Quod autem cecidit – Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650)
I write these lines on Monday, March 13, and by all accounts you will have had a challenging week of
weather by the time you read them. I say “you” with some embarrassment because I write you from Sarasota, Florida, which looks to feel this storm only by way of highs in the sixties rather than the seventies. My father winters here in Sarasota and I take a turn accompanying him. As you may imagine the time is precious for its climactic and personal warmth. I find also that that by living according to a different rhythm for a few days I appreciate the gift of my own life and companions.
Of course, while technology has made it easier to travel quickly to a different world, it has also blunted the effect of travel so that one can keep tabs on multiple worlds at the same time. So this morning WYNC kept me up on all the storm preparations even as I was looking out the window at palm trees. As I think of New York I am more alive with concern for those who are there, guilt at not being there myself, and glee for being here. I find this
multiplicity of experience to be a fascinating gift of our time.
I receive it as a privilege of nature as well. Living in the fifties of life confers a windfall on me, for I connect to multiple generational worlds as well. My father is thirty years my senior and it startles me that on the one hand we share much in common, but on the other, age has carried him bodily to a different world, a voyage he has managed with extraordinary humor and good grace. At close quarters lie a world of shared tastes and experiences, and a gulf of time that cannot be crossed, save by empathy.
From my sunny perch I can look north and see the multiplicity of worlds as gift to my life at home. Consider the three Friars with whom I work most closely. Fr. Joseph Allen is 79, and Br. Damian McCarthy is 77, a few years short of my dad’s 84 and Fr. Innocent is 30. The four of us have much in common by way of our Dominican life and training, but we also represent three generational worlds of the Church. That means three perspectives on all kinds of issues, ranging from worship to administrative priorities.
For the guy in the middle this offers some challenge, but mostly exhilaration, as the combination keeps one profoundly in touch. Of course the life of our Parish staff offers a microcosm of the life of our parish as a community of generations, and to look at the procession of these in a local place offers a glimpse into the very vast movement of people through time that is the Church.
One’s generation provides so much belonging. Events, fashions, and the arts support a unity of perspective that grows with time. When I speak with people my age about the 1980 election it’s almost like we are sharing a family secret. To be in a generation is to inhabit a world, and to recognize another generation is to discern another world. As a I watch the kids on spring break enjoy the sand and the waters of the Gulf, I see that the men favor swim trunks that reach their knees. Walking along with my pale middle aged calves showing proudly I am mystified by these young people. Why would anyone come to the seashore on an 80 degree day and wear that much clothing in the water? My incomprehension notwithstanding, they are having a great time, perfectly comfortable with each other in their world. (They probably look at me and think that someone with such legs should cover up.)
But with hemlines, tie widths, and favorite actors, each generation also seems to craft a narrative of its own uniqueness, seeing in itself the long awaited answer, or the fresh start the world needs. In the strength of this
conviction it makes its contribution to every field of endeavor, until it perceives the tsunami in the rearview mirror. All of a sudden there are people coming from behind with different answers and different norms. In the procession of generations time affirms in part and rejects in part, and it’s a happy old age that befriends the inexorable flux in things.
With pondering, the passage of generations reveals one of life’s quietest joys. Contempt for the past and war against the future never repay the effort, but striving to make a contribution in the present offers a double reward when it builds on the past and gives scope to the needs and insights which must come after. I believe that the more I maintain awareness that I live within the movement of time, the more I achieve both fruitfulness and humility. I can even turn things around so that time becomes an opportunity rather than a constraint, and the chance to contribute a gift rather than an episode in a culture war.
Consider that since Vatican II the Church has received the Pastoral Care of Paul VI, John Paul I and II,
Benedict XVI, and Francis. We can analyze this history politically as a series of pendulum swings, or we can see the Spirit at work in the continuity of the Church. On the “micro” level, I have had the joy of observing three different generations apply themselves to the renewal of the Church. In this ongoing work creativity and conflict have each have served an underlying and discernible continuum.
At Easter, in the Risen Christ, I glimpse humanity living beyond time in the state of glory, but I can only
prepare for this by observing the law of time now. As with so much of mortal existence living well in time means being amazed to see how much I do not see.
Let me invite you to lend your spiritual energy to an important work of prayer. Each year, as winter yields to spring, our Shrine of St. Jude celebrates a novena of prayer leading up to the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 20. This year we are seeking his prayers for our loved ones who no longer
practice their faith.
