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.

A new year’s prescription from the doctor

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

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

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

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?

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 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.