Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Holy Family 2014

Gen 15, 1-6. 21, 1-13
Ps 105
Heb 11, 8. 11-12. 17-19
Lk 2, 22-40

Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
December 28, 2014
Deacon Tom Cornell

         It’s been a while.  I’m glad to be back; it’s been a rough road.  We’ve all been through a rough road in this parish these past couple of years. The less said about that the better.  You all know what I mean.  But it’s over now.  We have a pastor, a real pastor who wants to be with us.  He’s kind and he’s wise with the wisdom that is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  We are lucky to have him.  And by we, I include the people we haven’t seen here for a while.  There’s an empty hole right there, too many empty spaces.  Where are they?  Go tell your friends and neighbors who have dropped away, it’s time to come back.  Meet Father Tom.  Come home for Christmas!  
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family.  We are a family, a parish family, and more than that, we are one in the Mystical Body of Christ.  When one member suffers, all suffer.  When one is built up, all are built up (1 Cor 12, 26).  We need one another.  We need each other.  We are not meant to struggle alone, neither in the battle to keep a roof over our heads nor in spiritual battle to grow in faith, hope and love.  God did not lead the People out of Egypt one by one, but as a group. 
As many of you know, Monica and I worked closely with Dorothy Day.  We were married at the Catholic Worker.  Dorothy was our matchmaker.  Dorothy described the Catholic Worker movement as a big disorderly family, and we’re still at it behind the cemetery off Lattingtown Road.  Come visit any time.  Our bishops have petitioned the Vatican to declare Dorothy a saint, unanimously.  Imagine that, Saint Dorothy of News York!  And just weeks ago, at the Roman synod, Cardinal Dolan begged the Holy Father to move her Cause along.  In her early adult life, Dorothy was a Communist.  But all her life, even as a Communist, she felt pursued by God.  She tried to resist, but she finally gave in at the age of 27 and converted to the Catholic Church.  Her Communist friends were puzzled.  “If you want to believe in God, that’s your personal decision,” they would say, "but keep it to yourself, and why do you have to join a church, and of all churches the Catholic Church, the worst of them all, the biggest and the strongest, the most reactionary of all our enemies.”  Dorothy answered them in their own terms.  As revolutionaries we join together in a group, a party.  We are not meant to battle alone.  So it is in spiritual battle, to grow closer to God, to grow in faith, hope and love we worship together, as a family of faith, a church.  
Dorothy didn’t go shopping for a church.  She later explained that no other church ever entered her mind.  She didn’t examine the claims of the Catholic Church.  It was just that, in all the cities where she had ever lived, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Chicago, the Catholic Church was where the immigrants, the poor and the workers flocked.  That was good enough for her! 
          Today as we commemorate the Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we think of family, our own and others.  Many families suffer badly.  My father was orphaned at age eight, I at age fourteen.  Then, even worse, there are parents who bury their children, an unspeakable loss.  In times of economic stress a breadwinner may lose his job.  It’s quite a feeling when the girl behind the counter hands you your last unemployment compensation check and says, “Good luck!”  Yeah, you’re going to need it.  Then there is the family whose husband and father is called to war.  Whatever their troubles might be, They need our presence, just to be there.  If you know of a family in distress, find a way to be present to them.  Somehow, shared suffering hurts a little less.  Go visit them, and invite them to church next Sunday. 
And any others you might know.  Let’s get these pews filled up again.  This chapel was scheduled for the chopping block some years ago as you know, but you people appealed to the Archdiocese and promised to keep Our Lady of Mercy open and running at no financial loss.  And you’ve done it, beautifully.  A few years ago I had the opportunity to bring a world-renowned liturgical artist to visit.  She had designed churches all over the world, even in Asia.  She was stunned; she loved this sacred place.  It is really special.  Bring a friend next week.
Happy New Year of Our Lord 2015!  God bless and keep us all.


