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

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

August 14, 2017

Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


August 14, 2017

Giving Thanks – Pastor’s Reflection (August 13, 2017)

When you think of “prayer,” what comes to mind?  I think for most of us prayer consists in asking: asking for help, asking for a favor, asking for forgiveness. We tend to start praying when we reach the borders of our self-sufficiency.  I ask for help when I cannot do for myself.  We never admit this, but that makes prayer vaguely uncomfortable, like having to ask a relative for a loan because I am overdrawn at the bank.  How much more satisfying to look upon my possessions, my body, and even my relationships, and be able to say, “Look what I did.”  But the truth of our efforts always runs up against the truth of limits and we are back to prayer, and we are still sheepish in God’s presence.  I am praying because I have failed, or someone else has failed, or nature has failed me.

But take a second look; human nature is designed with limits.  We live within boundaries of longevity and strength, understanding and communication.  So we might ask whether the One who crafted our nature intended us to be uncomfortable within its confines.  That Christ assumed this nature testifies to the contrary.  His Gospel represents an invitation to embrace it, with all its limitations, as our way to God, and so the Scriptures and the Sacraments intimate a deep transformation of how we see our humanity and our prayer.  In the light of faith we come to see our limits not as frustrations but as openings to the personal experience of God’s goodness.

Humanly we know this truth.  When I fall in love I recognize someone who supplies for what I like, who complements my own real but limited gifts.  God acts in Christ to widen this realization to include the whole of life.  So He invites us to befriend the deepest truth of ourselves, and to do this by recognizing how much we have received that we could never have received by toil, ingenuity, or merit.  This is not putting us in our place, but helping us see how privileged is our place from the very beginning.

So I ask you: how is your own life shaped by the truth of favor, for favor tells the truth of you and me.  If we have received Christ in the Eucharist, then unqualified love has entered the very heart of us as a consolation and liberation, as a summons to change and a gift of understanding.  When we “taste and see that the Lord is good,” we remember that Jesus made a banquet of his blood for us in the past, and that we savor it in the present moment as a real pledge of life beyond the limits that now define me.

This perspective grows each time we make a practice of gratitude.  Here is the real conscious work of remembering and recognizing. When I set my mind to it I recognize that for all the time I spend with my problems, the deepest truth of me is gift.  It has been good to live, and to live as myself.  It has been good to share life with those confided to me, and with those to whom I have been confided.  I also wonder what my very struggles with handicap and circumstance have taught me about the reality of life.

At the height of summer there is an opportunity for gratitude for the gifts at the foundation of our lives.  Its practice will give us the wherewithal to keep growing through another winter.

Fr. Walter

July 29, 2017



Cooperator Brother, Jubilarian

Born: July 10, 1938
Professed: July 25, 1961
Died: July 15, 2017

Brother Martin Michael Downey, O.P., died peacefully in the morning of July 15, 2017, at Rosary Hill Home, Hawthorne, NY at the age of 79.   For over fifty years, Br. Downey served the province and the Church, ministering for considerable time at both the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, and the provincial headquarters in New York City.  He is survived by his sister Theresa Striker, his nephews Robert, Ken, Justin, Sidney, Joal, and his niece Rebecca.

Brother Downey was born on July 10, 1938, in Gloucester, NJ, to Joseph John and Veronica Imelda (née Manion) Downey, and named Martin William. He attended St. Mary’s Grammar School and Gloucester Catholic High School, both in Gloucester, NJ.

He entered the Dominican Novitiate on July 24, 1960, at St. Joseph Priory in Somerset, OH, and received the religious name Michael. He made his first profession there on July 25, 1961.  After profession, he was assigned to the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. In 1963, he was assigned to St. Catherine of Siena Priory in New York City. In February 1967, he was assigned to St. Stephen’s Priory in Dover, MA, where he made his solemn profession on July 25, 1967.  While at Stephen’s Priory, he taught CCD and helped with youth retreats in addition to assisting with maintenance of the priory.

On July 5, 1971, Brother Downey was assigned again to the Dominican House of Studies where he served as Registrar and Secretary of Studies for the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception (PFIC).  While there, he earned a BA (1973) and an MA (1977) in Religious Studies from Providence College, taking classes during the summers and during a brief leave of absence from his duties at the PFIC.  In 1975, he was appointed Assistant to the Student Master for Cooperator Brothers. In 1977, he began serving as Guest Master of the Dominican Villa in Sea Bright, NJ, during the summers.

