Valentine: man of mystery

February 6th, 2014

St. Valentine’s Day is coming at us – cards, chocolates and all.

Who was Valentine, who is also celebrated by many Christians besides Roman Catholics? The Eastern Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Lutherans and the Anglicans also honor him. What did he do to become so well-known?

Actually, Valentine is a bit of a mystery man. Pope Gelasius I, who established his February 14 feast day in the year 496, described Valentine as one of those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” No help there. However, the Roman Martyrology describes him as a martyr for the Faith. He may have been a priest or bishop. He may have secretly married couples, so that the husband would not have to go fight and get killed  for the Roman Empire.

Some scholars suggest we have Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for this connection of Valentine and romance. In Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules, the birds choose their mates around his feast. Many birds do mate in February.

Valentine is also associated with another form of romance, courtly love, which was all the rage in the late Middle Ages. Picture the chivalrous knight, wearing a lady’s colors, maybe his queen’s colors, and performing dangerous, even fatal, deeds for her. It was a chaste love.

Whatever Valentine’s connection or non-connection to love, it is a perfect day for couples to renew their love for one another, for children to celebrate the love their parents shower on them, for friends to cherish one another, for anyone to reach out to another.

The Gospel for February 14, which is also the Feast of St. Cyril and Methodius, recounts an act of genuine love. Jesus encounters a deaf man with a speech impediment and heals him.  Maybe Valentine’s Day can be a day of kindness toward people who ordinarily don’t receive much kindness. Of course, you do that all year ’round but I think it would be especially appreciated on St. Valentine’s Day.


January 17th, 2014

There are so many ways to identify ourselves as Catholic Christians. Some people wear medals. Others make references to Catholic teaching among their friends and professional colleagues.  Just walking or driving to the parish church on Sundays and holy days is a way of demonstrating Catholic identity. Catechists and Catholic school teachers promote Catholic identity by their teaching ministry.

However, there is one group of Catholics who give powerful witness to their identity, but not by wearing religious symbols or discussing Catholic values and teachings in the workplace. They really can’t do either of these things.  I am referring to Catholics who teach in public schools.

Instead, they give witness to their Catholic identity in the way they conduct themselves in the school environment, by their kindness and commitment to their students and families, by the diligence with which they provide the best education of which they are capable, and by their willingness to go the extra distance for the students, the families, and their own colleagues.  Some of them also serve as catechists or youth ministers and in other ways at their parishes.

These Catholic teachers in our public schools are like Pope Francis. Even if he were to trade in his white cassock for a nondescript shirt and trousers, his concern for poor and marginalized people would still identify him as a follower of Jesus, Ignatius Loyola and Francis of Assisi.

For the last eight years, we in the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office have given special recognition to Catholic teachers in public schools by sponsoring a Liturgy and breakfast in the winter and a day of recollection just for them in the fall.  It is our hope that they leave these days spiritually and physically nourished, and that they know how much they are appreciated.

The Liturgy and Breakfast this year will take place on Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Riverview in Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester. It is easily accessible by car or Metro North.  Bishop Gerald Walsh, vicar general of the Archdiocese, will celebrate Mass with us and author Gaynell Cronin will be the speaker.

If you are a Catholic teaching in a public school or you know someone who is, you will find all the details  and registration information for Feb. 22 here.  We look forward to being with you.

The Queen and the Cardinal

December 30th, 2013

Well now. It’s not too often that one finds Her Britannic Majesty and His New York Eminence opining on the same topic during the same week. But it just happened.

In her Christmas message, the one she writes and speaks from her own heart, Queen Elizabeth II talked about the importance of quiet contemplation. The Queen said, “For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God’s love, as we strive daily to become better people.”

Cardinal Dolan, in a Today Show interview he gave on Christmas morning, recalled a quiet time he spent in his chapel between Midnight Mass and the Christmas morning liturgy when he was Archbishop of Milwaukee.

