Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena

A Parish of the Archdiocese of New York served by the Dominican Friars

September 30, 2017

Serving a Good Meal – Pastor’s Reflection (October 1, 2017)

An Italian cookbook gave me a crucial insight into ministry. The author pointed out that a successful meal features a harmonious succession of flavors and avoids either a discordant multiplicity of tastes or the dominance of one. That insight gets up from the dining table as wisdom for making people comfortable and keeping them engaged.

I have come to see the life of the parish, and each Mass, as a meal at which we would like people to sit down, be comfortable, and engage. What makes for a good diner makes for a true worshipper, delighted in receiving, responsive in thanks and praise, undefended in conversation (with God and with neighbor). Each parish event, and the whole life of the parish community, demands to be crafted as an experience for people, and someone needs to be tasked with viewing it as a whole and keeping its balance, and hence its flavor.

I feel that charge falls to me and I take it very seriously. When I perceive that a Mass has a proper balance of elements nothing rivals my serenity, and when an element breaks the equilibrium I feel like a cook who must serve a dish, knowing there is too much salt in it. At such a moment I taste frustration, even if the guests overlook what lands maladroitly on their palates.

If every dish needs salt and pepper, every liturgy needs information. Since the Parish gathers at Mass, Mass becomes a moment to inform the parish about its life. So we use the bulletin, the announcements, posters, and signs to grab and hold the attention of congregants. But if too much salt ruins a dish, too much information drowns out the other flavors of worship. When we over-tell people about everything, they remember nothing. In my years of pastoring I have erred in both directions. Important events were undersubscribed because people were not told of them, and sometimes people did not come because they had been told too often, in too many media.

So this Sunday we offer a new strategy for conveying information about ourselves, geared to getting the word out and to minimizing verbiage at Mass.

This Sunday we are presenting our first Parish Handbook. We hope it successfully welcomes newcomers to our midst, helps regulars plan their parish year, and invites others into our community. To have an overview of a parish like ours adds a level of understanding and makes for informed participation.

The Handbook pulls a great deal of introductory information out of the Weekly Parish Bulletin. So this will now come to you in a new format that allows more presentation of current happenings. It will also include prayer intentions for the week that will keep you connected to the feasts and concerns of the moment and prepare you for the Sunday ahead.

Because of the comprehensive invitation to prayer in the bulletin, we hope to shorten the petitions we use at Mass.

We think parishioners and regular visitors have become used to taking a worship leaflet as they arrive for Mass. These will now feature on the front cover the information you need for that Mass, such as second collections, Food Sunday, guest preachers, etc. We hope this will shorten pulpit announcements.

These changes come to you courtesy of a sustained collaboration by many parishioners and parish staff. As I say in my introduction to the Handbook, I think this is the most lovely feature of the book and the strategy. I hope you will share my gratitude at the dedication and talent that supports this life we share.

I hope that the handbook and bulletin can become means of evangelization; allowing us to make a healthful and balanced presentation of ourselves. When people read these pages may they recognize that the Gospel is where we get our flavor.

Fr. Walter

September 16, 2017

Living in the Economy of Gift – Pastor’s Reflection (September 18, 2017)

It has been said that we begin to worship when we realize that we have received as gifts what we could never buy, earn, take, or make.  Once begun, the life of worship intensifies this very awareness.  We begin to recognize the gifts of the elements, then the nurture and beauty that flow from them.  I am quick to recognize sun, air, and water as gifts, then I realize that even though I paid for my bread, that loaf has origins in what has been freely bestowed.  Next, I realize that you are a gift, for you supply what lacks in me.  Most slowly I perceive the gift of my life, not only in general but in particular.

Christian worship, as established by Jesus in his own humanity, has at its roots an intense gratitude for the works of God, and this comes from souls who have received themselves as one of those works.  When I accept how the divine artisanship has molded my individuality, then I can be free from the spirit of comparison that stifles so much of our real thriving. Grateful for myself, I come to the Mass as a response of thanksgiving to God’s initiatives and so fulfill the commission given to me in my baptism. This, more than hearing a sermon, or singing a hymn, comprises the essential work of those who attend Mass. This posture is more than prayerful.  Grateful people live differently.

If I receive myself as a gift, I give myself as a gift. If I recognize the gift of God in me then I perceive myself as a living surplus.  This outlook marks the People of God. If the Eucharist is the food of the Church then self-donation is the strength it nourishes. Christian women and men have cheerfully given their lives away as martyrs, missionaries, and as every kind of religious.  They have done the same as Christian spouses, and this same spirit impels many professionals to take less pay and work for the Church.  Self-reception and self-donation sets in motion the phalanx of volunteers, without which the life of the Church cannot be imagined, and without which the life of our parish simply is not possible.

