Not what I intended to write to you

December 18th, 2012

Last Thursday, I prepared an entry for this blog. It was a happy one, all about the amazing and often amusing Christmas pageants I have seen. But after the terrible events of last Friday morning, I knew I could not use it. My heart wasn’t in it.

Many people are asking, “Why, God? Why did you let these dear little children and their teachers die? Why didn’t you fix the mind of that shooter? Why didn’t you intervene and stop him? You could have, God, you could have. You have the power.”

Well, I don’t know the answer. Yes, on an intellectual level, I can say that it is a profound mystery.  But that is a pretty hollow explanation. It won’t make anyone feel any less heartbroken, any less angry, any less frustrated and helpless at the sight of such suffering.  It won’t mend the hearts of the families and friends left to live out their lives without those they loved so much and who loved them.

What I can do is refer you to a “Prayer for Newtown” that Father Jim Martin, SJ, of America published on the magazine’s blog, “In All Things.”  I have looked at it many times since last Friday.  I hope it helps a little.

Father Martin has just published another article, one that all people who describe themselves pro-life should read and act on. The title speaks for itself, “Gun Control is a Pro-Life Issue.”   This article won’t make you comfortable. It’s not meant to.

 

 

“What is faith?”

November 27th, 2012

Now, there’s a question to ponder…deeply. And what better time is there to do it than during Advent, the season of prayerful watching, waiting, and pondering the mystery of the Incarnation, God becoming human for us. This Year of Faith is an especially appropriate time to think about faith — not faith in the abstract, but faith as it affects our daily lives and the lives of those with whom we interact. Our faith should inform everything we say and do.

Advent begins this Sunday, Dec. 2, and with it comes a special seasonal blog, created by my colleague and friend here at the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office, webmaster Jim Connell. You are invited to visit our website, www.nyfaithformation.org to read and post to “What is Faith?” Each day this blog will feature a short Scripture passage from the daily Mass readings and an answer to the question, “What is faith?” based on that Scripture. We hope you will post your reflections and comments. You have much wisdom to share.

Your friends in the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office look forward to your participation.

 

 

Joy in the sight of tragedy

November 13th, 2012

This past weekend, I attended a wedding. Many of the guests were from Long Beach, the Rockaways, and Breezy Point. These beachfront communities were damaged beyond description by Hurricane Sandy two weeks ago. Yet, there were these people celebrating the joining for life of a marvelous young man and woman at an exquisite Nuptial Mass in the lovely Church of St. Catherine of Siena in Manhattan, presided over by the Rev. Jordan Kelly, O.P., pastor. This wonderful Dominican friar did not overlook a single detail. What a beautiful occasion of evangelization! The reception that followed…well, it certainly rocked west Manhattan.

To my knowledge, none of the guests had lost family members, but they lost belongings and their homes were damaged or destroyed. One lost the family business. However, one would have had no inkling that a hurricane had disrupted their lives.

Of course, this was a predominantly Irish American group and some of the mood can be attributed to an Irish way of responding to tragedy — to spit in its eye, as it were, by partying on. However, something deeper was happening here. There was an unspoken recognition that sadness makes one appreciate more deeply the joy of life.

I noticed this same attitude at the Adult Faith Formation and Evangelization Forum, which took place on Saturday at Cathedral High School in the Catholic Center. Representatives  from the Catechetical Office, the Office of Adult Faith Formation, the Office of Special and Pastoral Ministries, the Office of Communications, and the Adult Faith Formation Council had worked for months to create a day of enrichment for adult faith formation leaders and teams.

Then Hurricane Sandy struck. The lights and power went off for many people, including me. I wondered how many would turn up. To my absolute delight, more than 350 appeared. As I looked out into the congregation at the opening Mass in the Church of St. John the Evangelist, I spotted people from Staten Island. This borough saw waves so great that houses a mile from shore were damaged and SUVs were tossed about like Matchbox cars. Many people drowned. Children were blown from their parents’ arms. Yet, somehow, many parish representatives got to Manhattan for the forum.

On Sunday, the Catechetical Office held its annual Certification and Recognition Ceremony for those who had reached milestones in their formation as catechetical leaders and catechists for Catholics of all ages. The ceremony also honored special people who have rendered extraordinary service to the catechetical ministry. I couldn’t attend so I don’t know how many Staten Islanders made it to Maryknoll in Ossining for the ceremony, but my colleagues tell me the borough was well represented. Many others also expended precious gasoline to drive from the far reaches of this huge archdiocese to receive their certification, to be honored or simply to cheer on their colleagues. Special thanks to Bishop Gerald Walsh for presiding before rushing off the the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Baltimore, and to our director, Sr. Joan Curtin, C.N.D.

Maybe history will record that the Year of Faith in the Archdiocese of New York began with tragedy, but I will remember this as a time when faith, hope and love conquered all.

 

Art at the service of evangelization

October 19th, 2012

Often when we look at religious stained glass windows or mosaics, we have to crane our necks because they are above eye level.  We don’t always get to appreciate the fine work, the detail, and the precision that go into creating these pieces, many of which could be considered visual evangelization and catechesis.

