Welcome and dignity for immigrants

July 9th, 2013

Whenever I pass St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I am reminded of the 19th century Catholic immigrants, who helped to build it with the sweat of their brows and whatever they could give of their paltry economic resources.

For them, the Cathedral was more than a magnificent church building. It was a symbol of their right to make a life for themselves and their families in the United States, and of their resistance to the Nativist movement that tried to prevent them from doing so.

The Catholic Church is on the side of the immigrant and that is why it is important for religious educators and others to be knowledgeable on this topic, particularly these days as the Congress considers immigration reform.  This is part of the church’s social teaching.

Here in the United States, the Church’s support for immigration reform is demonstrated in this statement by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, on June 28 during a telephone press conference with the USCCB leadership. Archbishop Gomez commended the U.S. Senate for its passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill and called for the House of Representatives to do likewise.

Pope Francis himself provided a powerful witness in actions and words in his visit yesterday (Monday) to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. During his mass for those migrants who lost their lives trying to reach this refuge, he addressed the plight of all migrants and their conditions.

“‘Where is your brother?’ the voice of his blood cries even to me, God says. This is not a question addressed to others: it is a question addressed to me, to you, to each one of us.  These our brothers and sisters seek to leave difficult situations in order to find a little serenity and peace, they seek a better place for themselves and for their families – but they found death. How many times do those who seek this not find understanding, do not find welcome, do not find solidarity! And their voices rise up even to God!”

Here is the entire text from Vatican Radio.

The website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a host of other resources for catechists (including the primary catechists of children, their parents) and others interested in learning more about Catholic Social teaching on immigrants and migration.

By the way, your knowledge and articulation of Catholic teaching on immigration will demonstrate that the Catholic Church is certainly not “a one-issue Church” as some have sought to portray us. Justice for the immigrant is now and always will be a high priority for our community of believers in this nation of immigrants.

Summer with Scripture

June 26th, 2013

Whew! What a great day Saturday, June 22, was for the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office and our friends at the American Bible Society. The fourth annual New York Catholic Bible Summit brought a record 600 people to Cathedral High School for a day of enlightenment on Sacred Scripture. Thanks to Cardinal Dolan for the inspiring opening Liturgy and to all our presenters and volunteers, who made this wonderful experiences happen.

Special thanks to Sr. Joan Curtin, CND, director of the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office; to Mario Paredes, presidential liaison for Catholic outreach at the American Bible Society; and to my super co-chair, Oscar Cruz, director: Catechumenate / Family Catechesis / Formation of Adult Catechesis Leaders.

Let’s keep the great momentum going. Summer is for most people a slightly less pressured time, a time to sit and reflect. What better could there be to reflect on than the Word of God as given to us in the Bible! Here are some resources to get you started. Some of them come from our great Bible Summit presenters. Best of all, they are available electronically so you are not hauling huge big tomes around or weighing down your luggage with them. You can take any of these on a plane, on a train, on a cruise, to the beach, to the mountains or wherever you go to chill out.

Lectio Divina. This form of prayerful reading and meditation on passages from Sacred Scripture is becoming more and more popular because of its accessibility. Take as little as a much time as you need with it. The website I’ve linked to is at the American Bible Society.

Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer. This is an e-book by Father James Martin, SJ, who gave a demonstration of  an e-retreat during his Bible Summit keynote address. You can get it on Amazon.com Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook, and then take it to the beach on your iPad, your iPhone, your Android or your e-reader. Just remember to use your sunscreen, however, because you’ll become very engrossed in this and might lose track of the time.

Bible to go. Just surf the web for the online Bible that you prefer and load that onto your e-reader. I have the New American Bible on mine.  Or just go the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ New American Bible website.

Jesus of Nazareth: What he Wanted, Who He Was by Gerhard Lohfink, published in hardcover and also available in e-formats from Amazon.com Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook.

Take some time with Scripture this summer. You won’t regret it.

About the saint who just found your keys

June 12th, 2013

June 13 is the feast of St. Anthony of Padua

How many times this week have you turned in desperation to St. Anthony to find your house keys, your car keys,  your eyeglasses (my specialty),  your mobile, your Metro Card, your wallet…the list goes on.  His fame as a finder of misplaced or lost items transcends the Roman Catholic population.  Everybody, it seems, knows of and prays to St. Anthony.  He is one very busy saint. But how in the world did this great Franciscan friar and teacher become the rescuer of distracted people?

According to some information I found at americancatholic.org, a website of St.  Anthony Press, the origins of Anthony’s special gift lie not with absentmindedness but, rather, with a bit of lightfingered-ness on the part of an errant novice.

Anthony had a book of Psalms in which he had inscribed many notes and other items of interest. He used this Psalter to teach his students in the Order.  One of those students decided to leave and he swiped the Psalter. When Anthony discovered what happened, he simply prayed that it would be returned.  The novice had second thoughts. He returned the Psalter…and himself. The Order accepted him back.  What a great story of sin, remorse, forgiveness and another chance.

St. Anthony is also the saint of missing persons, not surprisingly, and of sailors, travelers and fisherman.  Again, there’s a personal connection.  Anthony was a great missionary and went all the way to Morocco to preach the Gospel. He became seriously ill on the voyage, prayed for God’s help, and recovered.