Monday, November 24, 2014


CHRIST THE KING 2014  #160  

Ez 34, 11-12.  15-17
Ps 23
1 Cor 15, 20-26, 28. 
Mt 25, 31-46

Catholic Peace Fellowship
November 30, 2014
Deacon Tom Cornell
                   Our first reading today, from the Prophet Ezekiel, pictures God as a shepherd guarding and protecting his flock.  But the last verse has a note of warning.  “I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.”  The familiar Psalm 23 has one jarring note as well.  “You spread a table before me in the sight of my foes.”  In short, there are foes, we have enemies.  Nevertheless, “only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord.”   Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians has an eschatological tone.  Eschata is the Greek word meaning the last things, that is, “death, judgment, heaven and hell.”  Paul tells us that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  That brings us to the Gospel reading for today, the Last Judgment scene from Matthew, the separation of the sheep from the goats.  “Depart from me you accursed….”  But what is hell?  Surely Dante did not take literally his own description of damnation.  He knew he was writing metaphor, inspired metaphor at that. 
          George Bernanos said that hell is not to love anymore.  If that is so, what then is heaven but a love-feast?  There is an image of heaven from the rabbinical tradition of heaven and hell as each a banquet, each held in identical rooms.  In one room are the damned.  Plates piled with sumptuous goodies are placed before them but they gnash their teeth because they cannot reach them, their forks and spoons are too long.  The room of the blessed is identical in all ways, except that all are happy and content.  They use their outsized forks and spoons to feed each other. 
                   We build our heaven, we build our hell here on earth, here and now.  We bring into the next life what we have made of ourselves, sheep or goats.  The Last Judgment scene in Matthew’s Gospel inspired the Church teaching of the works of mercy.  Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, all taken from today’s Gospel reading.  The Church added to bury the dead.  Each time we do any of these things for the least of the brethren we do it for Jesus Christ, and conversely, whenever we refuse we refuse Jesus. 
                   Dorothy Day liked to point out that the works of mercy are the direct opposite of the works of war: destroy their crops, poison their wells, bomb, burn their villages, their cities, their homes.  Bury the dead?  Yes, as many as possible, under the rubble of their own homes, fields and factories.  There are spiritual works of mercy too.  Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, reprove sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive injuries, pray for the living and the dead.  Again, the works of war are the exact opposite: deceive (it has been said that the first casualty of every war is the truth); intimidate, force conscience to act against its own judgment.  Forgive?  Not on your life.  Give them back a dose of their own medicine, twice and ten times over!
                   And so we gather as a Catholic Peace Fellowship.  We are commemorating this month the fiftieth anniversary of a retreat Thomas Merton called and led at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani on the Spiritual Roots of Protest.  A. J. Muste was there, John Howard Yoder, the eminent Mennonite theologian, Dan and Philip Berrigan.  Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin had been invited but Dr. King had to go to Oslo to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, and Bayard went with him.  Jim Forest and I were the youngest and are among those still alive.  Merton gathered us around the question, Quo Warranto?, mediaeval Latin for “by what right?”  By what right, he asked, do we question, challenge our betters, those put in authority over us, the President and his advisers?  Don’t they know more than we do about what’s going on in Viet Nam?  How dare we, by what right, do we speak out against them, even actively resist? 
          Merton’s answer was simply to read from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah:  “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped: you were too strong for me and you triumphed.  All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.  Whenever I speak I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message.  The word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.  I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more.  But then it becomes like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones.  I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it” (Jer 20, 7-9).   

          We do it because we have to, that’s all.  At times it has been thin gruel, but it’s been a banquet nonetheless.  Keep it up, lest we be counted among the goats.  W

Saturday, May 3, 2014

May Day 2014

MAY DAY 2014, St. Joseph the Worker
St. Joseph House, New York City
Deacon Tom Cornell

