New York Catholics demonstrate their authentic, generous faith

November 19th, 2014

It takes just one or two days of frigid air for the philanthropic nature of New York’s Catholics to blossom. Providing food, shelter and clothing to those less fortunate is a hallmark of our community across the 10 counties of the archdiocese.

That’s why I want to remind you of our own Catholic Charities’ St. Nicholas Project, which helps thousands of needy persons in New York City to receive coats, hats, sweaters, blankets, and other items each Christmas.

The Christmas season is coming up on us even faster than the cold weather and many of you would like to help.  You can donate  funds or otherwise volunteer  to help assure that many of our brothers and sisters will have new, warm clothing.  On Shopping Day, Dec. 13, volunteers will be in K-Mart on Astor Place in Manhattan, using your donation to buy the  items. You can be one of those volunteers. Just e-mail Jasmin.Abbatiello@archny.org for more information.

New is a very important word. The persons who benefit from the St. Nicholas Project are getting new clothing items and blankets, not hand-me-downs or the results of someone’s closet clean-out (although we should, of course, donate to charitable organizations items that are still wearable and clean). Our brother and sister New Yorkers are receiving Christmas presents.

There is a sentence in Pope Francis’ widely acclaimed apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. “An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it” (EG183).

It’s been my lifelong experience that the Catholics of New York have that authentic faith They hand on that faith; they transmit the teaching of Jesus and his church to their children (we call this catechizing) when they reach out to help with the St. Nicholas Project and, just as importantly, when they speak up for those whose voices are often ignored or drowned out by the voices of the powerful.

Honoring our finest

November 12th, 2014

This coming Sunday, the Catechetical Office will certify as catechists more than 125 men and women from all over the 10 counties of the archdiocese. These persons are not paid. They volunteer their time to be trained in our live or online catechist formation programs, Level One and Two. They also spend hours each week, preparing for their classes and then handing on the faith to children in grade K-8, in the Rite of Christian Initiation, and in our pre-school process known as the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. An additional 43 students from Msgr. Farrell and Moore Catholic High School will be certified.

Catechetical leaders (parish directors and coordinators of religious education, and of the RCIA) who have completed basic and advanced leadership training will be recognized. These processes can take a number of years to complete and many of these leaders give up evenings and weekends to complete their studies.

But that is just part of the ceremony. On this same day, we honor years of service. The Catechetical Medal of Honor will be presented to 18 certified catechists who have given at least 25 years to the catechetical ministry. Those who received the medal in years past and have continued to achieve ministry milestones will receive Papal blessings.

Finally, the Catechetical Office will present the Terence Cardinal Cooke Award for extraordinary commitment and leadership. This year’s honorees are Bishop Peter Byrne, episcopal vicar for Dutchess, Putnam and Northern Westchester; Rev. Bartholomew Daly, MHM, pastor of the Church of Our Lady of Peace, Manhattan; and Msgr. Thomas Leonard, pastor emeritus of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Manhattan. The John Cardinal O’Connor Award for outstanding ministry to persons with disabilities will go to Elizabeth Sullivan, coordinator of special religious education at St. Patrick’s, Highland Mills; and Maria Lamorgese, former coordinator of religious education at St. Francis Xavier in the Bronx. The Good Shepherd Award for those who work in or support the catechetical ministry in the spirit of the Good Shepherd will be given to two retiring parish leaders of religious education, Joanne Cunneen of St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan and Denise Enright of St. Teresa’s in Staten Island; to Ann Kearney, who served as an administrative assistant and financial consultant in the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office for many years; to Sr. Mary McCarthy, PBVM, pastoral associate at Sacred Heart, Newburgh; and to Geri Sciortino, owner of Bronx Design Company, who is responsible designing so many our programs, manuals and other resources.

The ceremony will take place in the chapel of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers Building in Ossining, where so many missionaries have been trained and sent off to spread the Good News across the world. Msgr. Edward Weber, archdiocesan director of priest personnel, will preside.

Among them, these generous men and women devote more hours, days, weeks, months and years to the catechetical ministry than we could ever possibly calculate, all carrying out Jesus’ call to be “teaching all that I have commanded you.”

We are so proud of them. You should be, too.

Happy Feast Day to a Champion of Religious Education

November 4th, 2014

Today, Nov. 4, is the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo. Those who learn or who hand on the faith in parish religious education programs owe him quite a debt of gratitude. He was one of the earliest supporters of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, which was created after the Reformation for the purpose of providing religious education to Catholics, especially the young. Educated lay people offered themselves as catechists. Charles Borromeo established the confraternity in every parish of the Diocese of Milan, of which he was the cardinal-archbishop. It was the ancestor, if you will, of today’s systematic, parish-based religious education.

