Here we are at the last big celebration of the parish year. By convention we try to lay off at this point and take a programmatic siesta until Holy Cross Day (September 14) bestirs us back into vigorous common life. Parish life gains health from this hiatus. It’s not just that we need a rest: we also need to absorb and integrate nine months of intensity. Such a remove makes for deeper living. I have learned this lesson from my experience and from my self. Standing at the cusp of summer allows me to explore the paradox of introversion that has shaped my life and ministry, for at this time we give people permission to uncage their inner partier, and also their inner hermit.
On Fridays in summer these two kinds of release become palpable to me. I love to walk Midtown at 1 or 2 pm and watch the laughing, luggage-bearing crowds empty office towers and fill cafes and Jitneys. It brings me such joy to observe their happy anticipation of a weekend at the beach: more satisfying yet is the knowledge that they are leaving, and I am not. By Friday evening another lively scene will have absorbed them at journey’s end and I will have my city to myself. The sparkling crowd offers such delight, but its departure even more. Having observed them on Friday, I can think about them on Saturday, and by the time they are sitting in front of me on a Sunday I might have something helpful to offer them. To people-watch is to people-love. To go away and think about them is to love again. To come back to them with a homily offers yet a third love.
On those Fridays, as the river of happiness flows past me down Park Avenue toward Grand Central I gain a fresh perception of my love of people and, at the same time, my need to have some periodic distance from them. Without significant conflict these two stances have been neighbors in my heart since childhood, as they are in many other introverted hearts. Articulating their relationship has provided the real challenge. When I was about 10 or 11 my mother said to me, “Why do you keep your door closed so much? You shut out the people who love you.” I do not remember having any good answer to that question: now I realize that time apart is what gives me the wherewithal to express love. Indeed, I have come to see how introversion offers gifts to those who possess it and to others. One of the mottoes of our Order captures the evangelical fruitfulness of my temperament: “To contemplate, and to share with others, the fruits of one’s contemplation.”
If we unpack this phrase we get the insight that stepping back can be as loving a posture as drawing near. The practice of “cloister” teaches this wisdom. For religious, authentic withdrawal neither stems from fear, nor seeks an escape. Rather, it claims a vantage point for loving. I am a preacher who also goes home to a cloister and so it is imperative for me to understand how profoundly loving and withdrawal complement each other.
In a homily the other day I made an observation about a particular practice of generosity, and one of the hearers responded, “Well, yes, I do this, but I never think about it.” I answered that this was my job. I am the one who stands back, beholds the beauty of your life, and helps you to see it.
Here lies the beautiful relation of love and rumination. I love you enough to go off to my room and think about you. In summer, Central Park will suffice for that room, or Riverside Drive, or perhaps Park Avenue in the evening. Such urban cloisters help the ministry of preaching, but they also can help lots of other people. In an age of instant response don’t we need to recover the space for reflecting before communicating? Perhaps the silence of summer will call more eloquently this year. We have more to ponder than usual, and our times need loving response, even if they have never noticed it.
As we submit this bulletin on Monday, June 12, I am sad to report to you that Fr. Chris Johnson will be leaving St. Vincent Ferrer Priory and will now live at Rosary Hill Home in Westchester County. Many of us have profited from Fr. Chris’ wonderful preaching and compassion in the confessional. Please pray that in this new chapter of life he will come to know even more intimately the God he has proclaimed to many others.
By the time you read these lines we will have celebrated, on June 8, our Volunteer Appreciation Party.This is our attempt to conclude the parish year with the recognition that the parish year only happens because of the donation of time and energy. In the heart of one of the world’s great commercial cities our parish, and many others of course, lives in an economy of gift. Our parish thrives because it continuously receives services it could never pay for.
When people describe their volunteering phrases come to the fore such as “giving back,” “I get back more than I ever give,” and “this fulfills me.” These expressions speak to the aspect of service that, “does for.” Here we can locate giving as an outlet and a growth for the giver. But I perceive that those who volunteer in a community such as ours not only give to us, they also include us profoundly in their lives.
Catholic Christianity has always recognized that people engage with the life of the Church at varying levels of intensity. For some this will mean fulfilling obligations, for others receiving spiritual services, and for others supporting initiatives for good in the world. Those who volunteer receive the grace of an engagement that goes beyond supporting the Church to welcoming her into the heart of their lives. For these folks the cycle of feasts and fasts begins to shape the contours of domestic life, and the people and places of the Church cease to be external and become extensions of self.
I think that those who volunteer must be amazed at how often they become the first preacher. They extend a greeting to all comers across a church bulletin or a cup of coffee and so put a human face something as vast as the Catholic Church. Before anyone ever hears a priest at Mass they hear a lay volunteer interpret the Scriptures so that prophecy, psalm, history, and exhortation come off the page with a real New York inflection. Some people would never enter a Catholic church, but the Catholic Church comes into their homeless shelter with a smile and tangible consolations in a difficult life: volunteers bring not only kindness but the willingness to embrace a completely different pattern of life as part of the
pattern of their own.