We honor St. Joseph as husband of Mary, and as Patron of the Universal Church. Appointed to pray for the whole church, Joseph surely will not neglect those of her members who are far from her life. Ever since he became the most intimate companion of Jesus and Mary, Joseph has kept safe God’s beloved. He loved as his own those who were not his own and so demonstrated a way of loving – opened up to us by our baptism.
God draws that love out of us by showing us people to care for. In the conventional way of things we do this by presenting the faith. With our children, our students, and our parishioners we seek to share our faith as well as we might. We count it a precious blessing when those we have loved in this way make the faith their own so that its practice becomes their happiness.
Yet sometimes our lavish outlay of care seems to go for naught, and even years of exposure to church life do not connect people to the faith in such a way that they make it their own. Thousands upon thousands of people were “raised Catholic” and never got it. How do we respond to them? Are we indignant, or wrathful? Do we dismiss or threaten?
An alternative is to let pain and disappointment open up a deeper way of loving. Such a love will demand two things. First, it will mean showing people how much joy we have in the practice of our faith. Second, that we actively entrust them to God’s love. This will mean praying for those who are alienated from God and living without the Gospel. As we pray in this way, we grow in faith ourselves, for we discern if God chooses to make our prayer of intercession effective in His plan.
Mass will be offered each day for your intentions, starting on March 12 and culminating in our celebration of the Solemnity on March 20. Please make use of the envelopes in both churches to inform us of your intentions. Please know that the Friars in our community, and our parishioners will be joining you in nine days of pleading for the healing of Christ’s body in the world.
Take advantage of this solemn novena, invoking his prayer for yourself and for your family members, those who need St. Joseph’s intercession to find their way back to church. Just as St. Joseph provided for the needs of Mary and of our Redeemer, he will intercede for you, your family and your needs.
If you are reading this, you probably received “your ashes” a few days ago, and you became
thereby a public penitent. An essential part of our Christian practice is the admission that we do not live up to our own teaching, and this is because Jesus did not give the kind of straightforward,
easily-mastered morality that would allow us to celebrate proficiency. The law of Jesus is less a code of behavior than a preparation for being with God, and so it is a work never finished.
If we take Christ’s teaching as a dynamic practice and not as static legislation, then we will
perceive spurs to growth more often and more deeply. To opened eyes, moments of ordinary life mete out inspiration and challenge all at the same time. Recently my own trajectory of awareness has focused on dedication, and I have been invited to ponder how ordinary people set themselves to a task beyond their self-interest, with as much energy and focus as if it were.
In my seventh year as Pastor, the dedication of parish volunteers still amazes and humbles me. Last Saturday evening we celebrated an elegantly and lovingly executed Mardi Gras. From beginning to end, the evening was parishioner dreamed and driven, and the success of the evening flowed from equal parts talent and grit, all of it contributed. So at 11 pm I am watching people in their good clothes hauling loaded garbage bags and mopping floors, all the while smiling, and I am thinking to myself, “this is the real face of Christ in the world.” Perhaps this is an ordinary part of parish life, but I find it an amazing testimony to the power which the Gospel has to re-orient life. I cite the example of one event, but it typifies happenings I see all the time, but will not attempt to list for fear of omission. The vitality of the living Church flows from what God does with the leisure time parishioners dedicate (oblate) to Him
We set this contributed generosity alongside Christ’s own self-gift in the offering of each parish Mass. But also resting there on the altar is the dedication people have to their “day jobs.” With each passing year I am more aware of the self-donation people bring to their work.
On Friday of last week, I stopped by the Waldorf-Astoria for a last good-bye before it closed on March 1 for a three-year renovation and conversion. During my visit I spoke with a desk clerk, a
white-gloved bell captain, a host, and a waiter. Even with their jobs set to end in a few days’ time, each of these people showed smiling attentiveness to hotel guests and to strays like me. (The New York Post reported that the closure of the Waldorf will put 1,441 people out of work.) In them I encountered nothing perfunctory, resigned, or even fatigued. How much sense of self these people have: they
maintained their own standards to the end. These are people who valued their work, which made their work valuable.