“I went into my little cozy chapel and sat in the comfortable rocking chair. Then I lit the candles on the altar, illuminated the little tree, and took out the Bible. Glancing at the crib scene, I slowly read the story of the birth of Jesus from St. Luke’s gospel. And then, I was quiet. I prayed. I thought of past Christmases and smiled. I recalled people for whom I had promised a memento. But mostly, I was quiet. Silence is a gift we crave, a present we need, as our hectic days long for a place where no one can reach us.”

Even in our own busy lives, it is possible to steal a few minutes for quiet prayer and contemplation, whether it’s early in the morning or late at night. There is a wonderful and ancient form of prayer which has recently regained popularity and which you might consider: Lectio Divina. This is a prayerful, reflective approach to reading Sacred Scripture. Among the nicest aids to Lectio Divina are the daily prayer companions such as Magnificat, Give Us this Day, and other similar publications. Another suggestion would be Father Jim Martin’s  e-book,  Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer, which you can order from one of those great on-line booksellers. (I’d provide a link but I don’t want to play favorites here.) All these make use of Sacred Scripture, prayer and contemplation.

I cannot think of a better way to close out an old year and move into a new year than to set aside daily time for quiet reflection and prayer.  One will be in interesting company, won’t one?

Happy New Year!

Sad sights among the joyful

December 10th, 2013

I was waiting for the bus on 50th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan last evening. This is a great crossroad at any time of year, but especially at Christmas. People were streaming into St. Patrick’s Cathedral to venerate relics of St. Anthony. They also were looking to visit the world-famous and, if you have seen it, absolutely unique Cathedral Christmas crèche. Woof!

Others were crowding into Rockefeller Center’s Channel Gardens to see the Christmas tree. Meanwhile, some music that sounded like Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” colliding with heavy metal rock was blasting through the street. The sidewalk was practically vibrating

This part of Manhattan is full of tourists right now. You can always pick out the Irish and the Brits. They tend to move toward the left when they navigate through crowds. They get pummeled by the locals, who do the New York two-step to the right and crash into them. The best, of course, are the people on their cell phones. No matter what or who hits them, they seem unperturbed and continue with their conversations.

But there are some sad sights, too. It seems to me that there are so many more homeless persons around this Christmas. Some of them have dogs and from the look of the animals, they’re better cared for by their owners than their owners are by us.  I just read in the papers this morning of the staggering number of children — 22,000 — who are homeless in New York City right now, this from a series currently running in The New York Times.

There a lots of ways to help these people in need. You need look no farther than our own Catholic Charities, which assists everyone, no exceptions, and has many options for you to choose for giving.

Mary and Joseph knew what it was like to be without a home, even for a little while. Just when Mary was about to give birth, they had no place to stay. And when He was born, their Son was homeless, too.

Did you or someone you love miss out on Confirmation?

November 26th, 2013

It happens so easily.  Your family moved a lot and somehow your religious education got interrupted.  Yes, you are a faithful Catholic, you go to Mass, and you have received your First Communion. But for any number of reasons, you never received the Sacrament of Confirmation. And now you are an adult, perhaps you are planning to be married in the Catholic Church, and you will be asked if you have been confirmed. Perhaps your fiancé missed out on the sacrament.

What to do? You don’t want to be in a children’s class. And because you have been baptized and received your First Communion, you don’t belong in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.  But you do want to know all about the meaning and grace of this sacrament of initiation.

Well, there is an answer. If you live in New York City or Westchester: beginning Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office will offer an eight-week preparation course followed by a Confirmation Mass on Tuesday, April 22. The site is the lovely Church of Our Lady of Peace in Manhattan.

If you live in the counties north of Westchester or in Rockland, Orange or Sullivan County, the same will be available for you at the Church of the Sacred Heart in the City of Newburgh, beginning Thursday, April 10, and seven Thursdays to follow. Confirmation will take place at Mass on Sunday, June 8.

