Our children deserve the best religious education we can provide

August 31st, 2015

With all the changes that parishes are experiencing in the process of “Making All Things New,” this remains constant: the obligation to provide our children and youth who do not attend Catholic school with the best education in the spirituality, teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. They have as much right to this as the children in Catholic schools. They are not second-class citizens of this archdiocese. Neither are their families.

The key to providing this is, of course, is a high-quality religious education program, led by a professionally prepared director or coordinator of religious education. The program is only as good as its leader. That is why the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office offers training to men and women who have accepted the invitation to serve in this ministry. If you are one of those people, you are not just responding to your pastor; you are responding to the Holy Spirit. To help you respond, I urge you to take advantage of the Catechetical Leadership Program.

Being a director (someone with a master’s in theology, religious studies or a related field) or coordinator is not a one or two or three-day a week job. There’s more to this than opening the doors and turning on the lights. You have to build a team of qualified, faith-filled, reliable catechists. Remember, they will most likely be volunteers, not paid employees. You have to develop relationships with families. You have to see to the safety of the children while they are attending the program. And more. You are, in effect, the principal.

The Catechetical Leadership Program is divided into two parts. Basic Leadership Training is designed to provide the administrative and leadership skills. Advanced Catechetical Leadership will provide the theological formation needed by every religious education leader who doesn’t have an advanced degree in the field.

By the way, the Catechetical Leadership Program also has a track for parish directors and coordinators of the RCIA, the process by adults and children who achieved the age of reason become fully initiated members of the Catholic Church.

The Basic Leadership Training Program starts September 19. Visit the website to find out more, as well as whom to contact regarding enrollment. If you are a new director or coordinator, you’ll be glad you did.

I am on vacation but…

August 13th, 2015

…I must tell you that yesterday I took my first look at St. Patrick’s Cathedral without the scaffolding. It looks exquisite and inviting.
The icy white Tuckahoe marble, which earned the church some brickbats from the architecture critics in 1879 when St. Patrick’s opened, has mellowed to an easy-on-the-eyes cream color, due to the marble’s iron oxide content. The off-white Tavernelle marble floor compliments the Tuckahoe stone beautifully. The effect is almost ethereal, especially when daylight filters through the freshly repaired and restored stained glass windows. Each of the side chapels has been cleaned and skylights, which came as a surprise to everyone, have been uncovered. Like everything else, the Stations of the Cross have been carefully brought back to their original beauty. I saw one of the artisans carefully washing a Roman centurion’s face. Just a few more details need to be seen to and the Cathedral will be ready to receive its distinguished visitor from Rome next month — along with everyone else, of course.
I stood by the information desk for a while, watching people streaming in and out. Even the “regulars” were pleased. As you know, it takes a lot to make a New Yorker happy. I thought of all the people who helped to build this beautiful church, beginning with the laying of the foundation stone on August 15, 1858. Certainly, there were some of what we today would call major donors. On May 25, 1879, those VIPs would have been invited to the official opening.
However, there were others who probably were not among the nearly 7,000 people in the church (no pews yet) that day. These were the people who gave much less but for them, the sacrifice was greater. I’ve been told that many of them were young Irish women, who had found employment as servants in houses of the famous New York 400, supposedly the best of New York society. But those poorer people probably stopped in after the great and powerful had left. St. Patrick’s was and still is very much their church, as beautiful as the medieval Irish abbeys and cathedrals which had either been converted to the Church of England or simply destroyed after the Reformation and Oliver Cromwell swept across Eire. However, this St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, U.S.A., could not be taken away from them. Not ever.
They would be so happy to know that 136 years later, other Catholics – possibly even their own descendants – had cared enough to restore their Cathedral. I don’t know if this is America’s parish church, as some call it. But I’ll tell you this. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is an immigrant’s church and since ours is a nation of immigrants, it belongs to everyone.

Happy Feast Day, Iggy!