For many people, the initials CCD stand merely for the release-time classes offered until about 50 years ago to Catholic children in public schools, who were brought to Catholic school buildings for a weekly lesson in the faith. It wasn’t always a happy experience. The public school children frequently were warned not touch anything on or in the desks of the parochial school children, who had been dismissed early to make room. The teachers themselves frequently came from a day of class in the parochial schools and were exhausted by the time these children arrived. Many of those  in the so-called CCD believed they were second-class citizens of the parish.

We don’t use the term CCD these days. Since the early 1970s, the appropriate terminology is parish religious education or parish catechesis. (The word catechesis comes from a Greek word meaning to echo. Everyone who hands on the faith echoes the teaching of Jesus Christ and his church.)

The parish religious education programs of today, with their inclusion of family catechesis experiences, are quite close to the vision of people like Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri, Francis DeSales and other thoughtful leaders and supporters of the original Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Dedicated, energetic lay catechists and catechetical leaders once again have the opportunity to answer their baptismal call to hand on the faith to the next generation. These teachers follow guidelines established by the Archdiocese of New York in conformity with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They have professional training as catechists or program directors and coordinators available to them all year ’round from the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office.

So if you have a child or youth in a vibrant parish religious education program, do thank Charles Borromeo and his associates for making this possible.

The Unofficial Saints

October 27th, 2014

Saturday, Nov.1, will be the Feast of All Saints. I like to think of this  as the day we honor those who are in heaven because they lived courageous, virtuous lives that didn’t get the attention of the official saint-designators of the Church.

Those would include generous, loving parents, grandparents. siblings and little children; kindly friends and mentors; people who lived and died on the missions but whose names are known only to God; chaplains and medical personnel who lived or even lost their lives tending to those injured and ill; and poor persons who died and were buried in the Potter’s Field with only a number to identify them. God knows their names.

And then there are saints whose place with God might come as a surprise. I am sure heaven is full of those I like to call the friends of the good thief, the ones who repented at the last moment of their lives or those who were mentally ill and not morally responsible for their actions.

I have a favorite, whose resting place I pass all the time. As far as I know, his cause for sainthood hasn’t been opened. However, judging from all the times he has responded to my pleas and those of my colleagues to place a favor, a need or a concern before God, I have no doubt that he is in heaven.

Who are your special, unofficial saints? Don’t forget to celebrate them on Saturday.

The Pope and the Devil

October 10th, 2014

It’s fascinating that Pope Francis can speak about Satan a great deal but even sophisticates and self-proclaimed pundits, who used to tut-tut such talk, aren’t making fun of him.  Perhaps  the sorry state of our world is pretty strong evidence for the demon’s existence and energy.

Today, in his Mass homily, the Holy Father called on his congregation (and since his homilies are always available within hours, we can assume that includes us) to ward off the crafty and patient Satan by an examination of conscience.

I suspect he didn’t mean that frantic exercise some of us do as we sit in the pew waiting for the confession box to become vacant. I think he meant a daily review.

Here’s is a wonderful way to do that, a way that would be very familiar to the Holy Father: the Daily Ignatian Examen. It takes no more than 10-15 minutes. If you find a quiet place to do this every day, you will have a deeper experience of God’s presence in your life.

It’s a gift.

The Angel Schultz

October 2nd, 2014

It was wonderful yesterday, on their feast day, to hear the Holy Father remind us of our guardian angels, those heavenly companions who watch over and protect us all our lives. The guardian angels probably aren’t at the forefront of our thoughts. I think of them as the “aha” helpers. We remember they are on the job only after they assist us.

If you are of a certain age, you probably had a picture of a guardian angel over your bed to protect you. Angels are very skilled at warding off “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and other things that go bump in the night” to terrify little children. They are comforting in a storm, whether it is weather related or family discord, and they stand guard against evil. As the pope noted in his homily, they are the little voices in our heads urging us to watch out.

When I was a child, my sisters and I believed we all shared one special guardian angel and we knew that angel’s name. Schultz. The angel’s picture was right there on the wall with her name on it. Angels in our day always seemed to be feminine. My mother knew better than to tell us that we each have our own angel. She knew we’d all argue over whose angel Schultz  was.

Actually, this picture was a beautiful black and white lithograph, which was made in Berlin probably in the early part of the 20th century. Under the angel’s image was a caption: “Schutzengel.” That’s German for guardian angel. Someone misread the caption and ever since, this angel’s name has been Schultz.

Angel Schultz has been on a shelf in one of my closets for many years but just two weeks ago, my sister Nancy, who loved Schultz best, asked for her. So she’s back on duty again in Nancy’s home, still in her original frame.

Remember the prayer to your guardian angel? If not, here it is. Whatever your guardian angel’s name is — you can make up a name; I am sure the angel and the Pope won’t mind – call on that angel.

But remember, Angel Schultz belongs to my family. And she has her hands full with us.

How to help the suffering people in the Middle East

September 30th, 2014

As the news from the Middle East gets worse and worse, many of us are thinking about the loss of life, health and home being experienced there, especially by the Christian minority populations. Who speaks for them, you wonder, and how can you help? Relieving their suffering is an integral part of the social justice teaching of the Catholic Church.