Why I am telling you so far in advance? We are about to step into the annual holidays madness, beginning this Thursday with Thanksgiving. You do need to register in advance. You will need some documentation, especially your Baptism and First Communion certificates. All the information, fees, etc. can be found here.

So if you are interested in being confirmed, now is the time to make your plans. Then you can settle down and enjoy Thanksgiving. May it be a happy day for you and those you love.

Celebrating our Catechists and Catechetical Leaders

November 5th, 2013

On Sunday, Nov. 17, the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office will honor men and women who devote so much of their lives to the catechetical or religious education ministry. I am referring, of course, to our parish catechists and catechetical leaders. The annual Certification and Recognition Ceremony will take place at Maryknoll in Ossining. Msgr. Edward Weber, director of priest personnel, will preside. Catechists and catechetical leaders who have completed training and supervision will be officially certified by our office. Certified catechists who have given 25 or more years to the ministry will receive the Catechetical Medal Honor.

The ceremony will also feature the presentation of the Terence Cardinal Cooke Award to pastors, recently retired, whose parish catechetical programs demonstrated their outstanding support for the catechetical ministry; the Good Shepherd Award, presented to catechetical leaders and colleagues of the ministry whose lives and actions reflect  Jesus the Good Shepherd; and the John Cardinal O’Connor Award, given to catechetical leaders whose ministry to persons with disabilities and their families is exceptional.

It takes a great deal of dedication, selflessness, time and preparation to become a proficient catechist or catechetical leader. It takes great energy and creativity to maintain excellence in a parish program, whether there are 200 or 1,000 students. Everyone deserves the best.  It also takes a true missionary spirit because catechesis is at the heart of the Church’s mission to evangelize. Amazingly, almost no parish catechists receive financial remuneration and the catechetical leader is definitely not the highest paid person on the parish payroll.

However, if you stop and think about it, the catechists and catechetical leaders are some of the best evangelizers in the archdiocese. They reach out to parents, grandparents, siblings and family friends. They work hard to celebrate cultural diversity. They support the rights of persons with disabilities and their families to faith formation and make it happen for them. More times than you know, it’s their missionary spirit that brings people back to the church.

So, on Sunday, the 17th, perhaps you will whisper a thank-you to God for these selfless men and women, who give so much of their lives to the ministry of catechesis, helping their students and families to develop a closer relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.

Worship. Witness. Celebrate. Receive and Proclaim God’s Love!

October 16th, 2013


Well, that sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? Actually, you can put all these verbs into one: evangelize.

And you are an evangelist by virtue of your baptism. But how do you carry out the vision of evangelization in your home, in your workplace and, of course, among the members of your faith community, active or not active? Well, your friends at the Archdiocese and our friends in other ministries have  planned a day that will help you to carry out your call to worship, witness, celebrate, receive and proclaim Christ’s love.

Mark this date – Saturday, Nov. 9 – on your calendar, your smartphone, your tablet…whatever you use to keep track of important events. The annual Adult Faith Formation and Evangelization Forum will take place that day at the McGinley Center on Fordham University’s Bronx campus.

Come and meet a top-notch roster of presenters in English and Spanish tracks, including Fr. Matt Malone, SJ, editor-in-chief of America Magazine (of papal interview fame): Dr. Colt Anderson, the dynamic dean of the Fordham University Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education;  John Roberto, whose Lifelong Faith Associates can help you plan a dynamic adult faith program in your own parish;  the international religious musician, Hermana Glenda; Fr. Lorenzo Ato, radio personality and assistant director of Hispanic Ministry at the Archdiocese;  and too many more to list here.

Make plans to join us and discover what the New Evangelization means to you and the other adults of your parish. Read all about it here and register today. And invite others to join you. It’s what evangelists do!

Help for Harried Catechists: The Catechetical Forums are coming your way

September 27th, 2013

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a man who just started teaching in his parish religious education program.  He told me that nothing in his life (including being a dad himself) had prepared him for the ordeal of facing a room full of third-graders.  “I was terrified,” he said.

