“From Ashe to Amen” at the Museum of Biblical Art

April 15th, 2013

The recent Tiffany exhibit at the Museum of Biblical Art on Broadway and 60th Street, in the headquarters of the American Bible Society, was enthusiastically received by New York art critics. As they say in another art form, it was tough act to follow.

However, MOBIA, as the museum is familiarly known, has come up with another  beautiful and inspiring show, this time examining the religious art of African Americans and its relationship to Sacred Scripture.  The exhibit is called “From Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery” and will be open until May 26.  The term ashe is a Yoruba word from Nigeria and is familiar to Africans and African Americans; it means inspiration. However, someone else used an even more descriptive definition: an inner eye. Amen, of course, means “so be it.”

The exhibit features about 60 pieces, among which are some that especially fascinated me.  Horace Pippin’s “The Holy Mountain” appears at first to be a depiction of the peaceable kingdom in a lush green forest.  A closer examination reveals that hidden in the trees are tanks and other symbols of war and violence against people.  It is startling and disturbing. Pippin, a World War I veteran, painted this in 1945 at the close of the Second World War.

Clementine Hunter’s “Baby Jesus and the Three Wisemen” re-imagines the Magi’s visit in Louisiana.  Another piece, a magnificently carved door, also features the Magi, who are carrying gifts of a more practical nature than gold, frankincense and myrrh, but also inspired by Scripture.

Joan M.E. Graham’s “My Spiritual Family” contains over a hundred small portraits on a mixed media quilt.  Charles Alston’s “Midnight Vigil,” painted in 1936, is a deathbed scene with a community raising prayers to heaven for the dying person.

The pieces and media, including video, are so varied that it would be hard to pick a favorite but, if pressed, I might opt for a beautiful fan, the mainstay of  women in the days before churches were air conditioned. The fan features the face of the great jazz singer and song writer, Billie Holiday.

One of the most appealing aspects of the Museum of Biblical Art is that its size, one large gallery room, almost guarantees that every piece in an exhibition is going to be special. There’s room only for the best of the best.  A visitor can take in an exhibit during an evening after work or on a few lunch hours.  Of course, it would take more than single lunch hour to enjoy the current exhibit. Unlike most of other museums in the city, it is free.  You can read more about MOBIA and its exhibits here.


Evangelization begins with hospitality

April 4th, 2013

Evangelization has been the responsibility and joy of every Christian ever since Jesus himself gave us our direction in Matthew 28: 18-20. Making disciples of all peoples, baptizing them (even if we ourselves are not actually doing the baptizing) and teaching them are our responsibility.  Jesus also gave us powerful examples of how to make disciples. He was friendly; he approached people.  He listened to them.  He didn’t demand they come to him, although he could have. He personified hospitality. The only people who feared him were the hypocrites, the despots and the unkind.

Last night, I witnessed a wonderful event, the confirmation of eight young adults who, for one reason or another, had not had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. This evening came about because several wonderful people evangelized and catechized them with hospitality. The Rev. Bartholomew Daly, MHM (Mill Hill Missionary), administrator of Our Lady of Peace parish in Manhattan, offered the homelike atmosphere of his rectory for their preparation and the beautiful church, with all its Easter flowers, for the Eucharistic Liturgy during which they were confirmed. Oscar Cruz, director of adult faith formation under the leadership of Catechetical Office director, Sr. Joan Curtin, CND, prepared them, meeting with them in the evening for several weeks, when most other people had left work and gone home. Bishop Gerald Walsh, vicar general of the archdiocese, concelebrated with Father Daly and confirmed these young adults with great attention and care.   Nothing was careless or rushed. The atmosphere was deeply spiritual.

Afterwards, Fr. Daly invited the eight newly confirmed Catholics and their guests back to the rectory dining room for cookies and coffee. People lingered there, chatting and making plans to stay in touch. I kept thinking to myself, this is how ministry should be all the time, everywhere. And it could be, couldn’t it?

By the way, if you are a Catholic adult seeking Confirmation or you know someone who is, there will be another opportunity for preparation and reception of this sacrament. A Confirmation preparation class will begin on April 25 at Holy Family parish in New Rochelle.  Details are here.  Be sure to read the online brochure for what you need to provide, including permission from your pastor.

Prayerful Discernment

March 20th, 2013

Last week, I posted a link to Sr. Patricia’s McCarthy’s wonderful column in Rhode Island Catholic, marking the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s encyclical for the world, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). Like many other Catholics, I was feeling a little out of sorts. Uncertainty will do that.

What a difference a week makes. Yesterday most of my catechetical colleagues and I were up at the crack of dawn to watch the inauguration (am I the only one who smiles at that term?) of our new pope, Francis. When we got to work, albeit a trifle bleary-eyed, we couldn’t talk of anything else. Those of us in ministry were not the only ones mesmerized.  Everybody wanted to know everything that was happening in Vatican City. The media were positively giddy with excitement.