I bring these two vignettes to the beginning of Lent and recognize how they invite me to
dedication as a way of life. Lent brings me once again to the Sermon on the Mount, the great text of the dedicated person. Here, Jesus as the “New Moses” shows me my own capacity for an ever-widening circle of availability, generosity, and focus. Each year He seems to show me a horizon of growth I could not have imagined the year before. Chapters 5-7 of St. Matthew’s Gospel will definitely repay the effort of a reading at the outset of this holy season.
The mechanics of becoming more dedicated consist in connecting more and more aspects of life directly to the Gospel and of segregating fewer parts from it. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving work
powerful effects in us when ordered to this purpose. They reveal that each of us has a need to grow, but also a longing to grow. When allowed to surface, this desire for holiness gives the most eloquent of
testimonies that Christ is present in the world, and at work in us.
In a world of shouting, we offer a true witness when we live as those who seek.
Last Friday I returned to New York from San Francisco on the “Redeye.” So it was about 7 am when the new Q line left me at 72nd Street and I emerged via escalators onto Second Avenue at 69th Street, one block from my home at St. Catherine’s. The number of people who ascended to the surface with me left me astounded. So soon in its life this line had become integral to the lives of many. This change in pattern visibly brought more intense life to this corner of the city, so that one could say that now it is inhabited more deeply. What a thought that a place as developed and densely occupied as New York City could harbor the potential to be even better used. Making a fallow place into a fruitful place brings its own particular thrill. The subway now gives a whole neighborhood the opportunity to
understand and realize its potential.
If any institution in our city has fulfilled its potential it is the Waldorf-Astoria. I still remember fondly the December day in 1976 when my Grandfather took me to breakfast at Peacock Alley. Ever since then passing through the Waldorf lobby has been a ritual with me. Through the years, especially since I moved here, I have come to know the building more intimately; its art deco interiors, the
amazing design of its ballroom complex, and its variety of great gathering places. Imagine the number of people who claim a Waldorf memory; from the Starlight Roof, or the Empire Room, or the Bull and the Bear. I have observed that the Waldorf and the Plaza have served as crossroads in the city. They have been fancy places everybody could traipse through.
I write this because the Waldorf Astoria closes this week for a three to four-year renovation. What new potential will a discerning eye detect in such a storied place.
If I walk a little bit further north and stand at the corner of 57th Street I see new residential and commercial construction everywhere. Further, I can also see kinds of retail space waiting to be claimed. I wonder what kind of economy will support all of this, and what kind of technologies reach their
potential in these new homes, offices, and stores. Just how many times has New York rebuilt itself?
We head now into the Lenten part of the year’s circle, and these days play us a “Reveille” and call us to wake up to the to nature’s Spring just over the horizon, and to the eternal Spring ushered in by the Resurrection. An exciting way to keep the discipline of these days would be to look for our own fallow places. Finding “room for growth” either names a problem or uncovers potential. For example, fasting makes room for deeper hungers, prayer sets those before God, and somehow, generosity of life results.
In the end, our goal is to inhabit ourselves more and more completely so that all of our surprising resources come into play.
This year we are discerning room for growth in Ash Wednesday itself. For the first time we will, on this day, have a full Solemn Mass at 6 pm at St. Vincent Ferrer. If you can delay coming for your
ashes, you will be rewarded by receiving them to the extraordinary accompaniment of Allegri’s Misere, his haunting setting of the 50th Psalm. The rest of that tumultuous day will be as usual.
May the days of Lent bring the serenity that comes from befriending the truth about ourselves.
Mardi Gras Peace!
I write to you from San Francisco, where I have snatched a few days of vacation before the annual Council meeting of our Association of Cloistered Nuns. You may remember that I moonlight as their advisor. Yesterday (Sunday) I walked from Union Square through the neighborhoods of the city to the Golden Gate Bridge. Then I crossed the bridge to Marin County and walked to the charming, bayside town of Sausalito, from which I retuned to San Francisco by ferry. A head-clearing and a visual banquet all in one!
One of the many delectable courses the walk served up to me was the approach to the bridge. The
pedestrian approaches it by walking alongside the Crissy Field Wetlands and then climbing a wooded hill. The journey yields vista after vista of the bridge in its setting at the majestic break in the coastal hills that gives San Francisco Bay its entrance. What struck me as I walked, and later as I studied the pictures I took, was the essential unity of what I saw. The bridge, as a marvel of human design and construction, has so bonded with the water and hills of the Golden Gate as to become a unified composition.
