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In thanksgiving for Cardinal Egan

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

One of the hallmarks of Edward Cardinal Egan’s time in the Archdiocese of New York, first as Vicar for Education and later as Archbishop, was his devotion to the ministry of catechesis. He collaborated closely with Sr. Joan Curtin, CND, director of the Catechetical Office and her staff, many of whom are still actively engaged in the ministry. Even in his retirement, he made time to be with the archdiocesan, regional and parish catechetical leaders, and with their catechists.   Sr. Joan wrote to the parish catechetical leaders about Cardinal Egan yesterday. She has consented to share her letter.

Dear Catechetical Leaders,

By now, most of you have heard the news reports on the television, Internet, radio or in the newspapers of Cardinal Egan’s going home to God whom he loved and served so well.

Some of you remember him when he first came as Bishop Egan to the Archdiocese of New York in 1985 and served as Cardinal John O’Connor’s Vicar for Education. From day one, he worked collaboratively with all of us in the Catechetical Office. It was during these years that several of us — Sr. Anne Connelly, Sr. Mary Ann Daly, Francis DeFrange, Kathleen Harrington, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Kelleher, Sr. Teresita Morse, Sr. Eileen Reilly, Sr. Kevin John Shields, myself and representatives from the Office of the Superintendent of Schools — sat down with him four hours a day, three days a week for two years, writing the first edition of the Guidelines for Catechesis. The Catechist Formation Program was also developed at this time, as well as the first Handbook for Directors/Coordinators of Religious Education. The Fall Catechetical Congresses were expanded to two sites and additional Regional Catechetical Offices were opened.

Cardinal Egan worked tirelessly with us to strengthen catechesis in the Archdiocese and to give you, the parish Catechetical Leaders and your Catechists, the recognition you deserved. He had a strong belief that the better prepared you were, the better the parish Religious Education programs would be. Ultimately, the aim of catechesis, to bring the person of whatever age closer to Jesus, would be fulfilled.

When he returned to us in 2000 as Archbishop and later was named Cardinal Egan, he continued to challenge and support us in our efforts to hand on the faith with excellence. You were always in his mind and prayer as he struggled to balance budgets and, at the same time, enhance our efforts in catechesis.
Many of you will recall his outstanding homilies at our annual Liturgy and Communion Breakfast each June. Those of you who attended the Catechetical Forum in the Bronx last October will remember his superb homily. His wisdom, prayerfulness and love for the catechetical community certainly was evident as he sat to preach, unable to stand because of weak legs. He was almost grandfatherly as he gave the homily in a style reminiscent of the Fireside Chats of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Recently I invited him to join us in an upcoming event. I received his response yesterday morning, a few hours before he died. He wrote that he was very sorry that he could not accept my invitation because of a prior commitment. His last two sentences to me were: “Keep me in mind for future such celebrations. DRE’s and CRE’s are among my favorite people in the world.”

I know you will join me and the staff of the Catechetical Office in prayer for a great priest and dedicated man of God, who worked tirelessly to pass on the faith with integrity, with excellence, with joy. He was a good and cherished friend of all of us in the catechetical community. May Cardinal Egan now rest in peace, knowing he did his best to serve God and God’s people.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

The Museum of Biblical Art offers a true “once in a lifetime” experience

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Many opportunities are referred to as “once in a lifetime,” but most of the time, these are exaggerations. In fact, the phrase has become unreliable due to misuse.

However, the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) in Manhattan is offering an opportunity that truly is available just one time – a chance to view sculptures that were created for the Duomo, the Cathedral of Florence, Italy, in the early 15th century. These incredibly beautiful pieces have never before left Italy and are not likely to do so again. There are works by sculptors such Donatello, Brunelleschi, Nanni di Banco, Luca della Robbia and others. The name of the exhibition is “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello.”

The exhibition came about because the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (the Duomo museum) is closed and undergoing an expansion. The museum’s director, Msgr. Timothy Verdon, was able to send a selection of sculptures exclusively to MOBIA, a jewel box of a museum located in the headquarters of the American Bible Society at 61st Street and Broadway.

