I hope that as you read these lines you are energized by a great Memorial Day weekend and the prospect of Summer. With this letter I invite you to look forward to nine days of shared prayer in the Parish. This “novena” will begin on Thursday, May 31, the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, include the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Sunday, June 3), and conclude on Friday, June 8, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We begin with the warm human embrace of Mary and Elizabeth and we conclude with Jesus’ continuous and powerful embrace of us.
At Summer’s threshold, these days bathe our bodies in warmth and anoint our spirits with consolation and direction from above as we recognize the truth of Pentecost: to be a Christian is to be loved by the Spirit into service, to be sent. Are we people who are free to be sent?
Think of the people you know who are free from within. These are the parishioners who are available to help, the friends who anticipate your needs, the family members who always have an open ear, the colleagues who easily affirm your best work. What is their secret?
I think these folks are humanly free because they are at home in their humanity. Popular culture offers the phrase, “to be comfortable in one’s own skin,” as a description of proper self-regard. Such people are at peace with their body, their temperament, their gifts, and their deficits. They do not have to spend time wishing they were you, nor do they have to worry about what you think of them. They do not waste effort in proving that they are superior to you. So, there is a lot of room in their lives for your needs, your concerns, and you yourself.
People of faith add gratitude for self to comfort with self. They tell their life story as a litany of thanks for the way God has worked in it. They recognize that their joys and struggles have each played a role in their becoming fully themselves. They acknowledge the gift of being able to contribute at the same time as they delight in benefitting from the contributions of others. They are happy to have received life and their place in life.
The Feast of the Sacred Heart invites us to celebrate this very gift, for it shows us the serene and focused humanity of the Savior, as the means of healing and transformation for our own. Through the life of Sacraments, the humanity of Christ enables us to become more fully human in God’s sight. As His medicine works in us we acquire a true living heart ordered away from fear and envy and toward unfettered love of God and neighbor.
Throughout these nine days of prayer before the feast we will have the chance to place our wounded humanity, and that of our loved ones, in prayerful purview of His glorified humanity. In His complete happiness Jesus remembers our own life of struggle and He never fails to heal and to lift up.
What continues to fetter us? Does aging make us angry? Does our body type make us hide? Is our enjoyment of our own humanity burdened by the grudges we hold or the addictions we cannot overcome? How far do the hurts we have sustained keep us from the deep springs of Christ’s life? How many people do we know who stay away from the life of the Church because they cannot imagine a life beyond the burdens they carry?
Since we have celebrated together the beautiful mysteries of Ascension and Pentecost, the promises of Christ shine bright in our collective awareness. Why not make them a foundation of prayer that we and our loved ones may know His healing touch in our flesh, and so in that same flesh live the life of love?
We are blessed to have beautiful shrines to the Sacred Heart in both of our churches. At these you will find the prayer cards and petition slips for the Novena. We will also say the Novena prayer at Mass, as has become our custom.
What we ask for ourselves and others is no less than the freedom to be completely responsive to the Holy Spirit, and this will come when we are released from the weighty drama of self absorption and set free to inhabit the humanity that comes as such a priceless gift to each one of us.
May Every Blessing of Summer be yours.
Christmas and Easter have found clear places in the cycle of the year. They each occupy a cultural niche, replete with food, decor, and travel. In church on those days we foliate every surface and pull every stop; people expect it. Now if you look at the table of liturgical days, you will see that Pentecost holds equal rank with Christmas, just behind the Easter Triduum, and yet it has never garnered cultural trappings. Why is that?
In answer I could go on about the incorporeal nature of the Holy Spirit in contrast to the fleshly manifestations of the other two great feasts, but I think the answer lies in competition. At Christmas and Easter we are gathered, but at Pentecost we are dispersed, or at least dispersing. Graduations, Ordinations, Weddings, and their anniversaries put us on the road for jam-packed weekends. Those on the Labor Day – Memorial Day calendar are powering through the year’s final ordeals and looking forward (realistically or not) to Summer’s promise of lowered intensity. For all kinds of reasons, the car idles in the driveway and it’s time to get going.
The irony is that this commotion squares with the nature of the day. Pentecost is a feast of dispersion. We recall today that the Holy Spirit disrupted the togetherness of the Apostles and scattered them. As he connected them linguistically to Jerusalem’s diverse visitors he swept away the homogeneity of Jesus’ original band, and so made it clear that cultural unity would not be the glue of the Church. The unity of Christendom still emerges from a melting pot continuously fed with new flavors. Christ shows His real power in giving us a real, global cohesiveness that needs no single culture but enriches all of them.
This truth of the Spirit-filled Church comes clear in the great religious orders which are microcosms of her. These are ways of life that span long histories from their founders to the present. They circle the globe as men and women living by the same book of rules interact with every culture under the sun. Like the Apostles, religious are both united with each other and dispersed. Benedictines, Trappists, Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, Jesuits, and so many others possess in visible fashion both aspects of Pentecost. The creative tension of unity and dispersion keeps them ever young.