July 28th, 2015

Am I being disrespectful to St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus? His feast day this coming Friday marks the 459th anniversary of his death.

Not at all. I am just enjoying the Loyola Press website, Find Your Inner Iggy. There’s even a very contemporary drawing of the saint. I have to admit this did initially give me pause. I had always pictured Ignatius as the heroic figure on the wall of the apse in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, where I grew up.  That Ignatius was a little beyond me. Iggy, on the other hand, is more approachable.

Ignatius remains a lively presence in today’s church, speaking as a friend to generations of Catholics, Christians, non-Christians, even non-believers, through the multi-media ministries of his companions.  The Jesuits remain relevant to every generation, especially young adults, because they have followed their founder’s directive to find God in all things – including social media.

So Happy Feast Day, good companion. You look better every day!

More Ignatian websites:

Thinking Faith – published by British Jesuits
The Jesuit Post – published by Jesuits in formation
America Magazine
Sacred Space – daily prayer in a multitude of languages, courtesy of the Irish Jesuits
Loyola Press – a Jesuit Ministry and great site for family ministry
The Jesuit Collaborative —  an innovative organization helping people grow closer to God through Ignatian sprituality

July 14. It’s more than Bastille Day. It’s the feast of a true Native American

July 14th, 2015

Today is Bastille Day, when France marks its 1789 revolution. However, July 14 has another feast that is important to Americans, especially New Yorkers, and Canadians. It’s the feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the lily of the Mohawks. I discovered her story in Give Us This Day, Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholics. Her life was short – she died at 23 years of age – but it was filled with piety and determination to give herself to Jesus.

She was born near Auriesville, New York, in 1656. Her mother, who was a Christian, was a captured Algonquin and her father was a Mohawk chief. Smallpox took both parents’ lives and left their four year-old child with a scarred face and reduced vision. Her name, Tekakwitha, was an unkind nickname, meaning “the one who walks groping her way.” Her baptismal name, Kateri, is a Mohawk version of Katherine.

The Mohawks frowned on Christians and she feared for her life, so she left her village and walked 200 miles to a mission near Montreal, Canada, where she received First Eucharist.

Kateri dreamed of becoming a sister and of founding a convent but it was not meant to be. Instead, she became ill and died on April 17, 1680. She was canonized in 2012 and is a patroness of ecology and the environment. She is also the first Native American to be canonized.

Like Therese of the Child Jesus, Kateri Tekakwitha lived a short and somewhat obscure life. However, 335 years after her death, we still salute her determination to be a Christian and practice her faith freely. She’s a good reminder to us of how blessed we are in our freedom.

Great Resource for the Holy Father’s Encyclical

July 1st, 2015

With all that has been in written in the past several weeks about the Holy Father’s new encyclical on “Care of Our Common Home,” I was delighted to find a wonderfully informative edition of the e-newsletter, Carbon Rangers, published by Brother Kevin Cawley, FSC, Executive Director of the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College, New Rochelle, New York. This edition is dedicated to the encyclical.

In addition to Brother Kevin’s commentary, you’ll find some very thoughtful pieces by others involved in ecological issues. I have subscribed to Carbon Rangers for several years and I think you, too, would find it educational. Look for the “subscribe prompt” in the body of the newsletter.

Of course, the best thing is to read Laudato Si since, unlike many other encyclicals, it is addressed to all of us, not an elite few people. And, as I have said before, catechetical leaders could fashion a very interesting family catechesis event based on the encyclical.

Have a great Fourth of July as we wish the United States a happy 239th birthday.

Multi-tasking. How to break the habit with prayer

June 18th, 2015

This week, my colleagues and I are doing what might be called extreme multi-tasking. We are getting ready to bring you the New York Catholic Bible Summit this coming Saturday. Among other things, that means filling close to 500 souvenir bags with relevant materials.