One of the most talked about sculptures in the exhibition is a marble Donatello statue, known as Lo Zuccone (meaning squash head because the figure is bald), but believed to be the prophet Habakkuk. The figure seems about to speak. One is almost compelled to stand and wait for it to do so. My own favorite was Abraham and Isaac, in which Abraham is holding Isaac’s hair in one hand and a knife in the other while looking away. I stood there a while trying to decide whether this was the moment before he was to strike or the moment after God’s messenger stopped him from slaughtering his son. It is hard to tell because Abraham’s grip on the knife is not tense. I am certain that everyone who comes to this exhibit and has the chance to study the works in an intimate setting will find a favorite.

So important is this exhibition that MOBIA has organized a series of public lectures, along with courses for young professionals and college/graduate school students, and seminars for all. To visit the exhibition, to see these works, and to ponder the people and events portrayed from the Old and New Testament could certainly be a Lenten meditation. The exhibition will be on until June. Check out MOBIA’s website to find all the details and preview the exhibition.

A final and distressing note. MOBIA will have to find a new home. The American Bible Society has sold its New York headquarters and is moving to Philadelphia. I hope and pray that MOBIA does find a suitable location here in New York City. After you see “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello,” you will pray, too. New Yorkers  cannot afford to lose this wonderful museum.

Lent is only a week away. How did that happen?

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

No matter what we do, Lent always seems to sneak up on us.  Most of us are so busy with families to raise,  jobs to find or keep,  bills to pay, household chores, and heaven-knows-what else that constitutes life in the 21st century. There really isn’t much time to plan. For catechetical leaders and catechists, who have the added responsibility of making Lent fruitful for those in their programs, it’s  especially hard to find the time to think about their own Lenten observance.

Well, help is here, thanks to the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office’s intrepid webmaster, Jim Connell.  Just visit our website and look for  “What’s Happening?” Click on the purple cross visual and you are on your way to a wonderful selection of resources Jim has assembled  to help you make the most of this sacred season.   You have a whole week to discover how you can make Lent 2015 very fruitful for yourself and others.

Celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

On Tuesday, Feb. 3, the men and women in consecrated life whose ministries are at the Archdiocese headquarters are scheduled to gather with Cardinal Dolan for  a Eucharistic Liturgy  marking the Year of Consecrated Life. This special year began on the First Sunday of Advent 2014 and will be completed on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Feb. 2, 2016.

As Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic letter to all consecrated people on Nov. 21, 2014, the purpose of this special year is a trifold one. First: to look to the past with gratitude. Second: to live the present with passion. Third: to embrace the future with hope.

It is the third purpose which caught my eye. Many self-appointed experts on religious life take great satisfaction in pointing to today’s lower numbers of men and women in consecrated life, and attribute these numbers to Vatican II, to women’s rights, and even to the clothing that consecrated women wear. I have always wanted to ask these experts if they would like to wear heavy wool habits in the middle of a New York August. They are full of gloom and doom about religious life, and most of them haven’t a clue what they are talking about.

The Holy Father addressed the difficulties of decreasing vocations and aging members, particularly in the western world, with realism but not pessimism. He wrote: “…do not yield to the temptation to see things in terms of numbers and efficiency, and even less to trust in your own strength. In scanning the horizons of your lives and the present moment, be watchful and alert. Together with Benedict XVI, I urge you not to ‘join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day; rather, clothe yourselves in Jesus Christ and put on the armour of light – as Saint Paul urged (cf. Rom 13:11-14) – keeping awake and watchful’. Let us constantly set out anew, with trust in the Lord.”

That’s good advice for our brothers and sisters in consecrated life…and for those of us who benefit from the service they so generously give. I work with a number of sisters and am always struck by how their lives are centered on the Gospel. Yes, they are realistic about the challenges that face their congregations and communities. However, they have taken seriously the call of Vatican II to discern their missions in the light of the Gospel. They are courageous enough to follow the Holy Spirit wherever the Spirit wants to take them. They have joy! And it’s contagious.