He was assigned to Sacred Heart Priory in Jersey City, NJ, on May 12, 1980, and then reassigned on November 21, 1980, to St. Vincent Ferrer Priory in New York City, where he was appointed as Assistant Director of the St. Martin de Porres Guild and the St. Jude Dominican Missions.  In 1983, he was appointed Mission Secretary for the Province, and in 1988 Director of the St. Jude Dominican Missions.

On June 8, 1994, he was assigned to the Dominican House of Studies, where he served as Economic Administrator for three terms.  He also served on the Vocation Council and Joint Formation Council.

On August 2, 2002, he was assigned to St. Vincent Ferrer Priory in New York City and appointed Assistant Provincial Economic Administrator.  After nine years, he concluded his service in 2011.  He remained active in the community serving as Guest Master as he had done during many other assignments as well.

In April of 2017, Brother Downey was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  In May, he moved to Rosary Hill Home to receive palliative care from the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne.

Brother Downey’s body was received at St. Vincent Ferrer Church on July 19, 2017 at 6:45 pm. The Office of the Dead was celebrated that evening. Very Rev. Kenneth Letoile, O.P., Prior Provincial, was the principal celebrant and preacher at the Mass of Christian Burial celebrated at 10:00 am the next day at St. Vincent Ferrer Church. Interment followed at All Souls Cemetery, Pleasantville, NY.

July 22, 2017

Visitor’s Reflections on the Sanctuary at Lourdes (July 23, 2017)

It is with a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving to Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Blessed Mother Mary and Saint Bernadette that I share with you the message of Lourdes on my return from that special place of prayer. The Virgin Mary greeted St. Bernadette Soubirous in the Grotto of Marsabielle on 11th February 1858 and for a total of eighteen apparitions ending on 16th July, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. During these special moments Mary gave Bernadette numerous messages and identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception.”

The Blessed Virgin asked St. Bernadette to arrange with the parish priest to build a chapel on the location of the apparitions, and that people be invited to come in Procession, offer prayers and petitions as well as to do penance for sinners. Sixty-three years ago the U.S. National Rosary Pilgrimage in response to this plea began by taking small groups of pilgrims from the U.S. and Canada to visit and pray at this holy grotto, and today we continue this very impressive project. I have personally made fifty-four pilgrimages to Lourdes in the past forty years as part of the National Rosary group.

The nineteenth century Lourdes of Bernadette’s time was a small community of a few hundred people and from these simple and humble beginnings we have a town that swells to 5 million annually during the pilgrimage season. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary, 2008, more than 6.5 million pilgrims came to Lourdes.

Many people will ask me “have you witnessed any miracles?” My immediate response is to make a distinction between a miracle and a cure. Then I add that every pilgrim, in a real sense, has experienced a cure whether that be in some way physical, spiritual, or even emotional. One would have to have a certain hardness of heart not to return home from Lourdes differently because of the experience. That is what a pilgrimage is all about. That we are open to God’s benevolent love and the pomptings of the Holy Spirit as it moves within us. I thank Almighty God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Bernadette for the many special graces which have accrued to me in my past forty years as a result of my sharing my priestly ministry with so many people who have become part of our Lourdes Family.
– Fr. Joseph P. Allen, o.p.

My recent experience in Lourdes was comprised of a number of “firsts”: my first trip outside the continental U.S., my first pilgrimage; and the first time I would not be able to joyfully recount my travel experiences to my mother.

So, instead, I will joyfully recount my experience in Lourdes to you. Where to start? First, my travel companions are, without exception, the finest people I have ever met. Special mention must be made of Fr. Joseph Allen, who made this pilgrimage to Lourdes both possible and beautiful. The French people that we met along the way treated us with much warmth and affection and made us all feel as though we were home, and not in a foreign country. Lourdes, itself, is a beautiful country village, nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains.  Lourdes has changed very little since the time of Saint Bernadette Soubirous (January 7, 1844 – April 16, 1879), from the cobblestone streets to the
charming village homes and store fronts.