Chapter is the practice that keeps Pentecost alive in each of these families. Every few years the Orders gather themselves, the global and regional levels, and “celebrate” a Chapter, according to rules and rites lovingly handed on from the elders. We understand Chapter as a meeting held according to human law, but then overtaken by the wind of the Holy Spirit, who sweeps people into office and out of it, who stolidly supports ancient consensus and then overturns it, and who can send a whole group into a sharp left or right turn that no one saw coming. The prospect of a Chapter excites a community and gives it a stomach ache.
The Dominican Friars began to celebrate Chapters beginning in 1220, and early in the Order’s life they were held every year, alternating between Bologna and Paris. Imagine that! In the Thirteenth Century Friars walked from all over Europe to encourage each other in the preaching mission and to challenge each other in the living of our life. The traditional time of Chapter was, you guessed it, Pentecost.
If you think of it, this makes natural sense. The roads had reached that passable solidity between Winter mud and Summer dust. But of course Pentecost captures the nature of a Chapter which will give solid form to the Spirit’s work and send people in all kinds of directions.
The Dominicans now hold a chapter of the whole order every three years, while provinces, regions of the Order, gather for Chapter every four years. In the Province of St. Joseph, we still gather at Pentecost, or close to it. The academic year has ended, ordinations have taken place, and parishes grow quieter. This year we gather for chapter at Providence College beginning June 3. The process takes three to four weeks.
To the Chapter go the priors, the heads of communities, and also delegates elected by the Brothers. We have been preparing for months by perusing the legislation of the last Chapter (2014), and putting words around our current concerns. When we arrive we will pray, converse, and argue about living faithfully and fruitfully, about forming our young and caring for our elderly, about apostolates we should or should not accept, and about preaching to this age, the Dominican imperative in every age.
From our two communities of Friars will go Fr. Ken Letoile as Provincial, Fr. Darren Pierre as Prior of St. Vincent Ferrer, Fr. Thomas More Garrett as delegate from St. Vincent Ferrer, Fr Walter Wagner as Prior of St. Catherine of Siena, and David Adiletta as delegate from St. Catherine of Siena.
Please pray for us.
I race to get these lines to Rachel Miller so she can insert them in this bulletin, which we must send to the publisher this morning. It’s Tuesday morning and in normal times Rachel has had this essay since last Thursday. But recent days had nothing typical about them. In most years we celebrate two Octaves, Christmas and Easter. During each of them I exhort people to live differently, to recognize in some tangible way that they are in eight days of Sunday. This year we added our own third Octave of celebrating our patronage and our jubilee, and I think that many of us did live differently.
Fatigue usually defeats Octaves. People come to the Easter Octave wiped out after Holy Week, and of course Pre-Christmas (not Advent) drains life from the season.
We could settle easily and comfortably at the surface of such an event. For those of us who love the fanciness of life, here is a heaven-sent, protracted excuse for great parties and grand liturgy. For those who love our heritage and our practices, here comes an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back, and tell the world how great we are. These are human and happy patterns of thought, but the Gospel does not allow us to rest in them for long. The visible life of the Church grows stale quickly if we do not come to recognize how it shows us what God is up to in a particular time and place.
These are the Opera Dei, the works of God. We recognize them easily in high mountains and beautiful sunsets, we praise them in the great events of salvation history, particularly in the pivotal moments of the Lord’s Birth, Death, and Resurrection. But if God is who we say He is, then we cannot confine Him to the big picture. Indeed, the Holy Spirit discloses that in the snapshot of our awareness these works unfold ceaselessly for us to acknowledge. The Octave then offers a chance to perceive our own parish as a work of God. It is beautiful and effective not because we are but because He is, and this takes nothing away from us since our greatest happiness is to perceive His plan and to accept being caught up in it.
- Last evening I sat with our Pastoral Council and we had a happy session of discerning what the Jubilee shows us about the works God is doing in our midst. Recognizing these things invites thanks for gifts received, rejoicing in present strength, and real hope in future growth. As I look over the notes from the conversation these were strengths of the parish we saw in evidence during the Jubilee.
- At all the events of the jubilee, but particularly at the dinner on Thursday and the block party on Saturday,
we could perceive the great and beautiful diversity of our parish community, which stretches across so many
lines of culture and economics.
- Life among us is complex. There are two churches, two communities of Friars, two communities of Sisters,
a high school in the parish and a high school associated with the parish, a hospital chaplaincy, the
administration of the Province of St. Joseph, and the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude. In addition we have
strong relationships with the Sisters of Life and the Frassati Young adult fellowship. All of this was on
display, not as a problem but as a gift by which diversity and unity are held in creative tension.