Maybe that’s what bothers all the doom and gloom spreaders.

Family: the model for all communication

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Well, Pope Francis has surprised us again. In his message for the 49th  World Day of Social  Communications, “Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love,” he departs from the expected message about external media and technology, etc. Instead, he focuses on the family first as the model or even the womb of communication.  He writes: “After all, it is in the context of the family that we first learn how to communicate.”

It is a beautiful reflection, which cites as an example of communication  John the Baptist in his mother’s womb, reacting to Mary’s greeting to Elizabeth. Communication, he says, is “a dialogue intertwined with the language of the body.”

When the Holy Father does address media, he explains that these can be a hindrance or a help. For example, if media become a way to tuning other people out, obviously they are a hindrance. On the other hand, when media enable people, including families, to stay in contact and perhaps provide opportunities for new encounters, they are a help.

We should use technology wisely, he tells us, and not be dominated by it. That’s good to keep in mind when we are tempted to text or check for messages at the dinner table or in the middle of a conversation. Also, we should stop and consider what we are doing before we send a thoughtless or angry message, even in response to a nasty communication from someone else. I always think of Terence Cardinal Cooke’s comment to another bishop, “It is not necessary to swing at every pitch.”  That is sage advice for any type of communication, especially in a family.

Wisdom matters and we learn (or should learn) wisdom in the context of a loving, communicating family.   Here’s the the Pope’s entire message.







When he does address modern media, he explains that these can be a hindrance or a help to the family. For example, if media become a way to tuning other people out, obviously they are a hindrance. On the other hand, when media enable people to stay in contact and perhaps provide opportunities for new encounters, they are a help.
We should use technology wisely, the Holy Father tells us, and not be dominated by it. Think about that when you are tempted to text in your care or do something equally foolish. Think of that before you tweet a questionable photo or angry retort to someone. Wisdom matters and we learn (or should learn) wisdom in the context of a loving, communicating family.
Here’s the whole message

Peace and the destiny of peoples

Monday, January 12th, 2015

This morning, the Holy Father addressed the international diplomats who represent their nations at the Holy See. Pope Francis’ comments provide a reasoned and Christian response to the rejection and alienation that lie at the heart of much of today’s war and terroristic violence, including the horrible massacre in France last week. He reminded his audience and us that Jesus Christ was an outsider, beginning with his birth in a stable rather the inn, because there was no room.   Alienation can take many forms;  ethnic, racial, religious or even psychological alienation are but a few.

There is much wisdom and some serious challenges in this morning’s talk.  It should be shared, especially by those who are in the ministry of religious education for Catholics of all ages.

By the way, do make the Vatican News Services  one of your favorite or bookmarked sites. I think it is our most reliable guide to what Pope Francis is doing and saying, and it’s updated every morning.

A new year’s prescription from the doctor

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

This isn’t a flu cure but some sage advice from an ancient doctor of the church, whose words are as relevant now as they were 1,600 years ago. St. Augustine of Hippo lived in the North African breadbasket of the Roman Empire, just as the barbarians (at least that’s how the Romans regarded the invaders) were at the city gates and the empire itself was beginning to implode. Hippo-Regius, the city over which he presided as bishop, was a place in turmoil.

We in New York, especially those of us who live in the City of New York, find ourselves in troubled times. What can we do about this?

Augustine has the prescription and it still works. It might not be what we want take and it won’t be easy for some to stomach but it does address the issues and the voices that are tearing at the fabric of New York. Augustine calls us to accept responsibility, every single one of us, for helping to make New York the city we want it to be – a place for all people to live in peace.

From Augustine’s Sermon 30:

“The times are bad! The times are troublesome!’ This is what humans say. But we are our times. Let us live well and our times will be good. Such as we are, such are our times.”

A blessed and happier new year than the one we leave behind tonight.

A Modern-Day Wise Man

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

If you are like me, you have an e-mail account that right now is inundated with ads for everything from Florida real estate to suggestions for the family dog’s Christmas stocking.

