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.

Of early church history and rewriting history

April 7th, 2015

Easter season brings an extra delight each year because so many of the readings come from the Acts of the Apostles. This book, the work of the author of the Gospel of Luke, begins with the Ascension and ends with Paul’s proclamation of the church in Rome itself. It is actually a page-turner.

We learn about the election of Matthias to replace Judas, about the coming of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s great speech at Pentecost, the cure of the disabled beggar, the conversion of Saul the persecutor (that must have given Peter a shock) into Paul the apostle, and life in the early community. We learn how Peter was inspired to do what was unheard-of  for a Jew – visit the home of Cornelius the centurion and proclaim that “God shows no partiality. In other words, the Word was not just for Jews.

I’ve barely touched the contents of the Acts of the Apostles but I hope I’ve inspired you to take out your Bible and read Acts yourself. Or just follow this link. Yes, of course, you’ll hear a good bit at Sunday Mass and more if you go to Mass daily. But there is still so much more. By reading the entire book, you will have better insights on the parts you hear in Church.

An Augustinian friend of mine, the late Father Donald X. Burt, OSA, told me once that the Acts of the Apostles makes a great source of encouragement for people of today who have difficulties with the Church. “To read Acts is to see the power of the Holy Spirit. How else could this community have survived the first century?” he said. Read Acts and renew your hope.

Now: about rewriting English history the way Hilary Mantel has done with her fictional account of Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies. If you have any notion of believing that Cromwell was a noble hero and Thomas More was a fanatical criminal, I suggest you visit Manhattan’s Frick Collection on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street. There, on opposite sides of a fireplace, are paintings of the two men by Hans Holbein the Younger. If you can’t get to the Frick, here are the portraits of More and Cromwell from the Frick website.

Mantel said in an interview with The Telegraph, “I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.” She evidently believes that her negative opinion of the church in which she was raised gives her the right to recast England’s history. Look at these two paintings, especially the eyes, and decide for yourself who is more “respectable.” Even Holbein, who was a favorite of King Henry VIII and wanted to remain a favorite, could only paint what he saw.

The remaining days of Lent … and a king’s requiem

March 25th, 2015

Very shortly we will be moving into the end of Lent. To help you make the most of these final days of the season, to observe the most solemn days on our calendar, and to celebrate the joy of Easter, I offer you this wonderful resource from the Irish Jesuits and Loyola Press.  It is called Sacred Space and it is much more than a website. It is a virtual community of which you can be a member and it is available in a variety of languages.

Ignatian Spirituality can sometimes appear to be a bit complicated, but it really isn’t if you have the right guide. Sacred Space has been offering this online service for 16 years. I discovered it about 10 years ago and have treasured it ever since. I hope you will, too.

On another note…

King Richard III of England, whose remains were located  under a parking lot in the city of Leicester in 2012, 527 years after his defeat by Henry Tudor and death at Bosworth Field, is being buried Thursday, March 26, in Leicester Cathedral. He will be buried in the rite of the Church of England, which is causing a bit of a stir. You might be interested in the way the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, addressed this. Richard, of course, lived before the English Reformation, which was set in motion by Henry Tudor’s son, King Henry VIII. The British Jesuits have the story on their website, Thinking Faith.

Cardinal Nichols also addressed the sticky business of whether or not Richard really was that terrible villain portrayed by Shakespeare in Richard III or was the victim of a deliberate attempt to blacken his name and therefore legitimize what some believe was the dubious claim of Henry Tudor to the throne.  Does it matter now?

I have always considered Richard’s fate in history to be a cautionary tale about believing what we today call “spin.” It also reminds me that, as George Orwell pointed out, history is written by the winners.

From our Jesuit friends: a St. Patrick quiz

March 16th, 2015

Well now, who really was the man behind all the great legends of St. Patrick? And how much do you know about him?

Our friends at the Jesuit Post have a quiz for you to take and test your knowledge of the patron saint of our Archdiocese. Just one thing. Don’t blame me if you don’t like the answers.

By the way, you might want to take a good luck at the Jesuit Post. It’s a great site, created by Jesuits in formation, under the aegis of America media.

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!

In thanksgiving for Cardinal Egan

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

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.