In coming days, the parish will present you with opportunities to make a donation of your time, your talent, and your energy.  God invites each of us to fulfillment through self-donation, but His call comes to each of us in His time and in His way.  The parish needs you to help, but even more it needs you to discern the ways in which you are called to help.

Any self-giving brings us full circle. Having recognized abundance we become part of abundance.  I perceive that I live because of gifts more than because of earnings and makings, and that perception impels me to become part of the giftedness of others.  As I survey our parish I perceive that it thrives on an array of services it could never pay for, and by that it testifies to the God who has gathered it.

Next Sunday, September 24th, please come with open ears and an open heart to consider what growth God has readied you for.

Fr. Walter

September 09, 2017

Religious Education

Dear Families,

As summer fades to fall and your children are beginning their new school year, we are finalizing preparations for another exciting year of religious education in St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena Parish. I have spent the summer participating in additional training for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS), creating new materials, and planning for our Ignite Middle School Program and new High School Youth group. I’m looking forward to welcoming your children back for another year of learning and growing in our relationships with Christ.

For the upcoming school year, we will once again offer CGS Levels 1, 2, and 3 for children from 3-years-old to 6th grade. Level 1 serves children from 3-years-old through Kindergarten. Level 2 serves 1st through 3rd grades. Level 3 serves 4th through 6th grades. In addition to CGS, we’ll also continue to offer our Graded Program at St. Vincent Ferrer for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. I will facilitate our CGS sessions, while our familiar and dedicated team of catechists will lead our Graded Program. I will also facilitate the Ignite Middle School Youth Ministry program for 7th and 8th graders and our new High School Youth group. Sessions will begin the week of September 17th and run through the first week of June. The fee for religious education at any level is $250 per child. The Graded Program will be held at St. Vincent Ferrer. CGS, Ignite, and the High School Program will be held at St. Catherine of Siena.

CGS was developed by two Catholic laywomen in the 1950’s in Rome, guided by the principles of Dr. Maria
Montessori. CGS religious education materials are based on the Bible, Catholic Liturgy and Sacraments, Tradition, and Church teachings. The program fosters a hands-on, experiential learning environment in which children can grow in their relationship with Christ and His Church. CGS sessions are limited to twelve children each and are held in the Atrium, a sacred space designated for catechetical sessions intended to help children fully engage in their religious
education, to develop their religious potential, and to facilitate their participation in the life of the Church. Preparation for First Confession and First Holy Communion occurs within Level 2. If you’d like more information about CGS, please visit If you’d like to visit the Atrium and see a demonstration presentation of CGS materials, please contact me. All are welcome!

4th, 5th, and 6th Graded Program
The graded program is a more traditional religious education program than CGS. This program utilizes textbooks rather than hands-on materials. It is ideal for children who thrive in a more structured learning environment.

Ignite Middle School Youth and High School Youth
Our Ignite Middle School Youth Ministry program serves as continuing religious education, as well as formation for youth who have not yet been confirmed. We cover the Old Testament, the New Testament and Life of Jesus, the Human Person, the Sacraments, Morality, Prayer, Church History and other relevant topics. Students also have social and service opportunities. Our newly formed High School Program will meet every other week and will be centered on fellowship, service, and Bible study.

CGS Level 1 (3-years-old  – Kindergarten) – Sundays at 10:00 – 11:15 am (During the 10:00 am Mass),
Thursdays at 3:00 – 4:00 pm

CGS Level 2 (1st grade – 3rd grade) – Sundays at 11:15 AM – 12:45 pm (Following the 10:00 am Mass),
Sundays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm (Preceding the 5:00 pm Mass), Wednesdays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm, Thursdays at 4:00 – 5:30 pm

CGS Level 3 (4th grade – 6th grade) – Sundays at 11:15 AM – 12:45 pm (Following the 10:00 am Mass),
Mondays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm, Wednesdays at 5:00 – 6:30 pm

4th/5th/6th Graded Program (at St. Vincent Ferrer) – Tuesdays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm

Ignite Youth (7th and 8th grades) – Sundays at 5:00 – 6:30 pm, Mondays at 5:00 – 6:30 pm

High School Youth – Every other Tuesday at 5:30 – 7:00 pm

I will be at each one of the Sunday Masses at both of our churches this weekend, September 10th, to say hello and register your children for religious education. Please stop by! If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact me at 212-988-8300, x186 or I’m looking forward to a wonderful year!