Finally – and this is often overlooked about Anthony – he is a Doctor of the Universal Church, so declared by Pope Pius XII back in 1946 in recognition of his great skill as a teacher and preacher. He could take the Word of God and apply it to ordinary situations, to make it more “real” to people.  Kind of reminds you of our wonderful new pope,  doesn’t he?

Just thought you’d like to know who’s finding your stuff for you.

Two opportunities to explore the Bible

May 28th, 2013

This coming Saturday, June 1, the New York Catholic Bible School, which is sponsored by the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office, will hold a graduation ceremony  at the Church of St. Margaret of Antioch in Pearl River, N.Y.  Thirty men and woman will each receive a Certificate of Basic Bible Study. This means that they have completed a two-year course of study in Sacred Scripture.  I am happy to report that most, if not all, are going on to complete the entire four-year cycle, during which they will read, pray on, and reflect on every book of the Bible. Hopefully, they will go back to their parishes to encourage and perhaps lead Bible study group themselves.

As you can imagine, preparing for class and meeting every week, usually at the end of a work day, requires a great deal of dedication.  People from every walk of life and educational background are enrolled What is it about Sacred Scripture that brings these men and women back week after week, year after year? They have found the Word of God and they are finding themselves, too.

Perhaps you might be interested in studying the Bible,  learning how to read it, reflect on it, and pray on it. Here’s a suggestion.  Spend a day with the Bible.

On Saturday, June 22, the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office and the American Bible Society will sponsor their fourth annual New York Catholic Bible Summit at Cathedral High School in the New York Catholic Center, 350 East 56th Street, Manhattan. This year’s theme, very appropriate for the Year of Faith, is “Preach the Gospel to the Whole of Creation.”

As always, the day will begin with the Sacred Liturgy in the Church of St. John the Evangelist, also in the Catholic Center on the 55th Street side.  Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan will be the principal celebrant.

There will be two complete tracks in English and Spanish. Rev. James Martin, SJ, author and editor-at-large for America Magazine, will give the English keynote. Father Martin’s new e-book, Together on Retreat — Meeting Jesus in Prayer, will help you to pray with Scripture. The Spanish language keynoter is Jesús Rubén Cardinal Salazar Gómez, Archbishop of Bogota, Colombia, and vice president of the Latin-American Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Check here for a full listing of our presenters, along with details on registration. Don’t wait until the last minute to register, however.

A day with the Bible. Who knows? Your next step might be the New York Catholic Bible School.

The Patron Saint of Plan B

May 14th, 2013

One of the many reasons I love these days of the liturgical year is that we get to revisit the Acts of the Apostles, not just on Sundays, but throughout each week as well. Even if you are unable to go to Mass every day, look at the readings from the Acts. You can find them at the U.S. Bishops’ website.

Attributed to the author of the Gospel of Luke, this book is fascinating and should provide a measure of comfort to those who worry about today’s Church. Right from the beginning, the Church – the community of believers – faced and overcame many obstacles and challenges, both external and internal.

Today’s reading shows us how the disciples of Jesus found themselves making decisions after his ascension. This is the feast of the apostle Matthias who, according to Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, should be known as “the patron saint of Plan B.” If you read Acts 1-15-17, 20-26, you’ll see why.

Judas, who had been selected  by Jesus as one of the 12 apostles, betrayed the Lord and hanged himself.  Peter knew he had to find a replacement and brought this to the brothers and sisters.  Jesus wasn’t going to make this appointment directly, so they had to come up with an alternate plan. They nominated two candidates, all prayed, and then they cast lots. “The lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.” Plan B.

Certainly Msgr. Ritchie is dealing with Plan B himself these days during the Cathedral’s restoration. He’s probably on Plan K. We in the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office certainly find ourselves having to change plans, too.  In fact, everybody has to go to Plan B or beyond at some point in his or her life.

The next time you find yourself in such a position, don’t forget to ask St. Matthias for help.

Francis and Ignatius: connections

April 30th, 2013

This post  from Thinking Faith, the British Jesuits’ website, is very timely and not just because our Jesuit pope took the name of St. Francis of Assisi.  You may already know that Ignatius of Loyola esteemed Francis of Assisi.   Father James Hanvy, S.J., explains that affinity through his examination of  the philosophies of these two great saints and the communities they established.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Father Hanvy’s article has a particular relevance for me because of a place where I was yesterday.  I wish you could have been there.

I’ve just returned from a wonderful experience at Mt. Alvernia in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. This spirituality center, situated south of Poughkeepsie, is a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the New York Province of the Immaculate Conception and offers a range of retreats and other spiritual experiences in the Franciscan tradition. The retreats are primarily for Catholics but those of other beliefs are warmly welcomed.

While I was at Mt. Alvernia, I had the pleasure of spending the day with my colleagues and with Fr. Roch, the retreat director, who led us through Francis’ Canticle of the Sun. It really opened my mind to Francis and how his relationships with his brothers and with Clare, with all of creation actually,  enriched his life and ministry. I began to see the origins of the Ignatian call to find God in all things.  The more Fr. Roch spoke of Francis, the more I understood why Ignatius was drawn to him and why our new Bishop of Rome chose his name.

I had to leave early and could not stay another day but when I returned home, I checked the Mt. Alvernia website.  I suggest you take some time and do likewise. There are retreats upon retreats. Some are overnights. Some are one-day experiences.  There is an experience for almost every need, all delivered with the matchless Franciscan hospitality.  As the Franciscans say, peace and good.

“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.