Watching our gracious, gentle but determined Pope Francis being driven around St. Peter’s Square, stopping periodically to kiss children and climbing down to hold a man with cerebral palsy, I couldn’t help smiling about all the speculation that had gone on about who would emerge from the conclave as pope. Very few pundits had Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on their “A” lists. He looked a little surprised himself, standing on the balcony of St. Peter’s last Wednesday.

Yet, in retrospect, everyone realized that no one else could have emerged.  No one else would have been the right one. That was because the Holy Spirit had the vote that counted. The cardinals just had to figure out which man the Spirit had in mind.  That’s called prayerful discernment.

You don’t have to be a cardinal to practice prayerful discernment.  You don’t have to sit in what looked like rather uncomfortable chairs in the Sistine Chapel.  And you certainly don’t have to be selecting a pope.  You might be wondering about a relationship much closer to home, which school to choose for your child, what to do about a job offer that might force you to uproot your family or a decision you have to make for someone who is dependent on you.  Very little in life is not important enough for prayerful discernment. It’s a good habit to develop.

Just for curiosity’s sake, I Google-d the term and came up with some interesting results. Here’s something from Joe Paprocki  on the Loyola Press website.  That seems appropriate, considering we have our first Jesuit pope here. However, you can find many other resources on prayerful discernment.  Try it. You know it works.

Picture the world we could have

March 6th, 2013

Think about this. A world at peace. A world where justice rules and peace reigns.  A world where no one is forced to go to bed hungry or homeless or powerless. A world where the threat of annihilation by weapons of mass destruction is no more. Impossible?

No, as a matter of fact, it is not impossible. We actually could be living in such a world right now on March 6, 2013, had people heeded 50 years ago the wisdom of  Blessed John XXIII in Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), the encyclical he published on April 11, 1963, as he struggled with the cancer that would take his life a few months later. There is nothing in this encyclical that could not become a reality if our generation only had the heart to live by the kind of ethic it calls for. It’s not an impossible dream.

Sr. Patricia McCarthy,  CND, who writes a monthly column for The Rhode Island Catholic, has permitted me to share her reflections on Pacem in Terris with you as  the world waits and the cardinal electors try to discern who has been called by the Holy Spirit to lead the Church.

I invite you to read or reread  Pacem in Terris itself along with Sister Patricia’s article,  which I have printed below. You will discover that a just and peaceful world does not have to remain an unfulfilled hope.


Mite boxes — not just for children

February 22nd, 2013

Haven’t see mite boxes in a while?  I hadn’t myself, so I was pleased when Sr. Pauline Chirchirillo, PBVM  Director of the  the New York Office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, offered the boxes, along with coin cards and envelopes, to the directors and coordinators of our parish religious education programs.

During Lent, the children in the parish programs will have an opportunity to help other children around the world through the Missionary Childhood Associationformerly called  the Holy Childhood Association.  At the same time, they will be learning a lesson about sacrifice by giving up something for Lent and putting the money they would have spent into the mite box or one of the other holders. At the end of Lent, their monies will go to the Sr. Pauline’s office and from there to the Missionary Childhood Association for distribution.

There’s nothing to stop us grown-ups from doing something similar.  In the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office, we decided that we could help Sr. Pauline and the Association ourselves simply by dumping our excess change into a Holy Childhood collection bucket, which Sr. Pauline was happy to supply.  We are not a large staff but we all seem to have a lot of change.  That bucket is filling up.

What about doing the same thing in your home? Yes, of course, many people already dump their change into a box or vase and then take it to the bank. You could do that. Then you might write a check for the amount to the Missionary Holy Childhood Association and mail to Sr. Pauline at this address:  The Office for the Propagation of the Faith, 1011 First Avenue, 17th floor, New York, NY 10022.

Or, you (and we in the Catechetical Office, too!) could emulate the children. Choose something to give up and add the price of that to the spare change in your container.  Maybe this doesn’t seem like much of sacrifice but it’s do-able. That’s important to keep in mind. Taking on a big sacrifice that you won’t be able to sustain or that will drive everyone around you crazy is not such a good idea. An uncle of mine used to give up alcohol for Lent each year. By the First Sunday after Ash Wednesday, his wife was ready to give him up.

The mite box idea is something any of us – from the youngest to the oldest – can do.

A blessed Lent.

A busy week begins with a big shock

February 11th, 2013

Well, the pundits will be having a field day with the news of Pope Benedict’s resignation.  However, I think Father James Martin, SJ, has produced a thoughtful reaction to this event in America Magazine’s group blog, “In All Things”  He believes the Pope’s greatest legacy will be in his writings and I agree. I just reread the Holy Father’s encyclical  Caritas in Veritate for a catechist formation online course I facilitated last month. I commend it to you.  And then there are his volumes on Jesus of Nazareth.

Certainly, the Holy Father has earned a peaceful retirement. However – and I know I am being selfish- I hope he has one more book left in him to write.