We also are packing up to move our offices to a new floor in the Catholic Center. The Archdiocesan Catechetical Office has been at its present site for at least 30 years. Can you imagine how much we have accumulated, how much has to be discarded, and how much has to be packed? Of course, the day-to-day ministry of our office continues at the same time. I mention this in case somebody at the Bible Summit opens a souvenir bag and finds a shoe or an old office directory.

Our times demand multi-tasking. Should they? Will the world come to an end if we don’t drop what we are doing and respond instantly to the beeps from our mobile devices? It’s hard to resist at work, at home or in transit (hopefully not the car) because others expect instant answers.

However, multi-tasking is not what it’s cracked up to be. It doesn’t make us more proficient. In fact, it slows us. The time it takes for us to switch ourselves mentally and physically from one to task to another is time lost. Multi-tasking doesn’t do wonders for our concentration either. And it takes a toll on our relationships. Read at this article from Santa Clara University, which is “the Jesuit University in Silicon Valley.” The author suggests as an antidote a 20-minute rule. Concentrate on one task for 20 minutes without interruption.

Now it may not be possible entirely to eliminate multi-tasking at work. However, there are other possibilities. These include prayer. Daily Mass is a perfect way to follow the 20-minute rule. Take your Bible (not the digital version) to a place away from your desk and meditate on one phrase or short passage. Or go out at lunchtime to some nearby green space, look around you, and then read this wonderful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ. I promise you that any of these activities will provide a wonderful antidote to multi-tasking and it will enrich your faith, too. Just remember to switch off the device.

Celebrate the Word of God at the New York Catholic Bible Summit, June 20th

June 3rd, 2015

June 20th is growing closer and closer and I don’t want you to miss out on a day of great enlightenment and community.

For the past six years, my friends and I at the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office join with our colleagues at the American Bible Society to sponsor the New York Catholic Bible Summit at the New York Catholic Center on 56th Street and First Avenue. You can register right here.

Our intent is to bring together for our fellow New Yorkers and residents of the metropolitan area some of America’s and the world’s most interesting and accomplished scripture scholars to demonstrate how enriched all our lives could be if only we took our Bibles off the book shelves to read, to meditate on, to pray on, and of course, to act on.

2015 is an important anniversary year of our Church because just 50 years ago, the Second Vatican Council issued in the name of Pope Paul VI landmark documents that affect the church today and will continue to do so for generations to come. Among these documents is Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. This constitution called for lay people to have more opportunities to study the Bible with competent authorities.

The Bible Summit is one of our responses to that call and is brought to you in English and Spanish. One of our keynoters is the rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, which is administered by the Society of Jesus. His name is Father Michael Kolarcik, SJ. The other is the distinguished scholar and vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Chile, Bishop Fernando Ramos Pérez. Father Matt Malone, SJ, the dynamic president and editor-in-chief of America Media also will be coming to talk spreading the Word of God in our digital age. Here is the entire line-up of speakers and topics.

Of course, no Bible Summit would be complete without the presence of our archbishop, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan. Although he has a very tight schedule on June 20th, he is coming to be with us for the Angelus at Noon.

I hope you will be with us, too.

“Just” wars?

May 22nd, 2015

Memorial Day weekend seems to have morphed from a time of remembrance of those who lost their lives in military service into a celebration of the opening of the summer season.

Yes, many families will remember in a special way their loved ones, especially those who were killed during the last 25 years. Some families will place flags on the graves of ancestors, including the Union and Confederate soldiers of the Civil War in whose memory Memorial Day was instituted. However, for too many more, it’s the time to fire up the outdoor grill.

Do we ever take the time to wonder how many of the wars we have fought and are fighting could truly be considered “just?” Augustine and later Thomas Aquinas obviously did because their writings helped contribute to what the Catechism of the Catholic, article 2309, describes as “the strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force.”

All of the following conditions need to be met, not just one or another:
• The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation of community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain.
• All other means of putting an end to it most have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
• There must be serious prospects of success.
• The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

For a few minutes this weekend, we might give ourselves an American History test. We might consider how many of the wars in which our country has fought actually have met these four criteria.

