for.  By God’s grace we’ve been privileged over the years to see confreres/sisters who’ve striven in that direction very well.  We’ve lived with saints who very well “hid their lives with Christ in God” (Col 3:3), who stored up great treasures in heaven instead of on earth (cf. Luke 12:21).

Our lives are, in the 2d place, witnesses.  By our chastity, poverty, and obedience; by our lives among our brothers/sisters in a communion of love, forgiveness, mutual concern; by our commitment to daily conversion—we testify to the world that Qoheleth is right:  “All things are vanity!” (1:2)  A thousand years are a blip of time.  Human generations pass “like the changing grass, which at dawn springs up anew, but by evening wilts and fades” (Ps 90:5-6).  Only God is eternal.  Only God matters—God and all who have been recreated in Christ, “made new selves, renewed in the image of the Creator” (Col 3:10).  Our lives are evidence not just of the emptiness of pleasure, of all material things, and of our egos, but they are also evidence of the glory for which we hope, for which we long, “when Christ our life will appear, and we too will appear with him in glory” (cf. 3:4).

        [1] Sacramentum caritatis, 81.