                   He did it again!  Father George gave me no warning this time.  I’m not prepared.  So just let me tell you what’s been going through my mind as I have been looking out over this congregation, in this place.  First of all – the children.  So many of them, so beautiful!  We are a pro-life church and a pro-life movement.  Let them squall and holler if they will.  We can take it, and be glad. 
                   Then I see the photograph on the far wall, near the door, Bob Fitch’s famous photo of Dorothy Day in Fresno at her last arrest, for the United Farm Workers, in 1973, sitting on her little portable three-legged chair framed by two big cops with revolvers on their hips.  That makes me think of the day so many years ago when I was walking to work at the CPF office down at Beekman Street, walking past 223 Chrystie Street.  I knew Dorothy was in town so I dropped in.  She said sit down, get a cup of coffee.  Cesar Chavez is due any minute.  Minutes later he came in.  He had to be Cesar Chavez.  He had no one with him, no driver, no secretary, just himself.  As he noticed the Guadalupe on the wall he paused, turned to it, made the Sign of the Cross, then joined us at the table.  There was no small talk, no “How was your trip?”  Dorothy got right to the point.  “What can we do for you?”
                   “We have six men coming in from California to organize a lettuce boycott.  They’ll visit the headquarters of all the supermarket chains and ask them to refuse to handle lettuce that doesn’t have the Union Eagle on it. Then they’ll go to the individual supermarkets and appeal to the grocery managers.  Then to the mom-and-pop bodegas.  Do you have room for them here?”  “No,” Dorothy answered.  “All our beds are full.  But I know there’s an empty apartment in the building where we rent.  I’ll rent that one for you.  There’s no heat or hot water in those apartments.”  “You don’t have heat and hot water, we won’t need them either.”  “You can all eat here of course.  Is there anything else?”  “Yes,” Cesar answered.  “Six men can’t cover all that territory.  We’ll need help.”  “Tom,” Dorothy turned to me.  “Here’s where you come in. You know the union leaders here in the City.  See if they can free people up to help.”  I was working with A.J. Muste, Dorothy knew.  A.J. had trained major labor leaders at the Brookwood Labor School in Katona.  All I had to do was call up the Distributive Workers Union, the Pharmacists Union 1199, the Taxi Drivers and the Meatpackers, explain the need and they all said, “Send ’em on over!”  It took twenty minutes, that’s all, to lay the foundation of the lettuce and the grape boycott.  It was that easy.
                   Then I see the portrait of Martin Luther King on the east wall.  Tommy was one month old when Martin King called us to Selma, Alabama.  I asked Monica’s permission to go.  None of us could be sure we would come back home alive.  Forty of us had been killed since Emmett Till in Chicago and three more would die in Selma.  I was a marshal for the March to Montgomery.  When we got back to Selma after the March, I went to the old folks’ solarium at Good Samaritan Hospital where I was living, in hope that there would be decent coverage of the March on the Evening News.  The solarium was crowded.  It was not the Evening News on the TV.  It was the President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, addressing a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and he was talking about us.  He named us.  He said we were right, there’s no room in this country any more for racial hatred and bigotry, he said.  He demanded they pass the Voter Rights Bill.  He would sign it into law.  Then he put his papers down on the lectern and looked into the camera, to say, “We shall overcome!”  We were thunderstruck.  We knew, at that moment, we knew we had won.  The President, a Southern white man, was standing with us. We had won!  Tears poured down the faces of hardened radicals from the labor movement, not a dry-eye to be seen.  Martin King was seen to weep only that once.  The South would change, this country would change.  Not that we have achieved racial justice, we are far from that even now.  But we tore down the legal structures of racial segregation and we did it with nonviolence. 
                   Then I see here closest to the altar, the photo of Archbishop Oscar Romero and his flock in a poor village.  The FOR had just fired me in 1979 after fourteen years.  I was out of work and out of money.  Archbishop Romero knew, and gave me an assignment and $1,500 to stimulate programs around the country to raise awareness in the US public of the role our country was playing in the repression in El Salvador.  With the help of movement contacts we were able to get a dozen or so people to picket a post office and hand out leaflets in some cities, and organize small educational seminars in others, and a major event at a major seminary.  Ita Ford and Maura Clark attended the seminar I led at St.  Bridget’s Church here on the Lower East Side.  I sent a report to the Archbishop and he replied with a thank you by mail.  Jim O’Callahan was in the CPF office when that letter arrived.   I showed it to him.  He said, “You ought to frame this letter in red, Tom.  This man is going be killed!”  Weeks later, it happened, and Ita Ford and Maura Clark!

                   That’s what I see when I look out at this room.  The children.  We have a future.  And the past, so rich in memories -- of Dorothy, of Cesar, of Martin, all that I owe to you.  You made, you make this movement.  Keep it up!