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.

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

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

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

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

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.