It amazes me to see a server run like a commuter to be on time to help with the Liturgy. He has made our concern his own. The very systems of parish life run because volunteers open the realm of their preoccupation to include things like scheduling, budgeting, shopping, and cleaning up.
We never understand the Church until we see the ways in which the ordinary isn’t. The work of volunteers not only establishes a culture of decency and generosity; it gives a sign of the mystery of the life of God we celebrate today. Whenever Jesus describes the love and life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, He speaks in terms of inclusion. The persons of the Trinity never act separately but refer to each other in the creation, and in the re-creation in Christ. Volunteers show us how the way of loving that is within God is reshaping our way of loving, person by person.
This weekend we are honoring Fr. Joseph Allen’s fifty years of priestly ministry. Here we find joy in another instance of trinitarian love. After decades of dedicated service Fr. Allen came among us in September of 2015, and he has included us by making our problems, challenges, and joys his own. With his customary zeal he has included new people from our parish into his longstanding ministry of pilgrimage to Lourdes. He has widened the patterns of his life to include our people, and in so doing he has made it possible for them to enlarge their circle of loving to include the sick and the handicapped.
I wonder how often this kind of love embraces us without our realizing it. Yet when we have been included without strings we discover our own generosity. And so it continues.
In our Dominican Life, we Friars present ourselves to be Spirit-led and Spirit-driven. His response
becomes real in innumerable comings and goings in the life of our communities. Since two Dominican
communities serve this parish you experience our ongoing pentecost in spades. Of late, many changes have come, some permanent and some seasonal. This letter seeks to catch you up.
First, let me ask your prayers of our Brother, Michael Downey. Many will remember Br. Michael from the 8 am Community Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer, and from the old 10 am Sunday Mass there, when he always took up the collection in such cheerful fashion. After a lengthy stay in New York Hospital, he has now moved to Rosary Hill Home in Westchester County. Here he will receive the loving care of our Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne who spend their lives caring for those with cancer.
Last month a new assignment took from us Br. Ignatius Perkins who was living at St. Catherine’s and
serving as Executive Director of the Dominican Friars Healthcare Ministry of New York. Brother is now
directing our Center for Assisted Living at St. Dominic Priory in Washington. We who shared common life with him at St. Catherine’s will miss his resourceful presence.
Fr. Jonah Pollock has taken Brother Ignatius’ place as Executive Director of the healthcare ministry.
Fr. Jonah will continue to be active as a hospital chaplain and his work will include directing our Student Brothers, diocesan seminarians, and other religious in internship programs for hospital ministry. He will be the one to work with the many lay women and men who carry the Eucharist to the patients at Sloan Kettering, New York Presbyterian, and the Hospital for Special Surgery. We are also grateful that he continues to help us with masses and confessions.
Fr. John Devaney will serve as his associate in directing the ministry. He has just completed a new unit of supervised ministry at Columbia and so will bring yet greater qualifications to his work with patients and
At St. Catherine’s we have been joined by Fr. Dominic Bump, who will both serve you in the Parish and assist in the work of the hospital chaplains. He has already been zealous in introducing himself to the
Community of the Parish.
At St. Vincent Ferrer, Fr. Thomas More Garrett has joined the Community to assist with the work of the Dominican Foundation, but he also graciously helps us with Mass and Confessions. Fr. Garrett played a major role in the Mass in honor of Our Lady of Fatima and St. John Paul II held on May 13.
You will also hear a voice already familiar to many. Fr. Bill Holt has returned to St. Vincent Ferrer and is assisting with his accustomed generosity at the altar and in the confessional.
Each summer our ranks swell with Student Brothers from our House of Studies in Washington.
Experience in Priories and Parishes such as ours plays a great part in their formation, for these summers give them the chance to integrate pastoral experience with pastoral and theological study.
This year one of the Brothers will serve his diaconate with us. Br. Isaac Morales will take his proper place as Deacon at the Eucharist and he will preach on Sundays and weekdays. Brother will extend Parish Study into the Summer for the first time, with a four-week Bible Study. You will see details on this elsewhere in these pages. He will also preside at our Wednesday Holy Hour, at which his seven Brothers will preach.
The Brothers receive a variety of ministries during their summer weeks. The years of formation feature a progression of summer experiences leading up to that of the diaconate in which the Brother gives voice as a preacher to what he has absorbed over six years of living and learning as a Dominican.
Brs. Reginald Hoefer and Barnabas McHenry will be working with the Missionaries of Charity, the
Community founded by St. Theresa of Calcutta, in the extraordinary direct service to the poor.
This summer four Brothers, Albert Dempsey, Irenaeus Denlevy, Joseph Graziano, and Ephrem Reese, will work with our hospital chaplains. They will have the experience of direct service to patients, and of shared reflection on that service. Such an experience gives a wonderful foundation for any ministry one may receive.
Br. Daniel Traceski will have an experience of internal ministry as he helps with the work of the
This whole range of new experience comes to our summer dinner table and gives new life to the local
community. We we can offer in return is an open ear, along with encouragement to partake of the many joys of summer in New York.
May your own summer be blessed.