- The involvement of St. Vincent Ferrer High School across the whole range of celebrations drew particular
positive comment. The graciousness of faculty and students spoke volumes about formation in the Gospel as
it happens behind the Green Door.
- A number of us commented on the beautiful interaction of several generations of parishioners. Where we
perceive this continuity we rejoice that what makes families strong and healthy can also make a parish glow.
- Prominent in the Jubilee was the work and leadership of women. In a time when women are often alienated
from the Church it comes as a great encouragement to see the parish receive so much from their presence.
- Present within our parish are a variety of perspectives on church life, especially on Liturgy and worship. It
is important to note that the catholicity of the church includes this, and beautiful to realize in the coming
together of the Jubilee that our parish can welcome this form of intellectual diversity. What holds it all
together is a focus on the proclamation of the Gospel.
- The Parish was at ease and joyful in the street during our block party. To me this made palpable our
empathy with New Yorkers and our desire to develop a parish life to which urban people, with urban
schedules and demands, can connect. As I saw passers by saunter through us with such ease, I thought we
might be on track to communicating with them.
It fills me with gratitude to survey these takeaways and think that we as a parish not only have a life but a mission. This week, as we wait for the Holy Spirit, may we draw on these days and recognize what the apostles came to see; it will be safe for us to be blown about by the wind of the Holy Spirit. He will never misplace us.
The Peace of the Cenacle.
I wonder what things will be like when you read these lines. I write before the celebration of our Parish Jubilee for the Sunday after its conclusion, and from this angle I can only hope you think it went well.
All around me people try to figure out details for the celebrations and we all try to imagine events for which we have no history and no blueprint. However, no question marks attach to the value of the preparations themselves. This work has elicited interdependence and creativity as we have let the unique contours of our Parish give shape to these happenings. As we breathlessly pull things together we entertain a twofold hope for the Octave. First, we hope that that these eight days reveal the Parish to itself so that people may encounter tangibly the multifaceted nature of this part of Christ’s Body. We also harbor the dream that our observance may give us some points of connection with wider circles of New Yorkers.
These musings lead me to an insight about struggle and connection. In recent confessions I notice myself offering a refrain to penitents, “God blesses struggle.” So many of us come to confession bringing the same sins over and over again. Habitual sin can invite indifference and rationalization, or it can lead to exhaustion and despair. At such moments we need, I think, to recognize the value of our commitments to change, our sorrow over our failures, and our willingness to start over. That we put ourselves through these paces imparts humility and perseverance to souls and fosters their practice of the beatitude of mercy.
I now discern similar value in the effort to distill a mode of celebrate that befits our group and enables our group to preach in its own words, or to “find its own voice,” to borrow a phrase of the moment. In the effort to speak about ourselves we become more ourselves. If we strive to put the Gospel into the words of our experience and insight, then we become more truly people of the Gospel. This effort will be refined and focused if we keep one eye trained on those we hope will receive our testimony about the Risen Lord and the Life of Grace.
Here the struggle to live well finds its most ready sparring partner, and that is connection. Over and over again I work at getting across to someone else what is in my mind and heart in a way possesses clarity unobscured by intimidation or fearfulness, manipulation or indifference to circumstance. Much as I try, in the mystery of things I miss the mark. But if I persevere in the effort will the Holy Spirit of Pentecost not supply what my humanity lacks for the telling of God’s Good News?
The project we call Evangelization places on me, on you, on us all, a demand that we desire know others to come to the saving truth and promise of Christ. So we need an ongoing intention to share with others, in our own tongue-tied way, the hope that lies within us. No well-crafted talk substitutes for the willingness to be “out there” as one’s own struggling self at the service of the Victorious Christ.
The goals for the Jubilee which I anticipate in writing and you reflect upon in reading point in the direction of Pentecost. In working for community among ourselves we may never settle for the secure camaraderie of a club. We always open the circle of our life of faith and hope as directed by God’s Spirit, and this will never cease to be a struggle against complacency, chauvinism, and the weight of history. The gesture of welcome and the word of testimony will always risk awkwardness for the sake of connection, and then be surprised by its own eloquence. Some real time chances for witness.
On May 10, Ascension Day, we are scheduled to host an ecumenical service of Lessons and Carols. Here is a chance to make other Christians at home in our home. Please bring your smile and your handshake and place them at the service of the Holy Spirit.
Please remember the Cardinal’s Appeal and the chance to support the life, of the regional church, so that the life that thrives among us may not be hindered elsewhere in the Archdiocese by financial obstacles.
If Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are crucial fixed points in your life Ascension and Pentecost deserve a place on the same list. These days remind each of us, and all of us of two crucial truths. First, we have a homeland, and second, the way there is a road of connection with those neighbors presented by the Holy Spirit.
Let us press on then, Alleluia.