Even more importantly, we might take a long, hard look at what we are doing in the world today. Perhaps we should do this while watching our children and grandchildren.

Trying to find some peace

May 11th, 2015

“Peace is a condition where there is no strife, no adversity. Are we in that state yet? Is there anyone who is not plagued with temptation? But suppose there is. They still have to fight daily against hunger and thirst. In this life hunger and thirst fight against us, bodily weariness fights against us, the lure of sleep fights against us, the burden of the body fights against us. We want to remain standing but are tired out and want to sit down. If we go on sitting for a long time, that too causes fatigue. What kind of internal peace can there be when we continue to face such resistance from vexations, cravings, wants and weariness? This is not a condition of perfect peace.”

Whenever I read this excerpt from a commentary on Psalm 84 by Bishop St. Augustine of Hippo, I am reminded of parish lay workers: catechists, catechetical leaders, other teachers, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the parish councilors, the various parish committee members, the persons who keep the church looking beautiful, and more. They soldier on in a world that doesn’t always appreciate them or their devotion. Sometimes their fellow parishioners don’t appreciate them. Sometimes the pastor doesn’t either. Frequently, these good volunteers are struggling against exhaustion and frustration.

In May, I think especially of the parish religious education directors, coordinators and catechists, who annually prepare thousands of our archdiocesan children for First Eucharist. No one who is not in the catechetical ministry can truly grasp how much dedication, hard work and patience go into a beautiful, meaningful first reception of this sacrament. But you would never know how tired these laywomen and laymen are by the time First Eucharist Day arrives. They are all smiles.

The late Father Donald Burt, OSA, an Augustinian scholar from Villanova University, whose last years were spent soldiering on  in an exhausted body, offered some wisdom in his book, Day by Day with St. Augustine (Liturgical Press, 2006). Perfect peace, he pointed out, is not something we will find in this world, so there is no point in moaning about it. “The best peace we can achieve in this life,” Father Burt wrote, “is by enduring gracefully the trials of living in a body that is not always friendly or well-behaved.”

Or, as they say in England, “Keep calm and carry on.” I must go look to see if they got that from Augustine.

Save this date – June 20 – for a special encouter with the Bible

April 24th, 2015

On November 18, 1965, following the close of Vatican II, the Church promulgated a number of documents, which affect the life of the Church 50 years later and will continue to do so for a lot longer than next 50 years.

One of the most dramatic, at least to my mind, is Dei Verbum – The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. This document states that the whole world should hear the summons to salvation, “so that through hearing it may believe, through belief it may hope, through hope it may come to love.” Credit, by the way, to St. Augustine for that stirring thought. It comes from De Catechizandis Rudibus or On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed, probably the world’s earliest catechist’s manual.

Dei Verbum is not a long constitution but it is a landmark in that it clearly calls upon the laity to pull their Bibles off the shelves and learn “the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:8) by reading Sacred Scripture. Dei Verbum also asked the bishops as pastors of souls to provide translations and explanations to the faithful.

For a number of years now, our own archdiocese has contributed to providing knowledge of and insights on the Bible through the annual New York Catholic Bible Summit, co-sponsored by the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office and the American Bible Society’s Catholic Ministries.

The Bible Summit will take place this year on Saturday, June 20, at the New York Catholic Center, at 56th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan. Our theme? It’s right from the opening sentence of the prologue to Dei Verbum: “Hear the Word of God with reverence. Proclaim it with faith.”

I hope you can join us there. Here’s a link to all the keynotes and workshop presentations. There are two complete tracks, one in English and the other in Spanish. And for our French speaking friends, we have added one French language presentation. Cardinal Dolan will be joining us at noon for the Angelus and a reflection.

I’ll be there. I hope I have a chance to meet you. Perhaps, as Dei Verbum says in its closing words, “a new impulse of spiritual life may be expected from increased veneration of the Word of God, which stands forever.” Heaven knows the world needs it.