There are many Catholic and other Christian agencies attempting to provide relief but one in particularly has an outstanding record for effectiveness: the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).

For 88 years, CNEWA has been a lifeline for poor people throughout the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern Catholic churches to identify needs and help solve them. For example, CNEWA helps trains priests, religious and lay people for service. It helps restore churches and related buildings. It works through the Holy See’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches to promote Christian unity and interreligious dialogue.

Very importantly in these days, CNEWA rushes emergency help to shelter and feed displaced families, provides healthcare for new moms and babies, and delivers assistance to the elderly and those with disabilities. In additional to this emergency help, CNEWA works with the local church to strategize long-term aid initiatives. Nowhere is this more needed right now than in the Middle East. CNEWA delivers.

You can be assured that when you support CNEWA financially, your donation is going to go where it is needed and not get sidetracked into the wrong pockets. That’s because CNEWA is on the ground where it serves. In the Middle East, for example, the Amman office services the churches and peoples of Jordan and Iraq. The office in Beirut administers activities in Lebanon and Syria, and the Jerusalem office is responsible for programs in Palestine and Israel.

If you want to find out how you can help the innocent people caught in the endless wars of the Middle East, just  click on “Ways to Give” and see how a few mouse clicks will enable you to provide aid.

Discover Scripture. Encounter your faith

September 23rd, 2014

Have you ever found yourself trying to answer a Bible question posed by one of your children? Have you heard something in the Sunday readings and wanted to know more about it? Maybe you are a lector and think your ministry might be enriched by a deeper understanding of the passages you are reading.

Here’s your answer: The New York Catholic Bible School program, sponsored by the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office. Depending on your availability, the school offers a two-year course leading to a Certificate in Basic Scripture Study OR a four-year course, at the end of which you will receive a Certificate of Advanced Scripture Study. Actually, if you study for the full four years, you will meet every book in the Bible.

The New York Catholic Bible School was started to provide catechists and catechetical leaders with the knowledge and confidence to offer Scripture study courses in their parishes. But we have always made it available to lectors, other ministers and anyone interested in Bible study.

Make no mistake. This is not a social gathering. There’s plenty of reading, discussion and homework. But there also is prayer. This leads to fellowship. Many of our 592 (so far) graduates have found lasting friendships with their fellow students.

The Bible School schedule calls for three trimesters a year, each 10 weeks long. The tuition is $150 per trimester along with an annual registration fee of $35. The tuition pays for the instructor, who must have an advanced degree in Scripture. We keep the number of students to about 15-18 per program in order to facilitate communication in the class.

We currently have nine schools throughout the Archdiocese. Our newest location is at St. John’s on Kingsbridge Avenue in the Bronx. The instructor, Father Michael Kerrigan, has a full class, but if you sign up in the next week, he’ll find room for you. Another New York Catholic Bible School will open in January 2015 at St. Augustine’s in Larchmont. We’re also scouting a new mid-Manhattan site for January.

If you want to know more, just visit our NYCBS website.

Help for new catechists…and veterans, too.

September 15th, 2014

The other evening, I decided to write a prayer service based on St. Augustine’s letter On Catechezing the Neophyte. It’s often been called the first catechist’s manual because its content includes not only what to teach, but how to keep the student engaged. Writing to a catechist named Deogratias, Augustine noted that frequently a student who first listened with all readiness gets tired and no longer listens, but instead gapes and yawns and looks as if he’d like to be somewhere else.  Augustine suggested a few re-engagement tactics.

Not much has changed in the approximately 1,600 years since Augustine wrote his advice to Deogratias. A look at the wonderful line-up of workshops on offer at our annual Catechetical Forums – Saturday, Oct. 4, at Sacred Heart Parish, Monroe, NY, and Saturday, Oct. 18, at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx – makes that clear.

“Here they come – Are you ready?” That sounds like a workshop a new catechist should check out. “Doing God’s Work at Ungodly Hours.” Oh yes, catechists can certainly identify with that. “Parents – Help or Hindrance?” Enough said. But in addition to these are such topics as “How to become a Creative Catechist, “Technology in the Classroom,” “Keeping Adolescents Connected to the Church.” And many more “how to” workshops. If you are a catechist or thinking of becoming one, don’t miss out on the Forums.

There are three other great reasons to come, our keynoters: Father James Martin, SJ, Editor-at-Large at America magazine and author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage; Carole Eipers, Vice President, Executive Director of Catechetics for William H. Sadlier Publishing, Inc.; and Adrian Alberto Herrara, Associate Director, Office of Evangelization and Catechesis at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

If you are interested in joining us at one of these two great days, just visit the Catechetical Forums website and register. We’d love to have you join us. Augustine would, I believe, heartily approve of these great opportunities for catechists.