As you can imagine, Lourdes is adorned with many beautiful churches, as well as a magnificent
Basilica.  But, of course, the focus of our pilgrimage was the Grotto, where our Blessed Mother
appeared to Saint Bernadette.  The Grotto is a natural cave, made from rock. An altar has been placed within the Grotto, so that Mass may, and is, celebrated throughout the day there. Being in a place where our Blessed Mother appeared is an extraordinary experience, which words cannot adequately describe. And, so, I pray that one day you also will have the opportunity to experience for yourselves and imagine the joy of what it must have been like for Saint Bernadette, at the Grotto, being in the holy presence of Our Blessed Mother.
– Michael Silverstein

Our pilgrimage to Lourdes with Father Allen was a spiritually beautiful and peaceful trip. The deep beauty of the daily masses and the candlelight processions, as well as being with people of the same faith from all over the world, was very moving. Having mass in the grotto, as well as Sunday Mass in an underground cathedral with 18,000 people in all different languages, was amazing. And learning more about Saint Bernadette’s story and seeing where she lived was inspiring. Also, our group was wonderful and we had a lot of fun together. The trip made me feel closer to God and renewed my spirit. All in all, the pilgrimage was heavenly!
– Katie O’Neill

When I reflect on the trip to Lourdes a few things rise to the surface. First, a change of heart; seeing so many in wheelchairs and stretchers, and various differently abled people of all ages and races,
swiftly caused a change in heart regarding my health situation. I immediately became grateful for all the blessings in my life and will no longer focus on what I have or don’t have. Second, the idea of service; assisting another person by wheeling them to various sites and activities became an opportunity for me to reach beyond my own self-interest and be aware of and serve another without judgment or reward. Third, the power of prayer; the awesome nature of praying the same prayer with thousands of others in the same place in multiple languages was powerful and moving. Though, I have a long way to go and a lot to learn, this trip has provided me with a focus and desire to know God is alive in my life.
– Charlie Rubino

My trip to Lourdes was an unanticipated pleasure. You are joined and united with people, from throughout the world in faith, mind, and spirit. There are so many services that one does not have the opportunity to engage in on a regular basis, Mass in multiple languages, anointing of the sick, and a candlelight procession with thousands of people. It is a powerful experience to break down all walls and boundaries and experience love for all. Your mind becomes uncluttered as you receive a spiritual gift of clarity and love and our Lord in the present. It is a trip I will treasure, one that I was able to experience it with Father Allen and friends and a new path that I will be able to follow throughout my life.
– Lee Ann Rubino

July 15, 2017

Asking the Right Question – Pastor’s Reflection (July 16, 2017)

Last weekend favored me with a free Saturday. As is usual with me, I took the windfall in the form of a long walk. After aiming myself downtown in a general way, I settled on a goal and I picked up Broadway at Times Square with the determination to follow it all the way to Trinity Church at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street. As I made my way south, the sun lit a vibrant succession of neighborhoods. Broadway preserves much commercial architecture of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. How great that our forbears’ legacy of fine facades has been claimed by the young who live and work in the spacious interiors behind them.

Trinity Church stands at the confluence of historical significance and present finance. On this Saturday lots of tourists flocked to this spot, so well placed on the way to the Stock Exchange, Ground Zero and the Battery. The doors were wide open and people streamed in and out. No doubt a similar scene played itself out many blocks north at St. Patrick’s, and another many blocks further north at St. John the Divine. Just like the two cathedrals, Trinity was prepared to welcome its constant procession of visitors. I infer from my experience that part of their mission is to have doors open to the city. This edifies me deeply, and I regard it as essential to our own mission as a parish.

I value as priceless the position of our two churches at crossroads in the life of the city. (By the way, Trinity also has two fine contiguous churches, Trinity Church itself and St. Paul’s Chapel. Both stand on Broadway, and each played a role in 9/11 and its aftermath.) The evangelical potential of our places of worship offers great promise. Our (My) hope is that if you come and admire the beauty, savor the quiet, and feel the welcome, you might want to find out about the faith behind it all. So we are asking our buildings not just to accommodate and affirm the regulars, but also to preach to the wider world through a range of artistic media, synthesized to welcome, orchestrated to elevate the mind and heart.

But for many of the unchurched in church, it never goes beyond beautiful and interesting. Others may leave with a deeper respect for the cultural heritage and social outreach of the Church. At the deepest level though it is God’s initiative that imparts faith, and our most vibrant acres of stained glass only provide a meeting ground between the human soul and the One who loved it into being and wants to love it into His heaven.