Lent is upon us.  It’s not even two months since Christmas. But while the rest of us were catching our breaths from the holidays, the Catechetical Office’s intrepid webmaster, Jim Connell, has been busy creating a Lenten calendar titled “In Today’s Gospel”  on our website. Each day contains a small reflection and offers a question for us all to ponder.

This coming Sunday, Cardinal Dolan will accept as the elect hundreds of catechumens from all around the archdiocese, who are seeking Baptism and the other Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. The Rite of Election is reserved to the Ordinary of a diocese, so all the catechumens  should be gathering at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Keep them in prayer and, with them, those candidates for continuing conversion, already baptized, but seeking full initiation in the Roman Catholic Church, also at the Easter Vigil.

Finally, many thanks and best wishes to Bishop Dennis Sullivan, vicar general of the Archdiocese, who becomes Bishop of Camden, N.J. on Tuesday, Feb. 12. He is a true pastor, as those of us who live downtown can attest, and he will be sorely missed here at the Cardinal Cooke Center.

Thanking Catholic Teachers in Public Schools

January 29th, 2013

Whenever I see a Catholic who teaches in a public school, I am reminded of that saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

Of course, teachers from any religious tradition, not just Catholicism, are not permitted to preach the faith verbally in public schools.  Understood.  However, many of our Catholic teachers preach, not by words, but by their witness, that is, by the values that they exhibit in the classroom.  These values include fairness, dedication, going the extra step, taking time for a student who is floundering, keeping an eye open for signs of trouble at home,  and simply maintaining a positive and caring climate in the classroom.

Many of these teachers also volunteer as catechists in their own parish catechetical programs.

Each year, the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office thanks these heroic educators at a special Liturgy and Brunch. This year, it will take place on Feb. 2, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Riverview in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., overlooking the Hudson River. Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh, vicar for clergy, will celebrate the Mass.  Sr. Loretta Knapp, R.J.M., a veteran teacher in both Catholic and public schools, will be the guest speaker. Her theme is “I can’t help singing…sometimes.”

The word on this day is already out in the parishes.  However, you might have a friend or relative or perhaps you know some Catholic in the public school system. May it’s your child’s own teacher. Why not treat that teacher and bring him or her as your guest to the Liturgy and Brunch. The price is just $25.00 per person.

Call Helen Doon at the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office, 646-794-2822. She’ll accept  your reservations through Thursday, Jan. 31 or email her at helen.doon@archny.org.

Confirmation for Youth with Disabilities

January 9th, 2013

It has been nearly 35 years since the United States Catholic Bishops issued their guidelines for the reception of the sacraments by persons with physical or developmental disabilities.  But for some reason, many families still are not aware of them.  Too many Catholics with disabilities have not received sacraments beyond that of Baptism and sometimes First Eucharist.  The Sacrament of Confirmation is a more remote possibility, perhaps because it is frequently perceived as a sacrament of completion rather than what it actually is: a sacrament of initiation.

Here is what the bishops say about the sacraments and persons with disabilities:

“It is essential that all forms of the liturgy be completely accessible to persons with disabilities, since these forms are the essence of the spiritual tie that binds the Christian community together. To exclude members of the parish from these celebrations of the life of the Church, even by passive omission, is to deny the reality of that community. Accessibility involves far more than physical alterations to parish buildings. Realistic provision must be made for persons with disabilities to participate fully in the Eucharist and other liturgical celebrations such as the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick (Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities, November 1978; revised 1989).”

Nearly 30 years ago, the late John Cardinal O’Connor, a tireless advocate for and friend to persons of all ages with disabilities, began a custom both his successors have continued: that of conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation upon youth with disabilities during his Sunday Pontifical Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  He was setting an example for all pastors and parishioners to welcome, prepare, and provide the sacraments to these young people in their parishes.  However, whether by design or by accident, he also established one of the most beloved and impressive rites on the Cathedral’s calendar.

This coming April 14, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan will confer the Sacrament of Confirmation to youth with disabilities at the 10:15 Mass in St. Patrick’s.  If you know of a Catholic young person with physical or cognitive disabilities, who has not yet been confirmed, please tell his or her parents, family members or caregivers to e-mail Mrs. Linda Sgammato, director of special religious education for the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office. Better yet, give her a call at 212-371-1011, ext.  2852. Mrs. Sgammato will be delighted to provide more details on having this young Catholic confirmed. She will be happy to meet the candidate and his/her family in their homes, too.

Says Mrs. Sgammato: “A home visit is an opportunity to meet the candidates and families in a relaxed, informal atmosphere, to hear their stories, to share their excitement, to present the red Confirmation gown and, of course, to learn how each candidate is prepared – by a catechist in a parish program adapted to his or her needs or by faith-filled parents, family members or caregivers. It’s my honor and joy to meet them and help make possible their great day of Confirmation at the Cathedral.”

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.