This is a particular loss when it comes to the devotional art of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1948-1933) and his studio, which created devotional and other works for a fifty-year period that spanned what is often referred to as “the gilded age.”

While Tiffany worked in many media, his name is most associated with a unique style of stained glass. He and his team didn’t just use glass creatively. They created special glass that was streaky, opalescent and delicately tinted. These glass styles enabled the subjects of the windows to appear animated and filled with emotion. Backgrounds acquired dimension. Clothing looked so real that one wanted to reach out and touch the fabric. It’s not always easy to appreciate all this from ten feet below the window or across the nave of a church.

Now, the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA), which is located at the headquarters of the American Bible Society on 61 Street and Broadway in Manhattan, has provided a unique opportunity for us to see at eye level or close to it the genius of Tiffany devotional art. It’s an extraordinary collection.

There are stained glass windows from the Driehaus and Neudstadt collections, the Corning Museum of Glass, several churches, and many other sources. From St. Andrew’s Dune Church of Southampton, N.Y., there is a touching window from the legend of Arthur: young Galahad in pursuit of the Holy Grail. It is a memorial for an eighteen year-old boy.  A larger window is titled “Lydia Entertaining Christ and His Apostles.” However, MOBIA’s curators think Lydia is more likely entertaining Paul, Timothy and Silas. According to the Acts of the Apostles, she met the three of them at Philippi in Asia Minor (Acts 16:13-15.)

MOBIA’s exhibit also contains magnificent mosaics, including one named “Fathers of the Church,” featuring St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Ambrose. And there’s more, too much more to itemize here.

Tiffany’s devotional art was commissioned mostly by Protestant and Jewish congregations. However, some Catholic Churches in our own archdiocese have Tiffany windows and the altar of St. Michael and St. Louis in St. Patrick’s Cathedral is associated with Tiffany. Maybe your church has a Tiffany touch.

The exhibit is on through Jan. 20, 2013, and admission is free.  You can preview the exhibition, “Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, here.  If you really want a treat, find out when MOBIA’s own experts are giving tours.

Fine religious art can evangelize and catechize. The medieval cathedral builders knew that and filled their churches with stained glass and sculpture. The Renaissance painters and sculptures knew it, too. Certainly Tiffany understood the power of great devotional art. It’s true today.  Modern church art may be different from that of earlier periods but if it is good, it can be a powerful tool of evangelization. How appropriate for a Year of Faith.

A Speech for the Ages

October 10th, 2012

Some speeches stay in our minds, whether we read them in history books, actually witnessed them or watched them on grainy U-Tube videos. Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg. Kennedy’s inaugural. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream.” Winston Churchill on any day of World II. You probably can name speeches you cherish. We all have our favorites.

There’s one speech I take out and read every year on Oct. 11. It was delivered by a man who had recently learned he had cancer, who knew he had as many enemies as friends around him, who must have wondered why the Holy Spirit had put into his head the audacious idea to spring an ecumenical council on the world.

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II. Here is Blessed John XXIII’s address to the bishops of  the council but also to everyone in the world.  It begins, “Mother Church rejoices….”

Blessed John XXIII, pray for us, your church.

 

The best catechetical programs

September 10th, 2012

I may be faulted for bragging a bit here, but I know from personal experience that our Archdiocese boasts some of the finest parish catechetical (religious education) programs in the country. The principal reason, of course, is that the leaders of these catechetical programs and the catechists have truly embraced their call to serve God’s people by handing on the faith with excellence.

But there is another very important reason. The men and women who administer and teach in our best programs have devoted considerable time and effort to acquiring the spiritual, theological and teaching know-how that enrich and professionalize the program.

Every parish can have a first-rate catechetical program. The Archdiocesan Catechetical Office provides the formation that prepares directors and coordinators of religious education, as well as the catechists. Believe me. These are not Mickey Mouse training sessions. They are very serious. I know this. I teach some of the courses. They require a serious commitment. But don’t the children, youth and adults of our parishes deserve the very best? It doesn’t matter whether the catechetical program has 60 enrollees, 600 or 1,600.

If your pastor has asked you to take on the parish catechetical program, consider this invitation carefully and prayerfully. We in the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office are here to support you and teach you how to administer a program. We can also provide you with the necessary theology, spirituality, and leadership skills.

If you are asked to be a catechist of any age group, we’ll provide what you need. Just give the response and the time to learn what to teach and how to teach. Even if you have never been in a classroom before, don’t worry. You can do it.

Find out about all the training and other resources we have for you  and be sure to contact the regional catechetical director in your area. Actually, she’ll probably find you first.

This coming Sunday, Sept. 17, is Catechetical Sunday, the day set aside by the Catholic Church in the U.S. to emphasize the importance of faith formation for all ages. It is the day in many parishes when candidates are formally commissioned. Here is what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has to offer in the way of information and resources.

One more thing: if you are a catechist or are just thinking about it, why not come to one of our annual Catechetical Forums: Saturday, Oct. 13, at Sacred Heart Parish in Monroe and Saturday, Oct. 2o, at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. Check it out here.