Here I am challenged by my own reflections, because I wonder if churches still preach to me. How did I visit Trinity? Honestly, I showed up as a professional. Even on a Saturday jaunt I was asking clergy questions. How was the altar placed and vested?  How was the sanctuary arranged? How were pamphlets displayed? How effective was the lighting? Put simply, I evaluated it. I did not allow it to speak to me and so ended up as an ecclesiastical tourist.

This did not make my experience bad; it was very informative and profitable; at the same time, I think that I limited the potential of the moment. I think I blow it when I put on the lens of preference. When I ask myself if I like a building, a painting, a mode of dress, a play, or a sermon, I make my comfort the measure. A very human reaction! At the same time, what speaks to me most deeply may be that which makes me uncomfortable. Here lies the ground of prophecy by which God challenges complacency, arrogance and prejudice. Here too is the place where God exposes fear in the soul, so as to overcome it.

My sense is that the “narrow way” to the power of an experience, whether visiting a church or hearing a sermon, or cooking dinner lies in the quest for understanding.  When I attain this path I ask different questions. “What did they intend?” What does this signify?” “How did this come into being?” These open me to learning, to surprise, and to change.

The vast majority of the interesting and beautiful buildings I passed on Broadway no longer serve their original purpose. They are attractive fronts for something else. But not Trinity, it stands as the visible expression of the community that built and has used it continually since 1846. (It is the third building so to serve the community of the Parish since 1697.) I owed it my amazement rather than the evaluation I gave it.

I wonder how the quest for understanding could deepen much more of life than visiting churches? How much potential have we lost by settling for likes and dislikes?

Summer Peace!
Fr. Walter

Please welcome Fr. Martin Farrell, O.P. Fr. Martin is a Friar of our Canadian Province. He will be living at St. Catherine’s. He will assist in the hospital ministry and also say Mass in both of churches.

Please welcome Fr. Luke Hoyt, O.P. Fr. Luke is newly ordained and will be helping us in the hospital and the parish, so that the regulars can get some time off. We are so blessed not only to have their help but their fresh perspective and their devotion to their calling.

July 08, 2017

I Handed on to You What I First Received – Pastor’s Reflection (July 9, 2017)

Because of the Fourth of July holiday, you read words from June 29. Further, this essay hails from
Louisville, where I was gathered with my family to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday.

He rates organizing such celebrations as one of life’s happiest tasks, and he tackled this one with the vim of a much younger person. Dad hosted a pre-birthday dinner for out of town guests. Then, on the day itself we celebrated Mass in Louisville’s Cathedral of the Assumption, where he is a parishioner. We concluded with an al fresco party for 90. Dad drew all his worlds together. He had children,
grandchildren, and long-time friends from each chapter of his life, all the way back to Notre Dame in the 50’s. But he also had the people of his present, those who work with him in business, his doctors and physical therapists.

Such a roster of guests gives a panorama of life we do not see on any given day. Surveying the yard, I perceived that one vibrant life touches many people, and draws on those encounters to reach out yet more widely. My dad’s has been a transactional life. People have met him as buyers and sellers, owners and tenants, employees and providers of services, and they have stayed on for decades as friends. There they were sharing the happy twilight with him and with each other. They were tucking into biscuits packed with Country Ham (the prosciutto of the Bluegrass) and washed down by “Walt’s Old
Fashioneds.” This was summer happiness purveyed by one in whom such happiness abides all year long.

The scene showed me the gulf between my father’s life and mine. My dad’s celebration showcased the fruits of constancy in life, building a business, improving a home, fostering a parish and widening a circle of friends. His is a rooted life, lived in place and relationships attach themselves to it like ornaments on a Christmas tree. By my choice, and through the nature of my vocation, I have reached my mid-fifties as an unestablished person and wanderer through life. At the stroke of a pen I could be in a different city, with a different assignment.

But for all the differences, his life shaped mine. As reveler after reveler recounted the story of “knowing Walt,” I realized that without any lesson plan I had learned from Dad how to live the
transactional life that is ministry. I enter people’s lives as the purveyor of an event. They come to me
looking for a baptism, a wedding, or a house blessing, and sometimes the encounter ends with a
handshake and a “Thank you, Father.” At other times it becomes the first of many chapters in an ongoing relationship.  All as God disposes! Such a training leads one to take each encounter seriously by meeting its demands and respecting its limits.