The bridge does not dominate its setting by excessive monumentality, nor does it detract from it by artless utility of construction. I would go so far as to say that the bridge enhances its place. The advent of the bridge has made the Golden Gate even more of a gate.
No doubt, countless walkers before me have perceived this synergy of art and nature, and a similar
epiphany has come to me walking in Central Park, where I view the architectural ranges on each side as
enhancing the landscape. Where this harmony occurs there is not only beauty but comfort. Both settings visibly uplift thousands of people at a time, and make them feel at home. Neither the Golden Gate Bridge, nor Central Park is content to be gawked at, they both demand to be made use of, for transit, for exercise, for interpersonal conversation, and for personal space.
It strikes me that these two wonders, the park and the bridge, have something to teach me. Their timeless appeal gives them credibility as icons of the good life. They invite me to consider how I relate to my own setting, as a place, and as a landscape of relationships. I ponder that by my demeanor, deportment, or dress I may either detract, overwhelm, or enhance my context. Of course I will not insert myself successfully if I fail to perceive either myself or the context, but I will not even undertake the effort if my goal is not to be part of rather than the center of.
The Golden Gate Bridge does not exist as a monument to a person or an event, its genesis lies in being of service to the human community by addressing a fundamental issue of transportation. It is there and taking up space because it needs to be there for the economy and social connection of the Bay Area and the West Coast. But it remains remarkable because the community expended the resources to meet a need with the artistry and the diligence, indeed sacrifice, of human labor. The art of the bridge does not exceed the purpose of the bridge, but
ennobles it. Commerce and society make crossing the bridge a necessity but by its design the bridge imparts
dignity and beauty to the tasks it enables.
Those who practice ministry, or indeed any public service, sooner or later come to grips with the truth that they are servants of the experience of other people. In the work of the Liturgy, we priests work with many others to serve communal and personal interaction with God, and this truth applies in the public realm of the Mass, and in the intimacy of the confessional.
Over and over again we face the challenge of not making ourselves the point, and of not overwhelming the experience. But the proper response to this challenge is not to be a cypher. We fail in our role if, by pomposity or clownishness, we demand attention, and take it away from the real work of worship. On the other hand we
received a vocation to ordained life so that we might use our God given talents and temperament to serve worship through the synergy we establish with our companions at that moment. Since we are human, and not steel, our engagement with our context will fluctuate from day to day and evolve from year to year.
The one constant, as a demand and as an art, is that one is present as a contributor. This serves God’s
purpose of making our transit through this life noble and beautiful in expectation of what lies upon the other shore.
Wednesday, March 1st is Ash Wednesday. Ashes will be imposed at all of the Parish’s masses.
St. Vincent Ferrer
8 am – Low Mass
10 am – Sung Mass
12:10 pm – Low Mass
6 pm – Solemn Mass
7:30 pm – Holy Hour with Ashes imposed beforehand
St. Catherine of Siena
7 am – Low Mass
1 pm – Sung Mass
5:15 pm – Low Mass
A perennial question asks how preachers should behave when society struggles with issues. Obviously it’s time to entertain the question again. From my vantage point social and political issues have riveted our collective attention as at no time in my recent memory. How should the Gospel intersect with all of the tumult?
I suppose the most obvious, and convenient, answer would be that the priest should stick to talking about God and let society wrestle with its politics and culture. This idea harmonizes with our received notions of the separation of church and state, and at a deeper level it preserves a clear distinction between what is secular and what is sacred. Finally, it guarantees that going to Mass will provide relief from the relentless commentary people receive through our ever-multiplying media. Jesus himself seemed to make no comment on the political issues of his day: for example, the Gospels do not record His take on the morality of the Roman occupation of Hhis country, or of the Jewish insurgency against it.
But He did give the Sermon on the Mount, and therein, per last Sunday’s Gospel, He referred to us as the “Salt of the Earth,” and the “Light of the World.” The “Similies of Salt and Light” mandate us to engage comprehensively with society. Interacting with the culture and politics of our times comprises a vital part of being Christian. We buy and sell, go to restaurants and movies, and take political action as Christians, not in spite of our religion, nor compartmentalized from it. “A city set on a hill” (the assembly of Christians) is still a city, and its citizens must have commerce with each other, and with those of other cities. We hope the Church illumines the world around her not by avoiding the square and the market, but by entering them with the ethics and insights given by her Master. Indeed, when he says that we should render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar He is telling us to pay taxes and so makes public duties moral acts.