Catechizing youngsters has always been a daunting task but today more than ever, a catechist has to bring a veritable teacher’s tool kit, filled with age-appropriate faith formation, pedagogical know-how and plenty of psychology to the program.  Knowledge of technology also is becoming a “must.”

It’s not about getting the children’s attention but rather keeping it. Today, even the youngest children are more adept with technology than most adults and are far more easily distracted than children 10 years ago.  For a variety of reasons, many of them beyond their control, parents are not always able to reinforce at home what the children are learning about the faith.  More and more, a catechist has to act as the primary catechist of a child when this is really a parent’s responsibility.

But how in the world can a catechist keep up with the rapidly changing learning environment of a parish program?  Well, this is why the Catechetical Office will offer its annual Catechetical Forums on Oct. 5 at Sacred Heart Parish in Monroe and on Oct. 19 at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx.  Both keynoters, Joe Paprocki  (English language) from Chicago and Marta McGlade (Spanish)  from the Atlanta archdiocese are national consultants, well known in the catechetical ministry. But – and this is even more important – they are active catechists in their parishes. They know exactly what today’s catechist confronts.

In addition to the keynoters, there will be dozens of helpful workshops offering enrichment for religious educators themselves, along with the kind of hands-on, practical advice that only trained experts and veterans of the catechetical ministry can provide.

So, if you are a catechist, or you are thinking of becoming one, don’t miss the Catechetical Forums. Visit   to check more on the keynoters and the workshop topics.  See you there.

30 years of ministry and filled with wisdom.

September 20th, 2013

In his unprecedented interview yesterday, Pope Francis likened the relationship between the ancient Catholic churches and the young churches to the relationship between young and elderly people in a society.  He said, “[The young] build the future with their strength and the others with their wisdom.”

When I read those words, I thought of 22 older women and men who were honored last Saturday at St. Joseph Seminary. Fifteen of them were directors and coordinators of parish religious education programs 30 years ago when Terence Cardinal Cooke established the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office. We call them the Founders.  Practically all of them still are catechetical leaders and are full of energy for their ministry. One of them, Sr. Mary Rose Mullervy, OP, recently was honored by her parish, St. Anastasia in Harriman, which named its religious education center after her. Seven founding members of the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office also were recognized at the seminary.

The occasion was the opening of a yearlong celebration of the Catechetical Office’s 30th anniversary. Edward Cardinal Egan, archbishop emeritus of New York, celebrated the Eucharistic Liturgy and then joined Sr. Joan Curtin, CND, director of the Catechetical Office, in presenting icons of Jesus and Mary to those 22 founders.

The Catechetical Office also established the Edward Michael Cardinal Egan Award for extraordinary leadership. Cardinal Egan served as the vicar for education in New York from 1985 to 1988. With his support and guidance, the Catechetical Office developed the training and protocols that were to become models of professionalism to the rest of the United States. It was only fitting, therefore, that the first recipient of the award be Cardinal Egan himself.

I invite you to read about this special group of people  and view the  photo album.   You might find your own parish catechetical leader there.

Just imagine all the wisdom that this group of people brings to the formation of Catholics in this archdiocese. I think Pope Francis would be delighted to know of them.



Prayers for Peace

September 6th, 2013

The Holy Father has made an urgent plea to all the people of the world to set aside tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 7, as a day of prayer and fasting for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria. Here is his statement.  Cardinal Dolan has added his own request to the family of the Archdiocese of New York.

If you are a director or coordinator of a parish religious education program that meets on Saturday, please invite those in your program and their families  to offer their prayers as well.

For those of you who will be in midtown Manhattan tomorrow, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Holy See’s  ambassador to the United Nations, will offer a Mass at 5:30 pm at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Please come and, by all means, invite your family and friends to join you there.