As I look back I see the practice of civility giving backbone to my parents’ way of life and providing a seed ground for the enduring relationships that anchor them to this day. Civility lies at the core of their traditio, that which they received and handed on. Though I have no lasting dwelling, and will bequeath neither money nor monument, I nevertheless carry around with me a real rootedness, and that I operate out of all the time, often without realizing it.  How many times have I entered a stranger’s living room, or welcomed a couple into my parlor, or entered the melee of a crowded ballroom and not realized that I was prepared for this by my Dad’s gift of knowing no stranger and my mother’s understanding that friendliness is an obligation, not a favor.

I am mindful that we are about to enter upon July, the month of St. Anne and St. Joachim, the
parents of Mary, and the grandparents of Jesus. What a great time to recognize the living tradition that has stealthily equipped us for life, so that we navigate life’s ways without a map. To ponder one’s
ancestry is to survey a procession of gifted and challenged people, and to discover oneself as the bearer of an inner heritage that enables and limits invisibly. What a blessing to reflect on this patrimony in the light of faith and to realize that both its gifts and its deficits provide ways to God. In a culture that is unsettled it becomes helpful to realize that we are grounded relationships of nature, and in that amazing relationship imparted by grace.

Summer Peace!
Fr. Walter

July 01, 2017

Rev. Chris Johnson, R.I.P. – Pastor’s Reflection (July 2, 2017)

A life among the Preaching Brothers offers the constant marvel of a Friar taking the pulpit.

Even initial forays in the seminary reveal that a Brother enters that precinct not so much to give a talk or to make a presentation, although he does talk, and he does present. He probably wants to tell you about a scripture, a doctrine, or a saint, but not in a way you could google. Rather, the ambo serves as a place of distillation for you and for him. Here he gives voice to intensity that would overwhelm an encounter in the vestibule after Mass, or a moment in the kitchen over coffee. Here observations about the Prophet Jeremiah, or the Immaculate Conception, or St. Jerome, serve to manifest the inner life of a man who has been summoned to a place of loving solitude by His God.

Each Friar seems to find this solitary place as God reveals it to him and he speaks out of it as the Lord graces his personality, his interests, and his methods. He may use a text, or not: he may employ humor, or not, but in the end he will preach as himself, out of a life he otherwise may not speak of. This is why habitués of our churches will have noticed that our preaching has no unified style, but the bottom line might be remarkably consistent.

Chris Johnson was a preacher’s preacher because he showed us Friars the truth of ourselves in high definition. He lived to a singular degree the Dominican paradox of being a private person in public, a hermit on stage. Chris used the language and technique of theatre as he crafted the text and delivery of each preaching with exquisite care. But he never hid behind his art; he was never an actor playing a role. Rather, his sculpted words enabled him to share the fruits of his intimacy with God without compromising the profound exclusiveness of that intimacy. The result was that Chris’s preaching and pastoral care possessed evident power to help you even as he protected himself. Most of the time we think of love and distance as opposites. For Chris distance was a way of loving. From a step back he preserved the clarity of insight he shared with you and maintained an eagle’s eye view of you, your gifts, your foibles, and your challenges.

Chris can teach all of us, preacher and congregant alike, how to befriend our solitude and to find in it the one intimacy that orders all the others. He is the one who heard Jesus ask Peter, “Do you love me more than these,” and joined in the latter’s “yes” as we read in John 21, this exclusive love nourishes all the sheep.

As he struggled in his last years with the devastating ravages of cancer and diabetes, this core remained intact so that even his struggles gave a witness that strengthened others. In these times Chris grew from a preaching of words to a preaching of the whole of life. The weakening of his body laid bare the strength of soul God’s grace had crafted with his ongoing assent. He no longer needed to present himself through the medium of craft, because God’s craft had become so evident.

May he now behold that mystery he preached in power and in weakness.

These thoughts may be familiar to anyone who attended Chris’ funeral Mass on June 21 when on his 85th birthday we entrusted him to his God. Nevertheless, I would like make an essay of them for those who could not be free on that day.

May he rest in peace.
Fr. Walter

June 24, 2017

A Piece of Our History

SVF Letter

June 17, 2017

Stepping Back to Come Closer – Pastor’s Reflection (June 18, 2017)

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.

Summer Peace!
Fr. Walter

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.

June 10, 2017

The Love That Welcomes – Pastor’s Reflection (June 11, 2017)

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.

Thank You!
Fr. Walter