On vacation but just one thing…

August 16th, 2012

I am on vacation and not posting until after Labor Day but just let me point out if you look in the Gospels, you’ll notice that many times, Jesus visited and ate with people who were not approved of by the local moral authorities or who were denounced outright as unacceptable. Cardinal Dolan is just following His example. Why all this viciousness?

On Ignatius’ feast day, thanks to an early New York Jesuit

July 31st, 2012

Today, July 31, is the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. This is an appropriate day to write about the contributions of one of his sons, whose name is known by so few, but to whom the Catholics of New York owe so much: Father Anthony Kohlmann, S.J., the first vicar general of the Diocese of New York.

In 1808, Pope Pius VII created four new dioceses in the United States. One of them was New York. The pope named a Dominican friar, Father Luke Concannon, as the first bishop. The new bishop made plans to sail here from Naples, but Napoleon got in his way by placing an embargo on American ships. Realizing that he wasn’t going to get to his new diocese anytime soon, Bishop Concannon wrote to the pope and asked for a vicar general to be appointed in the meantime. The pope named a German Jesuit, Anthony Kohlmann, to the position while the bishop tried unsuccessfully to set sail. Bishop Concannon died in Naples in 1810 and Father Kohlmann went on serving as vicar general until 1814.

At the time of Kohlmann’s arrival, there was just one church for New York’s 14,000 Catholics, St. Peter’s. The pastor there was ill and shorthanded; the Catholics were, shall we say, a tad lukewarm in their practice of the faith. The energetic Jesuit soon could report that Mass was being celebrated in three languages, religious education classes were thriving, and the Catholics were outgrowing St. Peter’s.  It was a time for a second church and what a church it would be: the first St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  It was built on the site of a cemetery, well north of the northern border of New York City, Canal Street. Many Catholics complained that the site was too far out of town, but Kohlmann apparently understand that the city was growing and had only one way to go: north. This was a lesson a future ordinary of New York, Archbishop John Hughes would learn, too.

So we owe what is now properly called the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral to a Jesuit. But we owe him more. Good Jesuit that he was, Father Kohlmann and his companions established a college near the first cathedral. However, the need for additional space led to the purchase of a site four miles north of New York, near Columbia University’s Elgin Gardens. The Jesuit college moved up and into a mansion that already stood there. However, the Maryland Province of the Jesuits ordered this college to be closed so that the Jesuits could concentrate on another college they ran, the one in Georgetown. And what happened to the property? It became of the site of the current St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

Today, as we honor the founder of the Jesuits, we New Yorkers should give thanks especially for Father Anthony Kohlmann, who built the church of New York in mortar and practice.

Thanks to Thomas Young, author of a marvelous history of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New World Rising (Something More Publications 2006), for the story of Anthony Kohlman, S.J.

Mary Magdalene. No she wasn’t…

July 17th, 2012

…what some people, including some intelligent Catholics who should know better, say she was.

Is this ever going stop? Are people never going to get it through their heads that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute, not the woman caught in adultery, not a lunatic, not the sister of Lazarus, and not the woman who dried Jesus’ feet with her hair?  I mention this because her feast day is July 22, which falls on a Sunday this year.

The mistake actually was an early conflation of Mary from the town of Magdala; Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha; and an unnamed woman in Luke’s Gospel, who bathed Jesus feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Also contributing to the confusion were the seven so-called demons Jesus drove from Mary Magdalene.  Demons often were used to explain symptoms of illness, physical or emotional, in Mary’s time.

Pope Gregory the Great is often blamed for officially turning Mary Magdalene into a notorious woman in a  sermon, but others made the mistake centuries earlier.

However, the fact is this: there is absolutely nothing in the Bible to suggest Mary of Magdalene was anything but a lady.  In spite of the fact that hundreds of artists have depicted her, we don’t know if she was young or old, good looking or homely, married or single or widowed.  And she wasn’t Jesus’ wife. If she had been, surely that news would have made it into one of the four gospels!

What scholars do know is that Mary must have been a woman of some high importance because both her name and her town were identified in the gospels. That was unusual. We also know that she, the Blessed Mother, and a few other women had the loyalty and courage to stay with Jesus through his crucifixion, after most of his male followers had run away. Interestingly, the Eastern churches never identified her as a fallen woman.

In 1969, the Roman Catholic Church began to rectify matters. The feasts of Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala were separated, making clear that they were two different people.  In both the Roman calendar and Roman Missal, there are now no references to Mary Magdalene as a public sinner.  And in his  apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem (“On the dignity and vocation of women”), Pope John Paul II restored her ancient title, apostola apostolorum or apostle to the apostles.

Yet the mistakes about Mary Magdalene persist and, sadly, are perpetuated by some. I wish that Pope Benedict, who is such a great scholar and who currently is writing the third volume of his masterwork on Jesus, would promulgate a really strong official statement, clearing her once and for all.

Happy Feast Day, St. Mary Magdalene. I am proud to share a name with you.