But does the social comprehensiveness of the Gospel make the Minister of the Gospel authoritative in the social sphere, qualified, ex officio, to weigh in definitively on current issues? If we accept this, relevance begins to outweigh other values and the line between preacher and “talking head” begins to blur.
How do we strike the right balance in such live times?
Perhaps it lies within the teaching itself. The Sermon on the Mount issues a call to conversion that touches each aspect of life and works steadily against any compartmentalization of life. The truth of the Christian me undermines the walls protecting the non-Christian me. Quite naturally, I resist, but in the end, the Spirit persuades more eloquently than my contrary inclinations. But there is no way for me to change that does not in the end affect my engagement with you. In this way the Gospel quietly disrupts social patterns, challenging patterns of doing business, and of course meddles in romance.
It follows that if the preacher has the task of articulating a call to growth, he must address all the ways in which his hearers interact with the world. One of our jobs in the pulpit is to show people the deep significance of ordinary life. Indeed, part of the beauty of each Christian life is the impact it has on the life around it. At the same time his work must respect the singular quality of each life. I try not to tell people what to do: rather I seek to show them the tools the Gospel gives for reaching a conclusion that is genuinely their own. I have found that people receive preaching and apply it in ways helpful to them, that never occurred to me. If I keep this in mind then what I do remains truly a ministry, a service.
In the case of culture and politics this often means coming at an issue “sideways.” The work here is to show people the Gospel’s surprising take on life which often shows the points in common that lie beneath so many disputes and the human sameness behind so much apparent disparity. Indeed, what Jesus offers us in his teaching and sacraments is a new way of seeing events and people. For this reason, we cannot insulate ourselves from our times, for studying them gives the raw material grace uses to train us in the ways of challenge, in the ways of mercy, and in the ways of contemplation.
This past Sunday Fr. Walter announced to the parish the beginning of the Cardinal’s Appeal for 2017. The following Archdiocesan materials will supplement his preaching.
There are so many reasons why the Appeal is important, not only to those in need in the archdiocese, but also to us, in our parish community. Your support of the Appeal helps countless people, and sustains the fabric of our ministries throughout our parishes.
If you have not already, you will be receiving a letter from Cardinal Dolan, along with materials that illustrate the deep importance of the Cardinal’s Appeal to our community. Part of being a steward means living with trust in God’s generosity and responsibly tending that which God has entrusted to us. Cardinal Dolan is
asking you to participate by making a gift to this important annual initiative.
Your Gift to the Appeal:
- Supports offices, ministries, and programs throughout the archdiocese that nurture and encourage our journey in faith;
- Helps educate our children in our Catholic schools and religious education programs;
- Provides for retired priests and religious by giving them the retirement care they deserve after
decades of service;
- Helps to educate our future clergy and prepare them for a life of service; and
- Helps fund Catholic Charities, which provides loving care to millions of people in our archdiocese.
Our Parish relies significantly on the following services:
- Assists the parish in all phases of capital projects and construction in the areas of finance,
engineering, legal, and quality control.
- Offers real estate advice to the administration on leases, rentals, and sales.
- Monitors quality and services provided by insurance and risk management services in the areas of injury and property damage, construction and maintenance, personnel, and Safe Environment programs.
- Provides legal advice and representation on all parish related matters.
The archdiocesan goal for the 2017 Appeal is $20 million. And our individual parish goal is $232,500. Please that you prayerfully consider your gift. There are 1604 households at our parish and last year, 177 parishioners participated in the Appeal. The hope is that we not only surpass our monetary goal, but also surpass last year’s total participation. It is only with your support that this campaign can be a success. We all have in our hearts the capacity to give as Jesus asked us to do.
The Appeal pledge cards can be found by the entrance of both churches and they can either be mailed to the Appeal office or placed in the collection basket.
You can also pledge online at www.cardinalsappeal.org.
You can view a video about the Appeal from the Cardinal’s office here.
If you need time to think about your gift, you will be given an opportunity to make your pledge during Mass on Commitment Weekend right after the start of Lent. Thank you so much for your support of the Appeal and please pray for its success at our parish.