Yours in Christ,
Lisa Harrelson
Coordinator of Religious Education

September 02, 2017

Breaking the Cycle – Pastor’s Reflection (September 3, 2017)

On Labor Day we honor laborers everywhere, but we also contemplate our own labor as we resume the ordinary rhythms of life. “Labor” here refers not only to the job we do but to the range of commitments that structure life.Hopefully summer’s reprieve shows us how much “ordinary time” fulfills us, even as it directs our life within a channel of discipline.

Of course, everyone else will be picking up the thread of their routine, and they will be in our face. Up-close living and dealing have returned to elicit a whole range of virtues from us. People make up a huge portion of our labor. Consider that UN week now hovers on the horizon, and naturally we will want to be the face of tolerance amid the traffic congestion and security tension. That week reveals New York City on steroids, and highlights the challenges that make the city very great and very difficult.  What a crush of cultures and politics, events and anxieties. These elements combine to disclose a global city, which will provide a fruitful, very timely object of contemplation.

What makes such an assembly possible?
What makes such a city possible?
What makes our routine of life in this city possible?
What is the assiduous practice of tolerance?

But as we come back together over coffee or cocktails, on the corner, at intermission or after mass, we will speak of recent intolerance and we will rehearse that words and actions of hate that have shocked us. Yet if I chronicle the bigotry of another I do not get very far because I lack the ability to make another person become tolerant. What I can do is refuse to let the sights and sounds of intolerance form me. If I become intolerant of those I deem intolerant, then what has happened to me?  I face rather the difficult paradox of virtue. As the climate of tolerance weakens I must pledge to become more tolerant, just as my only successful response to the secular age can be to become more Christian.

In my life as a confessor, as a brother in community, as a pastor in a parish, I have discerned that there is a “how” to tolerance. Some lives are not ruled by prejudice, and that freedom has roots in a clear spiritual practice.

First, tolerant people have appropriate self-esteem. The tolerant person accepts his or her own makeup as a coming together of gifts and deficits and so enters freely into the interdependence natural to human living. This positive self-regard means that competition and comparison no longer need be the source of validation. When tolerant people also possess the gift of faith they may also perceive themselves as a work of God, so that their validation lies in the fact of His creative artistry. If I may delight to be myself in all my incompleteness, then I have room in my life to be delighted by your gifts and recognize the ways in which they complete me.

The second prerequisite of tolerance flows from the first. Tolerant people recognize that they live in a personal and collective history, in which time is experienced as a movement. Culture, technology, taste, and social patterns develop with great blessings, but also at great cost. Persons of Faith recognize that in the mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation, God incorporated this aspect of human life into His plan, so that the Church herself develops in history, both happily and painfully. Thus, tolerant people recognize that they live within the movement of time, which belongs to God and is moving toward Him.

Where people grasp this they can transcend the instinct to blame. If I realize that things are in movement I can stop looking for someone to hold responsible when my history, or our history, causes me pain. The gifts of technology amaze me, but they also take me aback with the disruption they cause.  I look at all the empty storefronts in our neighborhood and I am saddened by the unfurnished environment they create and I am more saddened by the loss of jobs they betoken. I am seeing the evidence of technological and market forces far beyond us, and yet I would like to find a person or group of persons to blame for changing so much of my world. If change has scrambled the local patterns of life, the political scene shows the same effect writ large.

I see individuals and groups trying to assign personal blame for systemic dislocation. The economic loss and sense of exclusion caused by swift change bring understandable anxiety and frustration. Nevertheless, people searching for a scapegoat are ugly, whether they are a crowd, or an individual manipulating that crowd. My own danger lies in making the scapegoaters, my scapegoats. If all I do is place my anxieties on their heads, I get nowhere. I become ugly, suspicious, and coarse.

Think of the Lord’s Passion. Christ placed himself on the receiving end of scapegoating and refused to look for someone to blame, “Father, forgive them…” He made Himself the scapegoat, so that in the light of His victory, His followers would no longer resort to scapegoating. You and I are equipped by His constant gift of sacraments to pass through great tension and frustration and not take it out on anyone. The Cross of Jesus broke the cycle of human violence because of his fidelity to His God and Himself. He positions us in the world as breakers of the same cycle. The power of the Crucified and Risen Lord now lodges in us so that we might face human complexity in light of our
destination in God.

If our end is real to us, then it will be real to others as we welcome them on the same blessed path.

End-of-Summer Peace!
Fr. Walter