However, in the middle of all this clutter there occasionally appears a treasure, in this case an article written by Sr. Patricia McCarthy, CND, provincial of the Blessed Sacrament Province of the Congregation of Notre Dame. Sr. Patricia is a regular columnist for Rhode Island Catholic.

The article  illustrates the real meaning of a gift.  Here it is. Enjoy it as an early Christmas present.

Note: last week, I mentioned that two New York Catholic Bible Schools are opening in January. We’ve moved the opening date of the site at St. Augustine Parish, Larchmont, NY, to Wednesday, January 28, at 7:00 pm  Registration in advance is required. Find out more.

Give yourself a Christmas gift: Scripture study

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Even as we dash about with our Christmas shopping, Christmas cooking and Christmas partying, most of us do take the time to consider the world-changing event we commemorate in two weeks: the Word made flesh and dwelling among us, as John’s Gospel states it so eloquently. Whether by reading and praying the daily Scripture passages, attending Mass or simply reaching out in hospitality to others, we demonstrate our belief in Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, who became human to save us all.

Here in Manhattan, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is filled with tourists who come to the crèche. And Baby Jesus’ little image won’t be there until Midnight of Christmas Eve! These visitors are coming to connect with the real meaning of Christmas. They haven’t forgotten Luke’s infancy narrative.

I always hope that the site of the crèche will inspire people to learn more about the Gospel of Luke and the rest of the Bible. Bible study is a great way to keep the spirit of Christmas going.

I am happy to announce that the New York Catholic Bible School program, which is sponsored by the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office, will open two new sites in January: at the Church of Augustine in Larchmont on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 9:00, beginning January 6; and at the Church of Our Saviour in Manhattan on Thursdays from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, beginning January 29. You can learn more and register at our website.

The New York Catholic Bible School was created for our catechetical leaders to enrich their knowledge of Scripture, but we welcome all interested adults, especially those who serve in parish ministries such as lectors. Whether we attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days or go every day, we don’t have the opportunity to really discover the Bible book by book, Old and New Testament.

This is your chance. Think of it as a well-deserved gift to yourself.  Join us.

Advent: time for much expectation and a little exhaustion

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Advent is upon us and, yes, we’ll be honest and admit that the first thing that comes to mind is that there are only 24 shopping days until Christmas. Uh oh. How do you reconcile your desire to prepare spiritually for the great Feast of the Nativity of Jesus and celebrate “the Holidays”? Listening to the priest yesterday as he preached about Advent being a time of preparation, I thought, Father, you don’t know the half of it.

How do you find time to clean the house, especially if you are expecting overnight guests? How do you get the tree up and decorated? How do you get the littlest ones downtown to see Santa? How do you buy and wrap those gifts? How do you shop for groceries and cook? How do you get those 1,000 or so Christmas cards written and mailed? How do you manage all this and more while doing the normal activities of family life and perhaps holding down a full-time job?

Well, you must saying to yourself, this is hardly encouraging coming from a blog on handing on the Faith. I am happy to report that my colleague in the Catechetical Office, Jim Connell, has come to our rescue at our Catechetical Office website with a wonderful “Advent in 2 Minutes” video from Busted Halo. The video explains what Advent is and isn’t, and it speaks to all the good things and frustrations of this time of expectation. It also suggests an Advent Calendar, which is a great idea, and an Advent Wreath with three purple candles and one pink taper to light. Neither opening a calendar page nor lighting a candle takes much time.

Even you are frustrated and exhausted, you owe it to yourself and your family to take five minutes from your day to think about and pray to the One whose birth we will celebrate. And while you are at it, think about his mother and Joseph. They remind me of the refugees of whom Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew spoke in their joint declaration in Turkey yesterday. Many of these refugees are worried husbands. And many of those women are pregnant. They are not worrying about a clean house. They don’t have a house at all. Santa is not on their radar. All they can think about is the safety of their children and where they will find shelter. That sounds rather like Luke’s Infancy Narrative, doesn’t it?